Ten Things Learned at the Festival Congress 2014 – Emma Webster

The inaugural Festival Congress took place in Cardiff in October 2014, organised by the Association of Independent Festivals. A number of festival promoters and festival suppliers gathered for a conference and awards dinner. Live Music Exchange was there in the shape of Emma Webster, who wrote and presented a report based on six years’ worth of AIF audience survey data within a wider contextual framework.

As with previous industry conferences – namely the Live Music Summit in 2012 and Festival Awards Conference in 2012 – Live Music Exchange likes to share what we’ve heard or overheard, and so the following contains our ‘Ten Things Learned at the Festival Congress 2014’:-

  1. There was concern from some quarters about the competition between the smaller independent festivals and their larger cousins, particularly Live Nation-owned festivals such as Reading and Leeds. Indeed, 2000trees director, James Scarlett, accused the bigger festivals, such as Live Nation’s Reading, of ‘suffocating’ and trying to ‘squash’ smaller festivals by forcing artists into exclusivity deals which do not allow artists to play any other festivals, which was felt to be not necessarily good for the artist’s career as it limits their audience. Catfish and the Bottlemen were suggested as an example of an artist who was allowed to play a wide number of festivals by their booking agent and hence played to a wide audience. To counter this practice, Rob da Bank suggested that there should be a cap at either £5K fee or 5000 capacity festival, below which exclusivity deals should not be allowed. In addition, AIF members are also encouraged not to use exclusivity deals themselves in order to encourage best practice among the bigger festivals and artists’ agents. It was also interesting to note that AIF acts partly as a ‘gossip shop’ according to founder Rob da Bank, useful for finding out how much other promoters pay for their artists
  2. Yourope, the European festival association, has produced a set of Standard Terms (The Yourope Standard Terms) for festivals booking artists and performers for live performances in 2014. The aim is to protect promoters from signing contracts which force them to provide services/riders which the promoter does not see until after the contract has been signed, but the Terms also include standardised clauses around issues such as weather, security, and backline provision.
  3. The total spend by AIF member festival-goers for the past five years (2010 to 2014) is estimated to be approximately £1.01 billion. The estimated total spend in the local area by AIF member festival-goers over the past five years is £77.1 million.
  4. 79 new drugs came onto the market in 2013 – this is up from 49 in 2011. Safe & Sound’s Katy Macleod explained that while so-called NPSs (New Psychoactive Substances) are prevalent at festivals, they are not as prevalent as so-called ‘traditional’ drugs, of which alcohol is the biggest ‘problem’ drug, followed by ecstasy and MDMA.
  5. A group of festival promoters have started an initiative called ‘The Show Must Go On’ to coordinate the festival industry’s response to climate change/crisis. The first initiative will be to encourage audience members to offset carbon via donation at the point at which they purchase tickets. In a slightly different vein, we also heard about The Festival Woods, which is a wild forest regeneration initiative from A Greener Festival and charity Trees for Life, which has so far has planted 1056 trees.
  6. 50% of Glastonbury’s waste is recycled at the festival’s onsite facility and is sorted by hand. The sheer volume of waste means that the festival’s waste service is at capacity and cannot go any higher and so the festival is looking at ways of reducing waste, including using stainless steel water bottles and reusable cups for alcohol from the bars. Shambala already charges for its reusable cups which means that if people don’t bring them back to the bar, they have to pay a levy to get a new one. Shambala’s Chris Johnson explained how his festival uses simple psychology to encourage people not to drop litter, which is that if your festival site is clean, people don’t drop litter; Shambala therefore employs more litter pickers throughout the day (rather than only in the morning or afternoon) to keep the site clean.
  7. Surplus food distribution charity FareShare collected six tonnes of food from just three festivals in 2013, including Bestival, and distributed it to vulnerable people to prevent it going to waste. Another charity collected 30 tonnes of food waste at Denmark’s Roskilde and Glastonbury is estimated to produce 50-60 tonnes of food waste each year, from both traders and festival-goers.
  8. Standon Calling is the first festival to go entirely cash-free, using RFID technology to enable festival-goers to leave their cash at home. The technology is not entirely risk-free, however – traders were left unpaid by the trading arm of a different festival, Galtres Festival, which used a cashless payment system and then went bust.
  9. Research by James Cobb into fatigue in live production shows that 75% of those working on-site regularly get 6 or less hours’ sleep while 18% are regularly getting 4 or less hours’ sleep. 63% admitted to at least one ‘near-miss’ in the past year, and 11% suffered at least one injury which required time off work – this is compared to 1% in the construction sector. While there are laws in the UK to prevent this kind of thing happening, it was felt that these are ignored in order to save money, but it was argued that ‘we can’t keep working people to death in this industry’.
  10. There was debate over whether festivals should provide internet access for its festival-goers if mobile signal was poor. On the one hand, internet access was seen by some as vital for staying in touch with friends and for social media – those working behind the scenes also require good internet access as the backstage areas are often full of tour managers working on their artist’s next shows. On the other hand, festivals are seen by some as places to switch off and get away from technology and the ‘real world’. One point raised by a number of people were the long queues for people accessing recharging points – some even mentioned that the most aggressive behaviour across the entire festival site could be found at these charging points.
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