Even Festivals Have To Live With The Rules Of Economics

Submitted by Peter Astedt

I’m currently involved in booking artists for several festivals this summer. Recently, I spent some time reviewing applications for one particular festival. It’s a smaller family-oriented event, driven by the local community and typically draws around 3000 visitors. While it may not be the most financially robust festival. It has though a family feeling and it’s a good starting point for a newer artist.

If you’ve worked in live booking, you know that personal relationships play a significant role – perhaps even more than you’d expect. The prices you can secure when you have established connections with booking agencies can be vastly different from what you’d get if you were just another person seeking a live show from an artist on their roster. In some cases, I’ve witnessed discounts of up to 50% off the regular price. This is why price tags are usually not listed on the agency’s official websites; you have to contact them for a price quote, as it can vary greatly depending on the circumstances.

Unfortunately, this means that for independent artists like yourself, bookings can be much more challenging. You’re likely at the early stages of your career have a limited number of ticket sales. Building a loyal fanbase and showcasing your skills in front of an audience is crucial. Moreover, you may not have established relationships with many festivals. Even if you do, you essentially have only one product to offer: your own act.

Recently, the festival I’ve been working with decided to address the difficulties artists face in reaching out to festivals. They introduced a system for artists to apply directly, challenging the dominance of big booking agencies and making it somewhat easier for artists to have their music heard by the booker.

While reviewing the applications, I was astonished by the lack of thought exhibited by some artists. It seems like they believe the world revolves around them and that they are a divine gift to music. However, there is a simple factor to consider here: the festival needs to sell tickets. With a limited capacity of just 3000, there is a cap on the number of tickets they can sell. The revenue generated must cover expenses such as sound, lights, permits, food, delegates and staff. As a result, the festival has a small budget to allocate towards booking artists. It’s unrealistic to expect top-charting artists to fit within our budget. Negotiating fees with artists is possible, but it must be done reasonably. A top artist simply won’t be affordable within our financial constraints.

Let me provide a few examples of some submissions we received:

We received an application from an artist—a singer-songwriter from London—who has released just one song in February. This artist can’t even be found on Spotify, with only 36 listings on YouTube, and has 6 followers on Facebook and 10 on Instagram. Yet, they demanded a fee of 50,000 Euros.

I encountered another case from Berlin where a world music band, specializing in Afrobeat with a harmonica, requested 25,000 Euros. However, their online presence is quite underwhelming, with only 227 Spotify listeners, no dedicated YouTube channel, and their releases scattered across obscure playlists. They have 547 followers on Facebook and 1,000 followers on Instagram. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the 25,000 Euros only covers their fee—they also require an additional 5,000 Euros for travel expenses.

Another example involves an American rapper who wants 10,000 Euros to travel across the Atlantic for a solo performance. Surprisingly, this artist only has a mere 36 listeners on Spotify, 132 followers on YouTube, and 553 followers on Facebook. However, their posts receive minimal engagement, with an average of just two interactions per post, most likely from their own mother. On Instagram, they boast 10,000 followers, but it’s evident that many of them are fake, given that their posts receive an average of only 36 likes (although it’s unclear if their mother is responsible for all of them).

These examples represent some of the most extreme cases, but there are many artists in the range of 5,000 Euros who are relatively unknown both in Sweden and their home country. Unfortunately, without a substantial fanbase, these artists struggle to justify such high fees. On the other hand, thanks to my connections with agencies, I can secure a festival headliner for as low as 4,000 Euros. This headliner boasts a dedicated fanbase, can sell around 1,500 tickets, and has established themselves as a prominent name on the festival circuit.

I understand that you’re trying to make a living through live performances. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the rules of economics apply to the music industry as well, even if it seems that many people fail to grasp this concept.