Producing Successful Festival Environments

 With so many festivals competing for fans’ time and money, what does it take for an event to stand out and eventually have longevity in the market?

Led by moderator Skip Paige of Goldenvoice, Thursday’s panel discussed the biggest challenges that come along with the job as well as advice for future festival producers dreaming of launching the next Lollapalooza or Sasquatch Music Festival.

Attendees heard wisdom from Michael Eavis, who has been putting on Glastonbury in Pilton, England, since 1970, as well as tips from Hard Events founder Gary Richards, Insomniac Events founder Pasquale Rotella, and Hangout Music Festival founder Shaul Zislin. Intellitix‘s Serge Grimaux, who established Ticketpro and has promoted thousands of events, also offered another perspective. Intellitix is the company behind the ticket wristbands seen at festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Electric Zoo.
Eavis explained that the motivation behind Glastonbury is pretty simple.

“We just do something that we enjoy doing. We really primarily aren’t looking to make money. We give away 2 million pounds every year to charities. I love doing it with all that goes with it.”
For Rotella, whose company puts on electronic events including Electric Daisy Carnival and Electric Forest, launching Insomniac was about the culture of the music and the whole lifestyle.

“I started off just being a fan going to underground warehouse parties, in warehouses, fields, water parks, nontraditional concert venues. … I had gone to England, went to some electronic dance events, got inspired there, came back. During that time period there was a big crackdown and the big one-off events that turned into raves kind of disappeared. I loved it and felt like it was missed in my life. The only way I saw for it to come to fruition was to create it.”

Paige asked Richards, the man behind Hard Summer Music Festival and Holy Ship! music cruise and who is also known as Dj Destructo, if he ever envisioned electronic music becoming so mainstream.

“No, I never envisioned it to be this big. For our genre of music I thought I was retired. I always tell the story that I would tell kids daddy was a cool techno DJ and nobody really cared. … It’s amazing that people in America finally figured out what the rest of the world was doing for so long.”

In Rotella’s opinion, the biggest challenge about booking festivals is the politics behind the booking such as the time slots acts are given and the billing they get on the flyers.
Richards added it’s especially challenging to put on events in Los Angeles when it comes to dealing with the city council and the fire department.

And what about the artists and the agents?

“The artists are fine. It’s the agents that are the problem,” Richards said.

Asked if he agreed, Eavis said, “Actually, I prefer not to comment on that one.”

Zislin pointed out that there are some factors that are out of your control.

“In 2010 we had a tornado watch and we had to vacate the site,” he said. “For us, the biggest challenge is that we’re on the beach and you cant control the Gulf of Mexico.”

Grimaux chimed in that “the biggest challenge is not to forget that it’s supposed to be fun. And the experience is first. What is being staged should always be that way. If you’re good at that, people will come. People will pay for the event no matter who is the headliner.”

After joking that he would tell someone interested in starting their own festival “don’t do it,” Eavis once again stressed that producing a successful festival is not just about money.

“Do something that you really enjoy,” he said. “And something with creative and artistic merit. Persevere. It took us 11 years to make a profit. Get in there and just keep at it. And keep going hopefully for 40 or 50 years.”

Grimaux added that “it’s a question of passion. You have to be a visionary because it doesn’t work otherwise. If you’re in it to make a dollar, there are better ways to do it, a lot more boring ways. Why are people staging the events? Because first they wanted to be at that event.”

Paige echoed Eavis’ advice about being patient to see a profit.

“I don’t know about Shaul, because you made money your second year, but I know that for the other three of us, it’s been a long haul generally. Only until recently have these festivals become profitable. If you would have quit 10 years ago, Pasquale, you’d never be where you are now.”

Rotella quipped, “I’d still be at my mom’s house.”

Oh, about that rumor that Eavis wouldn’t let U2 use their set on stage at Glastonbury?

“No, No, I don’t tell U2 what they can and can’t do. They do what they want to,” Eavis said. “I don’t know where that story came from. Our stage is probably too small for their enormous set so they probably had to curtail their production a bit. But they had a good time.”


See Also: Pollstar Live! Panel Coverage