Business Angles for Covering Music Festivals

by February 27, 2018

As spring and summer approaches, journalists can find a number of business angles covering music festivals. (Photo via Pixabay.com)

Every year, it seems like event organizers and record labels put on more music festivals. Big ticket events like Coachella and Austin City Limits draw in thousands of visitors who pump millions into the local economies.

In cities across the country, smaller festivals, like Boise’s Treefort Music Fest, draw more niche crowds that still spend a significant amount of money.

Stories often focus on the economic impact festivals have on the local economy, usually tourism, food service and police overtime, to name a few. But looking into those who spend money on festivals — both corporate sponsors and attendees — should make for interesting and unique stories that appeal to a wide audience.

With spring and summer right around the corner, it’s a perfect time to start thinking about these events. Here’s where to start.

Millennials love festivals

Looking at the cost of general admission passes, food, and lodging or camping provided on the webpages for some of largest annual events, including Coachella, Sasquatch, the Electric Daisy Carnival and South by Southwest, the average person will easily spend $1,000 to go to a major festival. That doesn’t even include travel to and from the festival or alcohol purchases while listening to their favorite bands.

That’s a lot to spend on music, but it’s not necessarily holding younger generations back from attending.

In 2016, for example,  29% of Millennials attended a music festival. It’s clear that the generation is willing to spend money for the experience. The vast majority of festival attendees were under age 30, according to a 2015 Eventbrite study.

Millennials have helped change the music industry. While they might not be as interested in buying CDs and albums, they’re known to pay for experiences. When you’ve found some younger sources for your story, ask what gets them to attend. Are costs becoming more of a concern? How do they fit it in their budget?  

Young people aren’t the only ones who love music. Make sure to include different demographics as well. What motivates them to spend so much? How have festivals changed over the years, especially when it comes to costs?

Corporations look to profit

As the popularity of music festivals continues to grow, businesses see a rich opportunity. Many festivals started out as independent events, organized by small record labels or local event organizers.

Increasingly, however, corporations are starting to get involved, which may fundamentally change the festival environment and culture.

Red Bull and Budweiser put on big festivals in 2017, with some big names in the lineups. Festival Outlook, an in-depth column about music festivals, reported that LiveNation now has a controlling interest in several big-name festivals.

The increasing corporatization of festival culture could make for interesting business stories. Analyze who sponsors a festival in your community (or which specific elements of the festival they sponsor). How much are these organizations profiting from their sponsorship? Are they just doing it for the publicity, or do the ticket revenues line their pockets as well?

Are we at festival critical mass?

Last year, Jonathan Wynn, associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, asked this question in a piece for the Washington Post: Are there too many music festivals?

In the past few decades, larger, international labels and promoters have bought many of the big-name festivals, including Coachella. This gives them considerable buying power — they can book the biggest acts for multiple festivals — and reap the profits. All of this comes at the expense of uniqueness: 20 acts performed at both Coachella and Bonnaroo in 2017.

There are hidden perks to this model, though. Smaller festivals without major brand sponsors can market themselves as independent — which attracts people who don’t dig the corporate uniformity. These festivals give attendees a less branded experience, and usually source more local or regional talent. And they’re often smaller and more intimate, which can be a selling point for many.

If a festival comes to your town, how many of the acts are from your area, or within a 100-mile radius? How many are big-name acts played at other festivals recently? This might be an excellent opportunity to profile a local band from your area that’s playing at a nearby festival, and tie in the information about corporatization of more well-known festivals.