The future of UK music festivals Contents

3The economic and cultural contributions of festivals

38.Festivals bring a range of economic, social and cultural benefits to local areas, communities and individuals. This is illustrated by the diverse range of beneficiaries that were hit by the cancellation of Tenterden Folk Festival in 2020:

All our sound engineers, security staff, first aid staff, marquee and equipment hire companies and other contractors have lost substantial income.

The festival includes around 50 craft and street stalls including musical instruments, food, local products, gifts, etc. and the stallholders have lost their income.

The guests at the festival are mainly self-employed musicians and dancers who have also lost the source of income.

Hotels, bed and breakfast establishments, campsites, venues, public houses, shops, petrol stations and other traders have lost the substantial trade generated by the festival over the four days.

Others who lost out include a group of students and Ashford College who would normally, as part of their course, have volunteered to help our PA and lighting engineers and therefore lost necessary work experience.

Other students from Highworth School lost the opportunity to bring their Highworth Folk Band to the free music stage.83

The benefits of festivals for communities

Local businesses

39.The business communities around festival sites benefit significantly from a festival’s presence and the Association of Independent Festivals estimates that at least £176 million in off-site spend was lost in 2020.84 Manchester’s Parklife, for example, brings £16 million into the local economy, and raises £100,000 to £120,000 on average for local good causes.85 Like the events themselves, the benefit derived from them is highly seasonal. In a typical August, local catering and hospitality businesses take around a third of their annual income during the eight-day Sidmouth Folk Festival and Matthew Phillip, Chief Executive of Notting Hill Carnival, told us that many of the businesses in the area “take a big chunk of their yearly income” in the month leading up to Carnival weekend.86

Local residents

40.Festivals are increasingly significant sources of income for local authorities and park services that hire out spaces. Dr Andrew Smith from the University of Westminster told us that while festivals account for only “a small proportion of the local authorities’ overall budgets […] for some individual parks it is almost all of their income”, with some “able to earn six figure sums from hiring their green spaces out to festival promoters”.87 For example, Finsbury Park in Haringey is “financially self-sufficient because of the music festivals it stages”, generating more than £1 million per year from event hires—enough to fund its annual maintenance budget.88 However, cancellations in 2020 “highlighted how precarious this new reliance on festival funding is”, which could have serious consequences for local authorities’ frontline services funded through festival income.89 At the same time, many festivals have called for at least a proportion of license fees for events that did not happen in 2020 to be rolled over to 2021 or beyond. We heard of significant variation between local authorities that have agreed to roll-over fees and those that have not, suggesting that central Government guidance to local authorities on their “discretion” around enforcing section 55A of the Licensing Act 2003 is not being consistently applied.90

41.The benefits of a festival are not always spread equally among a local authority’s residents. According to Dr Smith, although festivals can “supplement the cultural offer in peripheral parts of cities, and provides a way of engaging audiences that do not normally use cultural amenities (including host parks) […] using a park regularly for music festivals comes with considerable social and environmental costs”. These include making parts of the park inaccessible to local residents:

for extended periods, not just over festival weekends, but during festival assembly and derig (which can take 2–3 weeks). This problem is exacerbated by the damage to turf caused by installations and attendees, which extends interrupted access, and by the fact that disruption tends to come at times—late spring and midsummer—when demand for park use is at its highest.91

42.The high ticket prices of commercial festivals can exclude certain parts of the local community, while also pricing out less lucrative, community-focused events. Dr Smith identifies that urban festivals “are often very expensive (£50-£100 for a day ticket; £100+ for a weekend pass) and tend to appeal to a regional or national audience, meaning the proportion of local attendees is usually quite low”, yet:

If a council or a park authority is short of income, they are going to prioritise the events that generate the most income, and free festivals and free events that do not generate much income tend to get squeezed out of those spaces.92

43.When asked whether any particular festivals are getting their engagement with local communities right, Dr Smith highlighted that for its events in east London, AEG has “genuinely committed to a consultation and a collaborative process, which is dealt with in a much more tokenistic way by other companies and other festivals” and “changed the scheduling of the festivals in Victoria Park so that they are hosted on two consecutive weekends with a community event in between”. By consolidating its programme, AEG reduces the period of disruption caused by the assembly and de-rig of the festival site.93


