Are Big Music Festivals Killing Live Music?

There’s an interesting article in the National Post today that posits that rather than helping the scene, big music festivals are actually killing live music. By siphoning away all the talent, small and medium-sized venues are having real problems with crowds, cashflow and keeping the doors open.

Festivals appear to be rising stars, but some would rather compare them to combustible supernovas primed to destroy everything in their path. Behind the bright stage lights and picture-perfect moments rests on an uncomfortable, but worth question: are music festival killing live music?

Local and regional live music festivals aren’t seeing fans’ money, but someone is. Desert Trip, the highest grossing festival in 2016, raking in a cool $160.11 million. Coachella clocked in second with $94.22. In Canada, the Pemberton Music Festival earned $11.58 million while Osheaga brought in $10.88 million. Music spending is thriving, but patterns have shifted dramatically. Online statistics portable Statistica reports most music-related activities are seeing year-after-year declines of consumer expenditures with the notable exception of streaming, DJ events and music festivals.

And therein lies the problem. Read the rest of the article here.

The good news is that some cities are doing something to try to preserve local live music. From FYI Music News:

Ottawa: In light of growing concern around the health, sustainability and future of Toronto’s live music venues, Music Canada Live is convening a Regional Advisory Council (RAC) to examine challenges facing the city’s venues.

“Live music venues not only represent a critical aspect of Toronto’s cultural and economic small business ecology, they are also key stakeholders in ensuring Toronto continues to grow its reputation as one of the most engaging and creative cities in the world,” RAC Executive Director Erin Benjamin said earlier this week.

Benjamin, who heads the capital city based org, added that current regulatory, legislative and policy frameworks place live music venues at a distinct competitive disadvantage, disproportionate to the significant economic, social and culture currency venues generate for their communities.

Furthermore, they do not adequately reflect their unique value proposition, nor their impacts on tourism, quality of life, city planning and urban development.

Read the rest of the story here. Maybe it’s time we had a live music census like they’re doing in the UK.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Are Big Music Festivals Killing Live Music?

  • March 8, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    That’s interesting. I would’ve thought that festivals would bolster live music scenes, based on the fact they expose larger crowds to more acts, so when those acts come back through town, they have larger followings. I know anecdotally I’ve gone to see live acts that I was introduced to through festivals.

    That said, I think in Canada we have a very seasonal live music scene. Summers are full of outdoor festivals across the country, so venues might have a tough time through those months. But I would have thought that the other 8 months of the year would see better attended shows.


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