With the first of two Coachella weekends starting in a matter of hours, it’s worth the time to read this New Yorker interview with Paul Tollett, one of the masterminds at promoters Goldenvoice, the company in charge of the event. While it’s definitely worth reading the whole thing, here are some of the things I learned from the article.
–At Desert Trip, each of the six headliners was provided with an acre-sized backstage tent to accommodate friends and family. Organizers also built a running track specifically so Mick Jagger could warm up for the Rolling Stones’ set. (The Stones were the first to agree to Desert Trip, setting everything else in motion.)
–All the seats in the VIP grandstands are black. That way the artists have a hard time telling how many seats are empty. (Artists hate to perform to empty seats.)
–It took three years to build a ten-foot-high fence around the Empire Polo Grounds, the site of Coachella.
–It takes up to six months to negotiate with the 150-ish acts for Coachella.
–Because the official poster is so carefully scrutinized by bands, agents, and people on social media (Instagram is the friendliness, Redditers are the intense analyst), designers agonize over such things as the size of the font for each band name.
–The bands at the bottom of the poster make about $10,000 USD for their set. That’s not a lot, but it does give the act the right to boast that they played the festival.
–The toughest acts to assess are DJs and hip hop performers. Because DJs are just live acts spinning records, you can’t just their success by record sales. Hip hop artists tend to play dance clubs and raves. The only way to assess either performer is by social media metrics: Facebook likes, Twitter followers and YouTube views.
–Acts evolve and burn out far faster than they used to. I quote: “Twenty years ago, alternative artists grew slower. But there is no underground anymore. It’s all kind of pop, in a way, and it goes up quickly because of SoundCloud. Some of these artists get stats over a six-week period that are just crazy. I make an offer for small bands, and in six months the world can change for them so much. Or you buy them at their peak and their numbers are dropping off each day. It’s like gambling. Going short, going long.”
–There may be a problem booking rock acts in the future. Again I quote: “When you take an indie-rock band, five or six members, not everyone is on the E-flat seventh at the same time, so it doesn’t sound perfect,” he said. “With electronic music, it’s pre-programmed, so it sounds flawless. There are no mistakes. There’s a generation that’s used to flawless, and when they don’t hear flawless it may suck to them.”
The whole article is a fascinating look at the sausage-making process of the modern festival industry. Go here.