Country 2 Country’ VS ‘Black Deer’: the planning, execution and economic impact of two country music festivals
Country music’s popularity is increasing in the UK, with (Spotify, 2018) the UK positioned as the 9th highest country music streaming nation in 2018, it only seems appropriate that more Country music festivals are appearing to please this audience. Europe’s largest country festival is the annual ‘Country 2 Country’ (C2C) music festival, held every March since 2013 across six venues including The O2 Arena, London. ‘Black Deer’ Festival debuted in 2018 at Eridge Park, Kent, and has grabbed the attention of many UK Country and Americana fans, described as (Bullock, 2018) “a superb 3-day festival experience full of positivity and superb bands”. But how similar are these festivals in their planning, execution and cultural / social impact?
C2C organisers book strictly country artists, spanning all sub-genres, from traditional honky-tonk to country-pop. The festival brings over international stars generally inaccessible to UK country listeners. Statistics show that of the 30+ big names who have graced the stage in the festival’s six active years, only seven have returned to the UK to perform. Audiences view the event highly, tailoring itself each year to develop with the genre, whilst appealing to all country fans, and earning the accolade that C2C (Paine, 2017) “proves there’s more to country music than you might think”, showing country as an ever changing and evolving community of storytellers and performers.
Black Deer features a wider variety of genres, showcasing established artists of; Americana, Country, Folk, Blues, Roots, Gospel and Bluegrass. Both festivals highlight the importance of providing smaller, up-and-coming artists with an audience for their work. C2C is more exclusive in this, providing pop-up stages at the London O2 festival, where small UK artists can apply to perform, but these artists must have some standing on social media, and a small following, before C2C will put them on the bill. It can be argued that Black Deer push this ethos further, providing their audience with greater value for money, with six different stages, where established and new artists perform, as well as a ‘buskers point’, for unknown performers. The festival also encourages the audience to bring their own acoustic instruments and perform, whether it be in the saloon bar forming a new band, or at the (Black Deer, no date) “under-the-radar acoustic sets” held in the general camping area. As there is such a variety of spontaneous live music, as well as that provided within the organised festival, I would argue that Black Deer beats C2C in value for money, particularly considering Black Deer is (Black Deer, no date) £48 for Saturday’s 2019 day ticket, whereas a single day ticket for C2C cost £105.
These performance differences fit with the aesthetic and ethos of each festival, with C2C being a family orientated festival showcasing country stars, whereas Black Deer go deeper into their aesthetic; the sharing of music from all artists, mirroring the culture of Americana, with people coming together to share the music, lifestyle, food and sounds of Southern USA, turning Elridge Park into small town Tennessee for a weekend, to ensure the audience experience southern hospitality and charm in the most authentic way possible. Black Deer festival tailors itself towards an audience willing to experience and share new Americana and Country music, as well as the lifestyle and culture of Southern USA. It sells itself as a family festival, with a designated (Black Deer, no date) ‘Young Folk’ area where kids can learn instruments and perform on stage, play, craft, and more.
As mentioned previously, Black Deer and C2C charge significantly different ticket prices, determined by the economic factors of both, in terms of their points of income and expenditure. Firstly, both festivals must hire their venue. The O2 Arena costs (Headbox, no date) £80,000 to hire per day, plus (Hire Space, no date) £15,500 daily hire fee for the ‘indigo at the O2’, C2C spend over £285,000 annually for the hire of just one venue. The company must therefore charge higher ticket prices than Black Deer, to ensure their income exceeds their expenditure.
However, this large venue hire includes costs which Black Deer will have to consider separately. By booking a functioning venue, all C2C festival staff will be provided (including; security, ticket officers, merchandise sellers, stewards, bar staff, riggers, tech and sound team and maintenance teams), alcohol licenses, staging, food, beverage and merchandise stands, and parking facilities are also included within the cost, whereas these are all additional costs for Black Deer. C2C hire the venue, informing them of the expected audience numbers, the venue then ensures enough staff are provided to meet audience requirements ensuring all safety measures are met. In contrast Black Deer do not hire many paid staff, but advertise online for volunteers to fill roles from stewards through to bar staff, saving the festival huge workforce expenditure. Black Deer must however balance any workforce savings against training requirements, whereas arena staff working for C2C festival will already be fully trained.
Ticket prices must also cover the costs for artist hire. Both Black Deer and C2C hire stars and smaller artists of their genres. They also have stages where up-and-coming artists can perform, without payment. Both festivals must consider the expenditure of booking their larger artists, but can then counter this cost by filling more of their schedule with smaller or even unpaid artists, in order to balance their spending. When calculating profits made by Black Deer and C2C in relation to the artist they book and their cost, it is important to remember that from overall ticket sales, (Forde, 2015) 3% is taken by PRS in order to pay artists and songwriters for their songs, therefore prices may be increased in order to turn over more money after these deductions.
