‘Festivals Are Like An F1 Car’

Most festivals this year did what they do best: deliver an escapist dream for a few days, making the audience feel welcome and safe, while enjoying great music.  

Rockavaria 2015 crowd
– Rockavaria 2015 crowd
in Munich May 29-31.

A remarkable number of events in 2017, however, received bad press for an apparent lack of organization.

In some cases, even the basics of large-scale event organization seem to have been ignored, such as ensuring special transport was available at special hours, preparing for weather or providing enough entries and exits.

Do increasing costs make it so hard for promoters to organize an economically viable event that they have to save costs wherever possible, which includes staff, transport and weather protection?

Would increasing costs still make it possible to host a great event – just with lower margins. In other words: are some promoters just greedy?

Or is it simply that people like to, and are able to, complain more in the age of social media, combined with the fact that the press will jump on any story as long as it can come up with a negative, and thus click generating, headline?

Pollstar asked live entertainment professionals across Europe for their opinion.

John Giddings, Solo Agency/Isle of Wight Festival:

John Giddings – John Giddings
Pollstar interview

“People vote with their feet. And if they have a bad experience will not go there again. Although there are more people going to festivals, there are also more festivals. So some individual attendances are down and promoters cut costs to cut losses.

“This is, however, short-term thinking. You cannot provide a customer experience that is worse than before. They have (and deserve) a level of expectation.

“Groups now rely on the festival circuit where they can earn a lot more money than playing indoors and not have to pay for production. As an agent, I want to get the most for my artist. As a festival promoter, I want to pay as little as possible.”

“Already next year, there is no Cornbury and no Secret Garden Party, with more to follow. Festivals are like an F1 car: you have to keep developing or you go backwards. But that costs money, and maybe the costs are getting too high.

“If someone did a time and motion study on me, they would say I was insane to put so much work and energy into something that is so risky. But to see 50,000 people in a field having the best time makes it worthwhile.”

Marek Lieberberg, Live Nation GSA:

“Indeed, swelling costs are a huge challenge that require vastly increased investment in security, inclement weather protection, infrastructure, insurance and – often underestimated by the public – talent budgets. Hence a solid, serious financial and professional background as well as the ability to cover unexpected expenses and shortfalls is required.

“In a growing festival market some participants may well be taking uncalculated risks or are possibly under financed. Others simply lack the expertise. The audience could consider the credibility of a presenter before making a choice.

“Experienced festival presenters have no illusions about risks and rewards. Many new players lack this experience and fall victim to their illusions.

“We all have to be mindful about the critical, sometimes exaggerated response in social media and/or press. However, there is no smoke without fire! That is why we are always striving to deliver a better concert and festival experience.”

Giannis Paltoglou, Detox Events/Ejekt Festival:

“The extreme amount of money that has to be given to bands, combined with the lack of sponsors, definitely will make some organizers try to cut expenses – but I’m hoping that they don’t cut back on things like security, safety, etc.

“We live in an era of too many festivals, thus it is expected that some of them will not be up to the normal standards.

“There will always be people who are just jumping at an opportunity to exploit people, as it seems to have happened with Fyre Festival. In the case of Fyre festival, I understand that we are talking about criminal activity, thus I do not compare it with situations like Hope & Glory which seems to be the result of organizers not capable of handling a festival. 

“And, of course, social media have made people more angry, but in general, most people get angry for a reason.”

Christof Huber, OpenAir St.Gallen/Yourope: 

 We have to clearly distinguish between those examples. Fyre Festival seems to be a case of fraud, amateurs presenting glossy ads but delivering nothing. 

Chrisof Huber – Chrisof Huber

“A lot seems to have gone wrong at Hope & Glory, [which wasn’t the promoter’s fault]. I think that, fundamentally, the standard for festivals has even improved significantly: safety, communication, sustainability, comfort for visitors, offer, technology etc.

“This means that if things do go wrong or don’t work at a festival, it gets people’s attention much faster and is, of course, reported on social media by all on-site reporters. The public’s expectations have increased significantly and need to be fulfilled.” 

Laura Coroianu, Emagic:

“I think in the long run skimping on costs, especially essential ones related to health, safety or transportation will work against you. Not only is it potentially irresponsible, but also today’s festivalgoers are smart and knowledgeable, and if they notice you are offering them a lesser experience they will turn around and ditch your event next year

“I mean, there is so much choice nowadays when it comes to festivals! At Awake we did not get stingy with the production values, on the contrary – we went out of our way to make sure the entire experience is safe, comfortable and memorable. And because we wanted to know how we can improve things we organized the ‘Meet the promoter’ sessions each morning, in order to find out directly from our crowd what we can do better next year.

“It’s much better to hear feedback directly from your audience rather than reading comments on social media – this way you are sure you are talking to your real audience.”