I just got an email from a band that has played one of the bigger showcase festivals in Europe. Before playing at that festival it was a mark that this artist was going somewhere. I met the booker from that festival last year at another festival who was talking about an act that really does well all over Europe and should easily make the lineup. The booker had a problem though that only around 20% was curated, the rest was bought up by export offices. So, it was hard to even get a band that should be on there.
And when I got the link of this artist today, I can really see it. This artist has no value right now. It is not interesting in any way for the festivals. And has no real leverage right now. A typical buy-in from an export office.
I see export offices with a large amount of money just buy in spots at the festivals. I have seen these artists and they are not ready. In the end, it really lowers the value of the festival. Sure, it takes time for the brand of the festival to fade away, but when it really starts to happen it goes fast. MIDEM (Cannes, France) is a great example. A ‘must go’ in the 90s and was so powerful you couldn’t ignore it. Suddenly because of really bad decisions in the curation, the festival became not as important.
MIDEM has been trying to turn it around and there are some really good things happening now but the brand is now almost associated with being a place where old publishers that trade photos, CD’s and drink wine. It’s not, I know that (not all of the participants, in some cases accurate though) since I was there last year, but most of the people I meet in the industry still have that opinion of it even though it has changed and is growing back to what it used to be or even different. The struggle to reverse that vision and trend is hard.
And I see this problem in several of the big showcase festivals. The curation is really bad, almost non-existent. A large buy-up from export offices from very small undeveloped countries, thinking that they can enter a marketplace where they can export. They are buying a spot trying to shine in the festival brand. This affects the showcase brand and several now seem to be heading the same way as the trust of the numbers on Spotify are going straight down the drain.
I just saw an offer to pay and play on one, handled by amateur organizations in Sweden for a big festival in Europe. The lineup will be not even close to good. The value is definitely gone and in the end, the reputation for the festival is fading away. The real industry people are also talking that playing on these festivals was before a certain way to get bookings, now it’s just an expensive adventure.
Then I can also see the viewpoint of the festival. Here comes someone with not ready artists but pays half the festival expenses. Showcases are really not a goldmine. The money is really needed. So, at the expense of the quality, you have to do it. And I know everybody is doing that. The feeling I get right now is that it’s has gone over proportion. Two of the biggest ones in Europe are now just "pay and play". What's needed is that at least half is curated or even a bit more than that ratio.
The big favour also is that the smaller ones have a much better chance to do business. I would rather do really good business than just saying that I sipped drinks at the biggest festivals. For those who know if you just attend the big ones, you are not important enough for the real industry people. When I write this, I have just returned from MENT, a good festival with the right size.
And the artist that sent the mail? Yes, the fact that they bragged about playing that showcase festival made me suspicious and probably looked on their stuff with even more of a critical eye. And I just made a note not to see that show and also take out some festival names out of my band's bio pages. Bigger is not better in this case.
Editor’s Note: Peter Åstedt has been working in the music industry for over 30 years. He has started record labels, distribution systems, and publishing companies. Peter also runs several major showcase festivals and is an advisor for INES and co-founder of MusicHelp/Discover Sensation. He has worked with the Top Ten most streamed songs and had music on both the Olympics and SuperBowl. Peter has currently taken up the seat of Station Manager of Cashbox Radio, working with MD, PD and station owner, Sandy Graham.