Keep ticket prices down. Don’t grow too big. Stay prudent at the talent-buying table.
Those are the top tips for Australia’s festival operators in the years ahead. Because when the dust settles on 2013, festival promoters Down Under will take stock of what’s been the bloodiest year in recent memory.
Many of the big brands changed hands, retooled or went down. Harvest and Peats Ridge were canceled and won’t return, while the Homebake and Pyramid Rock festivals nixed their 2013 events.
“Ticket price has had such a massive impact, and that’s probably what’s affected the bigger festivals,” says Stephen Wade, CEO of booking agency Select Music. Wade reports that such festivals as Falls and Groove in the Moo are having “no problems” and that they “resisted that urge to chase the dollar and get bigger.”
Some of the big action behind the scenes included Soundwave promoter AJ Maddah coming onboard with Big Day Out and Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Group adding the Future Music Festival brand to its portfolio.
Then there was Robert Sillerman’s SFX Entertainment acquiring Totem OneLove Group, promoter and producer of Australia’s EDM event Stereosonic. The fest was one of the biggest traveling events in 2012, with more than 60,000 attending the Sydney leg alone, and this year’s dates (Nov. 30-Dec. 8) are performing well at the box office. Headlined by David Guetta, Calvin Harris and Armin van Buuren, the format has expanded to a two-day fest and will visit the big five Australian cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth). Executives in the live industry observe that the ticket price — considered good value for the money at around $200 Australian ($189) — is part of its success.
“People are no longer holding that brand loyalty, and they’re not biting at high ticket prices,” says Damian Cunningham, founder of music industry services company Elastic Entertainment.
Hip-hop festivals have been hit hardest. Live Nation’s inaugural Movement fest and its rival Supafest were canceled in April, while the Sprung festival nixed its Melbourne leg and boutique mini-fest Rap City and a national tour featuring Pitbull and Ke$ha were scrapped.
The cancellations will certainly hurt “perception” of hip-hop events Down Under, Elefant Traks managing director Tim Levinson says. But “memories can be short. There’s no ‘curse’ — a lot of huge tours have worked really well. We’re just obsessed with music festivals here and hip-hop hasn’t slam-dunked it yet.”
According to Live Performance Australia’s “Ticket Attendance & Revenue Survey,” 2012 was a tough time for rock and pop concerts on the whole. Gross revenue from contemporary music declined by 10.6% to $482.2 million Australian ($457 million) while total attendance shrunk by 7.7%. The average ticket price for a concert fell by 3.1% to $100.27 Australian ($95) in 2012.
The state of flux in the Australian market, says Declan Forde, director of contemporary music for the Melbourne Festival, is simply a “correction in the market. Australian festivals probably peaked about four years ago, business-wise. The ones that have shown financial discipline when bidding on an act, they’re doing OK. The good festivals, the niche festivals, will survive.”