Why Festivals Fail (or Don’t) Panel at South by Southwest

Photo Courtesy of Ultra Music Festival Miami 2017

South by Southwest offers session formats to look more into targeted topics. I attended the panel “It’s Cancelled?! Why Festivals Fail (or Don’t).” Panels typically feature one moderator and up to three additional industry experts who represent different perspectives and opinions in a given area, making for a lively discussion. Each of these formats is one hour in length. This panel was moderated by Biasha Mitchell, Eventbrite’s Director of Music Festival Strategy. The three industry experts included Scoremore’s Marketing Director Edward Castillo, Jim Tobin Productions Director of Operations Mary Beth Elam, and WME Entertainment agent Kevin Shivers.

Biasha leads Eventbrite’s global music festival strategy with more than 20 years working in the music industry. She focuses on ensuring the success of music festivals. Mary Beth Elam handles all business aspects of JTP in addition to building and managing sites for some of the greatest music festivals in North America. Kevin Shivers, a graduate of the University of Texas, represents leading artists in the hip hop and urban genre, in addition to athletes. His roster includes Brockhampton, Jimmy Butler, Kid Cudi, LL Cool J and Tyler The Creator.

Live event attendance is on the rise, driven by Millennials. Demand for music festivals isn’t slowing down, yet cancellations and lawsuits are becoming more common. Many new festivals don’t nail the delicate balance between expected people onsite, actual attendance, and the budget defining the whole experience. I learned about the critical importance of planning vs. real-time decision-making. The actuality of throwing a festival is always risky. Your specific event happens once a year, with the future weather conditions unknown, and rescheduling is nearly impossible.

Photo Courtesy of Ultra Music Festival Miami 2017

How do you balance the budget for an artist vs for production?

You have to scale your limitations upfront. Work with the operations team and monitor your project every day. Fan experience is a major quality, and you want to be sure you perfect it.


What about finding the festival site?

There are so many scenarios to think about. You have to look at how do you get in and out. What are the fans doing out there? If they are camping, you need the entertainment to keep fans occupied. With day festivals you know that the audience will only be there for a certain amount of time.

How important is it to sell tickets? What if you sell too many tickets?

Selling tickets is an important aspect of your festival. Look at a calendar to plan the timing of when to announce your sales. Street promoters and artists will post the announcements as well. There will be artists who are playing multiple festivals a year. Driving these festival’s ticket sales are important. Get to know your crowd. What do they want, and how can we make that happen? If too many tickets sell,be sure to keep cautious of the safety. Risk Management is an important part of setting up a successful festival.

A festival is like a person because it has an identity. When planning a successful festival you also have to think about the artists that are right for that identity. As you can see, there are many factors that go into planning a festival. It is easy to run into issues, but that is why festival planning takes months to perfect.

Why do you think festivals fail or don’t? Swipe up to comment below and let me know!

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