As festival operators struggle with soaring costs and major supply chain challenges in an effort to keep their events afloat, Nick Morgan group CEO of event production agency We Are The Fair calls on artists and their agents to reconsider their fees and help support a sector that is a major provider of their profits.

The recent article in the Guardian (here) cites all the issues the festival sector is currently facing, including supply chain increases, the cost of living crisis and the massive draw of party islands such as Ibiza, which many haven’t visited in the last 2-3years.

Unfortunately, some suppliers are profiteering out of the shortage of inventory available within the UK. However, in the main, there are genuine hard cost increases such as freelancer rates, diesel, transport, and material costs, including wood and steel, rising beyond available contingency allowances.

Adding to the squeeze from the supply chain, revenue is rapidly reducing as tickets are even more challenging to sell than at pre-pandemic levels. This is due to the already-mentioned issues, meaning shows are running at a loss. Some shows, even sell-outs, will chalk up huge losses as supplier’s costs have risen by at least 30% in the main. Those who know the market know that the margin on shows is often 10% or less.

There is a higher cost that needs immediately addressing, but NO promoter/ booker, understandably, is likely to raise their head above the parapet as it may affect their ability to attract talent to play at their respective show.

Ever since the demise of selling music en masse, artists and agents have earned huge fees from the festival and touring circuit with minimal challenge.

The festival market is walking, at an abundant pace, towards a cliff edge, which is the second time in only two years, as our season was cancelled in 2019-20. However, on that occasion, there was a limited safety net for some in the form of the CRF Arts Council Fund, which tried to support cultural organisations, including many festivals. A large portion of the supply chain was unfortunately unsuccessful in being recognised, and some have failed whilst others struggled through securing alternative financing, including CBIL loans.

The festival sector has never previously had such support and has been self-funded since its inception.

The festival sector is not insignificant and makes a huge contribution to the UK economy.

The festival sector generates an estimated £1.76 billion GVA for the UK annually (Carey and Chamber, 2020) with at least 10% of this directly benefitting local businesses and economies according to AIF survey data. The sector also supports 85,000 jobs according to UK Music’s ‘Music by Numbers’ 2020 report

If there is not an immediate reset in artist fees I am concerned festivals will start to go into administration and as the talent budget can make 50% or more of the show budget it feels now is the time to curry favour from said artists and agents.

Are we in it together or not?

Artist credit terms are also far more favourable for the artist than any of the supply chain. Agents will often contract 100% pre-announcement. I appreciate that terms may be born out of artists being knocked, but the supply chain remains exposed and has had equal knocks over the years and is therefore reliant on the show’s success.

Again are we in it together or not?

An artist may play up to 4-5 shows a weekend in peak season. Each set is usually no more than 90mins. We, on average, spend 28,800 minutes advancing a single show to give some comparison and are fully invested in every show we produce.

We must support emerging and upcoming talent, and I am not suggesting these artists reduce their fees. It’s the talent towards the top of the bill and headline earning thousands of pounds per performance. I am sure a counterargument will be that they are the ones driving the ticketing; however, we are at a juncture where we can no longer afford current fees, and if shows implode, artists’ earnings will rapidly dissipate.

As producers, we probably spend the most opportunity cost and time on the show alongside the promoter.

Alongside their performing fee comes a, often demanding, hospitality and tech rider. The demands on some of these riders are such that it would put a spoilt child to shame. I have had riders demanding their Australian chef be flown into the UK, 15 clean and pressed underpants, an untold amount of towels, and alcohol requests that could full stock your local drinking establishment, among many other unpalatable demands.

We, alongside the army of loyal suppliers we coordinate, work tirelessly in advance and throughout the show. These include litter pickers, power, staging suppliers, stagehands, tech crew, crew, fencing, security, caterers, bar staff, artist liaison, press agents and promoters.

It would be lovely on occasion for artists to mention this army and fuel more goodwill amongst this very loyal community.