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Euro festival bosses size up the ’22 season

European festival chiefs shared their optimism for the summer season, while warning of the challenges ahead on the opening day of ESNS (European Noorderslag).

For the second consecutive year, the European festival and conference in Groningen, Netherlands, has moved entirely online in response to the government’s latest Covid-19 measures.

A standout panel for day one focused on this year’s festival season, and featured Yourope’s Christof Huber, along with FKP Scorpio CEO Stephan Thanscheidt, Codruta Vulcu of Romania’s ARTmania and Paul Reed from the UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF).

Huber, who is booker and festival director of Switzerland’s OpenAir St Gallen, said the ’22 schedule was starting to look more promising following some difficult weeks.

“I don’t see any point why bigger events in the summer time – let’s say from May to September – shouldn’t take place,” he said. “Despite the fact that it was a quite a difficult situation over Christmas, etc, I think it’s promising. I think everybody’s quite confident that the summer will be there and also, that most of the governments react differently than they did a year before.”

“We’re facing enormous costs”

Huber said that ticket sales were “solid” but had slowed down over the past couple of months, amid the emergence of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

“Right now, it’s important to show the confidence that [the 2022 festival is] happening,” he added.

However, Thanscheidt pointed out the return would not be straightforward, with additional costs due to Covid and other factors, along with the damage the pandemic had caused to the supply chain.

“Not everybody who worked in our industry… is there anymore,” he said. “Also, prices have gone up drastically in all kinds of production parts. And we’re facing a lot of challenges because, as we postponed the festivals two times, the ticket prices were based on everything we calculated in the second half of 2019. Now, we’re facing enormous costs.”

FKP’s festival portfolio includes events such as Southside and Hurricane in Germany, but Thanscheidt said that raising ticket prices was not an option as most of the ticket-holders had been holding their tickets over since 2020.

“It will be a challenging year, but it will also be a creative year”

Reed said he was confident consumer confidence would come back as restrictions are eased (UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced today that England’s plan B measures would be lifted next week).

” I think there will be that appetite for experiences,” he said. “The whole planning cycle has been shifted by this: announcements have been earlier than ever and some festivals have artists rolled over from previous years. It makes it a bit more challenging for them to market a line-up that has already been announced and is out there. And I think competition is going to be fierce.

“To come back to supply chain, that all puts a lot of pressure on inventory and infrastructure, particularly on the smaller organisations that don’t have the bargaining power or the leverage with that. The supply chain was in disarray last year and I don’t think it will self correct for this year.

“There’s no clear solution, really: it’s loss of companies, it’s loss of skills and you throw issues around Brexit into the mix and you’re potentially facing a bit of a perfect storm. But I do think that the audience confidence will be there and we’ll have more activity than ever, but it is going to be challenging.”

Vulcu referenced concerns over market oversaturation, bringing up the situation in Romania last year.

“At this point, there are so many shows, huge shows, on sale for 2022… it will be impossible for the audience to have enough money to go to every show there is and I believe that many people will lose a lot of money,” she said. “Last summer you could only have smaller events in in Romania so you had practically every single Romanian band play every single city and venue. Bands that normally would have sold maybe 1,000 or 2,000 tickets sold only 300 to 400 because there were so many acts. It was a disaster, almost every single ticket paying event in Romania lost money.”

Due to the Covid shutdown of 2020 and ’21, Thanscheidt suggested two-and-a-half years of shows were having to be squeezed into the next eight months.

“It will be a challenging year,” he said. “But it will also be a creative year, and will also be a year where we all go back to work again. And so even if you face all these problems, I am very positive and very happy to finally start booking things again and running festivals and tours again. So I’m generally positive.”

ESNS runs until Saturday (22 January). Tickets are still available here.

 


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AIF welcomes six new board members

The UK’s Association Of Independent Festivals (AIF) has announced six new board members.

