In 2015, the festivals around Catalonia made an economic impact of 300 million euros in the country, according to Catalan Government data. “Barcelona hosts two of the five festivals with the largest mix and attraction for the worldwide public,” boasts Alberto Guijarro, director of Primavera Sound, which this week fires up its amplifiers in the Parc del Forum with a line-up reflecting the current indie scene. “There are a lot of festivals, but most of them are similar and those being created are clones of existing events,” adds Ricard Robles, founder and director of Sónar, “that’s why the festivals that specialise are winning.”
In this area the Catalan capital is ahead of Madrid. “If we compare the two cities, Barcelona has more specialised festivals in all genres, from cinema to art,” says Robles. This specialisation allows Sónar and Primavera Sound to base their business models on direct ticket sales.
The main revenue comes from ticket sales, which account for about 75% of turnover in Sónar’s case
“The main revenue comes from ticket sales, which account for about 75% of turnover,” says the head of Sónar, which focuses on techno music and artists outside the conventional music industry. The percentage is similar in Primavera Sound’s case, for which 65% of its revenue is thanks to sales to the public. “The rest comes from the sale of food and drink at the festival (20%) and, to a lesser extent, from sponsors.” Attendees to Primavera Sound spend an average of 544 euros each, which is split between transport, lodging and food, according to a survey carried out by the Dentsu Aegis consultancy at Primavera Sound.
These figures are what allow both festivals to reduce their dependence on large multinationals acting as patrons and to be “more transgressive with the line-up,” says Guijarro. Fashion and alcoholic drinks are the two main sectors interested in sponsoring these two festivals. Among Sónar’s partners is Damm, but also other collaborators like Adidas, Zalando, Absolut and Tezenis. Primavera Sound, meanwhile, has Heineken, Bacardí, Mango, Ray-Ban and Desperados.
From Barcelona to the world
Hong Kong, Reykjavik, Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Santiago are some of the Sónar festival’s venues around the world. “We have received proposals from all over the world,” says Robles, “but we cannot and do not want to attend all of them.” According to the head of Sónar, the main reason for attending other countries is not so much to generate greater interest in the Barcelona festival, as “to discover other scenes and musical environments.”
Thus, Robles stresses the importance of each of the cities producing a different festival, “because the musical and cultural scene of each is different from that of Barcelona.”
Both festivals have intensified investment, above all in communication and social networks
For its part, Primavera Sound has opted to remain at home. “We have been more prudent,” Guijarro admits. “After years in Barcelona we organised a first edition in Porto to take advantage of musicians on tour, but it is a different type of event; what we do in Portugal is a Primavera boutique, more well-kept, smaller and with its own personality.”
In opting for its hometown, Primavera Sound has looked to penetrate all spheres and not to limit its presence to the Parc del Fòrum. Thus, it has created initiatives like Primavera als barris or Primavera a casa teva, which takes the music to other places in the city with an alternative programme of more than 80 concerts by emerging artists.
Investment is in networks
Sónar turned on its mics for the first time in 1994 and almost a quarter of a century later gets 150,000 visitors. Primavera Sound, meanwhile, opened its doors in 2001 and in eight years has gone from attracting 8,000 attendees, when there were a score of groups, to welcoming 200,000 spectators to the 14 stages on which more than 310 bands perform.
After all these years, the current investment of both festivals focuses on social networks, where the mass of interest in these events is to be found. “Where we invest most is in digital platform professionals, video experts who know how to adapt to the changes,” says Robles.
Meanwhile, Guijarro gives more details about where the money from sponsorship goes. “We haven’t done press conferences for years; all our communication is online and is narrative based.” Therfore, Primavera Sound has chosen to “abandon fanfare campaigns” and innovate, as with Heineken’s documentary spot in the previous edition that was shown in cinemas around the country with information about the groups that would be coming to play in Barcelona. “We managed to become a global trending topic on Twitter merely from the comments of viewers, who gradually got to know all the groups who would perform in the city,” he says.
Guijarro: “We haven’t done news conferences for years; all our communication is online and narrative based”
Moreover, Sónar has come up with new proposals like Sónar +D, a training and business congress that takes place during the festival. The event, which is not exactly a fair, attracts the techno sector’s main players and those who combine this genre with virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the digital world. “Sónar +D does not include finished productions looking for a market, but rather ideas looking for a partner to develop them,” says Robles.
Failing music festivals
Despite the enthusiasm in the sector, festivals have seen their level of penetration in society fall. According to data from the report, Anuari de la Música 2016, in 2015 fewer than 14% of Catalans attended a festival, compared to 17% the year before. Experts from the UOC point out that the public is increasingly selective and instead of attending the whole festival choose to go to just a single concert.
The study also stresses that private festivals get better results (+3.8%) than public ones (-6.5%). "Those that depend on institutional funding have had a bad time of it during the crisis," argues Alba Colombo, post-grad director of Gestió d'Esdeveniments Culturals, Esportius i Corporatius at the UOC.
Those that have avoided this decline are the events with more than 100,000 attendees, such as Primavera Sound and Sónar, which have grown 2% in the past few years.