CMJ Panel Highlights: The Explosion of Music Festivals

posted by Marjana Jaidi on October 16, 2013

New York, NY -- For Cultivora, an obvious panel pick during CMJ Music Marathon was Jam Packed: The Explosion of Music Festivals, which mainly approached festivals from an artist's perspective. Moderated by Richard Schaefer, President of The Artists Organization, the panel included a mix of festival founders (Claes Olsen of Øya, Jordan Wolowitz of Gov Ball, and Jonathan Neman of Sweetlife, a festival that grew out of their healthy fast food chain, Sweetgreen), a booking agent with CAA (Jbeau Lewis), and an artist manager (moderator Schaefer).

A few highlights:

On selecting breaking acts to book nearly a year before the festival:
For bands that Wolowitz and Neman don't see for themselves, they rely on trusted sources to send them new material. Schaefer threw out Lorde, one of this summer's breakouts, as an example. While Neman has already put in an offer ("she speaks to the type of person that eats a salad"), Wolowitz is not sure if she's right for Gov Ball. She already has a #1 single and a chart-topping album early in her career, and Lorde's recent success in the New York market would likely make her asking price higher than a festival in Washington DC, where she has yet to play. Instead, he used Icona Pop as an example - when he saw them play at CMJ last year, they were just breaking; nine months later, they had the number one single in the country. Wolowitz attributes some of it to luck and "being in the right place at the right time."

On the importance of the lineup vs. the experience:
"Talent is a given," Neman said, "but when I think about my favorite moments, it's not standing there and watching the headliner, it's the small intimate things that happen, the people that are there, and finding those little surprises." When a festival is just starting out and they have yet to build a reputation, the lineup is more important, but for a festival like Coachella, they can sell out before even announcing their lineup. Wolowitz cited All Points West, a festival by the producers of Coachella in New Jersey's Liberty State Park, as an example where talent wasn't enough. While the festival booked top-tier acts (Radiohead, Jay-Z, and Coldplay, among others), they fell short in when it came to the audience experience and closed their doors after two seasons.

On the consolidation of the music festival industry:
In recent years, large promoters (such as Live Nation) have been growing their companies by buying music festivals. While working with mega promoters offers bands and sponsors the advantage of working with multiple festivals, Lewis said that artists are offered less money for these bulk deals. When asked why they haven't sold their festivals to larger promoters, Olsen said he hasn't gotten an offer yet, while Wolowitz enjoys the creative freedom of being independent, and Gov Ball is in a financial position where they don't have to sell. Most of all, Wolowitz says, "I get to book my own music festival."

On the future of live streaming:
Newman and Wolowitz agree that there isn't a big future in live streaming, as sponsors haven't seen significant returns on their investments. They think it is unlikely that these contracts will be renewed once they expired, though Wolowitz mentioned the possibility of an a-la-carte model through a streaming company like Netflix. In Europe, Olsen countered, the streams are handled by national broadcast networks, so the live stream model may continue to prevail overseas.

On their dream headliners, dead or alive:
This question was a great way to close the panel. Neman said he would choose David Bowie, 3 times, each in a different decade, while Wolowitz opted for New York artists - The Talking Heads, Notorious BIG, and The Strokes. Lewis chose Dave Matthews Band for all three nights, to which Schaefer responded, "you're the worst." Olsen chose not to respond.

If you're in town for CMJ this year, grab a copy of our official travel guide to help you navigate the city. You can find a printed copy in your registration gift bag and at these locations, or view and download the guide digitally.

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See Also:

Outlast the Marathon: 7 Tips to Survive CMJ Music Marathon
Music Monday Playlist: CMJ Music Marathon 2013
Get Your Free Copy of Our Guide to CMJ Music Marathon 2013