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The Economics of Music Festivals




The best thing about our moderate Indian autumn would perhaps be the onset of music festival season. Young Indians are going to battle it out for the tickets to some of the most prestigious music celebrations of the country, boasting of an impressive line-up of artists. These events seem pretty large scale and one could confuse them for money-minting machines, but remember that conception would merely be “confusion.”

However, let’s start from the beginning. India’s music is diverse and has a different taste in every local setting. To think of it on paper, that should have given the music industry enough scope and opportunity to make massive profits via these music festivals. So, what sounded good on paper was experimented with, and thus India’s first music festival was born – Independence Rock. The ITC group, along with their organizers, started out with the festival with a single intention of promoting their new cigarettes among the young rock lovers of the nation. So, a music festival was born wherein music wasn’t the real deal, but merely an avenue for product placement.

Over the years, thirty big music festivals have come alive on the Indian terrain. In less than 20 years, there have been over ten new music festivals. Irrespective of having attended them, we surely have heard of them. Some decorated names like NH7 Weekender, VH1 Supersonic, and Sunburn, are the first names to come to our minds. These mentioned festivals have higher entry fees too. Sunburn’s tickets have never cost below INR 5000. Is that the case with all music festivals across India? Certainly, not!

Most music festivals in India fail to sell over 40% of their targets. This leads them to lower their last-minute tickets to ridiculously low prices translating into a loss. They also fail to get sponsors on board.
It was easier to get sponsors and investors in the yesteryears of music festivals. Again, over time, it has come to pass that the figures reflected by the industry is merely an exaggeration.

Insiders have claimed that an average footfall of 1.5 million people is registered on the big-ticket music festivals, with the revenue going up to INR 200-250 crores annually. However, the truth is far from the statement. Even with the most prosperous music festivals, the numbers round up slightly over INR 150 crores, due to the sponsorships fetched by the respective brands.

Unlike the U.S. and European music scene, Indian music scene can’t rely solely on ticket sales. The ones that do are crippling under mammoth debts or have probably shut shop. Independence rock, for instance, dragged itself for 26 years, but as it kept losing mass appeal and funds. Ultimately, going offline. However, as compared to the present-day scenario, a sprint of 26 years seems commendable.

Greatly hyped music festivals such as The Ragasthan, The Storm Festival had to call it quits in less than 3 years, owing to shortage of funds. There are also music festivals, which were being hailed as great intellectual properties and a forthcoming revolution to the local music scene that dried out in the first year itself.




It all comes down to funds. Sponsorships don’t run deep, tickets don’t nearly sell as much as is required to break even the production costs.

Speaking of production costs, a festival requires a large area, almost like establishing and demolishing a mini-city within days. That requires heavy backing, mass participation, and above all, patience. While the makers may have enough patience to wait for results, the fees of artists, venue costs, publicity charges – are a few of those things that dry out their sponsors’ patience.

However, not all is bad because there are some Indian music festivals that have managed to do exceptionally well for themselves. It is only about time we all embraced live acts vicariously and made a safer space for promoters, artists and music lovers.

Akanksha Holani

Author: Akanksha Holani

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