Festivals and faultlines in 2012
The great festival rethink
Alex Fahey - 10 October 2012
This has been the toughest year in recent memory for UK festivals. As with war it's the casualties that give the clearest
picture of the devastation and 2012 has had its fair share of ruin.
Among this year’s losses was relative new-comer Sonisphere, despite making behemoth-size strides with previous events, it was pulled in March. Other big name victims have included Vince Power - potentially affecting both Benicassim and Hop Farm – and the 21-year-instituation that is Guilfest. Both are expecting the administrators at the door.
Retrospectives will, in their need to review (read: blame), suggest that a poor 2012 was the result of competition from the Olympics, Radio 1's Hackney Weekend and the abysmal weather. Arguably they’d be right.
But what can festival organisers do that will, if not return them to the boom period, steer them towards relative stability in 2013?
Organisers know that the festival industry isn’t an instant ticket to riches. Their journey will probably begin as beer mat jottings and that field full of happy punters, will act as the pay off. The end product is the justification.
Despite money not being the ultimate goal of a festival, it still needs to deliver an event and that means at some point cash will change hands. So what can smaller festivals and start ups do that will make their festival and not bankruptcy a reality?
Build from the epicentre to keep everyone on side
UK festivals are a commodity at both international and national level but for start ups their concentration should aim at the local community. It’s too easy (and costly) to gravitate for the widest audience possible through advertising and name-grabbing acts when attendance from the local level should be the priority. The rest can come later.
If a festival wants repeat custom then the development of a local core fan-base is vital. By building better relationships with the local community, enthusiasm for the festival should grow (or at least enthusiasm for its economic boost) and along the line the difficult proposals of expansion and late-night licences should be met with less resistance.
These relationships can be cemented by communicating directly with the attendees. The use of Twitter, Facebook and mailing lists should be employed so suggestions can shape and perfect the event in the future. By being more approachable it will give the attendees a stake in the event and can help add to the sense of community the festival creates. The punters have the first hand experience of visiting the festival as punters: their voice should be heard.
Furthermore if a festival builds in to its plan the use of local suppliers - especially for the food and drink outlets - it’s an easy win. Their input immediately creates an identity that is unique to that festival alone. Its much harder to be distinctive when chasing the sponsorship of mass-produced lager.
‘Twin’ your festival or make it bi-annual
As always the larger festivals will dominate the market (perhaps that lager sponsorship is desirable after all...) in terms of attendees and ‘big-name acts’, so how can the smaller ones compete?
One way could be by ‘twinning’ festivals. This would require two festivals, similar in size, ambition and line-up (but dissimilar in location) to combine forces and finances to work together when approaching booking agents to schedule their festivals.
Approaching agents with two guaranteed slots for their band is a more attractive proposition for the bookers and also one that gives festival organisers a better negotiation angle, to secure exclusives or 'reduced rates'. A drop in performance fee, however slight, could save some budget which can be allocated elsewhere.
This would work best if the festivals were not only apart geographically but also in date, perhaps a follow-on suggestion would be that ‘twinned’ festivals agree to hold their events on a bi-annual basis. Not only would this give organisers more time to perfect their festival but if the idea was taken up by several festivals through out the season it would ease the burden on the current climate where bands are overexposed and so too are the wallets of attendees.
Form relationships with labels
Bands are vital to the survival to a festival and the relationship between the two needs to flow in both directions in order to succeed. Smaller festivals can only watch on as the established acts are tempted away on exclusives by larger events and it will only end in disaster if an organiser is foolhardy enough to compete.
Instead of battling the competition festivals should establish working relationships with independent labels and offer them the chance to curate their own stage. For a three day festival, the ‘label stage’ could have a different curator each day; Indie Friday, Dance Saturday and Acoustic Sunday for example. With smaller labels there is often continuity in the genre of acts they represent so the hope is with good labels on board they will attract like-minded music buyers to the festival because it offers them real value for money.
Early slots would offer fresh signings the chance to cut their live teeth and for the labels it’s fantastic exposure for their new bands. In between acts the label employees can bring their crates of records (in exchange for crates of lager) and DJ between bands so the schedule flows. For organisers this could mean less time spent refreshing HypeMachine and devouring NME in order to complete line-ups leaving more free time to hone the rest of the festival.
Time for your suggestions
The nature of any industry is a good year can follow a bad and visa versa but what is remains important is that during any lull, learning is acknowledged, suggestions are innovative and changes are implemented.
So do you have any suggestions? Be they simple, radical or controversial, what do you think would shake up the industry and make 2013 stronger than ever? Leave us your comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook.