‘Fyre Wouldn’t Happen In The UK’: A Look At The International Festival Market

Beatrice Stirnimann, CEO of Baloise Session
– Beatrice Stirnimann, CEO of Baloise Session
Explaining how she secures big names with her 1,500 capacity boutique event

A panel dubbed “International Festivals: Juicing Up a Mature Marketplace” looked at the current state of the international festival business and arrived at the conclusion that while the market was generally thriving, mid-size festivals in particular would have a hard time going forward.
Greg Parmley, Managing Director, ILMC
John Boyle, President, Live Nation, Japan
Thomas Dürr, CEO, ACT Entertainment
Stuart Galbraith, CEO, Kilimanjaro Live
Leca Guimarães, International Director, C3 Presents
Jan Quiel, Wacken Open Air
Beatrice Stirnimann, CEO, Baloise Session
Galbraith basically summed up the crux of the panel in his opening remarks, when he said that the international festival marketplace was buoyant, with expansion taking place in many territories, but added that the proliferation of international brands makes it harder for smaller, local festivals to start.
The current state of the marketplace offered two options to new entrants, according to the promoter: “You either start by paying a headliner a shitload of money or start from scratch and grow organically,” he said, adding that he preferred the latter approach.
Quiel knows all about growing organically Wacken Open Air started as a metal gathering for 800 people and reached its current capacity of 75,000 in 2007. Since then, the festival sold out each year. Quiel wasn’t sure, if it would still work that way in 2019, seeing that there was no internet or social media in the early days of the festival, just worth of mouth.
For Guimarães, who is in charge of Lollapalooza’s international brands, having big-names on the bill in year one of entering a new market was essential to driving the brand. Once the brand name was established in people’s minds, one could focus on creating an experience in year two, and the third year would show whether one was on the right track.
“You can’t just think about the short term. It’s a long-term investment,” she said.
“If you don’t see light at the end of the tunnel after three years, you should probably abandon,” added Boyle.  
International Festivals: Juicing Up a Mature Marketplace
– International Festivals: Juicing Up a Mature Marketplace
From left: Beatrice Stirnimann, Jan Quiel, Leca Guimarães, Stuart Galbraith, Thomas Dürr, John Boyle and Greg Parmley

Boyle said that this was the era of boutique festivals. It was that segment of the market where there was still room for new ideas. “The juggernauts I don’t think are going anywhere. But for the middle market it is very difficult.”
Glabriath agreed, revealing that Kilimanjaro was looking into launching new projects with a capacity of 2,500 to 3,000, and then build from there. “One of the festivals we currently own is called Belladrum in Inverness, Scotland. It’s populated by people that live within one hour, it’s the only festival within the highlands, and it works very well. And it’s because we hit a niche market.
Boyle said he wasn’t afraid that global brands would harm independent festivals, simply because there aren’t that many global brands around. In fact, he said, he thought opportunities for independent festivals were never greater.
The question of artist fees was addressed as well. Galbraith remembered how headliners were paid $1 million max when Download first started in the UK, adding that those same headliners would now receive around $5 million. “Don’t kill the golden goose,” he said, pointing towards festivals like V Festival or T in the Park in Scotland, which had been too reliant on the big names and  eventually failed because of it.
Dürr alleviates the problem by working with a booking network, but has long-since begun to focus on making the festival itself the headliner, a term that was coined by the crew of Wacken Open Air. Quiel said, “In a couple of years, there won’t be any more Metallicas around, so you have to be creative.”
But it wasn’t just about fees. Boyle mentioned another challenge that has emerged in recent years, which he summed up under the term “billing wars”. He explained how agents these days tried to influence the exact way their artists’ names appeared on the festival bill, and even control the artwork. “It’s all a little too much,” he said, “I find that as challenging as finding the right dollar figure.”
Stirnimann added that “you also need to learn how to say no, because there will be other artists who will want to play the festival.”
The panel then addressed the blurring between festival and tour promoters, and the trend for the large companies to say: “if you want to play our festival you need to make us your tour promoter too.”
In markets like South America that approach actually mad sense, because it wasn’t financially viable to bring in artists and their equipment into the country for a single concert.
Guimarães explained how a festival that has become known for its brand and experience can also sell more merchandise etc.
Looking into the future, Boyle talked about new entrants that didn’t know what they were doing, referring to Fyre Festival. “I worry about safety. That’s where we need to be concerned about new entrants.  It has to be done well. We’re in a rising tide business. We all go up together, and we all go down together,” he said.
To which Galbraith responded that “I don’t think a Fyre Festival would ever happen in the UK, because the licensing authority would never allow it to proceed. But what we do see is lots of festivals coming along and either going bankrupt ahead of time and take people’s ticketing money, or go bankrupt after the event, and then owe contractors, bands, etc.
“There is still room for growth, but it has to be small and boutique.”