44.Notting Hill Carnival demonstrates the role that festivals can play at the heart of local communities. As a free and unticketed event, Carnival’s community extends beyond the hundreds of volunteer participants to the thousands of Londoners and tourists who attend.94 This benefit is not limited to one weekend either: its CEO told us that many of the 100-plus events that make up the Carnival on August bank holiday “are based in community centres around London, and they do year-round activities”.95

45.More than 36,000 festival-goers told us what they value most about festivals, from its benefits for their mental health to the opportunity to forge wider friendship groups and the feeling of being surrounded by like-minded people.96 Over half of the 36,497 respondents to our survey (53%) attended three or more festivals in a typical year, and although the most missed aspect of the festival experience is ‘the atmosphere’, the more festivals people attended on average the more likely they were to miss ‘socialising & meeting new people’.97 Nearly a quarter of respondents (23%) told us they missed seeing their favourite artists or discovering new music.

46.The cancellation of licensed festivals in 2020 correlated with a rise in unregulated mass gatherings across the UK. Events consultancy Method Events told us:

There has been a substantial increase in the number of black-market and illegal events occurring during the pandemic, causing threats to communities in terms of public safety, disruption and anti-social behaviour; without adequate risk mitigation and control measures. It is vital that the festival industry be enabled and supported, not just for the social, cultural and economic benefits, but also the prevention of unregulated gatherings.98

Likewise, Notting Hill Carnival’s organisers told us that “young people felt frustrated with the lack of social opportunities in London” in summer 2020 and so they worked hard “to discourage people from taking to the streets of Notting Hill during that period, especially because we had no infrastructure in place”. Matthew Phillip said that if, come August this year, “large gatherings cannot happen but small independent venues can open and licensed premises are open as normal […] there is a risk that we could end up with something that is not managed”, lacking the many safety and crowd management measures usually in place.99


47.Festivals rely on a vast community of volunteers, which is one of the ways they generate income for charities.100 Michael Pacy told us he has been attending music festivals for 25 years, and started volunteering at them in 2012. He has since taken on paid roles managing other volunteers, stating that “volunteering gave me experience and skills that I would not have gained elsewhere”.101 Since 1993, Oxfam has provided tens of thousands of volunteer stewards to festivals across the UK, and operates pop-up festival charity shops. Between May and September 2020, these activities should have generated around £1.2 million; however, all that income was lost and Oxfam warns that should the 2021 festival season be cancelled, “there would be redundancies across the board” in its festivals team.102 Rowan Cannon told us that as the volunteers of today will become the “production managers, site managers, runners and site assistants” of tomorrow, the loss of development opportunities in 2020 is a risk to that pipeline of “ people who are going to keep this industry going in the future”.103

The benefits of festivals for those who work at them

Suppliers and crew

48.The festival sector supports 85,000 jobs, with the vast majority of staff working on a freelance basis across the events industry.104 Duncan Bell of #WeMakeEvents, which represents production staff, told us that “the industry is very proud of the freelance structure that exists, because it works seamlessly between cross-sector disciplines” with engineers, for example, “working on corporate events, exhibitions and conferences out of festival season” or going on a subsequent tour with an artist.105

49.However, with all these sectors effectively shut for over a year, many have been forced to find work in other areas, which in turn may hinder their return to the sector once live events resume. This was Tre Stead’s experience: having worked as a tour manager for 15 years, she took a job in catering at Manchester’s Nightingale Hospital in April 2020. She told us that “everybody is doing stuff at the minute that means they are able to jump back into touring, but being promised three weeks of tour is not enough if you do not have a plan for the long term”.106 The consequences of this will be twofold: not only will a lack of income and experience prevent the next generation of freelance talent from entering the industry, but the loss of experienced workers will mean no one will be available “to teach the kids coming in how to do this job well”.107

50.Festival supply chains and freelance workers cannot sustain another year with little to no income. Continued uncertainty about whether events will go ahead or a significant reduction in the number that do go ahead this summer will make it harder for skilled personnel temporarily working in other industries to return to the sector. We are concerned that this will have consequences not only for the safe running of events this summer but for the talent pipeline of this important growth sector.

