It was in late 2020 that live events began making a comeback following the total outage due to the pandemic. By 2021, the organised events and activation industry posted a revenue of ₹3,200 crore according to FICCI-EY Media & Entertainment Report 2022.
With that in mind, 2022 began with the sole focus of having not just a recovery, but a resurgence. At the end of the year, we can assuredly say that India is back on the map in a big way for live music, especially big-ticket music festivals with international headliners. But what went on behind the scenes to make these artists come down to India for music festivals? At a time when streaming and digital music consumption had surpassed record numbers during the first couple of pandemic years, more artists trended and made a case for themselves, piquing the interest of Indian promoters.
Time after time
One of the biggest live events this year – Post Malone headlining the Feeding India Concert by Zomato in Mumbai on December 10th – reportedly drew in 25,000 attendees. Aayush Bansal, artist and event manager who founded Verge.biz to facilitate artist bookings in India, worked as a consultant with Zomato for the Post Malone concert. “It was only mid-this year or end of the year, we saw a lot of artists coming to India. They were occupied covering their backlog until then,” he says of artists prioritising North America and Europe markets at first.
As rumours swirled around Post Malone’s India debut, the Feeding India Concert was announced just about a month before news broke. Bansal reveals they’d been working on the show since before the pandemic and after they took on a few availability issues, they zeroed in on their headliner.
Even Lollapalooza India – the inaugural edition taking place in Mumbai on January 28th and 29th – was in the works “well before the pandemic”, according Owen Roncon, chief of business – live entertainment at BookMyShow. Slowly and steadily, he says, international artists and even festival properties like Lollapalooza are seeing India’s potential for live music. “Since the past three decades, Lollapalooza has chosen its destinations based on market readiness, audience interest and it is safe to say, India is truly ready for a global music festival of this legacy and scale,” says Roncon.
While Lollapalooza India is gearing up to go with artists like Imagine Dragons, The Strokes, Jackson Wang and Greta Van Fleet in their lineup, other mainstay yet niche festivals like Bangalore Open Air (BOA) have waited nearly three years to return to the game. Salman U. Syed, founder of the metal festival which has been around for more than a decade, had to cancel his 2020 edition in March due to artists’ revoked visas in light of growing Covid-19 concerns at the time. Now, he’s slowly plotting the festival’s return in April 2023, with one headliner announced so far – Dutch death metal veterans, Pestilence. “The biggest challenge right now is availability,” says Syed. It’s a point that echoes Bansal’s analysis on the backlog that international artists have to clear, before they can commit to the next touring territories like Asia.
There are likely to be a total of five international artists at Bangalore Open Air, something the organiser is working on despite the perennial odds of running a festival that he knows will not draw more than 3,000 attendees. Finding sponsors still remains a struggle beyond a handful of supportive brands for BOA, but Syed works within his budgets and doesn’t see the math changing. A decade ago, when the festival started out, there were just a few other regular music festivals in the country. “Now that there are so many music festivals around, there are a lot of options for people. But what’s kept us going is loyalty. People are still holding on to tickets from 2019 which is almost three years,” he says.
Loyalty is also a strongpoint for Bacardi NH7 Weekender, which not only changed hands from Only Much Louder to Nodwin Gaming in 2021, but also came back with two editions in March and November this year in Pune. Dharam Saraviya, head of Brand Solutions and New Initiatives at Nodwin Gaming, was also joint head of Live Business at Weekender’s erstwhile home OML Entertainment and has been a part of the festival since its inception in 2010. DJ and guitarist-producer Arman Menzies has also recently joined as Talent Curator at the company. Saraviya says their ability to “track rising stars and book them for the festival before they blow up completely” is the reason why they have loyalists come out to see the likes of The Lumineers, Dirty Loops and JID. Keeping their teams “intact and motivated” remained a challenge for the festival during their pandemic break, but Saraviya says they stood up to the challenge and they had plenty of legacy on their side to do the talking on the artist booking front. “Bands and artists want to perform at NH7 Weekender because their representatives understand the significance the festival holds in the minds of music fans in India,” he adds.
With the recurring success of festivals like Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Magnetic Fields Festival and Echoes of Earth, there’s been a steady shift in booking current, in-their-prime and ‘trending’ artists in India rather than just ‘classic’ acts. Granted, as Roncon points out, the success of U2’s The Joshua Tree tour stop in Navi Mumbai in 2019 was the fuel for BookMyShow to make more moves for artists from around the world, but there’s also Post Malone, Russ, JID and others who have made it down now.
A global approach
For Lollapalooza India, they want to match the ‘iconic sound’ of the parent festival, with ‘global headliners, modern-day icons and a large chunk of discovery artists’ along with Indian homegrown acts. Roncon adds about India wanting what is trending globally, “We have observed audience scale and affinity steadily increasing across our live events IPs such as the Ed Sheeran and Aziz Ansari shows, live experiences such as Cirque Du Soleil BAZZAR, Disney’s Aladdin, NBA India Games 2019 and more, taking the market by storm.”
BookMyShow’s recently-unveiled its Best of 2022 report showcasing how 19,000 live events – comedy, theatre and live music – were ticketed by the platform, with at least 8 million attendees. Although no figures were given, the report mentioned that they sold most tickets for events featuring EDM artists like DJ Snake, Alan Walker and Diljit Dosanjh.
A key point for Bansal – who says the Feeding India Concert will be a regular IP with more editions in the coming years – is attendees willing to spend. He agrees that a ‘classic’ act like Bryan Adams might still see the nostalgia value drive ticket sales, but other genres are attracting Gen Z ticket-buyers. “As promoters, it’s important we find artists who have their niche and do the ticket price justice basis the fee of the artist. I think it’ll be an interesting road ahead for everyone involved,” he adds.