Music Execs Talk Favorite New Artists and the Future of Festivals
In 2015 and 2016, we’ve seen the cancelation of several major festivals including TomorrowWorld, Counterpoint, Wakarusa and Squamish. A recent editorial from New York Times announced that the music critics of the esteemed publication will not be making plans to cover Coachella or Bonnaroo this year, citing that these festivals have lost what makes them special, rare and meaningful.
The music industry is finding itself in a tumultuous epoch of rapid change. Record sales only continue to decline while streaming and music piracy numbers are multiplying exponentially. Touring has become the main source of revenue, so it’s no wonder that lineups are featuring a lot of the same artists. On top of all of this, the live events arena is working to overcome serious problems with health and safety. Just a couple of weeks ago the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors decided to implement new safety and health measures at electronic music festivals instead of banning these events on LA County property altogether.
The daunting question the music industry is now facing is whether festivals should continue to expand in size, scope and audience or whether specialization will be the key to longevity. Over 32 million are attending festivals every year, and the number is only increasing, so demand is not the issue. It's becoming clear that the key to success is more than just offering great music. Festivals need to offer an experience, that inspires a unique culture - and to do this, organizers need data.
And this became the topic of a poignant panel at SXSW: How Data is Impacting the Rise of Music Festivals. Led by Creighton Burke (VP of insights and planning at AEG Live), Jeff Cuellar (VP of Strategic Partnerships at AC Entertainment) and Drew Burchfield (co-founder of Aloompa) and Joah Spearman (CEO of Localuer).
Data is not only helping AEG Live experiences like Coachella and AC Entertainment events like Bonnaroo to book the artists that fans resonate most with but also to create a more personalized and customized experience. Gathering information from apps like Aloompa and Localuer allows major festival organizers to better align with the needs and wants of their attendees through the right sponsorships, activations and offerings.
"EDM is one of those places that we look at data the most," said Drew Burchfield, cofounder of Aloompa, the company behind FestApp, ArtistApp and OKDOTHIS, among others. "It’s interesting to look at the trance fan and what they do at a festival versus the dance/pop fan and where the majority of their listening minutes sit. Trance is usually programmed earlier in the day so you see them getting their really early, they’ll get there when gates open…and then chill out and do other things and consume other experiences when like Calvin Harris is playing."
While still a fairly new resource to the music industry, data is proving to be a determining factor in decisions big and small for festivals. And as organizers learn how to better gather and analyze this data, we can only assume it’s going to be to the advantage of both festivals and fans. We may even see more niche festivals that are catered to more specific genres and sub genres. Festivals will always come and go no matter what though, as pointed out by Jeff Cuellar, VP of Strategic Partnerships at AC Entertainment (responsible for events including Bonnaroo and Big Ears).
"If you take the last 15 years, the number of festivals come and gone. It’s gonna happen. I think a lot of people jump into the festival game and think if I book an amazing lineup, it’s going to happen. And they are also not prepared to lose the money. We say that the first 3 to 5 years, you’re probably going to lose money. Things change, taste change, people change. It’s a very up and down business. One year you see a sell out and the next year, it’s like ‘what happened?'"
Simon Rust Lamb, former COO of Insomniac has a great analogy for the festival business:
"If you want to be in the festival business, go out to your backyard. Take a million dollars, light it on fire, see how you feel. If you still want to do it, light another million dollars. And then if you still want to do it, then you’re ready to do it."
Just as festivals have to offer something unique and captivating to successfully build a culture around them, so do the artists they book on their lineups. While Burchfield and Cueller named electronic artists like Marshmello and Odesza as artists to watch as they continue on their meteoric rise with strong brands and interesting live shows, Creighton of AEG Live seemed most excited about one artist in particular: Zhu.
“I’m fortunate enough to have a front row seat a bit… although I certainly knew [Zhu] as a fan first. Yes, his record and what he’s going to be putting out is brilliant. AEG has more than half of his upcoming tour that’s happening in the spring… But the way he’s thinking about what he wants to do with this neon city, this new record… he’s putting a ton of thought into every element of what the public’s going to experience. He’s asked me questions about “Can I do this? can I do that?’”
…The whole team. Everybody inside his camp. I sat through one of their meetings. In their meetings, they have like “What is the most ridiculous thing we can shoot for?” How do we get there? And how do we do it. How do we make that our reality. They’ll weed it out, they tear it down, they break it down. And then they set it and actually have an action plan.”
“I’m as much a believer in them as I am in any of their acts because that company (Th3rd Brain) and his different managers… they are going to be the new thinkers inside the industry… I said Jake, at some point you’re going to need an adult in the room. He goes well, we’ve been okay so far.”
He also said not to miss Gallant's Coachella performance. Dance music fans may remember Gallant's breakout hit "Weight in Gold," which went on to receive dozens of remixes from artists like Louis Futon and Oshi. Gallant is the tour opener for Zhu's upcoming tour.
SXSW features over 900 sessions and panels across the Interactive, Film and Music portions of the conference and festival, giving attendees the chance to catch presentations from executives Facebook, Google, Sony and Warner. Stay tuned as we continue to share experiences, themes and takeaways from this year’s event.
I'm a storyteller at heart, and music makes my world go round.