• Sat, Jul 20, 2024

People Are Angry With Music Festivals, But Everybody Wins

columns Nov 03, 05:20pm

So many fans seething, but see you there, probably?  


Well, the Lollapalooza lineup dropped today after a few months of complete silence, and the early forecasts show that some people are not particularly wowed by it. It’s the same exact thing that happens with every lineup every festival year, it seems like. It happened for NH7 too. Some of the comments posted on social media are absolutely remarkable, and while people absolutely have the right to set expectations and be unhappy when they aren’t met, there is more than one side to this story. So, let’s take a few common comments and discuss them, shall we? With civility?

“Such a high ticket price for this? Sad”

Lollapalooza has its ‘home’ in Chicago at Grant Park. The 2023 edition features over a hundred artists, with everyone from Metallica to J-Hope to J.Cole to Green Day to IDLES headlining, with basically everyone else you could like or think of on the bill. Those tickets start at around 350$ and end well into the thousands of dollars for the VIP stuff. A huge number of those artists are US based, playing a festival in the US, attended by a guaranteed audience who are used to big-concert culture and will use their spending power. Is the math starting to make sense?

Lolla India has many a popular local artist (well, some), a few big international acts with big fees flying down to a country that is not a fixture on most big artists’ tour plans in a 2-day festival, for the first edition of a new property in India, which is in the infancy of its big-festival culture, with phased ticketing that is not cheap. Weekender isn’t particularly cheap either. This is in a country where spending on entertainment is limited to a small section of society.

Do the math.

“I had such high expectations for this yo, what is this?”

It should be incredibly obvious by now that every event company wants to maximize any profits they can make or just break even on these big festivals. So, yes, of course they are going to advertise the hell out of their brands to ensure the maximum possible number of early-bird tickets and buy-in. It is very logical to be outraged at this very practice, but for you to get that seventeenth beer after dancing in the front row for eight hours to music you like, it has to be a sustaining business.

This should be a well-known pattern at this point, and fans not building experience from the past leads people to set expectations that they've forgotten probably can’t be met.

“Bro it was so much better back in the day, man.”

Iron Maiden (a band that makes metal songs) had a great time here. So did Metallica on their second show on their only India tour. So did Animals As Leaders, Opeth and so on. Unfortunately for us, the live event music industry is far too big a piece of artist revenue for that to happen again anytime soon. Paying 110 rupees a month for Spotify while most musicians make next to nothing might be a part of that. But it used to be a bit different.

Poets Of The Fall took advantage of this and played many a gig here. So did Megadeth. But once JID plays here at Weekender this year, that’s a sea change genre-wise, and that needs convincing. As fantastic as JID’s new album is, he’s taking a risk.

Last decade, NH7 was a good sell to its target audience. It was a big deal; a multi-city event where one could pay money and watch acts one loved. For example, the 2014 Weekender had Mutemath, Mark Ronson and a few other international acts playing their first shows in India. It also had little else to compete with in India on that scale. Every other event was a one-time affair with an act you could go and see at one place. This meant that some could stay in their own cities and have largely the same lineup. And that was before the pandemic for an industry that got completely crippled by it. And some of us still didn’t turn up!

“I mean, the lineup isn’t bad, but at least add some huge artists like Dua Lipa”

Firstly, everyone needs to do their homework on the artists that are there. It’s The Strokes, for crying out loud. Either way…

Imagine you are a big act and your team has to pick countries to tour in. You want your margins to be held up; margins you are used to from your usual circuit. Your usual circuit, if you’re big, is a bunch of gigs in the States, 10 in South America (stadiums and arenas with 10,000-60,000 people, mind you), maybe 20 more in Europe, and then you might travel to Oceania and South-East Asia. This takes 2 whole years to plan. In the middle of this, someone calls from Mumbai or Delhi saying there’s a thriving festival culture in India, and you need to play there. You have huge requirements because you need your crew, your equipment and most importantly, your audience to be there in full force. Can a single Indian festival convince you to do, well, a city you usually just fly over? If not, you need to wait until an international IP like Lolla comes in and does so. The fact that Weekender even did it for so many years is commendable. There’s room for it to happen more in the near future, but we have to start somewhere, don’t we?

“Every year has the same indie artists, nothing new at all”

This is true, and it’s a little disappointing, and it needs change. But again, there’s a reason. We support music and artists with our attention. The same group of artists end up at stages because they are seen as ‘solid’, which means that they have some sort of loyal fanbase that will turn up. So this ends up elbowing out the awesome new band you saw at your local venue last week. But that does depend on fans. We support new music and upcoming artists here, and that’s an attitude a lot of us need to build. Find new artists. Attend their gigs, share their music, maybe even meet them! Get their streaming numbers up, get brands and management companies to notice them, and get your friends to listen to them too. Then you’ll see them on lineups. That’s what Bloodywood fans did, and that’s what fans of acts like T.ill Apes are doing. It does work. A huge, huge hole in this process comes from the almost complete suffocation of college gig culture.

A quick search through a list of headliners at college fests in India shows why a big revenue stream for international and local acts isn’t what it used to be.

Opeth, Porcupine Tree (yes, they played at IIT Mumbai), Karnivool (yes, they played at IIT Chennai), Architects, Tesseract, the list goes on… even Jethro Tull came to IIM Bengaluru. These bands played shows at Indian college fests you could have gone to at dirt-cheap ticket prices. But so many of us didn’t. There has been a huge disconnect between groups of listeners, which has cut out a big segment of India’s live music experience. Colleges are no longer incentivized to bring international acts down with large sums of money, which they simply don’t spend anymore.

“See you there?”

Now, of course, this is the most obvious part of things, which is that many people are going to attend these festivals anyway. People angry on social media are a small section of a big crowd, and at the end of the day, most of us are not going to miss out on The Strokes or JID or Cigarettes After Sex or Japanese Breakfast (who are incredible, by the way) or music we like. But there will be those who don’t and that is important. Vote with your wallets. Companies do notice when their decisions don’t produce profits, and that much is in your control.

Since Lollapalooza and NH7 have got so much press, if you are genuinely feeling disappointed, here are a couple other festivals that are happening around the country you should check out and maybe go to.

Magnetic Fields happens in Rajasthan in the first week of December. It has a bunch of interesting electronic acts. Four Tet (!!!), Anthony Naples and more are headlining.

Echoes of Earth is in Bengaluru around the same time, and it has artists like Yussef Dayes (wow), Vieux Farka Toure (also wow) headlining with indie gems like Many Roots Ensemble playing too.

The Hills Festival in Meghalaya is happening this weekend. It’s doing a music-food combination thing, and features Taba Chake, Hanumankind and more on its bill.

Independence Rock is also this weekend in Mumbai. The bill is a nostalgic fan’s dream; Indus Creed, Parikrama, Pentagram, Zero, you name it.

Music festivals in India can be a life-changing experience. So if you can afford it, have some fun. You deserve it.


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