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New study asks: ‘Have music festivals sold out?’

Published: 19 August 2011

With the increase in the popularity and number of music festivals (since 2003 there has been a 71 per cent increase in the number of British music festivals) a new study has investigated how corporate branding has changed the festival experience and what these extremely popular events mean for the large numbers of people who attend them.

As music festivals have become one of the most lucrative sectors within the live entertainment industry, most have come under the ownership or control of large corporations, or international entertainment companies, such as Live Nation. Many of Britain’s largest festivals are now commercially sponsored and in some cases are corporately branded spaces in which festival goers’ consumption choices are restricted to certain products.

Researchers from the universities of Bath, Birmingham and Southampton have found that for many young people corporate branding and sponsorship of music festivals was not a major cause of concern. In fact many young people regarded it as a ‘necessary evil’ which secured the future of the events that they cherished.

Dr Andrew Bengry-Howell from the National Centre for Research Methods at the University of Southampton, says: “Despite becoming far more mainstream and corporate than prototypical festivals like Woodstock, the Glastonbury festivals of the 1970s, and the early National Jazz Festivals or the late 1950s/early 1960s, for many contemporary festival goers today’s music festivals still evoke feelings reminiscent of the ‘Summer of love’, and provide a sense of freedom and belonging within the temporary community that is produced on a music festival site.

Has corporate branding changed the festival experience? The study found that festivals provide a sense of freedom and belonging.
Have music festivals sold out?

“Our research found that few noticed or were concerned about corporate sponsorship or how their consumption choices were being constrained. If anything the involvement of well-known companies and brands in music festivals had made these events seem less threatening and more accessible to a wide cross-section of people who identify with mainstream culture. People came to festivals partly for the music, but mostly for a whole experience, which enabled them to escape from their daily lives and, in the case of events like Glastonbury, temporarily disappear into another world, which resembled a modern utopia.”

One of the most striking findings was just how important events like Glastonbury are to those who attend them. Dr Andrew Bengry-Howell adds: “Lots of people drew comparisons between the sense of community they encountered at a music festival, and the lack of community they encountered in their everyday lives. The experience of spending time with people who share their interest in music and festivals, and, for some, the experience of camping, going to sleep and waking up with people that they perceive to be like them.

“Many also talked about festivals as something that they waited all year for, which provided an escape from their otherwise stressful lives and helped them to cope with the pressures of modern day living.”

The three-year study by researchers in the Psychology department at the University of Bath and the Marketing department at the University of Birmingham, looked at the different ways in which music festivals were corporately branded and consumption at festivals was regulated, for example, through sponsorship deals, which limit the range of products that can be sold and consumed on festival sites to products that are owned by the sponsoring company. It combined an on-site study of three of Britain’s largest music festivals with an online study of the different ways in which people talked about festivals and documented their festival experiences on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, but also on festival-related web forums like efestivals and virtual festival.

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