As part of the organisation’s annual rotation, CEO Paul Reed welcomed Lauren Down (End Of The Road), Zac Fox (Kilimanjaro Live), Kate Osler (AEI/El Dorado), Jon Walsh (Shambala), Chris Rutherford (Boomtown Fair) and Gill Tee (Black Deer) to the board of directors at yesterday’s (11 November) AGM in London.

AIF, which now represents 90 festivals, also reported year-on-year membership growth of 34% and announced the return of its flagship Festival Congress at M Shed Museum in Bristol on 15 February 2022. The post-conference festival party will take place at Lost Horizon – an independent venue launched by the team behind Glastonbury’s Shangri La area.

The theme of this year’s AGM was ‘Resilience’ in recognition of the unprecedented challenges faced by the festival sector since the onset of the pandemic.

The fact that AIF has welcomed so many new members in recent months demonstrates the power of the collective

“When considering the last 18 months, resilience really is the word, and our sector should take great pride from the way it has adapted and survived during the pandemic,” says Reed. “AIF is pleased to have played its part in supporting independent festivals and fighting their corner.

“The fact that AIF has welcomed so many new members in recent months demonstrates the power of the collective and the need for community in difficult circumstances.”

Reaffirming its commitment to action on the climate emergency, the trade body revealed that it is supporting and funding an industry-wide green code of conduct that will be developed by Vision 2025. It also confirmed it will relaunch its Safer Spaces campaign and charter before the 2022 festival season to raise awareness around sexual harassment and violence, and promoting best practice at member events.

In addition, AIF announced a new, wide-ranging partnership with Music Support, which includes discounted Mental Health First Aid training for members and free access to Music Support’s recently launched Addiction And Recovery awareness training.

“The pandemic isn’t over, of course, but it’s good to be able to turn one eye to the future with some new faces on the board to drive us forward,” adds Reed. “There are plenty of other issues facing our industry that we have a duty to confront head on. Not least reaffirming our commitment to taking practical action on the climate emergency, as well as sexual violence and harassment at events.

“I’d also like to thank Music Support for their partnership in helping us strive for better mental health provisions for our members. It is more vital than ever given the turbulence of the last 18 months that they have access to the right support services.”

 


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UK live sector gives mixed reaction to 2021 budget

The UK’s live music industry has given a mixed response to chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget, unveiled today (27 October) in the House of Commons.

The chancellor, who upgraded this year’s economic growth forecast from 4% to 6.5%, pledged an additional £850 million in culture sector funding, the majority of which is ring-fenced (including £2m earmarked for a new Beatles attraction on Liverpool Waterfront), alongside temporary business rates relief in England for eligible retail, hospitality, and leisure properties for 2022-23, worth almost £1.7 billion.

The government is also freezing the business rates multiplier in 2022-23 – a tax cut worth £4.6bn over the next five years, and has increased the headline rate of orchestra tax relief.

However, calls to extend the VAT break on tickets sales beyond next March fell on deaf ears, and no improvements to the government’s £800m insurance scheme for live events were forthcoming. In addition, no cash was allocated to help the sector deal with Brexit’s impact on touring, while the absence of the word ‘music’ from the budget document left a sour taste.

“We’re glad to see that live music will receive some benefit from today’s spending review – including tax relief, business rates, and some extension in terms of funding,” says a spokesperson for trade body LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment).

We need government to give us the tools to make progress, which were, unfortunately, missing from today’s news

“However, with the word ‘music’ completely absent from today’s announcement, we remain steadfast in our drive to see government pay attention to the key issues we are facing: the impacts of Brexit, the recovery from Covid and the long-term growth of the sector. We need government to give us the tools to make progress, which were, unfortunately, missing from today’s news.”

It remains to be seen whether music will be eligible for the £52m of government funding set aside for museums and “cultural and sporting bodies” next year to support recovery from Covid-19, with an additional £49m allocated for 2024-25.

“We look forward to hearing more detail about some of the measures announced by the chancellor today, in particular the allocation of further Covid-19 recovery funding for the cultural sector,” says Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) CEO Paul Reed. “On the surface, however, it doesn’t go far enough in supporting our truly world-leading festival industry.

