The year festivals started to dry up

Olympics and a soaking summer didn't help but there may be too many big events for the music market

The annual music festival season is almost over. Last weekend saw two of the biggest of the year, Reading and Leeds. The appropriately named End of the Road, featuring Patti Smith and Blur's Graham Coxon, is taking place in Dorset this weekend, while Bestival, starring Stevie Wonder and Florence and the Machine, is next week on the Isle of Wight.

Whatever the weather brings for these last big outdoor music events of 2012, it already feels like this year was a washout as far as many in live music are concerned.

A perfect storm appears to have struck the industry, with several festivals being cancelled and many others suffering from lower ticket sales.

Heavy rain during much of June and July, the recession, youth unemployment, the Olympics, a lack of big headline acts, and the rise of foreign festivals have all been blamed.

But the awkward truth is that after a decade of almost uninterrupted growth, the live music market also looks over-saturated.

The latest concerts to run into trouble are those featuring veteran singer Leonard Cohen, which were set to take place at Hop Farm in Kent next weekend. The organisers, Vince Power's AIM-listed Music Festivals group, were unexpectedly forced last week to shift the Cohen gigs to Wembley Arena at short notice.

No reason was given but the Kent venue has been a headache for Mr Power this summer. His company has already admitted that its flagship Hop Farm festival, featuring Bob Dylan, at the end of June was loss making after weaker-than-expected ticket sales. Profits were also much lower at its other flagship festival, Benicassim in Spain.

Mr Power, who floated Music Festivals a year ago as the first listed festivals company in a bid to tap into the live music boom, has warned the stock market that he is exploring "ways of raising additional working capital". The shares have slumped 96 per cent since their debut in June 2011.

A spokesman for Mr Power declined to comment for this article but the problems aren't confined to his company. A string of other promoters have not found it easy.

The Big Chill, due to take place in Herefordshire in early August, was axed earlier this year. So too was Sonisphere, which had been booked for Knebworth in July. Vintage Festival was also cancelled and incorporated into the Wilderness festival, which happened last month in Oxfordshire.

All this comes as Glastonbury, the "big daddy" of the festival scene with 175,000 punters, took a sabbatical in this Olympic year.

Observers are unsure just how much of an effect the Games and Paralympics have had. London 2012 always going to be a distraction, even before Team GB won so many gold medals and caught the public imagination.

But there have also been a lot of free music events associated with the Games and the Cultural Olympiad. These have included Radio 1's Big Weekend for 100,000 in Hackney, north London in June, the cost of which was underwritten by licence fee payers, and nightly concerts in Hyde Park during the Olympics, paid for by telecoms giant BT.

Arguably these free concerts have made it harder for commercial promoters to bring in paying punters, who might be expected to pay upwards of £50 a head for a concert and £150 for a weekend festival.

Dean James, chief executive of live music group Mama, has complained that the BBC's decision to fund Big Weekend "significantly impacted" his firm's commercially funded Lovebox festival in east London.

"For them to turn up with a free event in an Olympic year was about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit," said Mr James, who added that a top artist he had recruited to play at Lovebox then agreed to play for the BBC too.

Another complaint heard in some quarters of the music industry is that there has been a lack of big-name crowd-pullers this year, and that too many of the same rock stars, young or old, have been playing the circuit.

Punters are certainly less willing to part with their cash in tough times. Matthew Clayton, an organiser of Port Eliot, a boutique arts and music festival in Cornwall in July, says he has noticed in recent years that people want to camp for longer — four or five nights, not just the weekend, to make it more of a holiday.

"People will arrive at Glastonbury on the Wednesday when the gates open, we open on Thursday — I think that's a sign of the times," says Mr Clayton. "People want to stay for longer. People want more value for money."

Offering punters something unique and intimate is also key. A decade ago, the festivals and concerts business was edgier and more counter-cultural.

Now that it has become so much bigger and more mainstream, with big-name sponsors such as Vodafone and Virgin having jumped on the bandwagon, it's not surprising that trend-setters are seeking a different experience. Interestingly, some of those festivals that are prospering offer more than just music, with literature, fashion, comedy and the arts also on the bill.

Examples include Port Eliot, Wilderness and Latitude in Suffolk.

The fact that these events might appeal to an older, more affluent crowd also helps as the under-25s feel the financial squeeze.

Industry experts, including trade body PRS For Music, believe the live music industry will bounce back in 2013. The Olympics effect on ticket sales this year cannot be underestimated, say the optimists.

The opening and closing ceremonies at London 2012, and even the Diamond Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace in June, may even have been a good advert, because they showed how live music and a new generation of musicians are resonating with the British public.

Live music remains a valuable industry, worth close to £1.5bn a year in the UK, according to PRS For Music, after overtaking the value of recorded music in 2008.

"It's easy to knock the festivals industry," says Mr Clayton. "It's astounding the amount of money they bring in and the amount of jobs that they create. It's an industry that's sprung out of nowhere. It's an industry that should be celebrated."

Small faces: Turning off the hard sell

Small is beautiful for some festival goers who are fed up with the big over-commercialised music events and want something more intimate.

The organisers of Port Eliot in Cornwall in July only aimed to attract around 6,500 punters. Some other innovative festivals such as Latitude in Suffolk may be bigger but also offer far more than music, with everything from literature and comedy to film and arts and crafts.

Big-money sponsors aren't always encouraged at some of these boutique events. Only select brands are allowed in and they have to commit to be part of the festival, rather than just using it as a promotional event. Hip fashion label Anthropologie had a marquee at Port Eliot which offered free arts and crafts classes in pottery and fashion prints. Festival goers could then take their creations home as souvenirs. "We're not selling anything," explained Alice Sykes, PR director at Anthropologie Europe.

Matthew Clayton, one of the organisers of Port Eliot, said the key to retaining authenticity was that "we're not driven by the hunt for a gigantic profit margin".

That attitude would seem to chime with discerning festival goers in this age of austerity.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

SQL DBA/Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL DBA/Developer SQL, C#, VBA, Data Warehousi...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor