How big outdoor concerts are changing the music industry
DOLLY PARTON, an American musician, is used to performing for big crowds. But after her set this year at Glastonbury,
Britain's largest music festival, she admitted to feeling nervous. Since that show, seen by 100,000 revellers and 2m television viewers,
her album “Blue Smoke” has hovered near the top of the album chart for eight weeks.
Ms Parton's resurgence hints at how festivals are reshaping Britain's music business.
The live music market is flourishing even as sales of recorded music have mouldered.
Between 2012 and 2013 it grew by a quarter, according to the Performing Right Society for Music, an industry body.
Gig-goers now spend more than 1 billion (1.7 billion) a year on tickets and almost half that again on food, drink and the like.
Festivals make up a large chunk of this. In the early 1990s Britain had few of them, recalls Melvin Benn of Festival Republic, a promoter.
Around 450 will take place this year. The festival season, once limited to July and August, now stretches until early autumn.
On the first weekend of September four festivals battle it out.
One boost was a change to the licensing laws in 2005, recalls Jim Whewell of the Wilderness Festival, a music and performing arts event.
This made it easier to put on a show outdoors.
The recession helped too: Britons who could no longer afford foreign holidays found a weekend of camping in a muddy field more attractive.
And as fewer people buy recorded music, fans are splurging the money they save on live events, says Chris Carey, a consultant.
Ageing crowds are another bonus. A survey in 2013 found that the average age of a reveller at Glastonbury, excluding those under 18,
was 36 years old. Older people have more cash to spend on boozing, and their demands have helped make festivals safer and more pleasant.
Security at bigger festivals has grown much tighter. Toilets are slightly less gruesome (though punters must often pay an extra fee to use the cleanest ones).
Posh food and fancier drinks have replaced cheap hot dogs and watered-down beer. At Wilderness, middle-aged bacchanals quaff champagne or real ale and eat lobsters.
All this is changing the way the music industry works.
Festivals are increasingly seen as a way to test whether big-name artists have enough fans to warrant arena tours, says Rebecca Kane of the 02,
a large venue in London. Newer names find them essential: Clean Bandit, a British band who brought out their first album this year,
are performing at around 20 festivals this summer.
And music executives are increasingly taking into account how successfully they think artists will perform at big outdoor gigs before deciding to sign them.
Some promoters complain festivals are getting harder to run. “Most people do it as a labour of love,” sighs one.
Increasingly bureaucratic paperwork is a pain, complains Sidharth Sharma of Shambala Festival, a smaller event,
while providing better food and drink is expensive. One big problem is that competition for headliners means the most popular bands,
many of whom are getting on in years, can command eye-watering fees. Few new acts have Dolly Parton's pulling power.