A Slowly-Deflating Bubble: Music Festivals in 2017

I want to create a music festival someday. It’s a dream that I’ve had since I first went to Lollapalooza in 2011. I’ve interned with a music festival company and booked talent. I’m still relatively new to the industry but I know a thing or two, and I am sad to say that I think the music festival industry is reaching a critical mass, and that the bubble is in the process of bursting.

Festivals are calling it quits left and right. From Wakarusa, a mainstay in the Ozark Mountains, to TomorrowWorld, a massive EDM festival in Georgia affiliated with an internationally-recognized festival brand. The festival world has become a cutthroat competition to grab the best artists you can find who aren’t already rendered useless by ridiculous radius clauses. Even when everything goes right many festivals barely break even due to artist fees being driven up to insurmountable numbers by intense industry competition.

How can events companies overcome this harsh market? The same way they stood out before: relying on and investing in key elements of differentiation. Location is usually one of these differentiators, as is festival tradition or culture. Sometimes, even these things aren’t enough, and that’s where my idea comes in.

I don’t just want to create a music festival. I want to create an experience where music is but one of the featured elements. I also want to teach people outdoor skills such as trail running, kayaking, backpacking, mountain biking, etc. I want attendees to have to hike in and set up their camps, leaving much of the electronic world behind them including handheld distractions from the events going on around them. I believe that even though there is proof of a bubble in the industry, there is still room for a hybrid festival event like what I am describing. One or two events have even already caught on to this notion: Wanderlust yoga and wellness festivals feature music and other retreat-type activities. I can only hope that I’m capable of differentiating my idea when the opportunity arises, whether the industry still has a bubble or not.

Corporate Activism Demands Results

Bears Ears National Monument

When the public protests, which we’ve seen a lot of under our new President, there is a lot of coverage of the events but usually not a lot of real results. We live in a country where money is the motivating factor for everything. So how do you get government to change their policies? Show them how much they stand to lose unless they change with the times. 2017 seems to be the year of the outdoor retail industry standing up and making its voice known.

The Outdoor Retailer show takes place twice-yearly in Utah, however, not anymore after 2017. As President Barack Obama’s term was ending, he protected a number of public lands, one of which was Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. However, President Trump is working with the republican-heavy Utah government to repeal this ruling and open the land for privatization. Needless to say, anyone concerned about the health of our planet began to fight from that point on to protect Bears Ears, including most of the major brands appearing at Outdoor Retailer. It was enough to end the event’s 20-year streak at Salt Lake City’s convention center.

Now that the Utah government is missing an expected income of millions of dollars in tourist revenue from the event, it may reconsider its opposition to the national monument. In an age where government policies can be bought, the only way to protect public lands like Bears Ears is with the help of companies that have a strong set of values and aren’t afraid to raise their voice. I’m proud to work for one of the companies protecting public lands, and I hope to see more companies taking a similar stance in the near future.

OldChella Put Out to Pasture

Goldenvoice’s Desert Trip Music Festival, held annually on the same grounds as Coachella, is officially not being renewed for 2017. The festival, lovingly dubbed “Oldchella”, featured the rock giants of old such as The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Roger Waters. Why end it? Wouldn’t an event with acts of that magnitude and the cheapest 3-day passes starting at $399 make plenty of money?

Short answer: no. What most people fail to realize is the insanely high cost of throwing music festivals. That cost is only multiplied when you involve acts like The Who, who take home around $7 million for their performance. Even when festivals pride themselves on booking up-and-coming talent, which is generally cheaper, they still just barely break even with ticket sales.

The secret? Booze. With the rising cost of artists and other festival essentials, there’s only one place left where, through strategic sponsorships, a festival can make money: the bar. This is true in my experience with festivals as well. Ticket sales and selling sponsorships can help you to break even with putting on the event, and most profit will come from bars and other smaller patron services.

According to the head of Goldenvoice, Desert Trip may be back, but only time will tell. If it is, you can bet there may be a couple less multi-million dollar asking price artists on the lineup.