“It is clear that the most effective way for the government to support the industry’s recovery into 2022 and beyond would be to extend the VAT reduction on tickets, look closely at a permanent cultural VAT rate, and completely remove festivals based on agricultural land from the business rates system. Unfortunately, none of this was forthcoming today.”

Referencing UK Music’s latest This Is Music report, which revealed the impact of Covid-19 wiped out 69,000 music industry jobs – one in three of the total workforce – the organisation’s CEO, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, says further action is needed to support the music sector’s post-pandemic recovery.

“It is crucial that we get government support to help us continue to rebuilding and hiring people who went so long without work due to the pandemic,” he says.

“Covid halved music’s economic contribution to the UK economy from almost £6 billion a year to £3.1 billion in 2020. If the government strikes the right note by delivering the support we need, our music industry will come back stronger and bigger than ever.”

The government has missed an opportunity

Setting out a three-point plan to boost the business, Njoku-Goodwin adds: “We are pleased to see the extension of the orchestras tax relief yet the government has missed an opportunity to not take forward further music tax incentives to help boost jobs and economic growth. Similarly, business rate relief for venues is very welcome yet we remain concerned about next April’s VAT hike for live events.  

“Ministers must put turbo-chargers under the efforts to clear away the barriers that are still making it so hard and expensive for musicians and crew to tour easily in the EU. As the domestic music market recovers, the government should also build on recent trade deals by giving more funding and support for music exports.

“As well as music’s huge economic and cultural importance, we also need to see the government fully recognise its huge value to our wellbeing by properly funding music education to help nurture our talent pipeline and provide the stars of the future.”

AIM CEO Paul Pacifico welcomes new measures for venues and hospitality, but stresses the importance of a tax relief scheme for music.

“It’s encouraging to see the government recognise the serious blow Covid dealt to the UK’s music industry in today’s budget, discounting business rates for music and other hospitality venues and for premises improvements and green tech use as well as increasing tax reliefs for orchestras,” he says.

“However, more must be done to support the globally significant independent music sector to ensure a viable future for diverse music, creators and entrepreneurs. One key proposal is a tax relief scheme for music, like those successfully implemented in other creative industries such as film and games. This cost-effective measure could provide our sector with the boost it needs, attracting inward investment and creating a ripple effect across the wider music ecosystem. We urge government to include music in such schemes at the next opportunity.”

There were also contrasting emotions from Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) chief Michael Kill.

“The improved forecasts for growth announced by the chancellor today are good news, and the reopening of the night time economy has been a key part of this better-than-expected bounce back,” says Kill. “We were disappointed that the chancellor chose not to extend the 12.5% rate of VAT on hospitality – this is a missed opportunity, and it will prevent those forecasts from improving further still.”

 


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Concerns grow over UK government insurance scheme

Concerns are growing within the UK business about the government’s much-trumpeted £800 million insurance scheme for live events.

The Live Events Reinsurance Scheme, announced at the beginning of August, will cover costs incurred if an event has to be cancelled, postponed, relocated or abandoned due to a government-imposed lockdown in response to Covid-19.

However, Association Of Independent Festivals chief Paul Reed says that not only is the extent of the cover available limited, event organisers have not even been able to obtain quotes so far – despite the scheme being opened last month by chancellor Rishi Sunak.

“It doesn’t cover a festival needing to reduce capacity or cancel due to restrictions being reintroduced, and it’s clear from the government’s winter ‘plan B’ that restrictions will be reintroduced long before there is any sort of national lockdown,” says Reed.

“The scheme only covers you in the event of a civil authority shutdown at either local or national level, so it is extremely limited in scope. We surveyed members on this recently and asked them how likely they would be to pursue quotes, and 58% said ‘not likely’, 5% said ‘very likely’, 21% said ‘likely’ and the remainder said ‘unsure’. That isn’t indicative that the scheme is going to be widely used by the sector.

