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Festival Awards Q&A

The below, taken from an interview that CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke did with Festival Awards director James Drury, gives a succinct flavour of what it’s all about…

How did the Festival Awards come about?
The awards were launched by Virtual Festivals in 2004 as an online poll of its readers. For the first two years there wasn’t a ceremony and the trophies were driven to promoters’ offices across the country! Then, following demand from the industry, an actual awards ceremony was launched in 2006.

At what point did the event become its own entity, rather than something run by Virtual Festivals?
Festival Awards Ltd became an independent company in its own right in 2008.

How has the UK Festival Awards grown since it launched?
Since first starting as an online poll it has grown into an awards ceremony in its own right – the first one was at the O2 Academy Islington – and from there it expanded to Indigo2 at The O2 and, this year, at The Roundhouse. We’ve also added the UK Festival Conference, European Festival Awards, a festival industry website called Festival Insights, and a regional seminar programme called The City Sessions.

You introduced more ‘expert judged’ categories in 2011, why was that?
The Festival Awards celebrates the hard work of everyone in the festival industry and our aim is for it to be as inclusive as possible, so all festivals can benefit. In the past, most awards were decided by public vote, but we recognised that for some festivals, their fans might not be of the demographic to go online and vote. By introducing more judged categories, it means that all festivals can take part – and it’s really produced results: last year we had about 170 festivals taking part, this year it’s just over 200.

Why did you launch the Festival Conference?

Our awards event is probably the only time you’ll get so many people from the festival industry in one place at the same time, so there was an opportunity to enable everyone to get together on the day of the ceremony, with the aim of enabling the festival industry to become stronger through better networking and intelligent knowledge-sharing. Many festivals are run by very small teams and there are few opportunities to meet other people in the industry and discuss common challenges, so the UK Festival Conference aims to provide a platform for that to happen.

How do you see your conference fitting in with the other live sector and general music business conventions?
While many music industry conferences will feature a session on festivals, the UK Festival Conference is dedicated to this sector, meaning if you work in the industry you can have a full day of focus on topics which are of relevance to you.

How did the European awards come about?
Many European festivals used to come to the UK Festival Awards. Following a meeting with Christof Huber from European festivals association Yourope, he offered to help us grow into Europe. Eurosonic Noorderslag threw its support behind the event (the European Awards is the opening event of the annual conference and showcase festival in the Netherlands) and we were up and running!

How do the European awards differ from the UK awards, in terms of categories and voting process?
There are thirteen categories in the European Festival Awards, while the UK has more awards, otherwise they’re very similar in format. We have over 200 European festivals taking part, from around 32 countries, which is an incredible number of events considering this will be only its third year. We are very fortunate to have the support of so many promoters from across the continent.

As someone with an overview of the industry, do you think the UK festivals market is in good health at the moment?

There have been many media reports of the decline of the festival industry this year, but although it’s been challenging, the market remains healthy and people are still very keen to attend festivals – even making sacrifices in other expenditure in order to get tickets. The fact that so many festivals, such as T In The Park, V Festival, Green Man, Kendal Calling, Bestival and so on, sold out this year is proof of just how popular festivals still are.

What are the big issues affecting festival promoters?
With the economy hitting consumer confidence – and therefore making them cautious with expenditure – it’s more important than ever to keep a tight control on budgets so ticket prices don’t increase dramatically, no mean feat with many costs going up. The UK festival market is one of the most competitive in the world and promoters have to exercise great skill to stay on top.

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