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Rising artist fees risk leaving smaller festivals bankrupt, says Green Man owner

RHIAN JONES
Fiona Stewart

Owner and director of Green Man Festival Fiona Stewart says increasing artist booking fees are making it harder than ever for independent events to compete for headliners in a crowded market.
 
The exec discussed the state of the live industry with Music Week after being awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Festivals Award at the tenth annual UK Festival Awards on Monday, December 2.
 
Stewart’s career in entertainment and events spans 25 years and in 2010 she was recruited as a panel member of the Welsh Assembly Creative Industries Advisory Board.
 
Green Man takes place in the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales and during its 11 year tenure has booked names such as Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Flaming Lips, Patti Smith, Super Furry Animals, Robert Plant, Mumford & Sons, Band of Horses, Laura Marling, Alt J, James Blake and Joanna Newsom.
 
However, the cost of artist fees have “increased incredibly over the years,” explains Stewart. “There’s a division between management companies who are still interested in their artists performing at festivals like Green Man - that aren’t particularly massively moneyed events - and others who just want to go for as much money as they can get which we can’t offer them,” she says.
 
“When people ask me, 'Oh I’d love to have such and such playing at the festival," I think there’s no way I can compete with [the major festivals] price-wise, artist fees have doubled in the last few years, its just gone bonkers.”
 
2012 was a notoriously bad year for the live events market with a large number of festivals being scrapped due to financial pressures, slow ticket sales and weather complications. Amongst those affected were Creamfields, Sonisphere UK, The Big Chill, Lady Rock Festival and Go Go Festival.
 
“Quite a lot of management companies probably got their fingers burnt with festivals which have gone under but [they need to put their] hat on the festivals which have always come through,” says Stewart.
 
“When I first started you had to give a kidney to someone to get a festival going and now you can go off and get a festival license very easily. So there are a lot of events that come up and then seem to disappear and that then creates a ripple effect right through the industry as everyone tries to claw their money back in other ways.
 
“But we’re going to get to the stage where festival organisations, like mine, cannot afford to run. It will be a bad situation for all those small festivals if it gets to a point where they can’t afford to book any of the well-known artists.
 
Despite a successful summer for the likes of Reading & Leeds Festival, Glastonbury and V Festival, Sonisphere, which cited a “lack of available headliners”, the Big Chill, Lady Rock Festival and Go Go Festival all failed to return in 2013.
 
Stewart proposes stricter rules imposed on those attempting to enter the festival market who may not have enough “money and expertise” to make their idea a success.
 
“There’s enough festivals out there and [a crowded market] makes it more difficult for the people who actually have a good concept and a good idea to get a contractor behind them,” she says.
 
“The licensing should be rectified and actual financial controls put in place to check that people who are entering the market actually have enough money to do it, there’s no real credit check on what goes on which I find odd.
 
“There are so many amazing events doing incredible things and the state of the festival industry is healthy but we can’t just make this happen because we fancy it. There’s a an ‘X Factor’ idealism of: ‘I want it, so I shall have it’, but it’s just time wasting.”
 
Green Man has previously taken home the UK Festival Awards for Best Medium Festival (2010) and Best Grass Roots Festival (2012). The event was recently named one of the top 50 brands in the ‘UK Cool Brands list’ 2013.

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Tags: Fiona Stewart, Green Man Festival

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