“We surveyed [AIF] members on this recently and asked them how likely they would be to pursue quotes… 58% said ‘not likely’”

“At the moment, you can’t obtain actual quotes, so that’s another issue. Until this is properly in play, we won’t know the full extent of these issues and whether it is a viable scheme or not. So they need to get on with it and get it in a position where it can be rolled out properly.”

The cover, which is a partnership between the government and the Lloyd’s of London insurance market, is now available to purchase alongside standard commercial events insurance for an additional premium.

To be eligible, event organisers must purchase the relevant cover from participating insurers within the scheme, including Arch, Beazley, Dale, Hiscox and Munich Re.

Premium is set at 5% of the total value of insured costs (plus Insurance Premium Tax) and claims will be subject to an excess of 5% of the value of the insured costs or £1,000 (whichever is higher) per policy.

“Another concern is the fact that it doesn’t cover artists or workforce”

“Another concern is the fact that it doesn’t cover artists or workforce,” adds Reed. “So I think, as it currently stands, it’s going to take a bit of work from government to get to the point where it will be more widely used.

“I appreciate government has put a lot of work into this. There are still details being thrashed roughed out around the scheme and questions that the sector has put to government, so the scheme could well change in some ways. But I think the fundamentals aren’t going to change and it’s not going to cover anything other than some sort of shutdown – that’s basically a trigger point that the government has agreed with the insurance industry.”

Solo Agency boss John Giddings previously dismissed the scheme as a “joke”.

“They want far too much money and there are too many caveats in it,” he told IQ. “I think they just keep paying us lip service like they have done all the way down the line.”

In Australia, meanwhile, live music figures continued to pressure the government to underwrite Covid cancellation insurance for live events at a parliamentary hearing last week. The Senate committee will report back on the bill by 3 November before it is voted on, reports Australasian Leisure Management.

John Watson, president of music company Eleven, described the lack of insurance options as “market failure”. More and more people are just saying it is too risky to take on touring,” he told ABC.

 


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Unsung Heroes 2020: Paul Reed

Unsung Heroes 2020, published in IQ 95 just before Christmas, is a tribute to some of the organisations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to help others during a year unlike any other – be that through their efforts to protect the industry, or helping those who were in desperate need.

We turned to the readership and asked you to nominate worthy causes and personalities for consideration as the inaugural members of our Unsung Heroes awards. Now, IQ can reveal the dozen most-voted Unsung Heroes of 2020, continuing with Paul Reed of the AIF, who follows Sonorama Ribera’s Javier Ajenjo.

As chief executive of the UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), Paul Reed has been an invaluable resource for the association’s 75 member events as they battle for survival until mass gatherings can once again become a reality.

Reed has been running AIF single-handedly since April, but his drive and determination have seen him take on a multitude of tasks, winning him plaudits from numerous festivals and their organisers.

Reed’s work last year included:

Reed has been running AIF single-handedly since April

 


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DCMS criticises “failure” of UK govt to support live

The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee has stated that the government’s support package for cultural industries came “too late for many”, and has called for further urgent sector-specific measures.

In the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS Sectors’ report, the committee states that the government’s recent £1.57 billion support package for the arts, while welcome, “will not be enough to stop mass redundancies and the permanent closure of our cultural infrastructure”.

In addition to the support package, which came after an intense day of lobbying from the UK live industry, the committee calls for an extension to the government’s furlough scheme – currently set to expire at the end of October – until mass gatherings are permitted; continued workforce support measures, including enhanced measures for freelancers and small companies; clear “if conditional” timelines for when events will be able to reopen, with a date for stage five of the government’s plan to reopen events set by 1 August at the latest; and “technological solutions”, such as app-based testing and tracking systems, to allow audiences to return without social distancing.

