Another year is nearly over and the UK music festival season has long since ended. It doesn’t seem five months since the legendary Rolling Stones headlined Glastonbury, the indisputable highlight of the summer, performing a range of hits to a record crowd of 100,000 in the Somerset countryside.


In comparison to 2012, 2013 has been a major success for UK music festivals. Mainly because of the exceptional quality of headline acts coupled with the sensational weather we’ve endured. Many had predicted that 2012 signalled the end to the UK’s festival culture.


That said however there is still lingering doubts about the UK festival market. In 2011 a total of 31 festivals were postponed or cancelled with more following in 2012, including Sonisphere and The Big Chill. This year Hop Farm music festival in Kent was cancelled due to a lack of tickets sold. So what is the reason for this?


The number of UK festivals on the calendar has increased dramatically in recent years over saturating the festival market. Due to the UK’s changeable weather conditions and short holiday period the festival season runs generally from June to September with a large number of events squeezed into a few months. John Giddings, the organiser of the Isle of Wight festival, said “there are just too many events now in the UK and it’s impossible for them all to survive.” 


Festival goers are made to choose between festivals because of inflated ticket prices. The increase in genre focused festivals such as Creamfields, dedicated to house music with an Ibiza theme, allow people to attend festivals greater suited to their tastes. The ‘catch-all’ festivals therefore suffer as a result. Rockness has introduced comedy acts between music artists to entertain crowds and add a new dimension.


The recession and youth unemployment has affected ticket sales and the lack of attraction in certain headline acts have reduced the appeal of certain festivals. John Giddings added: “It gets more difficult every year because the UK music industry isn’t making new stars so you end up with the same acts going round and round.” 


The greatest threat in recent years comes from new festivals in mainland Europe. With better weather guaranteed, an increasing number of top Western artists on show and cheaper ticket prices have presented a competitive alternative. A spokesperson for Bestival said “competition is healthy and ensures we keep up our game in terms of innovation, creativity and value for money.”


Why are UK music festivals important? In decades past the UK was renowned worldwide for its hospitable audiences and their appreciation for live music. Festivals became great social occasions for performers and attendees alike. Geoff Ellis, the director of T in the Park said that the UK has “the best festival culture in the world”. In recent years festivals have received a bad reputation for crime, alcohol and drug use.


This year a Sunday day ticket at T in the Park cost £99. Acts on show included Earth, Wind and Fire, Bastille, Stereophonics and The Killers. Attending individual concerts for these artists would have cost over £150 combined with additional travel, accommodation and food costs. On that outlook a T in the Park day ticket provides good value for money. 


It is difficult to argue however for the £100 increase in ticket price for Glastonbury since 2003. And Bestival attendees have seen a 124% price rise since 2004. The Bestival spokesperson put UK festival prices in general down to the “huge increase in costs for talent, health and safety and production”. 


Ticket site provide packages for festival goers who want to experience European and International festivals such as Benicassim, Hideout, Way Out West, Rock en Seine and Tomorrowland.


Barri Coen, head of Marketing at Festicket, said “we wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a growing trend of going to international festivals. The accessibility of travel and the appeal of international acts has diversified the live music scene.


Coen adds that “European festivals have been working hard for years to promote themselves internationally and the UK audience has probably been one of the largest groups to catch on, as across the continent travelling to international festivals has been the norm for many years.


Furthermore Coen said “the UK festival scene is famous internationally and many people travel from overseas to experience the magic of UK festivals. However there is no doubt that the more UK festival goers travel abroad, the harder it will be for UK festivals to sell to the same people.”


It is true that UK festivals experience a relatively high international audiences, that’s reflected in the £2.2bn profited from music tourism, of which 72% happened outside London. A government report found that 6.5 million international festival goers attended UK festivals in 2012 with the average music tourist spending £600 in comparison to the average domestic attendee who spends £395. Therefore the attraction of UK festivals remain Internationally strong. However to continue to attract international festival goers as well as retaining domestic ones organisers must remain open minded about new ideas as well as recognising the expectations of festival goers.


Barri Coen feels “the UK scene will always flourish if it continues to move with the times, looking to remain fresh and innovative. Costs in the UK are higher yes and the weather is certainly unpredictable but they will be ok so long as festival goers feel they are getting good value for money and amazing experiences.”


This winter will reveal more about the health of the UK festival scene. Headline acts will be announced over the coming months therefore it will be intriguing to see if ticket sales receive a boost from this years successes. The appeal of European and International festivals will always entice UK based festival goers but if the UK equivalents continue to promote the special cultural attachments domestic festivals have, along with a willingness to compete and improve then the UK music scene will continue to flourish for years to come.

Total direct and indirect spend generated by music tourism in 2012 £2.2 BILLION
Amount spent directly by music tourists £1.3 BILLION
Number of music tourists 6.5 MILLION
Proportion of live music audiences that are music tourists 41%
Average spend by overseas music tourists while in the UK £657
Number of full time jobs sustained by music tourism 24,251


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