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Top Booking Agents On Double-Weekend Festivals: ‘It’s Bad’ For Young Bands

Adding a second weekend has led to record grosses and attendance for mega-festivals Coachella and Austin City Limits, but how do some of the music industry's biggest booking agents really feel about…

Adding a second weekend has led to record grosses and attendance for mega-festivals Coachella and Austin City Limits, where acts are often paid double their one-weekend fee for the hassle of routing around the general vicinity of Indio, Calif., and Austin, Texas, respectively, for 10 days. But how do some of the music industry’s biggest booking agents really feel about the approach? Six top execs spoke up on a panel at Billboard’s Touring Conference on Nov. 19 titled “Agents Of Change: The Booking Agents Weigh In.” 

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“I’ve said it before, so it’s not like I can get in any more trouble: It’s bad,” says David Viecelli, founder-president of booking agency Billions (St. Vincent, Arcade Fire), alluding to an April 2012 interview he gave Billboard in the midst of Coachella’s first dual-weekend outing. “I think that from their perspective, your event becomes a little bit less unique. Festivals are trying to differentiate themselves from each other, and often have to go to the same headliners, so it’s more and more difficult from the artist perspective.”

Yes, Vieceli conceded, headliners can get “a couple great paydays instead of one,” and those acts oftentimes “can afford to say we’re just gonna relax at a resort in between the two weekends.” But for the vast majority of the bands at the middle level and below, you just can’t support the number of shows those artists are trying to put on in between the two weekends, because none of those are the best markets in the country to begin with.”

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Marty Diamond, head of East Coast Music at Paradigm (Coldplay, Ed Sheeran) joked that the tactic was “hard hitting the arteries. There’s only so many passages you can go through. The same thing happens with South By Southwest with the week before and the week after because you know what? Kansas City cannot sustain 20 bands a night. It’s not designed for that, and the population can’t do that. It’s not dissimilar to San Diego, Pomona, San Francisco or Phoenix, which are the handful of cities you can put around Coachella. It’s really, really hard.”

“I think the gains you get from mid-to-low level spots on festivals are worth the damage you might do from surrounding markets,” countered Frank Riley, president of High Road Touring (Lucinda Williams, Amanda Palmer).

But putting baby bands on a festival bill too early in their career often means they’re playing too early in the day, like noon at Lollapalooza or 1:30 a.m. at Coachella, before the audience really shows up. 

It’s a battle that Diamond constantly fights for his clients. “I gotta get my festivals, but if we get this one early in a band’s career, they’re so early in the bill and they’re not gonna have the grace of repeating when there’s some inertia behind you. It’s an odd one, you get it thrown back to you as an agent from record companies, like, ‘We need this. It’s a really good talking point for us and it will help us get x, y and z.’ But I don’t know that it will help us get x, y, and z.”

“Artists and managers look to those festivals for discovery,” added Paul Lohr, president of North America for New Frontier Touring (The Avett Brothers, Shakey Graves). “But I think the reality is that most of those people are still drunk or nursing a hangover from the last night’s jam session.”