With boom, music festivals become big business

Los Angeles (AFP) - The music industry has faced more than a decade of financial woes but in one area business is soaring -- festivals.

Music festivals have witnessed a boom in the past few years, with new events proliferating that cater to every taste and region in what has become a vital source of revenue and publicity for artists.

Coachella, often considered the tastemaker of US music events, opens Friday in the southern California desert at the start of the busiest season yet for festivals.

"I think music festivals are basically the future of the industry. It's the only area where you are really seeing a lot of growth," said Parag Bhandari, the head of UG Strategies which recently launched the Uphoric digital television network dedicated to covering the global festival circuit.

"It's really the last area in the music industry where there is real money to be made for artists," he said.

Among the most ambitious newcomers is Rock in Rio USA, which will take place over two weekends in May at the brand-new 13-hectare (33-acre) "City of Rock" grounds on the Las Vegas Strip.

A spinoff of the major Brazilian festival, Rock in Rio USA seeks to tap a niche by offering a lineup of mainstream giants including pop superstar Taylor Swift and metal veterans Metallica.

Coachella and two other longstanding US festivals -- Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Lollapalooza in Chicago -- both have their roots in 1990s alternative culture and market themselves as staging grounds for emerging stars.

Also for the first time on the calendar this year are the Festival of the Desert, a classical event near the Coachella grounds led by Paris Opera music director Philippe Jordan; the Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin dedicated to innovative music and curated by Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon, and several new country music festivals.

Other festivals have sought to differentiate themselves not by lineup but by amenities, with San Francisco's Outside Lands seeking to attract gourmets through its selection of food and drink vendors.

While much of the growth has been in the United States, festivals have been sprouting up around the world including in Europe, where England's Glastonbury was considered the pioneer of modern music festivals.

Lollapalooza this year is expanding to Europe with a Berlin edition, after already starting sister festivals in Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

- Selling experiences -

Not all festivals have succeeded. Kanrocksas in the Kansas City area folded after poor ticket sales and Lollapalooza called off an expansion to Israel.

But industry watchers expect strong growth as festivals sprout up for uncatered niches and regions.

San Francisco-based company Eventbrite said it managed tickets for 50,000 music or other festivals worldwide in 2014 -- up 50 percent from just a year earlier.

"We are not seeing signs of slowing down anytime soon," said Martina Wang, head of music marketing at Eventbrite.

A key driving factor is the tastes of the millennial generation, with an Eventbrite study in 2014 finding that one-quarter of university students had attended a music festival in the previous year.

"When it comes to millennials' money, we are finding that buying experiences trumps buying things," Wang said.

"More than three out of four said they would buy a desirable experience over a desirable thing, like the latest gadget," she said.

- The new sporting events? -

Barring major flops, festivals offer guaranteed audiences and revenue for musicians, who rarely expect significant payouts from recordings in the age of instant music.

Coachella, which quickly sells out each year, grossed $78 million in 2014, according to industry monitor Billboard Box Office.

Some 175,000 people flock to Glastonbury, which is around the same number who go each year to Coachella -- which since 2012 has held two weekends with identical lineups.

By comparison, some 75,000 people attended the World Cup final last year in Brazil, although far more watched.

Bhandari, sensing demand to create the Uphoric network, saw parallels to the World Cup as a growing number of fans fly to multiple festivals around the world and plan vacations around the dates.

"Music festivals are really becoming on the scale of sporting events," he said.