Date : 14/10/2015, Day 1
- Stéphane Davet – Journalist, facilitator
- Michal Kascak – CEO, Pohoda Festival (1997, 30 000 people, Slovakia, power of festival to open sensitive topics)
- Biljana Bilic – Booking & Production, EXIT Festival
- Dany Hassenstein – Booking, Paleo Festival
- Peter Hvalkov – Scheduler & Booking, Roskilde Festival
- Jean-Louis Brossard – Artistic Director, Transmusicales
Peter Hvalkov begins by introducing the Rosklide Festival. It’s never been looking for music that sells tickets, it’s more focused on the charity organization, and has been that way since its creation in 1975. As a benefit organization whose donations reach out to the world, they have to present that.
Dany Hassenstein says that the Paleo Festival kept its folk DNA. Joan Baez played in 1981 and was the first international headline, and she came back last year. It’s still all about passion, and the new generation feels privileged of booking such an old event. « We know our audience, what they would like to hear. And the audience knows us, trusts us, and comes to discover », he adds.
Biljina Bilic from the EXIT Festival explains that people could not travel because of war, so the idea was to bring the artists to Serbia. Young serbians do not have that much money to travel, and few bands come to Serbia. They also wanted to escape Serbia’s image, hence the name. At first the festival lasted 102 days. Now it’s 4. The EXIT is run by a fundation and has a lot of social activities throughout the year.
The Pohoda Festival comes from an alternative music scene, and Michal Kascak and his team want to keep it that way. Michal is not a big believer in the new trends of franchise of festivals etc. What matters is the spirit of the festival. You have people who don’t care who comes, hardcore fans that buy tickets without any announcement. 50% come for the atmosphere and the scene, 50% come for the music and the line up.
Jean-Louis Brossard, from the Transmusicales, is the only festival that doesn’t book headliners. Jean-Louis just doesn’t book famous bands. « That’s the way I’m working », he says. « I receive CDs, I travel. This year I have a band from Thailand,Khun Narin’s Electric Phin Band, and the first thing you have to do is book the ticket before even talking money. »
Peter Hvalkov points out that the work is done by volunteers, so it takes time to decide what we are going to do. They are already preparing 2017: if you want to build a new stage, you have to think about it a long time in advance. Peter starts booking early for the headliners. « We had one of next year’s headliners before the beginning oh this year’s edition. We look at video clips, tapes, CDs for unknown artists, and also a lot of travels. Africa, Latin America, Asia. »
« It’s absolutely crazy », says Michal Kascak. « I’m too focused on 2015 to book for 2016. And once my festival is off, I don’t want to hear about any festival for a month. So I start mid-september. I made my first call two weeks ago. The fact of booking earlier and earlier, the competition to be the first to announce, I don’t think it’s very healthy. And the franchise thing as well. If as one person, you offer 20 festivals, the agent is like “Done”. That’s not healthy either. »
« It’s a never ending story », adds Biljana Bilic. « It’s a non-stop work. EXIT is a major festival but does not have a major budget. We can’t compete money wise. We have to sell our story. »
Dany Hassenstein explains that in May or April, they can’t come with a big offer for the next year: they don’t have the money at that time. « Too early and we don’t have the budget. Too late… And it’s too late. I’d like to take a month off after the festival, but it’s less and less possible ». He makes clear that they only book bands they have seen. It’s all about music first.
« We share a lot of common issues, legal or whatever », explains Dany Hassenstein. « There are federations like De Concert! that help us exchange booking information ».
Michal Kascak works a lot with EXIT to coordinate booking. « I talk a lot with Ivan (Milivojev, EXIT’s founder that was at the MAMA last year, Editor’s Note). « We share our problems and our solutions. Festivals from Yourope (82 festivals) exchange their last edition issues and how to deal with it. » Referring to the branding trends, he smiles: « We’re the dolphins. We attack sharks. »
FESTIVALS, DISCOVERY & NEW ARTISTS
Peter Hvalkov begins with that fact: « The income of artists is no longer on sales of CDs, it’s on live music and merchandise. » It happened over the last 5, 6, 7 years, it became obvious. « When did you start listening to music on your computer? », he asks. « That’s the beginning of the story. » Money wise, headliners represent a big part of the budget. The average age of the audience is 23, 24. « We know what attracts newcomers : artists they know, so headliners. The headliners are less than 5% of the bands scheduled. The headliners of tomorrow might be in the rest« … The Roskilde Festival is not a showcase: « We are asking for 60 minutes minimum, it’s usually 90 minutes. So they have to be really good in live performance. » But they also want to share their own story: « We want to present the music of today and tomorrow, but also present the story of what the popular music is what it its today. That’s why we have the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. » They really try to bring a high quality of variety in the programming, so that next year festival-goers don’t wait for the headliners to buy their tickets.