My Top Picks: Best Backpacking Tents of 2017

What does a tent need to do? Keep you dry? Keep bugs off you? Give you a sense of security? There are a lot of things that go into selecting a backpacking tent: capacity, weight, durability, volume, warmth, stability, etc. Unless you’re very familiar with the numerous brands and the industry, it can be easy to get lost in all the specifications and data comparisons. I was paid to do all the research and learning for my job, so now I want to share what I think are the best backpacking tents on the market right now. To keep things simple I will focus on 2-person backpacking tents, because that’s the industry norm.

5: REI Half Dome 2+ 

4: MSR Hubba Hubba NX

3: REI Quarter Dome 2

2: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2

1: Nemo Dagger 2P

Nemo’s Dagger tent impressed me the most this year because even while its one of the lightest tents on this list at just 3lbs 12 oz, it is one of the largest inside and most durable, which is a rare combination.

 

First Vinyl, Now Cassettes?

Cassette I received just last year from an internationally-recognized band.

Earlier this year I showcased my love of vinyl records and their resurgence nationwide, but it’s not just the wax discs that are making a comeback. Cassettes are are their way up too. Surprising, right? What’s breathing life into an industry thought to be long-dead?

This rise in cassette sales can be attributes almost entirely to the section of music fans and artists constantly searching for the next big thing, the people who trawl through hours of bad music on Bandcamp.com to find the one band who could make it in the industry. It’s these bands on Bandcamp and similar sites who first began using cassettes as a cheap, effective, and memorable way to put their music out into the world. At first they were magnetically erasing the tape and re-recording their original music onto the cassettes, but the practice became so common that there’s now a growing market and demand for raw cassettes for artists to record with.

Why cassettes over vinyl? Ease-of-access. While you need a plant to press vinyl, anyone with a little tech know-how could record onto cassette in their basement. It’s cheaper too. Some say they enjoy the natural magnetic fuzz that’s inherently a part of listening to music on cassette, very similarly to a claim that vinyl sounds “warmer” than digital. This “Warmth” is due to artefacts that occur naturally within the medium. Vinyl has more than digital, and cassettes have even more artefacts than vinyl, so if you enjoy that old analog fuzz in your music, try listening to a cassette of some of your favorite songs.

Will the new cassette buzz last? Maybe. I highly doubt they keep climbing in popularity like vinyl is currently, but I doubt the humble cassette tape ever completely goes away.

How-to: Choose a backpacking backpack

More and more people seem to be getting on board with the idea that there is something to be gained by going out and connecting with nature and living simply, if only for a few days at a time. An essential piece of gear for this experience is a proper backpack. Here’s my best practice for fitting a backpack to an adventurer:

FIRST: Choose what trip you’d like to go on! More specifically, how many days you think you’ll be going for and during what season. Going for a weekend? You can get by with a 30-50 liter pack. 3-5 nights equals out to about a 50-65 liter bag, and 7+ days is going to be everything 65 liters and up just depending on what other gear you deem essential.

SECOND: Are you trying to go Ultralight? Or are you someone who wants to bring portable chargers, a DSLR, and maybe a few other extra pieces of gear? This decision will affect the weight of the backpack, which will help decide what sort of suspension you should be looking for. While almost every backpack is now an “internal frame” pack, some are built to carry much bulkier loads than others. My favorite comparison for this is between two manufacturers, Gregory and Osprey, both top-of-the-line as far as features are concerned. Packs by Gregory tend to be built tougher with more durable materials, enabling them to carry heavier loads more comfortably than a comparable Osprey pack.

THIRD (and finally): Consider your budget and what you’re trying to get out of this backpack. A LOT of engineering goes into modern backpacking packs, which means they’re not cheap. However, some packs are more affordable than others. Typically you’re paying for comfortable weight distribution and longevity of the pack. If you plan on using the bag for one or two short treks then absolutely shop the best deal you can find, but if you wants years of use over a longer period of time then invest the money in a better bag, you won’t be disappointed that you did. The products in the industry are always changing rapidly, but here’s an apples-to-apples comparison between 4 different 65-liter bags to illustrate my point.

Budget tier: High Sierra Sentinel 65 – $90 on Amazon

Mid-tier: REI Flash 65 – $199 and Deuter Act-lite 65 – $209

Top tier: Osprey Atmos 65 AG – $260 and Gregory Baltoro 65 – $299

That’s all I’ve got for now! Get out there and enjoy yourself!

