From Coachella to Firefly
Once the domain of only the most dedicated of fans, music festivals are catering to all tastes and ages, commanding enormous crowds while raking in vast sums of money. Nielsen’s annual U.S. Music 360 Report found that 23 percent of Americans attended a music festival in 2018, consuming food, beverages and merchandise at the festival and in the local area.
The highest grossing and arguably most famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival had about 250,000 attendees in 2017, grossing $114.6 million. There are now over 800 festivals in the United States and it’s not just the behemoths that are capable of pulling down big money. When Firefly music festival premiered in Dover, Delaware it made $9 million in ticket sales and is said to have brought over $12 million to the local economy.
Music festivals are a global phenomenon, driving tourism as well as trade in the goods and services necessary to run them. This summer, the place to be is Secret Solstice in Reykjavik, Iceland or the Vh1 Supersonic concert in Goa, India. While bringing economic gains for the organizers and the cities and countries that host them, music festivals are microcosms of trade and exchange in both regulated and unregulated forms.
Crossing Borders and Cultures
Music festivals are a truly international sensation, catering to every taste in the world and drawing crowds of music fans who travel from the furthest reaches to hear their favorite artists. You don’t have to cross borders to get cross-border delivery of entertainment services.
The 2019 edition of Coachella featured Korean girl group BLACKPINK, Puerto Rican singer Bad Bunny, Colombian performer J Balvin, French producer DJ Snake, Australian artists Tame Impala and Rüfüs Du Sol as well as countless other global acts among the American performers. Attendees brought flags to represent their home countries – every crowd a sea of color representing myriad nations.
Digital Trade is Driving More Personal Experiences
Physical record sales have been on a steady decline and even revenue from downloads dropped over 20 percent last year. As streaming continues to take a bite out of traditional revenue streams for musicians, live music events are one of the best ways for performers to make money. Many artists tour annually, with a spate of summer festivals thrown into the mix to increase earnings and promote their public image (Coachella performers earn anywhere from $15,000 to seven figure sums). For concertgoers, festivals capture a growing desire for the full social (and commercial) experience.
Marketing Bonanza for Global Brands
That’s where sponsorships come in. They have become the life blood for many festivals. Global brands host stages, food trucks and bars, and give their products as gifts. Alcohol sponsorship is particularly rife, which is unsurprising since live music attendees who are 21 and older are 27-34 percent more likely to drink spirits, wine and beer than the average member of the population.
In the free spirit of capitalism, hair washing stations have sprung up at desert concerts, Mattel sponsors gaming tents as a music break, and fashion brands offer interactive experiences during the festival. Amazon runs specials on “festival essentials,” items like sunscreen, cameras and Pedialyte, which can all be delivered to an Amazon locker inside the festival grounds. Trade began life as a bartering system, something that also occurs at festivals. With ticket prices soaring, food and beverage vendors at popular festivals are offering get-in-free bracelets in exchange for working the booth.
Sometimes the commercialization can go a little too far for music lovers. The organizers received significant backlash for “selling out” when the Kentucky Fried Chicken Colonel appeared on stage for a quick set. Although festivals have lost much of their counter-culture image, they are still supposed to be “about the music”.
Specialization in the Festival Marketplace
Mirroring the effects of trade, the thriving marketplace of festivals has become increasingly specialized in an effort to capitalize on strengths and capture specific corners of the market. Every genre you can imagine is represented. Festivals cater to all kinds of special interests: family-friendly festivals, all-inclusive festival-vacations set on paradise islands and parties in ski villages featuring snow sports. The free market of festivals offers incentive for organizers to innovate and specialize, creating unique experiences for every type of concertgoer.
Burning Man started out as an exclusive, anti-capitalist venue but now it boasts “radical inclusion” as a core principle – something you can experience – if you buy a ticket first.
In the same way that trade democratizes the availability of goods and services, as well as experiences, music festivals abound in all forms and a wide variety of venues so that performers can entertain global audiences. Whether you’re planning to attend Afropunk in Brooklyn, MoPop in Detroit, Fuji Rock in Japan or Golden Plains in Victoria, Australia, global bands will be there to perform for you, swag created around the world will be there for you to purchase, and the local economy will offer up lodging, transportation, great food, and tourism.
Let the free trade roll at summer music festivals.
Alice Calder received her MA in Applied Economics at GMU. Originally from the UK, where she received her BA in Philosophy and Political Economy from the University of Exeter, living and working internationally sparked her interest in trade issues as well as the intersection of economics and culture.