« Young people like to be in advance. », explains Jean-Louis Brossard. « Our audience is younger and younger, they like to discover bands and be the first to know them. At the Transmusicales, you can discover hip hop stuffs, bands coming from Africa… People love to be surprised. »
So what are these bookers’ sources while looking for all these new bands ? Social media, showcase festivals like Eurosonic or the MaMA, SXSW, Great Escape, Spot ?
« You must spend more and more money for headliners », says Michal Kascak. « You have to find some solutions: we can’t have more money from sponsors or from tickets. We had to decrease the number of bands 182, now 128. Only one stage running on Thursday… Headliners are consuming more and more money and it will become a problem for middle acts. One of the main goals of healthy festivals is to present new acts. It’s great that you can see that people are there, watching the stage for unknown acts. If you have only headliners, people waiting for a big name, the venue is just waiting. You lose the spirit, the sense of community. For scheduling, I believe friends, we use a bit of social media but not so much. We also receive recommendations of fans. At a showcase even, if I’m seeing 30 bands, I must have 3-4 that I love and want to bring back. »
Jean-Louis Brossard loves the Great Escape Festival in Brighton: there are bands from Africa, Australia, America. « I’m listening to all the bands before going and doing my program. And you end up willing to watch 3 bands at the same place. I’m not zapping : if it’s boring I’m leaving, if it’s good I’m staying. »
Dany Hassenstein insists that the Paleo Festival will never book a band they have not seen live. « If we really can’t, we call someone we really trust and who has seen the band live, » he says. « I really like going to the Transmusicales, and Brighton. The most important event for that is Eurosonic. We recommend bands to other festivals at that time. Same thing, for 30 bands, I want a 3 or 4. We have a Google Doc we Eurockéennes and Vieilles Charrues where we share who we want to book. » Sometimes, he’ll see a band that he won’t book the first year, but will keep an eye on it because they have potential.
Jean-Louis Brossard won’t give us any band name that he recently discovered: « I’m not talking about a band before I have booked it. I want to have the exclusivity on the artist. » Too bad, but we get that.
HOW TO GET NOTICED BY BOOKERS?
« It’s horrible to answer this question », says Dany Hassenstein. « Don’t send us emails, CDs, links. We want to see the bands. So tell us where you’re going to play very soon. There’s no good or bad moment. We want to see them. »
« It depends where you go », nuances Michal Kascak. « If you want to make a career in UK, you need a portfolio etc. If you want to make a career in Slovakia, just come and play. We booked main stage an Israeli band, two slots before Bjork. One of the best in my opinion. They don’t have any CD. »
« We’re traveling a lot », says Biljana Bilic. « You can send stuffs whenever you want, but we don’t give any answer before July, because we are waiting for the answer of the headliners. » She adds that the nationality of people coming is taken into account: « We have a lot of locals, ex-Yugoslavia. The audience wants to see the old bands, and they are the one buying the tickets. We want to present new things. We need to find the balance. »
For Peter Hvalkov, the best time to get noticed by bookers is when the artist is ready. « We have a decision committee », he explains. « We decide on what we hear and what we see, and information from our network and what others festivals do. But we don’t look at the number of songs sold, or hits on YouTube. « We had Lo’jo, it was their first performance. We knew their manager at the time, and trusted him. You have to trust your network. »
Jean-Louis Brossard shares his point of view: « If I listen to a link I received, I want to see charism in live. Dany wants to see all the bands. I don’t. I love to discover bands at the Transmusicales. Sometimes they do their first live here. Gotan Project and Saint Germain had not played before. If the band is in that situation, we just ask ‘Do you think you’ll be ready for December?’ If the answer is yes, we’ll do it. »
THE END OF ENGLISH HEGEMONY?
Michal Kascak believes they are not focused enough on Central Europe and Eastern countries. « We don’t have enough bands from Hungary. We have a lot from Africa. Our last 4 stages were Israel, Syria, then Bjork. We as festivals need to show how great music is everywhere. »
« There might be a little change in the programmation, but there is so much more to find », adds Peter Hvalkov.
Biljana Bilic, Michal Kascak and Dany Hassenstein insist on presenting local bands.
And that, my friends, is the end of the very first conference of the MIDEM 2015.