Metaphysical Monday: Festival Tragedies

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This article is about a touchy (and somewhat trendy) subject right now.  A lot of people are talking about the state of Christian festivals and I can perhaps shed some light on this subject.

Christian festivals (and mainstream festivals as well, I assume) have been experiencing declining ticket sales for years.  Like every other part of the music industry, sales of units are caught in a nearly decade-long nosedive.  Bands feel the effects of this nosedive as their album sales decrease even thought they’re trying as hard as ever to make good music.  Music stores feel the effects as CDs aren’t really in vogue anymore (although there has been a well-documented spike in sales of vinyl copies of albums).  Concert venues feel it as attendance has dropped, due to higher gas prices and an over-saturation of bands and venues in the scene, creating an environment where shows are not as unique as they used to be because now there are millions of bands and thousands of venues all making it harder for each other to exist.

So it should come as no surprise that festivals are feeling the effects of their situation in the music industry.  Now, we could point fingers all day long with our limited knowledge, but that’s not what this article is about.  This article is a small attempt to paint a basic picture of what’s happening and why people are doing what they’re doing.

Without going into specifics, I can share a little bit of BTA’s experience with festivals in the past and present.  I can, for instance, confirm that we received an identical email to that of Eisley’s.  I asked Genesis specifically if no bands were getting paid, even mainstage bands, now that the fest had made their decision regarding finances, etc.  She answered that no bands whatsoever were getting paid as a result of this decision.  So any bands you see playing Cornerstone this year are doing so pro bono (not to be confused with pro-Bono, which lots of Irish people are).

This has many implications.  First of all, it means that if you go to Cornerstone, you need to support the bands you like with merch sales.  Unless the bands playing Cornerstone sell much merch, they will be losing lots of money to go play Cornerstone.  This includes my band, Becoming The Archetype.

Secondly, it means that lots more bands will probably cancel.  I’m not making their decisions, but I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which bands such as For Today and Norma Jean play Cornerstone for free, especially when their guarantees were probably in the thousands.  That’s a lot of money to be missing out on, and keep in mind what I said about bands struggling financially.

Thirdly, it means that each person should speak their mind to the festivals and bands.  If you want festivals to continue, let festivals know you support them with your ticket purchase this year and will continue to do so.  If you think all of this is excessive, tell festivals to pack it up or drastically re-work their business models.  If you want bands to continue playing these festivals, tell them you’ll be there to watch their set and buy their merch.

I have proposed a profit-sharing agreement to Genesis regarding the bands that do play Cornerstone.  I feel this is fair, since the bands playing Cornerstone are generally what people are coming to see.  What I suggested was offering the 40 or 50 largest bands somewhere between .01 and .1 percent of ticket sales.  In this way, Cornerstone would maintain 95-97% of their ticket revenue, but still be able to reward the bands driving those ticket sales and give them an incentive to play.  If you think this is a good idea, you may want to contact Cornerstone in some way saying you like this idea and want Cornerstone to implement it.  If you have a better idea, you could share it here or you could suggest it to the festival in question.  For instance, LifeLight pays bands and it has free admission.  How do they do this?  I assume they do it through ad revenue and sponsorships.  That’s a genius idea where everyone wins:  attendees of the fest don’t pay anything to get in, bands get paid, and companies advertise or sponsor a festival they love.

What do you think?  Are there better ways to do this?  Are festivals nearing the end of their lives?  Do you possibly have the answer?