Be the Good Kind of Asshole.

Not long ago I attended a live recording of a music industry podcast, the topic for the night was “Breaking Into the Music Festival Industry” and featured speakers from Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, Spring Awakening, and the Vans Warped Tour. I thought I’d share a few of the tips and tricks they provided:

1: Get Your Foot in the Door

The music business and live event industry is EXTREMELY competitive. Most big names in the industry who are running festivals started doing the smallest job at the event, usually for free. Pass out wristbands, volunteer for one of the events’ sponsors, drive a golf cart full of ice. Do ANYTHING that gets you on the premises and shaking hands with people more involved.

2: Be a Jack of All Trades

Speaking of taking any job to get your foot in the door, don’t be afraid to learn a little bit of everything. Once you get that ticket-taking job use every chance you have to ask questions about someone else’s job or ask if you can shadow them. Become someone who can be relied on to do almost any job that needs doing.

3: Check your Ego

The last thing anyone wants in a candidate is someone who is too good to do a job or someone who thinks they deserve a certain level of respect that they haven’t earned. This industry is fast-moving and people get stuck helping with jobs they didn’t want all the time. You’re earning your position, now is not the time to complain. Know how to talk to someone to get something done, but don’t insult them. The is being “the good kind of asshole” according to one of the founders of React Presents.

4: Be Creative & Constructive

You do not work for a music festival company because you like music. That’s why they sell tickets to their events. They’re not trying to hire their target market, they’re trying to hire someone who can bring something unique to the table and improve the festival. Have an idea of how you can help, give suggestions about how to fix a problem you noticed. At the very least know something about the company. Learn the history and research their events before talking to anyone about a job there.

Forget Instagram, Live.

There is an ancient argument in the outdoor industry (okay, not that ancient) about taking a camera with you while hiking. There are very strong arguments on either side. How else are you supposed to show that incredible mountain sunset to everyone back home? How do you get someone to understand the scale of beauty that you witnessed without photographic proof? I understand this argument, but personally I stand on the line between the two camps, leaning slightly more toward the “no cameras” group. Let me tell you why.

(Featuring photos from my 2015 trek through the mountains surrounding Taos, NM)

Have you ever tried to show someone a photo and then noticed they were totally underwhelmed? Or even looked back at photos you took while you were having an amazing time and been surprised that they seemed lackluster? That’s because they’re missing something intangible. Photos can help to recall a memory or feeling, but they cannot completely recreate the experience. Therein lies my argument: “While cameras are great for taking souvenir photos along the way, I believe that the more time you spend behind a viewfinder the less time you spend mentally and physically existing in whatever environment you find yourself.” You may find that now your pictures are the best memory you have of your experience instead of being able to tell your friends a detailed story of your nights in the wilderness.

On top of that, scientists have found a link between taking photos and lackluster memories. When you take a photo you are taking the responsibility to remember away from your brain and putting it on your camera. In my experience, my most vivid memories are from treks where I decided to leave my phone in my backpack as an emergency device, and just take in the environment the old-fashioned way.

I suggest you try going without sometime, or at least limiting yourself to a low number of pictures and only taking out the camera when you absolutely must preserve something incredibly breathtaking or memorable.

Related article from Outside Magazine

Web Presence: Reflection

It’s amazing how switching from one online publication platform to another can completely confuse and frustrate you. I decided to use Wix instead of WordPress for this project because I had had some minimal experience with Wix in a previous course. Little did I know how different it would be to create my own content from scratch like I had before, than to upload content that I had already put together for the WordPress site. The pictures didn’t play nicely from the start because the upload interface is different in Wix, but the main problem I had was getting my Tiny Portfolio to transfer over correctly.

Fortunately, that’s when I realized it was actually a good chance to try to improve on the presentation of my Tiny Portfolio. I ended up experimenting with Wix’s gallery tool and I found it much easier to use and I was able to create what I think was a tighter, cleaner finished product with it.

All in all, I think what taught me the most during this project was trying to make data from the two websites compatible. It was an interesting experience experimenting with different online platforms.