The Future of Music Festivals


Kristina Wemyss looks at how live music might be able to return in a COVID safe way

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Image by Veld Music Festival

By Kristina Wemyss

Last week, it was announced that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will hold an inquiry into what measures the government can take to support music festivals in 2021. They will examine how to encourage music festivals’ contributions to the economy and how to keep the events safe in light of Covid-19.

With the pandemic all but obliterating any forms of live music this year, festival revenues fell by 90%. Music festivals are incredibly important to the UK economy; in 2019 they were estimated to have generated £1.76 billion. Not to mention, festival-goers provide a lot of business to the local areas around the events – particularly in places like the Isle of Wight, which has been labelled ‘festival island’.

Furthermore, music festivals provide a vital platform to emerging artists, giving them the exposure which they need to set their careers in motion. As well as this, many festivals provide multicultural spaces which increase appreciation for different styles and genres and promote cultural tolerance – something which we should always encourage.

The DCMS Committee Chair, Julian Knight MP has emphasised the importance of this industry, stating:  “The collapse of the vibrant music festival sector this year is a real cause for concern. The majority of festivals have been cancelled with the money they generate down by 90% and real risks surrounding their future viability.”

“We have so many legendary festivals that have given the UK a worldwide reputation – it would be devastating if they were unable to come back with a bang, or if smaller festivals that underpin the talent pipeline disappear entirely.”

The government is taking a promisingly active stance by looking at how the music industry has been crippled by Covid-19. The announcement of this specific inquiry comes in the wake of another inquiry into the effects of streaming on the future of the music industry. MPs plan to examine the impact that music streaming platforms are having on artists and record labels, and whether they are being treated fairly. Among the big names to be investigated are Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music.

It is a promising start that the government is opening up discussions about these issues. However, they will have to put their words into action if they want to reassure the music industry - many of whom have felt completely abandoned by the government, taking it upon themselves to start campaigns like #SaveOurVenues.

In terms of how events will run in accordance with Covid-19 guidelines, the government is yet to have their say. Several ideas have been put forwards so far by big companies within the festival industry though. Last week, Billboard incorrectly reported that Ticketmaster is developing a system of verification via smartphones to check that all concert-attendees have either been vaccinated against the coronavirus or have tested negative prior to the event. This caused a lot of controversy but Ticketmaster have since confirmed that this was simply one of many “potential ideas”, and that they would not have the authority to enforce this system. However, it does seem that this might be one of the most reliable ways of reducing transmission rates at live music events.

On a more certain note, Festival Republic, which organises several big festivals like Reading and Leeds, have announced a "Full Capacity Plan" for reopening venues. This would rely on rapid-turnaround Covid testing for all attendees to allow festivals to go ahead next summer. It might seem a little optimistic, but the company seems to be quite sure that they will be able to implement this by the festival season of 2021.

Now that there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel with the promising news of a vaccine, hopefully festivals will be able to set measures like these into motion next summer and allow things to reach a new normal. If not, this could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for many smaller festivals and venues, more of which seem to be announcing their closures day by day.