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IFF: The Big Billing Debate

In the second panel of the International Festival Forum 2019, Mojo's Kim Bloem led a discussion on the often thorny politics around festival billing

By Jon Chapple on 25 Sep 2019

L–R: Bloem, Davy, Evans, Zsifkovits, Gudzent, Big Billing Debate

L–R: Bloem, Davy, Evans, Zsifkovits, Gudzent

“The discussion about festival billing is becoming more and more unreasonable. Today we’d like to start a healthy and productive discussion.”

That’s how panel chair Kim Bloem, of the Netherlands’ Mojo Concerts, opened the second session of IFF 2019, which dealt with the thorny subject of the ordering of festival bills. Joining Bloem was Kazia Davy of Echo Location Talent (UK), Ian Evans of IME Music (UK), Thomas Zsifkovits of Barracuda Music (Austria), and Julia Gudzent of Melt! Booking (Germany).

Despite Bloem’s assertion that it’s everyone’s “mutual interest” to stop wasting time discussing the minutiae of festival posters, Zsifkovits said: “Everyone has their own interest. I wouldn’t say there is mutual interest. Agents want to get their artists as high as possible, and the promoter wants to highlight the people who are going to sell tickets.”

Contrary to popular opinion, said Gudzent, when it comes to festival slots, later isn’t always better. “I had a really good agent calling me for Melt! Festival this year asking if a band could play earlier so they’d have less competition, and would be able to play against lesser-known acts,” she said. “So the latest slot isn’t always the best slot.”

Nor does a band’s slot have to necessarily correspond with their position onf a poster, suggested Davy. “As an agent, you don’t want your artist clashing with the headliner on main stage, even if they’re headlining in a tent,” she explained. “But you still might want them on poster as a headliner.”

“We’re all in the same boat: we want everyone to be happy,” said Evans, who has booked festivals including Y Not, Truck, Victorious and Tramlines.

“We’re all in the same boat: we want everyone to be happy”

Dismissing the suggestion that an alphabetised line-up could be the way forward, he said: “You need to make it clear to the public what’s on, and to show where we’ve spent our money. If we book, for instance, ZZ Top and the XX, that might be where we’ve spent all our money – so A–Z doesn’t work for us.”

“About five years ago at Melt!, we billed them all alphabetically because a lot of the acts are all on the same level, effectively,” added Gudzent. “But after a few years, it didn’t work anymore because people couldn’t spot the headliners. No one wants to read till the end…”

Speaking from the floor, Roskilde booker Anders Wahren said his festival uses a mathematical method of representing acts: “100% [font size] for headliners, then 90%, then 70%, then 50%, then even 40% for up-and-coming acts…

“If all of them wanted to have discussions about their placement, I wouldn’t have the time to do anything else. So everyone goes alphabetically in those categories.”

Ultimately, concluded Bloem, there’s “no golden rule” for how to order a festival poster.

“But I hope that for next year, we can be a bit nicer to each other and trust one another,” she said. “We have to be working together better  and not just looking anally at font sizes.”

The International Festival Forum takes place in Camden, north London, from 24–26 September, with festival and agency delegates from 40 markets represented.


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