The committee also recommends the creation of a long-term pandemic reinsurance scheme, ensuring cultural industries are covered by “adequate insurance” in the future, as well as “long-term structural support” to rebuild audience figures, including sector-specific tax reliefs and a value-added tax (VAT) cut for the sector for the next three years. The British government has currently cut VAT on event tickets to 5% until the end of the year.

As for the previously announced funding, the committee demands the government “publish eligibility criteria and application guidance as soon as possible”, as well as “ensur[ing] that the funding reaches recipients no later than October 2020”.

“To reduce uncertainty, the government must publish eligibility criteria  as soon as possible”

The DCMS committee is calling for “sector-specific versions” of the current job retention and self-employed income support schemes to be implemented by October 2020 “at the latest” and kept open until income returns to “sustainable levels”. The committee notes that existing support schemes, such as the self-employed income support scheme and coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, do not cover many working in the live industry.

The report also points out that a large number of festivals, outdoor events and city centre venues have also been unable to access grants earmarked for the retail, hospitality and leisure industries, as the scheme requires businesses to occupy properties with a certain rateable value.

Using data gathered from across the live industry, the committe highlights the threats posed to the UK’s venues and festivals, with over 90% of grassroot music venues in Britain currently face permanent closure, as estimated by the Music Venue Trust (MVT), and the 23 UK arenas making up the National Arenas Association set to lose almost £235m in ticket sales over a six-month period.

As for the festival sector, the report state that: “The seasonality of the industry means that cancellations over spring and summer mean a complete loss of income for the year ahead, which could have devastating consequences for the SMEs and self-employed workers in the live events supply chain.”

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has previously stated that 92% of its member festivals are facing permanent collapse.

“We are witnessing the biggest threat to our cultural landscape in a generation,” comments DCMS committee chair Julian Knight.

“We are witnessing the biggest threat to our cultural landscape in a generation”

“The failure of the government to act quickly has jeopardised the future of institutions that are part of our national life and the livelihoods of those who work for them. Our report points to a department that has been treated as a ‘Cinderella’ by government when it comes to spending, despite the enormous contribution that the DCMS sectors make to the economy and job creation.

“We can see the damaging effect that has had on the robustness and ability of these areas to recover from the Covid crisis. We urge the government to act on our recommendations, to recognise the value these sectors provide and imagine how much bleaker the outcome for all without their survival.”

Representatives from across the UK live industry have welcomed the DCMS recommendations. UK Music acting CEO Tom Kiehl has called the document a “watershed report in the fight for survival for many companies and individuals working across the music industry.”

“We fully support the conclusions of today’s important report and want to send out thanks to the committee for recognising the value in our industry,” comments Phil Bowdery, chairman of the Concert Promoters Association and executive president of Live Nation.

“This report demonstrates that a sector-specific deal to support the industry, conditional timelines for reopening without social distancing and long-term structural support are going to be vital in ensuring the survival of the live music in the UK.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the government to ensure that the entire sector can be supported through this time.”

“This report demonstrates that a sector-specific deal to support the industry is going to be vital in ensuring the survival of the live music in the UK”

Mark Davyd, CEO of MVT, commends the recognition of the “urgency of short-term measures to prevent the catastrophic loss of vital infrastructure”, as well as more long-term measures aimed at “restor[ing] the sector to health and to future proof it against threats”.

From a production point of view, Andy Lenthall, general manager of the Production Services Association (PSA) says it is “hugely heartening” that the DCMS has recognised the “vital part” suppliers and technicians play in the cultural ecosystem.

AIF CEO Paul Reed similarly welcomes the findings of the report “which specifically acknowledges that the UK’s thriving festival and live events sector has been particularly badly hit by this crisis”.

“We’re particularly pleased to see that our recommendations for long-term relief, including extensions of existing employment support schemes and an extended VAT cut, have been taken onboard,” says Reed.

“We look forward to working further with DCMS to ensure that the festival sector, which generates £1.75bn for the UK economy and supports 85,000 jobs, can survive and continue to thrive into 2021 and beyond.”

The report is available to read in full here.

