2012 was a tricky year for the UK’s many music festivals but Steve Heap reports on how they are determined to ride out the storm, with the understanding of the artists and their agents.

Photo of young people at Towersey Festival
A young audience at the Towersey Festival in Oxfordshire

In the 1960s there were just a few music festivals, by the 1970s dozens, now there are hundreds, and although some have suffered from the economic climate and indeed last summer’s poor weather, they are going well, and are now one of the strongest platforms for not only the big stars but young up-and-coming musicians and singers.

One of the discussions at the annual Conference of the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) last year was artists’ fees. It was generally felt that they are going against the current trend of standing still or being cut. Agents and managers need to understand the enormous cost of staging a festival − with all the legislation to comply with they are expensive. There was an understanding that artists clearly have a great deal more to pay for than their journey to a festival and an hour on stage. However, some of the up-and-coming and middle-order acts had to recognise supply and demand, and what it was that actually sold the tickets. Paying tens of thousands of pounds for big names clearly brings in the audience, and the support acts must then make the most of the opportunity to shine and win new audiences. Their fee should not be the overriding issue.

Why do festivals have to supply crates of beer, assorted hot drinks and specialised branded foods?

Moving on to the big name acts, their agents or managers have been known to send festival organisers a backstage rider which adds at least 20% to the artistic fee. Is it really necessary for an artist to require any more than a lockable, comfortable dressing room, a square meal, a round of drinks and some courtesy? Why do festivals have to supply crates of beer, assorted hot drinks and specialised branded foods, and an increasingly frequent request these days for colour-scheme rooms (and even hotel rooms that they do not use), plus all sorts of extras for minders, crew, family and friends. If these riders were more realistic, festival organisers would save hundreds of pounds and would be able to give the customers and the musicians an altogether better deal. Agents need to understand that reasonable and fair riders relating to both hospitality and technical requirements will help keep ticket prices stable and make it more likely that the festival survives into the future.

The AFO conference closed with a rallying cry that "united, working together for the common aim of great festivals, great music, great opportunity" would see our industry through where many have fallen by the wayside in the wet weather and economic climate. Festivals are well placed to survive when they can demonstrate once again the immense popularity of the music, whatever the genre, and the great community that comes together for these annual celebrations.

Steve Heap is General Secretary of the Association of Festival Organisers.

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