Why Music Festivals Really Aren’t Worth It

Recently OTB posted an article talking about all of the perks of going to festivals and how it’s not a waste of money or time. Now it’s time to take to look at the other side of the coin and see exactly why you shouldn’t go to festivals. I would like to note that I do regularly attend festivals, and think that if you’re getting into the electronic music scene, going to festivals is life changing and should be experienced. However, I’ll be taking a more seasoned perspective and look at the more “music snob” side of the coin.

Festivals are amazing at first glance. The chance to see eight or more of your favorite music artists per day (for multiple days!) can seem like a true dream come true. The lights, the crowd and the energy are all electric. Festivals provide an escape from reality and away from the grind of everyday life (which is definitely a good thing), but for some music lovers, they can also be an extreme let down. When looking at things from a music side, a ‘quality of set’ side, and a monetary side, festivals are bordering the “not worth it” category.

READ: Why “Waste” Money on Festivals?

 

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The “Festival Experience”

The purpose of music festivals is…well…the music, and unfortunately not all festivals actually allow for the music to shine. More often than not, festivals are for the “Festival Experience” rather than the music, and I think this is wrong. If I’m paying some un-godly sum of money for an event based on good music, I would hope that the music is the focus. Modern festivals almost outweigh the acts they bring in. The festival is bigger than the artist and the success and popularity of a festival is often decided by the production value of the stage, scenery and interactive activities – not on the lineup brought in or the actual talent that performers bring to the stages.

The largest festivals nowadays even repeat their lineup each year because they are bringing in every single big name artist each time. Yes they have everyone, but when you always have everything the festival starts to lose its luster, and thus the production value of the event is what the saving grace of the festival is. In my opinion, it should be the musical acts that make or break a festival, and by always having the same faces grace the stage, the power of an artist is lost over time. Having a smaller, more diverse lineup that changes every year is more attractive because it really puts a special emphasis on seeing the artists you love, so that you don’t miss them because you don’t know when they’re coming back. Yes you may miss some artists, and there will be tears, but I prefer the chance of missing someone and really having to do an analysis of who you just can’t miss.

 

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The Set Times

Another issue I have with current festivals is the set times. An hour is not long enough for a DJ to tell a story or do a good progression of music. Some DJs can do this really well, but most tend to simply go through their track list, hit all the big bangers, and call it good. Hour long sets at festivals do allow for you to experience the most artists possible, but what you gain in quantity you lose in quality. Seeing a DJ on a smaller stage where they have between an hour and a half to three, to even eight hours to take you and your ears on a musical journey is more valuable in my books. Sure, they could do the express journey for a festival, but having the time to really craft a meaningful set helps, and usually the crowd responds better.

Most people I have talked to when they list their favorite experience at any electronic music event list a standalone show as their best experience. For me, my top five performances and happy moments came from smaller shows where the DJ had at least two hours to work their magic. EDM gets bashed all the time as a thing where you press play, and I agree that festivals fall into this mentality to some extent. However, give a DJ two or more hours to truly craft a set and the whole “press play” excuse falls apart. A well-crafted set stands out. If the DJ has the proper musicality and song selection, you’ll know it. At the same time, a poor DJ with two hours will not have the same effect, and you as an attendee will probably notice it. A small stage, with focus on the DJ and the musical journey they are creating over a long period of time, is massively better from a music standpoint than many DJs for a short amount of time.

Now this being said, I do understand that not everyone knows all electronic music or every DJ. Festivals can be a good sampler to get acquainted with many new and exciting DJs and sounds, but at the end of the day it is a sample and not a full meal. If you go to Costco and taste a sample, the hope is that you will buy the whole product and I think this is the key. Festivals should be about discovering artists and having fun in the crowd, but if you want the music and are there for the music, you will not be fed and satisfied off of a sample. Wait till an artist comes into a smaller venue for a personal tour and your soul will be filled to the brim with good music and good sets.

 

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The Crowds

One of the larger issues for me with festivals are the crowds. Generally the crowd is full of drunk bros, wasted chicks, and people pushing and pulling themselves to the front. People are drugged out, drunk off their ass, and obnoxious. A lot of people only go to get wasted anyways. It is apart of the “festival experience.” To be honest, I could do without the stupidity that comes from all of that. At a smaller show the attendees might be drunk or rude at times, but the incidents are significantly lower than at a massive festival from my experience. Also, the people who are there most of the time are actually there for the music or the artist and not just to be fucked up. The vibes at smaller shows are generally better, and the crowd is more responsive.

DJs can read the crowd better in a smaller setting and are able to really fine tune and cater their set to the audience directly in front of them instead of to a giant sea of drugged up eyes. This is somewhat generalizing all festival goers (and I have been one of those drunk people in the crowd before), but every person I know who has been to a festival has had some sort of experience with some drunk douche who harasses them or keeps bumping into them, or some girl rolling her ass off screaming and freak dancing off tempo to what ever main stream big room house song is on. With smaller shows this is rarely the case, and when it is, the people at the show usually get those people kicked out or removed from the floor pretty quickly. This can not be done at a major festival.

 

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The Cost

Lastly, the money side of festivals is out of control, though I completely understand why. When music is not the focus and production value is, it costs more to have more lights and well put-together stages. With bringing in dozens upon dozens of big name artists, that bill starts to rack up too. An artist could charge $100,000 or more per performance at a festival. When you take into account that multiple artists will have similar high costs, that expense is passed along to the festival attendees. At the same time however, the high ticket cost is allowing you to see many more artists than you otherwise would be able to. This seems to justify things, right? High cost, high amount of artists. If you take a single day of a festival, and let’s say for one day it costs on average $100 per person, you will probably get to see around 8-10 artists. That comes out to be, by making it simple, around $10 per artist. Compare that to stand alone shows ranging from $20 – $80 that only feature four to five artists or maybe even only one (Armin sure loves to do that) and it sounds like a steal right? Wrong.

With most standalone shows being 4-5 artists, often local support and 2-3 headliners, and an average ticket cost of $40 you end up paying roughly $8-10 per artist. Sound familiar? Oh, and the headliner gets to do things their way, have a custom stage show, custom lighting and visuals, and the all-important two hour set time. This doesn’t factor in all of the other costs from going to a festival such as gas, camping (if outdoors/multiple days) food, drink, water, etc. Compare that to maybe a taxi cab ride, a few drinks and maybe some merchandise from the artist to help you remember the night; your costs are still drastically lower at smaller shows. Yes, they lack the splendor of a massive festival, but for the music lovers who want to get the most out of seeing an artist, small shows are the way to go.

 

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I know some people out there who will read this will disagree with my opinions, and you have the right to do so. I encourage everyone to experience all types of festivals and music events whether it be in the middle of a race track, the middle of the woods,  in a smaller venue, or even a warehouse. Any venue can be amazing given the right combination of things. I have countless fond memories from festivals that I will cherish until the day I die, but as someone who in all reality is there for the music and not the drinking, drugs, lights, or setting, festivals have started to lose their luster for me. I can see myself going to less massives and breaking my bank account every four months and instead picking and choosing the shows I wish to see, getting up close and personal with the artist and being in a crowd of people who are actually there for that artist, not just someone who stumbled up to front row at the main stage. I am there for the music, and festivals really are no longer the best way to go for me when I am wanting to experience music and get lost in the sound.

Matthew Jager
From LA to Seattle, the West Coast has always been my home and I take great pride in the music scene we have here. Bass music is my first love, but in reality I love and appreciate all types of music...besides country. Let the music talk. You just have to be ready to listen.
Matthew Jager
- 4 weeks ago
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