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A Camden Crawler's Guide to Festival Management: Competition and Cancellation

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Music festivals are everywhere these days - it feels like there's one everywhere you turn. This fact now seems to extend even to the pages of the Observer on a Sunday morning. The lot of a festival organiser is constantly to be faced by yet more music festival stuff.

Writing in the Observer, Luke Bainbridge is sceptical about this profusion of festivals: as he notes, both Sonisphere and the Big Chill have already cancelled this year, merely the biggest of many names to bow out of the 2012 festival season. Oxegen and Glastonbury, of course, long ago decided not to run in 2012; I've written before about the scheduling gymnastics many festival managers are feeling the need to perform in the face of a glut of competitors, the Olympics and Euro 2012.

In part, 2012 is simply the climax of a steadily over-populating festival scene. In recent years, music festivals have been a huge success - where I'd part company from Bainbridge and the Observer is in the idea we're falling out of love with the festival, since the very existence of all these events is a clear sign that there's an appetite for them. You can, though, have too much of a good thing, and festivals are becoming victims of their own success.

In order not just to survive but to thrive in the festival marketplace, your festival needs to have a distinctive offering and a unique position on the calendar. The more festivals that exist, the harder it is to achieve either of those goals. I'm guessing that the Camden Crawl would fall under Bainbridge's 'boutique festival' category, which as he notes has been disturbed somewhat by the demise of 2012's Big Chill. Back in January, Melvin Benn of the Big Chill said it plainly: "The whole country is going to be obsessed with the Olympics. There will be so much focus on the events, we won't be able to move for them." Scheduling is a massive challenge for the smaller festival.

Ticket sales, of course, are the best barometer for the health of a festival - the Big Chill's takings went down in both 2010 and 2011. The Crawl has stayed pretty steady the last few years, though we're hoping that some of the things we're doing differently in 2012 will make a difference to our sales. I think Bainbridge is right to suggest that there's a bigger appetite for independent festivals - for places you won't see David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson - and in his piece Rob Da Bank of Bestival points out that being independent is one way through the thicket.

Undoubtedly, though, more festivals, cheaper tickets abroad, and in particular this year's huge international sporting events mean that it's tough times to be a music festival. There's only one answer, and long-time readers will know what it's likely to be: hard work, and more of it!

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