Musicians and performers

51.Festivals are a valuable source of income for artists. During our inquiry on the economics of music streaming, we heard that 70% of a musicians’ revenue typically comes from performing live “and the cream is to be had in the summer festival season”.108 Nadine Shah told us that, from the artists’ perspective, festivals “pay us well and they pay us fairly”, while the Musicians’ Union stated that:

Many festivals are programmed around a particular genre or theme, which is invaluable for niche artists who may otherwise struggle to have a full touring itinerary across music venues. Such events feed into the diversity of UK music, and allow artists to sustain a career without compromising their musical output.109

Tre Stead also told us that festivals are “a linchpin that the rest of the touring ecosystem works around”. It is common, especially for overseas artists, to make the most of their time by starting and ending a tour with festival appearances and then “use the month or so in between to visit the smaller towns and cities around the UK or Europe”. The amount of money they make from the festival then “props up the tour”.110

52.Festivals are crucial for artists to develop their acts and audiences. Typically, 35% to 83% of an independent festival’s line-up is comprised of emerging artists and, according to Ticketmaster, 54% of festival-goers seek out gigs for artists they have discovered at festival.111 As Tre Stead observed, “festivals are the best way of exposing an artist, big or small, to a new audience, and you can only go so long playing to people who know your music. Radio play, press, all that sort of stuff is great as well, but getting out there on the live circuit and exposing yourself to a load of people […] That is how you get a new audience in, and that is how you further your career”.112

53.The loss of those opportunities over the past year will have a disproportionate impact on those already under-represented on festival line-ups. Rowan Cannon told us that the pandemic presents “a massive risk to representation and diversity”.113 In 2015, a music blog shared a doctored version of the poster for the Reading and Leeds Festivals, removing all acts that did not feature at least one female performer: only nine groups remained.114 A number of female-only festivals and industry initiatives aim to address this issue with the talent pipeline. The PRS Foundation’s Keychange initiative encourages festivals to have a 50/50 gender split among performers by 2022; more than 150 events worldwide have pledged to hit this target, including the Proms. Tre Stead told us she thought the aim was “desirable” and that the sector’s issue:

is all about the acts that are out there and young women feeling they can start a band and put their music out there without getting pushback. I think the industry is changing a lot to make a lot more women feel they can do that, and the knock-on effect within a few years is that there are more and more great female artists who can headline festivals.115

54.We welcome the PRS Foundation’s Keychange initiative to increase the number of female artists appearing in festival line-ups, and recommend that all festivals sign up to it. During the pandemic, support from the public purse has been available for festivals, albeit to an insufficient degree. It is incumbent on festivals to ensure that under-represented female artists at all career stages also benefit from that support by appearing in greater numbers on festival line-ups in the future.

Festivals and touring in the European Union

55.As festival organisers, artists and crews grapple with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, another challenge has emerged: the implications of the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement for live music. Festivals across the EU have been an important source of work for UK artists and crews. During our streaming inquiry, Colin Young told us that his accountancy practice “grew by 25% as a consequence of touring bands going to Europe”. Where bands would previously “do two, maybe three if [they] were lucky, festivals in the UK”, they had access to “nine to 12 festivals” in the European market, and he concluded that “any obstacle is bad for live touring in Europe”.116

56.The deal made no specific provisions for short-term travel for creative work, and UK musicians and crews touring in the EU must comply with a range of rules governing the movement of people and equipment. Deborah Annetts, from the Incorporated Society of Musicians, told us that “the administrative burden, in terms of sorting out all the paperwork in order to get hold of a work permit that could cost hundreds and hundreds of pounds, plus of course the cost of the carnets, is going to make it uneconomical to tour in Europe”.117

57.International travellers and bands coming to play at UK festivals will also face increased costs moving between here and the EU. Sacha Lord from Manchester’s Parklife told us that the added red tape when bringing in bands to play is “a big barrier that […] might stagnate new talent coming through” while UK Music’s Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said “every year, you will find some Australians, Germans and South Africans travelling to a field in Somerset to watch American, French and Korean musicians perform. […] International talent is one of the things that makes our UK live music scene the dynamic live music scene that it is”.118 Under the Permit Free Festival route some festivals and events can invite artists without issuing a certificate of sponsorship; however, only 50 festivals (5% of the total each year in the UK) currently qualify for this exemption.119

58.There are concerns that the deal will make UK musicians and crews less employable than their EU counterparts. Duncan Bell from #WeMakeEvents told us that rather than UK festivals being a launchpad for tours around Europe, they will now just be legs on tours that start, and source, elsewhere. He explained:

all the staff on that tour will have been sourced from the EU and, therefore, will only have one country in which to work out their visa and work permit, rather than British citizens having to do it the other way round and then get 27 sets of paperwork in place to do that. That impacts on freelancers, it impacts on the supply chain and it impacts potentially on where the equipment comes from for festival seasons, because that is the nature of the touring game and the way that the equipment moves.120

