After two stormy years, there are finally big gatherings again. But at what price?
His goat jumps make the front stage tremble as the compact crowd roars. Orelsan is back. This year he is the king of festivals, the king of outdoor stages, the one whose name is in capital letters on most programming. A safe bet for the directors of these events. And since the health crisis, they have become rare. In Carcassonne, Pascal Dupont, with his arms crossed in front of the stage of the Jean-Deschamps theater, could see it. “In the past, the internationals were the fastest to fill up, explains the director of the city festival. From now on it is the French who have the advantage. And even there Sexion d’Assaut or Louane struggle to sell. »
Also read: Carcassonne Festival: rock goes back to the ramparts
There are two reasons for this: the public is wary of foreign artists who would not cross the border if the government decides to tighten the screws and, a concern especially visible in the medieval city where the festival is usually populated by 17% foreigners , the English no longer lands. “Brexit… Pascal Dupont sighs. This year we welcome John Legend, three years ago we would have received 1,500 English, they are no longer there! So it is not full. “The same observation at the Mas des Escaravatiers, in the Var, where Ben Mazué sold out in two weeks, Vianney in nine days, when the Brits of Morcheeba, finished in no time in 2017, struggle to gather the crowd.
And the Frenchies aren’t as easy as they used to be to have in their programming. “They are tougher in business. There is a terrible jealousy because they do not understand that they are paid less than in other countries,” reveals Pascal Dupont. It is true that receiving Simple Minds costs 400,000 euros while for Benjamin Biolay 80,000 euros is enough… But, faced with the cancellations of the concerts, the artists have all increased their prices: from 15 to 30% compared to 2021 An envelope that represents 35% to 40% of the total festival budget. And when negotiations were possible in the past, they are not now, producers prefer to go to the highest bidder. “Our relationships are less human than before,” notes Pascal Dupont.
For Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck only 95% of the tickets have passed
Another big problem: singers are seeing bigger and bigger. Their shows have become Dantesque, a combination of fireworks, flames, dancers… And there the budget explodes again. 40,000 euros for a single artist turns into 100,000 euros with an American-style scenography. More something to add for the technique. Hosting Stromæ this year means reinforcing the usual structures to support the extra tons of lighting for the incredible staging and making available twice as many staff. “Theatrical tours have increased,” explains Christophe Sabot, president of Olympia Production (Garorock, Les Déferlantes, Inversion, etc.).
Since we work with two thirds of the festival tour kit, it has evolved with us as well. The public is a winner, but ticket prices will have to go up. And there it stops again. Since the festivals all apply to stay within a reasonable price range and the spectators are willing to accept an increase of up to 3 euros per day from one year to the next, that is not enough to balance the scales. “As an independent, says Sébastien Costamagna (Le Mas des Escaravatiers), we adjust the price of the ticket to that of the postage stamp. Nowadays it would be necessary for certain artists to go up to 200 euros per head to include our expenses. Which I will never do. »
For Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck, the Monte-Carlo Summer 500 offered seats at 250 euros and still lost money, only 95% of the tickets were sold out. “It’s a choice,” Sébastien Costamagna adds. Angèle is less present this year as many have done the math and would rather not spend that much to have it. »
If the artist can’t play and he has a medical certificate, he won’t get his money and the audience will be reimbursed
Especially since the stars of the scene are not the only growth pole since the start of the health crisis. Festivals have had to deal with rising raw material prices, but especially with a shortage of equipment and personnel. “We all use the same service providers and hundreds of events are happening simultaneously this summer. It’s harder to get a podium or a truck than a headliner! notes Béatrice Desgranges, co-founder of Marsatac, in Marseille. Share of technology in the total budget: 40%. As an indication: 2000 people are working on Garorock. Security companies have also increased their prices. And to avoid fights, stabbing and sexual assault, impossible to do without; the image and survival of festivals depends on it. Most have given their device a boost: additional cameras, “stewards” in the audience and supporting mobile applications. Of course, insurance noticed the vein.
None cover the risks associated with the Covid, but the teams had to get their hands on the wallet. “They have never been more expensive,” says Christophe Sabot. “On the other hand, if the artist can’t play and he has a medical certificate, it goes into the ‘unavailability’ box. At that point, he will not receive his money and the public will be reimbursed,” Sébastien Costamagna added. Typical example: the two French cancellations of Liam Gallagher. To anticipate the risks, some have left the usual sales networks – Fnac, Ticketnet, Weezevent and others… – to set up their own sales networks. Double advantage: avoid costs (1.80 euros per ticket for Fnac, 1.95 for Leclerc…), but above all arrange the refunds yourself. “The average customer who buys his spot on Fnac thinks that his money is in our pocket, as we touch him after the festival and that we have no control over the reservations, explains the director of the festival of the Var. If you have a ticket office, you will cash out and be able to refund instantly. »
It’s harder to get a podium or a truck than a headliner!
Ah! The nostalgia is wonderful for the days when the organizers only cared about the weather! And even there, caution is advised… After the storm that shook the Eurockéennes this summer (fourteen injuries and two canceled days), the Déferlantes organization spent four hours with a bailiff, the police and the fire brigade before finally getting permission of the insurance. “There was a bit of wind. Ten years ago we would have played without question. Nowadays nobody would take the risk anymore,” admits the director of Olympia Production.
Fortunately, the recovery is also good. Starting with private patrons and local authorities who largely help fund these events and who have not deserted. As for the National Music Center, it has enabled those that opened in 2021 — and hit catastrophic numbers — to get back on their feet. “Masks, no masks, tests, no tests, the regulations were constantly changing and we were insulted,” recalls Sébastien Costamagna. I had the worst fill rate in my history at 58%. »
While some, faced with the proliferation of festivals, are still struggling – Musilac in Aix-les-Bains, barely breaking with 90,000 spectators – others, such as Solidays, Rock en Seine, Le Mas des Escaravatiers or Marsatac, broke visitor records . The increased costs prevent them from making much of a profit (if there is at all for Marsatac, for example), but everyone agrees that the public was happy to return. “At the start of the school year, we will make a point to rethink our economy, Christophe Sabot announces. Society is changing, so are we. One thing is certain: there will be one before and one after Covid. »