FYF Fest Founder Sean Carlson on Goldenvoice, Market Saturation and 2013's Stellar Lineup (Q&A)

Outside of the market-leading Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one would be hard-pressed to find another multi-day music festival in Southern California with a more impressive lineup than this year’s FYF Fest in Los Angeles. 

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, FYF Fest will take place Aug. 24-25 at L.A. State Historic Park with a lineup that includes the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, My Bloody Valentine, TV on the Radio, MGMT, Beach House, Solange, Deerhunter, Devendra Banhart and Death Grips. (See full music and comedy schedule at FYF's website.)

That’s not a bad lineup for a $99 two-day pass. Tickets are still available at the festival’s site. 

With Coachella promoter Goldenvoice on board as a partner, last year’s FYF Fest attracted about 18,500 per day. FYF Fest founder/organizer Sean Carlson expect this year’s attendance numbers to go beyond that number, although he wouldn’t speculate on specific projections. 

Billboard.biz recently spoke with 28-year-old Carlson about his mindset in the days leading up to festival, how we was able to bolster this year’s lineup, what the Goldenvoice partnership has brought to the event, what he plans to do on vacation when the madness is over, and much more. 

You’re only a few days away from this year’s FYF Fest. At this stage, what’s going through your head?
My mindset’s always on what is going to make the fan experience better. Music festivals aren’t comfortable. You’re going into a place with a large capacity. A lot of the time, the promoters don’t have the fans’ best interest in mind. I’ve been in that place as well, where I’m thinking about ticket sales and breaking even, rather than what’s important to the fan. So I’ve taken myself out of that mindset and turned it into thinking about what will make them want to come back the next day.

Any major fires you’ve had to put out yet?
There are always fires. But I’ve been working on this for a year and have a team that can read me without even speaking. There’s always going to be little things, but nothing worth mentioning.

Where do ticket sales stand as of now?
They’re good. We’re in a good place. I don’t know the exact number, but it’s higher than it was last year. Hopefully we’ll get to selling it out. It’s on that path right now. 

For its size, this year’s FYF Fest has one of the best lineups of the summer. Was there a conscious effort to step it up in its tenth year? Did you have a bigger talent budget? 
No. We’re 10 years in and I’ve been going after My Bloody Valentine for years. We were in heavy conversation last year and I didn’t even know about the new record. It all fell together. And Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a new record. We’ve been discussing them playing since 2007. So we’ve been in conversation with a lot of these artists. It just happened to work out this year. That’s how it is a lot of the time -- if it doesn’t work this year for them, it will work out next year. I’m just trying to put on a festival where a 16-year-old and a 35-year-old can both watch a band and be psyched to be there and not feel alienated. So I don’t know if it’s stepping it up as much as doing a better job curating.

What feedback have you gotten about the 2013 lineup?
There’s going to be people who are bummed that there’s less punk rock and hardcore. This year is less. But we’re doing doors from 2 p.m. until midnight, and not 12 p.m. until midnight -- that’s four hours of music cut off, which is a substantial amount of time. The main stage doesn’t start until 4 p.m. And another stage doesn’t start until 3:30 p.m., because I don’t want it to go against the comedy. So it’s about 20 less bands than last year, which I’m psyched about, because no one got to see those bands. Some only played to nine people. There’s no point booking a band if they’re playing to nine people. Less is better sometimes. 

So 10 years in, what’s something new FYF attendees can expect this year?
There’s such better food. I’ve spent so much time to make sure the food is perfect. There’s tons of vegetarian, tons of vegan, tons of gluten-free and other healthy options. And if you want the bullshit carnival food, we’ve got the bullshit carnival food. Last year was awful. We didn’t control the food and beverage in the park. So in turn, it was just embarrassing. Coming from someone that’s a vegan, it bummed me out. So this year it’s been one of my priorities. 

FYF partnered with Coachella promoter Goldenvoice in 2011. How has FYF benefited from that partnership?
They’re our partners. They help with everything production related. I have a very close relationship with (Goldenvoice president and Coachella booker) Paul (Tollett). It’s a great team. I did it for the first seven years by myself, and [Goldenvoice] came onboard for years eight and nine. They’ve made it more and more organized, and this year they stepped it up the most.

I don’t want to deal with the city. I don’t have the time, the social communication skills or the means to do it. I was doing everything with a small team prior. It didn’t go as well as it should have. And it gives me more time to focus on the creative for booking and marketing, which I focus on. 

The winner of a zine contest, held ahead of this year's fest (via FYF's Instagram)

Does Goldenvoice help out with the booking and marketing of FYF?
I talk about booking with Paul (Tollett), but I have complete control of it. Their marketing team gives suggestions and they run the marketing, but we agree to everything -- who we want to advertise with, how we want to advertise, how we want to get the word out, etc. Everything is a team effort, but for booking they give me full creative control. 

Do you own the FYF Fest?
Yeah. Goldenvoice is partner and I’m only working with them. I have a long-term agreement with them. 

Have any other rival concert promoters offered to buy FYF or hire you?  
No, they don’t want to contact me. I’m just going to respond with no English or something silly. I don’t want to do it; I like who I work with. I like Goldenvoice. I wouldn’t be a smartass; I’d be very respectful. But I work with Goldenvoice because they understand me and I understand them. I’m the first to admit that I’m not the easiest person to deal with, because I have my way with the booking and with what I want to do and accomplish. I’m not really opening up other doors to work with other people. Paul (Tollett) understands that it’s not easy booking a festival, if you want to do it the right way.

Goldenvoice’s Paul Tollett is known for being extremely protective of Coachella, it sounds like you two can relate on that topic.
That’s exactly why we work together. I really like working with him, because you have someone you can relate to and understands the headaches, stress and hardships you’re going through in running it.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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