Comparative Piece on Two Major UK Festivals

Two Festival Comparison – download link

In this piece, I am going to question the cultural, social and economic impacts of festivals through the analysis of similarities and differences between Capital’s Summertime Ball and BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend since their inaugurations in 2009 and 2003 respectively.

‘A performance event comprising two or more live performances of pop music over one or more days and at recurring periods, which is packaged as a coherent whole.’ [1](Paleo and Wijnberg, 2006) is a definition of a modern pop music festival, which the two subjects exemplify. While a single-day indoor event such as Capital’s Summertime Ball may be questioned as to whether it can be dictated as a festival, by this definition it would be categorized as such and therefore for this essay I shall view it as a festival.

Capitals Summertime Ball is a single-day event held annually at Wembley Stadium and hosts approximately 20 of the world’s top pop artists in front of 80,000 attendees.[2]Radio 1’s Big Weekend is similar in the fact it is hosted annually showcasing approximately 20 artists per day, however the event travels year on year to different locations around the UK.[3]While many other UK Festivals have emerged since the millennium as a response to new music scenes such as indie-rock Community Festival and rock/metal Download Festival, the festivals in subject have been formed arguably as money-making opportunities for two of the country’s largest radio stations making them interesting to analyse in terms of cultural impact.

I have chosen to compare these two festivals as they are curated with similar pop artists, all of which have large fanbases (a given for any musicians with chart-topping hits) that will guarantee high ticket sales and overall success and raises the question, are such festivals able to have a cultural impact when they are so economically charged?

To begin, the planning process for events of these capacities start when the previous concludes, a unifying feature as both are similarly comprised however, the planning processes between the two vary due to their different formats. The first stages of their planning differ slightly as Capital’s Summertime Ball will only need to rebook the venue for the next year whereas Radio 1’s Big Weekend will need to scout and book a suitable location.  Ticket Allocation for Summertime Ball is also pre-organised and ready with a set-capacity and ticket price-tiers each year. Radio 1’s Big Weekend has tried multiple different methods of ticketing outlined in Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals book[4]such as first-come-first served giveaways around the venue location which resulted in people travelling from far and wide to get them and selling them online for high prices (bearing in mind it was a free event), to the online ticketing system introduced in 2006 to now printed named tickets which are a recent development to combat ticket touts.

Similarly, the two festivals differ in terms of pricing with Summertime Ball’s always having set prices per ticket type (depending on seated, standing, gold circle or VIP) whereas Big Weekend has seen a change of strategy in recent years. Pricing Strategies are just one feature that allows festivals to be categorised within Paleo and Wijnberg’s Taxonomy.[5]Summertime Ball is strongly for-profit as its always been priced highly, regardless of if a percentage goes to Capital’s in-house Charity, Make Some Noise.[6]Big Weekend has gone through a transition from Non-Profit where tickets were free with the intention of giving back to the Radio’s listeners, to now charging £18, a low-ticket price (relative to other similar sized festivals.) This links back to the question posed earlier on this piece, can Big Weekend claim to be a musical celebration for communities and cultures in the UK, if it has chosen to become a profited event?

An interesting aspect of Big Weekend’s planning is also the curation of their lineup as ‘no other festival has a different location every year that will specifically tailor its structure and framework around the musical tastes and popularity of its audience’ (Bowman, E. 2015).  This is evident in the 2017 lineup for the renamed ‘Biggest Weekend’ which was hosted in 4 different locations with the artists changing each time, for example Birmingham band UB40 playing the Coventry edition, and Scot Emilie Sande playing Perth.[7]Tailoring lineups to suit the audience would demonstrate how local cultures can impact the festival scene.

Socially, the two festivals have much in common from their audiences to the sponsorship culture, and marketing approaches. An extract from Bowman’s book in reference to Big Weekend reads;

‘The type of people that go to the festival are quite obviously Radio 1 listeners, although that’s not an easy demographic to put your finger on – they vary in age, sex, and musical interests…You know what to expect when you go along to Big Weekend; you know what kind of experience you are going to have. You might have watched it before or you might have heard it on the radio before. It does as it says on the tin and it doesn’t really have an opportunity to expand on those expectations in a way that say Glastonbury or Latitude does’ (Bowman, 2016)

From experience, this mirrors the consumer experience for Summertime Ball. It is extremely standardised from the venue, the pricing strategy, staging, repeating artists, even to the marketing material an example of which is shown at the end of this text in Figures A and B.[8]This all links to the commercial appeal of these events, the consumers are not buying into the exciting concepts of independent and greenfield festivals, they are buying into the trust and reputation held by the radio stations promoting the shows. This is demonstrated as often tickets are on sale and sold out before the full lineup is revealed, proving the trust consumers have in the event organisers. All of this helps the radio promoters appeal to a wide demographic as referred to by Bowman; the high-security and seated nature of Wembley Stadium appeals to families of all ages just as the local and low-cost aspect of Big Weekend would also.

Continuing the social aspects, ‘nothing brings people together like festivals do’ (Zalmay, 2017)[9], however, there are both similarities and differences between the subjects on how they do so. Collectively, both festivals can bring different fans together through the curation of their lineup. This can range from fans of a single artist convening, participating with each other offline and feeling a sense of community,[10]to bringing together fans of different artists, reducing the fandom rivalry that can exist within the online community. To exemplify this idea, 2015’s Summertime Ball brought together Little Mix and Fifth Harmony[11]who’s fans have an infamous rivalry that is exhibited across social media and on music gossip sites such as The Grape Juice.[12]This is positive as it promotes the idea of music unifying people rather than dividing, a notable objective of early music festivals such as Glastonbury.