Photo: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament (CC BY 3.0) (cropped)

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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UK to face “festival wasteland” without gov support

The UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has warned that 92% of its 65 members could collapse under refund requests if the government does not take “meaningful action” to support them.

AIF festivals alone generate an estimated £386 million for the UK economy each year, with the wider British music business contributing £5.2 billion to the economy in 2018.

However, it is predicted that at least 90% of all UK festivals will not take place this summer, meaning the sector could be facing potential refunds of up £800m in total.

Glastonbury Festival was the first major UK event to call time on 2020, with AIF members Bluedot, Boomtown, Black Deer, Bloodstock, Cornbury, 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent among those to cancel.

Major live music conglomerates Live Nation and AEG have also made a number UK festival cancellations in recent weeks, with Live Nation-owned promoter Festival Republic most recently calling off its twin festivals Reading and Leeds.

Almost all (98.5%) of AIF’s 65 member festivals are not covered for coronavirus-related cancellations, with events reporting an average of £375,000 in non-recoupable costs for 2020.

A recent AIF survey has revealed that over half of those making up the independent festival sector in the UK could be facing redundancy from September 2020 onwards if no extra support is given.

“This is not a temporary shutdown of business – it is an entire year of income and trade wiped out”

The AIF, as part of the wider UK Live Music Group, is lobbying the government to ask for clear guidance on when large-scale events will be permitted again, as well as detailed information on what social distancing measures would be expected to ensure public safety.

The organisation has also asked for value-added tax (VAT) breaks on ticket sales for a minimum of 18 months; a continuation of all existing employment schemes; and acknowledgement of the distinction between retail and seasonal business in ongoing business support schemes.

“The government has not taken meaningful action to protect our sector,” says AIF CEO Paul Reed. “This is not a temporary shutdown of business – it is an entire year of income and trade wiped out. If support is not offered throughout the autumn, then the sector will face widespread job losses that will seriously inhibit its ability to deliver events in 2021.”

Reed adds that many independent festivals have “fallen between the cracks” of current support measures, with no AIF members gaining access to the government’s business interruption loans scheme.

“Next year’s festival season will hopefully offer much needed relief after a very difficult time for the country. But, for now, these independent businesses need to survive. Otherwise, every year from now could be a fallow year for independent festivals, for the emerging artists they provide a platform for, and the local economies across the UK that they generate income for.”

IQ’s next IQ Focus virtual panel, Festival Forum: Here Comes 21, features Rachael Greenfield, director of AIF member festival Bloodstock Open Air, along with Anders Wahren (Roskilde Festival), Jim King (AEG Presents), Stephan Thanscheidt (FKP Scorpio), and Mathieu Jaton (Montreux Jazz Festival).


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European festivals in limbo as crisis continues

As Britain’s large summer events continue to fall away (with Goldenvoice UK’s All Points East and Live Nation’s Lovebox and Parklife the latest to cancel due to coronavirus concerns), members of several European festival associations are taking a different approach – biding their time while urging governments to provide greater clarity about the months ahead.

“The cancellation of Glastonbury was a surprise to a lot of people [in continental Europe] and, media-wise, a big pressure on everybody,” says Christof Huber, festival director of Switzerland’s OpenAir St Gallen and Summer Days Festival, and general secretary of Yourope, the European Festival Association.

Last week, two of the association’s members, Roskilde Festival (Denmark) and Open’er Festival (Poland), spearheaded the #FestivalsStandUnited campaign, which saw some of Europe’s biggest music festivals state that they intend to go ahead with their events this summer, and that in doing so they will “be a crucial part of the survival of this industry”.

More than 60 festivals – including events taking place in early June – put their names to an open letter entitled ‘Festivals Stand United Across Europe’, which was also signed by Yourope.

Paul Reed, CEO of the UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), says it’s widely expected the lockdown in Britain will go on beyond the current three-week period, with many festivals assuming 12 weeks of no public gatherings – a period that extends well into June (without even taking into account a two-week build).