59.The consequences of the UK-EU deal on haulage could exacerbate pressures on the supply of equipment during the festival season. According to live music publisher IQ, an estimated 85% of the European concert trucking business is based in the UK, yet under haulage rules, which limit the number of journeys trucks can make, bands are likely to hire European road haulage operators, and/or UK-based haulage firms will need to relocate to the EU.121 Tre Stead said experienced UK-based trucking companies “cannot function with the deal as it is” and are already seeing a hit on their business as their “European counterparts have business pencilled in […] for the future and UK companies don’t”.122 Likewise, Deborah Annetts urged the Government to take action ahead of the festival season as UK-based touring hauliers already face “imminent insolvency”.123

60.In January, DCMS established a working group to liaise between Government Departments and the creative industries, support their understanding of the new requirements and identify priority issues to address in negotiations with the EU and its member states. However, when we asked the Minister for Digital and Culture which Department was responsible for leading the UK Government’s negotiations on securing a better deal for creative workers she responded:

If it is to do with the cabotage rules, it is the Department for Transport; if it is to do with visas and work permits and free movement, I think we would start at diplomatic level, and that would go through the FCDO. […] In terms of overall responsibility for the mechanics of government, you would want to have the Cabinet Office”.124

We expect to take evidence from the Rt Hon Lord Frost, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office with responsibility for business with the EU and its member states, on 10 June.

61.The UK has long occupied an important place in Europe’s live music ecosystem, and has traditionally been a starting point for tours creating work for UK-based freelancers and suppliers. The substantial UK-based infrastructure, including haulage, for tours and festivals is currently at risk unless the Government finds a solution to Brexit-related costs and complexities. We recommend that the Government report to us, monthly, on actions it is taking to alleviate this issue bilaterally and with the EU Commission.

62.The UK-EU trade and co-operation deal threatens not only the vibrancy of the UK’s festivals but the music industry as a whole. The cost and complication of moving people and equipment between the UK and EU will make it less attractive for bands from overseas to play at the UK’s festivals, and will limit the chances for UK artists and crews to build audiences and contacts at European festivals. We are not aware of any progress having been made to resolve the issues arising from the deal, and will continue to put pressure on the Government by questioning the Secretary of State, DCMS Ministers and the Rt Hon Lord Frost CMG.

83 Tenterden Folk Day Trust (FES0005)

84 Association of Independent Festivals (FES0034) para 4.7

86 Sidmouth Folk Festival (FES0026), Q91

87 Q162, Dr Andrew Smith (FES0086)

88 Dr Andrew Smith (FES0086)

89 Dr Andrew Smith (FES0086), Q166

90 Association of Independent Festivals (FES0103)

91 Dr Andrew Smith (FES0086)

96 Our survey ran from 2–22 February 2021 in the form of an open, online poll and was not a representative study. The results and analysis can be found in the Annex.

97 See Annex

98 Method Events (FES0021)

100 Festival Medical Services (FES0020)

101 Michael Pacy (FES0024)

102 Oxfam (FES0083)

104 Association of Independent Festivals (FES0034), para 3.30

106 Q133 [Tre Stead]

108 Oral evidence taken on 24 November 2020, HC (2019–21) 868, Q60

109 Oral evidence taken on 24 November 2020, HC (2019–21) 868, Q104, Musicians’ Union (FES0049) para 1.4

111 LIVE (Live Music Industry, Venues & Entertainment) (FES0062), Association of Independent Festivals (FES0034) para 3.42

114Crack in the Road’, Twitter, 24 February 2015

116 Oral evidence taken on 24 November 2020, HC (2019–21) 868, Q60

117 Oral evidence taken on 16 February 2021, HC (2019–21) 1176, Q18

119 Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules Appendix Visitor: Permit Free Festival List’, accessed 20 April 2021

121THE BREXIT DEAL: WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR”, IQ, 31 December 2021

123 Oral evidence taken on 16 February 2021, HC (2019–21) 1176, Q14

124 Oral evidence taken on 16 February 2021, HC (2019–21) 1176, Qq135–136

Published: 29 May 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement