Summer season is festival season. Now that summer’s on its way out and many of the year’s largest festivals have wrapped, we caught up with two Eventbrite insiders — Biasha Mitchell, Director of Music Festival Strategy, and Jon Wilson, Music Partnerships — for a freewheeling conversation about the state of the music festival in 2019. What went right? What didn’t go so right? Which trends came to pass, and which are bubbling up for next year? Here are three takeaways from the conversation, ripe for pondering into 2020.
1. Diversity of experience means lineup isn’t everything (until it is)
If there’s a single takeaway that festival producers should come away with moving into next year, it’s this: Festivalgoers are increasingly looking above and beyond artist lineups toward diverse experiential offerings. “Many festivals are now focusing on food, drink, comedy, and more in addition to the artist lineup itself,” says Wilson. “Interesting things happen when festivals don’t necessarily put all their eggs in the basket of ‘we need to get the biggest lineup in order to get people here.’”
Mitchell agrees: “For music festivals specifically, food and drink experiences are seen as a way to differentiate yourself. This year, Life Is Beautiful offered an omakase offering at their festival. Being able to sit down and have a curated omakase experience while seeing major musical acts — that’s not something you can get anywhere else.”
“It’s becoming more and more difficult [to sell festival tickets] if you don’t have something that sticks out,” Wilson adds. “Many festival lineups tend to look alike, so you need something that pulls people to your event, something that’s unique,” he says.
But of course, this doesn’t mean artist lineups don’t matter — not even close. Mitchell explains: “No matter what, you can’t skimp on artists. You can’t say, ‘We have a well-curated bourbon offering, so we’re not gonna spend on artists.’ It’s still critical. You need both.”
2. Savvy, creative partnerships matter more than ever
If festivalgoers seek broader offerings than ever before, can one festival do it all? As anyone working behind festival scenes knows, the answer is definitely “no.” That’s why solidifying the right partnerships matters now more than ever. “These experiences require partnerships. Festivals can’t go it alone,” Wilson says, matter-of-factly.
That’s particularly the case when experiences or offerings require managing their own unique logistical challenges. Take cannabis, for instance — recently legalized in California and the Pacific Northwest, rules and regulations regarding its sale and use change frequently. “Northern Nights managed this very well,” says Mitchell. They were the first overnight camping festival in California to allow recreational cannabis consumption on its grounds, and partnered with over 20 local brands and dispensaries — who came with the relationships and the know-how — to pull it off.
Wilson sees social good or giving-back partnerships rising, too. “Headcount is a great example, providing folks a platform to register to vote. In general, I think social good experiences are increasingly relevant at music festivals, especially if they allow fans to take action without spending a lot of money,” he adds.
3. Broaden your ticket offerings, and revenue will come
VIP experiences are nothing new. But festivals are leaning into them, diversifying their offerings and pricing options to entice buyers across the socioeconomic spectrum.
“I’m seeing many festivals expand their ‘VIP levels,’ broadening their ticketing and pricing tiers,” says Mitchell. “They’re selling — and they’re doing very well.”
Experiential offerings, mentioned above, are primarily where festivals are diversifying pricing options. And for outdoor or camping festivals, diversifying accommodations has proven very effective. “Lean into sleeping offerings, make them a draw unto themselves,” says Mitchell. “Think a custom Airstream experience or a tipi — get creative and go beyond the ‘glamp.’”
Festivals should take pains not to go overboard, however. The line between offering your fans the choices they didn’t know they wanted and weighing them down with too many is fine indeed. “Don’t make it so complicated you don’t end up converting buyers,” says Mitchell. Wilson agrees: “There’s always a risk, especially amongst long-time fans, that they might be overwhelmed by what they’re looking at in terms of pricing and options.”