“It’s impossible to build a festival when all the workers are in lockdown”

Reed says the views of AIF’s 65-strong membership are as diverse as the festivals themselves: “We have some members with events in August contemplating what they should do, but on the other hand we have festivals in July thinking they’re going to go ahead,” he explains, noting that there are “myriad considerations” around deciding to cancel or postpone.

Also weighing up his options is Patrick de Groote, artistic director of Belgian world music festival Sfinks Mixed (23–26 July) and secretary of the Forum of Worldwide Music Festivals (FWMW), who tells IQ: “We’re hearing that all April festivals [in Belgium] will be cancelled; in May, some yes, some no… We’re still waiting to be told, and everybody is preparing so we can be ready when we have more information.”

De Groote says one Dutch FWMW member has already made the decision to cancel, after concluding it could not be ready in time for June. “It’s impossible to build a festival when all the workers are in lockdown,” he says.

According to Reed, there are advantages in being ordered to cancel by authorities, as opposed to organisers pulling the plug themselves, particularly around artist fees (although he adds, encouragingly, that “most festivals are already working positively with agents” on that front).

“A lot of things are on hold right now,” adds de Groote, “including artist contracts. It’s hard to sign something when you don’t know if you’re going to be able to honour the contract.”

“Festivals can’t just pull the plug without knowing the situation in three months”

An additional issue for world music festivals like Sfinks, he continues, is that different parts of the world are at different stages with regards to coronavirus. “At Sfinks, we always have a lot of African and South American bands, and their countries are much earlier in this pandemic than Europe and North America,” he explains. “This year, we’ve booked [Malian duo] Amadou and Mariam and [US act] the Blind Boys of Alabama – the Blind Boys should be OK, but where will Mali be in a few months’ time?”

Huber says Yourope’s members are “all [still] working on our festivals”, and need “a few more weeks to monitor the situation” before deciding whether to go ahead as planned.

“We need a certain clarity about the policy of our governments and about any restrictions,” he adds. “Festivals can’t just decide to pull the plug without knowing what the situation will be in three months.”

Whatever the outcome of summer 2020, Reed emphasises than both fans and festivals must remain positive about the future. “It’s difficult to think about the recovery when people are in survival mode, but’s important to remember we will come out of this,” he concludes. “And when we do, people will need live music more than ever.”

 


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UK sell-outs down as slow festival season looms

Festival bosses have identified economic uncertainty, homogenisation and difficulty booking talent as the likely factors behind Britain’s slow festival season, as the UK festival business braces for a quieter-than-normal summer.

At a time of year when most summer events expect to be approaching capacity, of the major May–June festivals only Glastonbury Festival and Manchester’s Parklife have sold out – with tickets still available for heavy hitters like All Points East (24 May–2 June), Field Day (7–8 June), Isle of Wight Festival (13–16 June) and Download (14–16 June).

A number of events are also appearing on discount sites such as Groupon, while several festivals are currently advertising two-for-one ticket offers on social platforms.

While the majority of festival professionals quizzed by IQ say their 2019 ticket sales are softer than previous years, opinions are divided as to why, and the broader implications for the UK’s mature festival market.

“We’re OK – we’re probably going to end up 10 to 15% on last year, which is where we wanted to be,” says Oliver Jones, who – alongside his wife, Kate Webster – runs Yorkshire’s Deer Shed Festival (11,500-cap.), which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary. “But there are plenty of events on our radar who aren’t doing so well.”

Jones says the festivals “that are selling out, and will continue to, are independent, and the owners really care about the experience. Look at Green Man, for example – they put hospitality right at the top of the things their festival should offer, and look after people.”

“There does seem to be a general slowdown on ticket sales”

Another festival boss laments that too many events share a booker, with the result that festival line-ups are becoming increasingly samey. “You can make a Venn diagram,” they say, “with a handful of bands. One festival will have Elbow and Doves and Franz Ferdinand, another will have Doves and Franz Ferdinand but no Elbow, and so on… Too many festivals now are just homogenised.”

