Is this the end for live music events? - Audio Media International

Is this the end for live music events?

With ?virtual? festivals booming, should we all just pack away our wellies and simply log on??
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With the summer festival season now well under way, Nokia has seized the opportunity to launch its own digital festival. In a marketing ploy designed to draw people towards its Facebook page, Nokia will be streaming live performances from various new bands to the site for people to peruse at their leisure.

Now, while the term ‘digital festival’ is in no way likely to generate the same levels of excitement and attention created by ‘real life’ festivals just yet, there may well be potential in the idea of creating online festivals for new bands to showcase their material. As these kinds of opportunities appear to be on the wane at high-profile festivals, with many meandering down the path of commercialisation and focusing increasingly on mainstream appeal, maybe the time has come to reflect upon the direction of the live music sector.

Take this year’s Glastonbury as a prime example. What once was designed as a platform for the world’s most inspiring and ground-breaking acts, has now become a showcase of all that is bland, tiresome and long past its sell-by date; at least with regards to its headliners. The subsequent result of placing acts such as U2, Coldplay and Beyonce on the Pyramid Stage appears to be one of apathy amongst hardcore festival-goers. Whilst this may delight the masses and the casual music fan, it seems rather unfortunate that this tack will eventually lead to an increase in attendees concerned only with watching the latest mainstream pop artists, inevitably leading to the booking of even more pointless performers.

So, with Glasto now more akin to teeny-bopper fest Party in the Park, what does the future hold for new or unsigned bands trying to utilise the festival circuit as a means to gaining further exposure and increasing their fanbase? If such a platform were in place, whereby a website devoted to highlighting the best in up and coming bands could gain the necessary industry and promotional backing, would this ultimately provide a superior alternative? This could well be the case, especially for a younger, more tech-savvy audience, who would be likely to embrace such an idea.

Certainly this is a notion that Andrew Wooden, editor of tech trade publication PCR, subscribes to: "People have been using the internet for all manner of social activities, which ten years ago we would have deemed ridiculous. It's important to remember the social networking revolution is a relatively new thing, and constantly spreading into new areas as it finds its feet. The prospect of watching a live gig online may initially raise some eyebrows, but to many – certainly with regards to younger demographics who are growing up with the internet embedded in their lives – this will seem far more attractive. With support from the right places in the music industry, there's no reason initiatives of this type couldn't find significant success."

Even Glastonbury founder and organiser Michael Eavis is beginning to show signs of disillusionment at the state of the festival’s future prospects, as he recently revealed his doubts as to the long-term future of the event, saying, “There is a feeling that people have seen it all before. Womad and Latitude are not selling out. We sell out only because we get huge headliners."

Similar sentiments can also be attributed to other major festivals, suggesting that a lack of interest in these events is becoming widespread. Back in March the BBC reported that the Reading festival, which usually sells out within 24 hours, still had thousands of tickets unsold days after they went on sale. Although organisers may be quick to claim that this is due the current financial downturn, one must consider the possibility that these events may simply not hold the same appeal as in previous years.

This is not, however, an opinion shared by Reading festival organiser Melvin Benn, who believes that the way forward for festivals is to appeal to all ages, in order to draw a bigger crowd. He explains: "The idea of being an eternal teenager is very much on the agenda, and I'm rather pleased that it is actually, because that means that people still want to go to festivals when they're 30, 40 and 50."

By taking this approach, Richard Cope, senior leisure analyst at Mintel, also expects the younger generation to be more receptive to rock and roll bands of all ages. He added: "This is the first time we've had this generation who are traditionally time and cash rich, this is the first time we've had a generation in this segment who have grown up with rock and roll."

Yet, while the more mainstream of the UK’s festivals might be turning their noses towards commercial pastures to maintain their longevity, there are still some that are doing their bit to keep things ‘indie’, such as the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. On UK shores the festival arrives in two formats. One is in the form of a two-day event, which takes place at a relatively small capacity holiday camp in Minehead, while the other takes place over two days at London’s Alexandra Palace. The indie appeal of such a festival stems from the absence of any corporate sponsoring and the overall intimacy of proceedings. The Minehead event possesses no VIP area for artists, adding to the communal spirit one would be unlikely to find at any of the higher-profile festivals on offer. Furthermore, the line-up is consistently in keeping with the ethos of the festival, allowing a particular artist to curate the event, without ever succumbing to the pressures of booking a ‘big name’. This year’s curators and headliners at the Alexandra Palace event are Portishead, with Grinderman and PJ Harvey also appearing on the bill.

With the future of UK festivals looking to be in the balance, a major shift in the approach to bookings could well be imminent. If the only way to secure a profit is to bump lesser known artists down the pecking order to make way for the Beyone’s and U2’s of this world, one can only hope that the likes of ATP maximise the availability of those being rejected to create a truly independent identity for those seeking music of a less commercial nature.

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