Written by Shay Mehr // Edited By Stephen Masnyj
[March 9, 2016]
Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival announced a fall version of their already hugely successful spring festival on February 21st. After expanding from one weekend to two five years ago, Coachella hosted 198,000 festivalgoers and raked in $84,264,264 in 2015, according to Billboard. But the world’s highest grossing festival announcing the birth of its sibling is just the tip of the iceberg.
Goldenvoice has also just launched the music arts and technology Panorama Festival in New York. The list of festivals to attend is already huge, with California alone having about 20 according to musicfestivalwizard.com, and it is growing. Even Europe sports large well-known festivals like Primavera Sound in Spain and Glastonbury Festival in England.
The recent exponential growth in the amount of festivals has given audiophiles an absurd amount of opportunities to see their favorite bands. According to Statista, concert ticket revenues have gone up by approximately 5 billion dollars since 1990, with 1.1 billion of that being between 2013 and 2014. This increase began getting steeper right around the time that MP3s were released, but the sharpest incline in the revenue is seen in 2011 with the introduction of streaming to the market. All of these facts point to a large increase in the number of live performances, meaning longer tours and more festivals. This increase in live music experiences is clearly much more complex than having another place to dawn flower crowns and tank tops. Most importantly, it signals a shift brought upon by the digitization of music that is sending ripples throughout the music industry, as we know it.
The shift from tangible musical media collected with care, to a fleeting algorithm-calculated stream of tunes has forced the music industry to have to adapt by finding a better form of revenue. No longer can an artist sustain their art by reaching a critical number of album sales. Consumers can now have thousands of songs at their fingertips, and pay next to nothing for it. Artists and labels must look elsewhere in order to survive.
As streaming services develop, their merit is seen in the personalized features, which introduce listeners to novel bands by using their previous likes. These individually curated online playlists and radio stations are free promotion for artists, which could make them money in the long run.
The issue lies within the payment per stream. Each stream earns artists no more than $ 0.0073 on any available streaming service to date as stated by informationisbeautiful.net. For a service like Spotify, that would require 2% of their entire user base of 75 million users to stream an artist’s music in order to make minimum wage.
So one has to question whether or not this promotion is truly free because it allows a consumer to stream the album with a subscription, but sends fractions of a penny to the artists themselves.
It’s safe to assume that even the purchase of digital copies of music is not sustaining artists, considering that as recently as 2014, digital revenues matched that of physical according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. This is due to the fact that even before streaming was king, illegal downloads of music kept sales down.
Streaming’s convenience coupled with low royalty rates and previously lost sales to illegal downloads, has led to quite a conundrum for both artists and record labels. The industry must redirect its efforts to parts of the business that yield a bigger return for artists; ticket and merchandise sales.
This shift in focus has been the undercurrent for the bubble that is the music festival. Music festivals are big business.
For artists, it’s a guarantee of a large sum of money that’s much more difficult to earn during regular touring gigs. The LA Times claims that most Coachella acts get somewhere around $15,000, while Billboard says that non-headlining acts might make anywhere from $500 to $100,000. Either way, for smaller acts it’s enough cash and publicity to make it worth playing. Artists can be discovered if they’re on the lower end of the payroll, and if they’re on the upper end they can cement themselves as must see headliners.
As for everyone else involved, the task of building an entire city in the middle of an empty grass field is costly and requires a lot of manpower. According to the Guardian, a 10,000 capacity festival can cost as much as $100,000 to provide power, $60,000 for waste disposal, and about $1,000,000 for security. These costly necessities along with consumer demand are what enable most festival ticket prices to be hundreds of dollars.
While labels, promoters, and artists are all for a festival structure that allows them to get some relief from waning album sales, consumers are saturated with options for live music. This saturation means that eventually the bubble will burst. The supply will outweigh demand, no longer justifying high-ticket prices.
To make matters worse, unique headliners are becoming harder to come by. Headliners need to have a certain caliber of fame and talent so as to be highly recognizable by nearly all of the festival attendees. They are often times a large percent of the initial draw. Consumers therefore have an increased proximity to more shows, but not to unique entertainment. Most will not be willing to pay hundreds of dollars to see an artist for the third or fourth time.
Event the entire happy pseudo-utopian atmosphere is called into question eventually. While some festivals such as EDC, Beyond Wonderland, and Lightning in a Bottle specialize in specific genres of music and therefore have their own unique brand of this vibe, many try to appeal to a wide range of listeners. Ultimately though, all festivals reach for a relaxed party atmosphere and the over saturation leads to uniformity across events. At some point the wonder that comes with living in a happy go lucky hedonistic environment does in fact fade. Hard to believe, I know. The average concertgoer can’t afford spend 1,000s of dollars and dozens weekends off in la-la land every year, but even if they could it would lose its potency.
The current number of festivals is not sustainable. It’s the result of a push to focus on ticket sales and merchandising due to the move to digitally formatted music. Coachella’s fall festival will likely do well, but its significance is more than a milder weather option for flower crown wearing music loving hippies.