Festivals are in a weird place right now and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Obviously we have seen an influx in festivals in recent years, especially smaller ones thrown together by local promoters who are able to make two or three tour packages intersect simultaneously. We are also seeing a fair amount of new blood entering the major festival market and creating events that routinely bring out a few thousand people. Now that’s certainly something to get behind since it means more money and a better overall experience for the artist. However, an time in the industry when things like this start to blow up we also find that corporate interests get involved and this can so often lead to a lot of negative bullshit that hurts the collective rather than giving us the chance that we collectively need to be able to use these for everyone’s advantage. So I wanted to look at all of this, and think about how it could help out your band.
The main thing to realize is that the way that the big wigs have it sorted it’s almost impossible to break out with a big festival of your own unless you have a very long time frame and are both very independent and very wealthy. That is to say – a lot of the big breakout festivals you see that disappear after a year or two get lost in the shuffle not just because they aren’t profitable but because the amount of work is insane and no one took the time to learn how to prepare for the build up that that sort of thing needs. The festivals that seem to be able to grow into cool things are the ones that take years and years to get there. For example Hellfest started out as a small 1000 person festival run by a local promoter who then after a decade started to finally craft it into something transcendent, massive and truly special. They realized that if they went hard right away the learning curve and expenditures would be too much and they would surely fail.
Learning cures and expenditures aren’t the only reason that it’s so hard to set up a festival though. If you take some time to look – a lot of these big festivals end up getting crushed out by massive promotion companies who will book similar events in a similar time frame in a similar location for the year after the breakout event. Yeah you might think that would ruin the massive promoters revenue, but their monopoly is worth so much that they can take a hit on a festival like that in order to maintain market dominance. If you’re the only game in town you get everything your way. While those massive promotion companies certainly can claim to have positive morals I think it’s easy to see why so many of us get frustrated. They are unafraid to make sure that competition doesn’t flourish and continue to keep their club sealed up. While we are starting to see some changes within that structure I think that with the dominance of festivals in recent years it’s easy to see why major industry figures would want to keep them on lock.
Now you also need to use this dominance of festivals to your advantage. While the big fests are certainly kept pretty tightly under lock and key that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying to create a database of smaller festivals your band could conceivably play on. Not only are the guarantees usually a bit better, things tend to be run a lot more smoothly, you have more people to play in front of and thus win over, and consequently you have a much larger chance to making a killing on merchandise. On top of that you get to network with industry people and see all of your friends in bands. Of course – festivals can afford to be highly selective these days since so many bands want to take part, but if you can start to break into that world then you are only going to find profit at the end of the day. People joke about how you can literally just tour from festival to festival these days – and when it comes down to it – why the fuck not?
Like I said though – a lot of this can be very tricky and requires a lot of foresight and networking on your part. You are going to need to make databases and get a million connections if you want to start figuring out a productive way forward with this. Ask all your friends and then some, keep pushing and developing in order to create a database that can really work for you. One little trick I’ve found is to hit up organizers on Facebook – it will catch them a little bit off guard if you get them in that less formal contact and they will be more likely to talk to you. From their it’s just a question of having good enough music for them to be interested and consequently bite. It’s not always that easy, but if you have a strong network it’s not out of the question to be able to sit down and start to develop which options make the most sense for you and then figure out how to access those.
Festivals are kind of the best and they are in a position that is tricky to say the least. We need to collectively realize this and then work together on finding ways to make sure that we don’t end up hurting ourselves. Most people booking festivals legitimately care about the scene and just want to give their friends money. Even the big players who do what are now essentially touring festivals just under different names in different markets, are, in my opinion, usually trying to do what is best for the artist and guide them into figuring out ways forward that are going to help even underground bands in subtle ways. Sure it’s not always easy but it is a helluva time and something you need to embrace if you want to get big.
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