Finally, as well as income from sponsors, ticket sales and brand endorsements, both festivals make profit through merchandise. In a 2017 atVenu study, country music as a genre ranked third highest worldwide for merchandise sales, the study stated that the genre made (atVenu, 2017) total gross merchandise sales of $278,000 (£214,000) in 2017 alone. Therefore, it is assumed that Black Deer and C2C would make large profits from merchandise, selling their own branded festival merchandise, and potentially taking percentages from sales of any artist / band merchandise sold at their events.
Bowdin et al. defined events marketing as (Bowdin et al, 2011) “the process by which event managers and marketers gain an understanding of their potential consumers’ characteristics and needs in order to produce, price, promote and distribute an event experience that meets these needs”, and explain how marketing begins with customer research, something which C2C, Black Deer and their respective sponsors take very seriously. During the annual C2C festival organisers are already researching for their next event – by engaging with their audience on social media. The most noticeable example of this is on the C2C Festival twitter page, where, for the duration of the festival, their marketing team engage with the audience, and listen to their feedback. Black Deer will no doubt take similar steps in their future development.
During the 2015 C2C festival, country duo and the argued originators of the ‘bro-country’ genre, Florida Georgia Line divided the festival audience. Younger audience members engaged with their set, whilst older, more traditional country fans were less receptive of their sound, choosing to leave the arena during their set and bombard the C2C twitter page with complaints and requests that the band not return to the festival stage. Despite the duo now being seven-time Academy of Country Music Award winners, C2C has not asked them to return, as marketing and research of their audience proved that this could have a negative effect on the festival’s prestigious reputation, so concurring with Bowdin et al.’s definition, to ‘distribute an event experience that meets these needs’. In addition, C2C increase their marketing opportunities and audience reach, by broadcasting performances from the event live, and following the event, on radio. This is a useful marketing tool allowing them to analyse the statistics of performances, artists, and country sub-genres listened to on radio, and then determine which artists to book in the future to receive the best audience approval.
Both festivals are extremely active on social media, using it for marketing purposes in different ways. C2C use their twitter account throughout the year for promotion of their festival, and the alumni artists of C2C who have previously performed, and are returning to tour the UK. However, in the months leading up to, and during the festival, C2C do use their account to interact much more with their audience, as well as promoting their event, in order to advertise and attract a larger audience. For the first time in 2018, C2C had ‘Sponsored’ posts on Instagram, meaning that the festival pay to have their event feature on the app for users that would not usually see information about the festival.
Black Deer however use their social media extensively, including; announcing / promoting their line up across various platforms, promoting their sponsors / partners on Facebook, promoting artists using festival photographs on Instagram, and, most noticeably, interacting with their audience on twitter. It is possible for Black Deer to interact easier with a wider amount of their audience than for C2C, due to the size of the festivals. Black Deer has a following on twitter of 1,700 people, whereas the C2C twitter account has 31,800 followers. Thus Black Deer will find it easier to interact with a larger percentage of their audience, as there will be a lower amount of tweets to consider, allowing them to build relationships with their audience, making the festival feel more humble, welcoming and friendly, which is the entire ambience of the festival, whereas C2C is designed simply to attract as large an audience as possible to experience country music.
Finally, C2C markets through their app showing the full line-up for the festival in London and all available merchandise, allowing audience members to learn about the artists and plan their festival day by ‘saving’ the artists they want to see. The app is another marketing tool, analysing the statistics of which artists have been ‘saved’ and looking at the most requested artist’s merchandise, this allows the festival organisers to identify which artists to book again, as well as indicating which merchandise should be promoted within the app, in order to create the largest profit possible.
Country 2 Country paved the way for the modern country music festival in the UK, opening up the door for more country festivals, including Black Deer. Both festivals, whilst focussing around similar music and audiences, undertake their events in entirely different ways, and there is a lot to be learnt from both festivals. The first thing to influence my own practice is their basic ethos, producing a concert experience which caters for audiences that are sometimes overlooked by mainstream festivals, the country and Americana music audiences. This is an ideal way to plan and market a festival, as, with most festivals overlooking smaller genres, specialist genre festivals will draw in an audience, with the fans likely to attend in their masses, simply to see artists of their genre, who are generally excluded from the line-up of existing festivals. Holding unique, genre specific events, is likely to be successful financially, as audiences will be willing to buy tickets in order to experience specialist festivals, as well as being culturally and socially successful, by representing audiences who are otherwise forgotten by the mainstream music festival scene.
Another key aspect of the planning process to inform my practice is the close attention paid by both Black Deer, but particularly C2C to marketing, and audience reception / feedback. This could greatly inform my practice, as if I cater events to the audience by listening to them, and booking artists that they want to see, then, I will be holding socially acceptable and financially successful events.