Finally, while the economics behind these two festivals aren’t publicly available, one thing that is easy to see is their reliance on sponsorships. This sets them apart from less-commercial or boutique festivals as the subjects can invest large amounts of money into booking the biggest artists in the world and do not need to rely on high marketing or other revenue streams such as catering or trade stalls. For example, following the success of the first year, ASOS signed a six-figure deal to sponsor Summertime Ball in 2010.[13]A quote taken from Anderton’s chapter in The Pop Festival[14]states:

‘For a while, there has been an increasing feeling that festivals have shifted too far from their original hippie-spirited ethos. The point was to offer an alternative reality. Now, it’s a slick industry. The television rights have been sold, and with that have come price rises, mass audiences and corporate domination – the antithesis of everything they stood for.’ (Corner 2012)

I think this is particularly interesting as both Summertime Ball and Big Weekend act as prime examples for what Corner is discussing. Some might say that the ‘hippie-spirit’ ethos has been lost by the mainstream ‘Stan’ culture (a term defining hardcore fans that derived from Eminem’s 2000 song ‘Stan’[15]) whereby fans fight to be as close to their pop-star idol as possible. Similarly, both festivals are broadcast across the Capital and BBC platforms, being shown on TV, on radio and livestreamed across social media arguably going against the traditional festival experience and demonstrating the ‘corporate domination.’

This research helps to inform my own practice as I can use the conclusions made to develop the pre-existing ideas I have for my event. For example, I already hoped for it be in aid of charity, however, I believe by choosing to make it non-profit it will help the event to be more music-focused than commercial (unlike the two subjects.) I believe within the student scene, this will also act as an incentive to attend as students (and their lack of finance) are less likely to attend events with entry fees. If it is for charity, however, I feel student are more likely to give in. Nevertheless, I like the idea of unifying different groups of people and believe having a range of artists as the two festivals do each year, will enable me to achieve this. It is something I have noticed from university gigs I have attended that it always a similar crowd, comprising of similar people who all share similar interests. Therefore, when curating my event, I would like to aim to bring in new people by appealing to different tastes and interests. This might be through having artists across genres or offering alternate entertainment that could entice different social groups.

Sources:

  1. Ali-Knight, J. (2009). International perspectives of festivals and events. Oxford: Elsevier Science. and Paleo, I. and Wijnberg, N. (2006)  “Classification of Popular Music Festivals: A Typology of   Festivals and an Inquiry into Their Role in the Construction of Music Genres.” International Journal of Arts Management, vol. 8, no. 2, 2006, pp. 50–61.
  2. Capital FM. Capital’s Summertime Ball Event.[online] Available at: https://www.capitalfm.com/events/summertime-ball(Accessed 20.12.18)
  3. Radio 1. Radio 1’s Big Weekend Event. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/r49fhn(Accessed 20.12.18)
  4. Bowman, E. (2015). Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals. Blink Publishing.
  5. Paleo, I., & Wijnberg, N. (2006). Classification of Popular Music Festivals: A Typology of Festivals and an Inquiry into Their Role in the Construction of Music Genres. International Journal of Arts Management, 8(2), 50-61
  6. Make Some Noise. (2018). HOME – Make Some Noise. [online] Available at: https://www.makesomenoise.com [Accessed 21 Dec. 2018].
  7. BBC. (2018). Biggest Weekend – Ticket Information – BBC Music. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/15lg1VWL0dczC3ZnSzXSskH/ticket-information [Accessed 21 Dec. 2018].
  8. Capital FM. (2018). Capital’s Summertime Ball Officially SOLD OUT in Record Time! Now Your Only Way in Is To Win. [online] Capital. Available at: https://www.capitalfm.com/events/summertime-ball/news/sold-out-2017/ [Accessed 21 Dec. 2018].
  9. Zalmay, K. (2018). Why festivals are important. [online] Thenews.com.pk. Available at: https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/188562-Why-festivals-are-important [Accessed 23 Dec. 2018].
  10. Duffett, M. (2015). Understanding fandom. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
  11. Capital FM (2018). Capital Summertime Ball 2015 Line-Up: One Direction, Ariana Grande And Avicii Confirmed. [online] Capital. Available at: https://www.capitalfm.com/events/summertime-ball/news/2015-line-up/ [Accessed 23 Dec. 2018].
  12. That Grape Juice (2018). Little Mix & Fifth Harmony Fans Clash Over “Biggest Girl Group” [online] Available at: https://thatgrapejuice.net/2017/12/little-mix-fifth-harmony-fans-clash-best-girl-group-title-simon-cowell-factor/ [Accessed 23 Dec. 2018].
  13. Baker, R. (2018). Asos.com to sponsor Capital FM Summertime Ball – Marketing Week. [online] Marketing Week. Available at: https://www.marketingweek.com/2010/04/08/asos-com-to-sponsor-capital-fm-summertime-ball/ [Accessed 23 Dec. 2018].
  14. McKay, G. (2015). The pop festival. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
  15. Eminem (2001) Stan. (Interscope Records)

 

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