Large music festivals like Lollapalooza, South by Southwest, the Great GoogaMooga, and Bonnaroo attract legions of live music fans from all over the country. In fact, they even draw in a significant number of international fans as well. People from all walks of life attend not just to see their favorite bands or dj’s and discover new ones, but to interact with such a large gathering of like minded people. For many music festivals an event this size is the end game. They have enormous box office sales, ample vendor income and because of their influence over their gigantic fan base they can pretty much have the pick of the litter when it comes to high paying sponsors. So the question is how do you get there?
For most the answer is going to be a combination of time, dedication, excellent execution of even the most minute task, and a bit luck, but with these lucrative sponsorship deals hanging high above the scene it seems new festivals are popping up all the time. Because of this a growing concern has been creeping up on the music festival market. A concern that the market itself is too crowded. Even the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival split into two different events recently gobbling up a nice extra slice of the pie. With all the competition from up and coming festivals and the big guys expanding at such rapid rates how can you grow your event?
Well recently, there was a conference in Las Vegas with twenty-five marketing professionals from the music industry to discuss this issue and develop solutions for competing better in a more crowded marketplace. There is a discussion below of several of the solutions they came up with.
Make the Music Festivals Free For Attendees
This was a concept set forth by Ashley Bekton, a marketing consultant with Bekton Media Group. She believes that free admission would make a festival more ubiquitous because it would draw a much larger crowd. She explained that what you might lose in ticket revenue could be made up for in sales once you draw a much larger crowd in. A music festival that can boast of a larger attendance becomes a much more attractive event to a sponsor. There's also potentially an opportunity to draw in an online audience which could mean even more sponsors and perhaps a wider diversity of sponsors. We talk more about the freemium business model in our How to Price an Event article.
Make the Music Festivals More Unique
Since there are only so many big draw headliners and hot new bands at any one time, you start to see the same bands playing at all the big venues. For example, a few years back the alternative rock band Phoenix played Made in America in Philadelphia, Lollapalooza in Chicago, Coachella, Sweetlife, and the Grove Music Festival. Most musicians tend to play exactly the same repertoire at every festival. The idea at the conference was to vary this up more and make the experiences at music festivals more unique for attendees, i.e. make it an experience they can't get anywhere else. One way to do this would be to get the groups to play different music or different variations of their music. Another way would be to use technology in new and interesting ways so that the music is experienced in a unique way. For example, a biomedical company could monitor attendee's collective heartbeats and use these to set the tempo of the music and/or in the display of lights highlighting the music.
More Organic Interaction With Sponsors
Cultivating unique sponsor interactions with festival attendees could enrich the experience for the attendees as well as helping the sponsors improve brand recognition and loyalty. This does not mean more direct selling but rather offer a memorable experience that ties in with the company in some way. It was pointed out that at one festival, Genentech took cheek swabs from attendees and analyzed their DNA. From this, they were able to generate wearable buttons that played mp3 files of music inspired by their DNA markers. While that might be a bit extreme another sponsor, Spotify, created a "hangout" where fans could see the musicians in a more intimate setting.
Encourage More Local Involvement
It was suggested that the locals should be invited to participate in the planning of a festival from the very beginning. This can help create buy in with the local governments and other officials as well as the local residents. It can also encourage more spontaneous local promotion on radio stations, local tv shows, local newspapers, other local publications, word of mouth publicity, and free online advertising through social media and discussion boards. This step could draw in more of the local and regional population into buying tickets and participating in other ways.
Increase Community Building
In a world where so much of our communication is through digital means like Facebook, Twitter, and email, people crave face to face real human contact with like minded people. Music festivals provide this through their basic nature, but more could be done to build on helping fans interact with one another. While music festivals are temporary communities in the sense that they occur for only a few days to a week, they are permanent in the sense that they happen again every year. At some of the older larger festivals, there are people that meet up from around the country every year. It's almost like attending a family reunion to them. If event organizers could find ways to connect people more, and keep them connected throughout the year, this would foster a stronger affinity for the festival and draw in more people through their other close connections. Adding social gatherings, such as bars and coffeehouses, besides the music itself at the festivals would be another method of building a stronger sense of community at these festivals.
Music festivals will have to contend with an increasing amount of competition for attendees and sponsors as more music festivals are started. For this reason, it would behoove festival organizers to look for ways to improve their festivals and set them apart from other festivals. Festivals that become more unique will likely have a decided advantage, especially for newer festivals. Different revenue models, such as the suggestion of free admission, may be needed as the marketplace becomes more saturated. Efforts to work with the sponsors to create new and exciting types of interaction are also needed as well as more local involvement. It could be that local tourism and festival attendance could be combined more than it has been in the past. Finally, anything that develops more of a sense of community among attendees will help bring back the same participants year after year.