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Primavera’s Marta Pallarès talks booking strategy

Having set a precedent for gender-balanced lineups, the Barcelona festival has once again delivered a diverse and heavy-hitting bill

By Lisa Henderson on 29 May 2024

Marta Pallarès, Primavera Sound

Marta Pallarès, Primavera Sound

image © Christian Bertrand

Primavera Sound’s Marta Pallarès has spoken to IQ about the 2024 edition, which kicks off today in Barcelona.

This year marks a return to form for the Spanish festival, which took place in both Barcelona and Madrid in 2023. Organisers described the latter as “one of the most complicated” editions of Primavera Sound and chose not to proceed with a sequel.

The flagship event returns to Parc Del Fòrum for a 22nd edition, headlined by Pulp, Vampire Weekend, Justice, Lana Del Rey, The National, Disclosure, SZA, PJ Harvey, Mitski and Charli XCX.

Having set a precedent for gender-balanced lineups in 2019, the 75,000-capacity flagship has once again delivered a diverse and heavy-hitting bill, leaving ‘pale, male and stale‘ festivals in the dust.

In the following Q&A, Pallarès reveals the festival’s progressive booking strategy, discusses its pressing challenges and mulls the brand’s expansion opportunities…

How have ticket sales been for Primavera Sound 2024?
MP: We are selling wonderfully. We typically have really strong sales in the last week before the festival so we’re expecting 65–70,000 fans on Thursday and Saturday, and up to 75,000 on Friday – that’s the ‘Lana’ [Del Rey] effect.

Despite reports of a ‘headliner drought‘ Primavera has secured a raft of big-name acts for 2024. How has the booking process been for this edition?
We work very far in advance. We have been doing that for years but it’s very crucial now. Bookings like Lana’s might take 35 months, for example. So now, we are talking to artists for the next edition but also some headliners for 2026. That’s the way to secure big names before they decide to do stadium shows or organise a tour. But there’s also a risk [with this approach]. How do you know if an artist will still be relevant in two years? How do you know that the budget you have for them is going to be appropriate in two years? It’s very difficult to [take this approach] unless you have a very solid relationship with agents and agencies. And you have to have a strong taste of what you are programming because otherwise, you might find yourself in two years with something that’s a complete flop. So we are very happy this hasn’t happened to us.

“Gender balance is not only about numbers, it’s also the position or the spotlight you’re giving those artists”

How’s the gender balance looking for this year’s festival?
When we released we were 42% female, 42% male and 18% mixed acts but [after last-minute changes], I think we might have more female than male artists now. This is if you’re counting [binary] genders only. We started counting non-binary artists last year. In that way, the lineup is even more diverse because we have a small percentage of non-binary artists.

Gender balance is not only about numbers, it’s also about the position or the spotlight you’re giving those artists. It’s not okay if you just say, ‘I have 50 female acts but none of them is a headliner’. If you take a look into Saturday, it’s almost exclusively women: SZA PJ Harvey, Mitski, Charli XCX, Bikini Kill, Roisin Murphy, Romy, 070 Shake, Atarashii Gakkoi, Dorian Electra and Earth Eater. It’s three lines of women at the top of the bill. We truly believe that they are there because they deserve to be there.

“We are a ‘full festival ticket’ festival… that means we need to programme really strong days every day”

How does Primavera’s booking team manage the bill diversity?
Everything is colour-coded so we can see if we are lacking different ethnicities – if we don’t have enough artists from Asia for example, we are also looking at that. Gender-wise, we also code artists so the moment you see too much of one colour, we’re not doing well. And then our motto is “think more” –  that’s what the bookers say all the time.

What are the other challenges with booking, in the current climate?
We are a ‘full festival ticket’ festival; we don’t rely that much on day tickets. That’s what we have always been. That means we need to programme really strong days every day. It’s not just okay to have your big headliner on Friday and that’s it. We know that typically people come for the full festival experience and that’s not that common for our intel from other festivals.

We are very well aware of the fact that it’s not easy times for anyone financially. People are choosing to spend their time and money with us so we have to work till we can give them the best experience. I always like to say that we work all year long to give the audience the best weekend of that year.

“Technical riders are more complex than ever”

Has Primavera made any changes to ticket prices this year?
We are still one of the cheapest festivals compared to our direct competitors. The median price is around €280 if you compare early bird up to the last batch of tickets – €5 cheaper than last year. Taking into account recession and inflation, it’s quite impressive.

Tell us about some of the challenges Primavera is experiencing.
Technical riders are more complex than ever. A lot of artists are coming to the festival and bringing shows that before would be only for stadiums, like Dua Lipa in 2022 who brought with her a catwalk and everything. But our biggest challenge is securing stability in our venue. We work with contracts that are four-year leases and now we are in the middle of one of those. We need to work with stability because we’re booking two years ahead. We really need to know that we can continue our festival here because Parc Del Forum is something that you can’t find anywhere else. Fortunately, we are on excellent terms with Barcelona Town Hall. Another challenge that we might face is accommodation in Barcelona. Right now Primavera Sound is the biggest event in our city – maybe even in Spain – and we have to accommodate 1,200 artists and crew members for the week, as well as our staff.

“Weather is becoming an issue [in the sector] but we are lucky to be in Barcelona”

Primavera Sound Madrid’s first day proper was called off due to adverse weather, which is an increasing issue in the festival sector. Is it a concern for the Barcelona event?
We are lucky because of the time of the year. You don’t usually see extreme weather in Barcelona at the end of May/the beginning of June. Of course, anything can happen but we are monitoring that. We have meteorologists on our payroll and receive daily reports so production can know that if we’re expecting winds this afternoon, then we should switch the order of the production so everything runs smoothly. Weather is becoming an issue [in the sector] but we are lucky to be in Barcelona.

Primavera’s global footprint has rapidly expanded in the last few years. Do you have any new editions or markets in the works?
Latin America is working beautifully and has always been an ongoing plan. We have two full festivals, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, and some one-day festivals and headline shows. In order to be competitive as an independent festival, we need to be able to offer several cities for those big headliners, otherwise it’s unaffordable for us and the act. So that’s the idea behind the headline shows, but they also act as a test: if we find the right partners, the right venue, the right suppliers and the right audience, we could launch a full festival in that city as well. The seven dates in Latin America are pretty much fixed right now but that might change in the future. With Montevideo [Uruguay] for example, if we sell out what we are planning there, then maybe we can decide to organise something bigger. We are always on the lookout if something cool comes up. Slow and steady is key here.


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