Gill Tee, co-founder with Debs Shelling of Kent’s Black Deer Festival, says the Americana event, now in its second year, is “going great guns”: “Fortunately for us we are currently on track, and do not seem to be too affected by the challenges other festivals are experiencing this year.”

“With [her] supplier head on”, as co-founder and director of Entertee Hire, Tee says “there does seem to be a general slowdown on ticket sales. I have heard many opinions as to the reasons why, but in reality nobody really knows. There have been years in the past that have shown a general slowdown on the appetite for attending festivals, which has then lifted the year after.”

Conversely, for Paul Reed, CEO of the 65-strong Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), while some members are “a bit slower than usual”, the 2019 season is largely “a mixed bag, as always”.

“I’m not seeing any dramatic changes, but there might be a cloud of Brexit uncertainty affecting people’s buying habits,” Reed explains. “And, as always, festivals are at the mercy of who’s out and touring – ultimately, line-ups are dictated by who’s available.”

Tee largely attributes 2019’s slowdown to “the amount of choice [in festivals] people now have, and they probably just buy later because they can.”

“It’s mad to spend all your budget on one or two bands, when no act is liked by everyone”

Meanwhile, Reed notes that, with artist fees still spiralling, many of AIF’s members have given up on the headliner “arms race” altogether, with several events having “stepped out of playing that game completely”.

That’s true of Deer Shed, adds Jones, who says he’s “not prepared to play that game with headliners anymore”. Topping the family friendly festival’s line-up for its tenth year are Ezra Furman, Anna Calvi and Australian indie-rockers Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, with money that would have gone on booking a single huge musical headliner instead invested in hospitality, facilities and comedians such as Reginald D. Hunter, Milton Jones and Nina Conti.

Outside the big corporate events, the UK festivals that succeed in future – even in slow years – are the focused, niche events with a strong identity and loyal fanbase, suggests one industry insider.

“Look at 5,000-or-so-capacity festivals like [experimental rock event] ArcTanGent or [Herefordshire music and arts festival] Nozstock,” they say. “Nozstock in particular is doing really well now. I think the penny has dropped that it’s not all about the headliners, and if you go to these kind of events you feel valued and you’re going to have a unique experience.”

“It’s mad to spend all your budget on one or two bands, when no act is liked by everyone,” they conclude. “So you’ve got to adapt. Of course, you can have a great festival if you’re prepared to lose a million pounds – but most of us don’t have that luxury.”

 


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After a decade, AIF goes it alone

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) will break away from its parent company, the Association of Independent Music (AIM), to operate as a separate company as of April this year.

AIF was set up in 2008 as a division of AIM by Rob da Bank (Bestival), Ben Turner (Graphite Media) and former AIM chief exec Alison Wenham, and has since grown from 12 to 65 member festivals with a collective audience of over 600,000.

The newly independent association will be led by current general manager Paul Reed, who has been appointed chief executive.

He will be supported by AIF chair Jim Mawdsley, vice-chair Goc O’Callaghan (ArcTanGent) and a board of directors that includes execs from Broadwick Live, Kilimanjaro Live, Standon Calling, Liverpool Sound City, Bestival and more.

“It feels like AIF has grown up and is ready to leave home”

Reed is also joined by new recruit Phoebe Rodwell, who moves from the Music Managers Forum to become AIF’s membership and project coordinator, a newly created role that will focus on membership development.

The company will also move into new premises at the Handbag Factory in Vauxhall, London.

“Following ten successful years, it feels like AIF has grown up and is ready to leave home,” comments Reed. “I’d like to thank all at AIM for supporting and nurturing AIF, enabling us to grow from a handful of promoters around a table to an invaluable support network for our 65 members.

“I’m incredibly excited about the future. We’re working on a number of initiatives and campaigns for this year and, with a new team in place, we’re in a strong position to move on to the next phase of our development.”

 


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