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Investigation into a less and less lucrative business.

After two stormy years, large gatherings are finally back. But at what cost ?

His goat jumps make the front stage vibrate as the compact crowd roars. Orelsan is back. This year, he is the king of festivals, the king of outdoor stages, the one whose name appears in capital letters on most of the programming. For the directors of these events, a safe bet. And since the health crisis, they have become rare. In Carcassonne, Pascal Dupont, arms crossed in front of the stage of the Jean-Deschamps theater, was able to see it. “Before, the internationals filled the fastest, explains the director of the city festival. From now on, it is the French who have the advantage. And even there, Sexion d’Assaut or Louane are struggling to sell. »

Read also: Carcassonne Festival: rock goes back to the ramparts

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There are two reasons for this: the public is hesitant about foreign artists who would not cross the border if the government decides to tighten the screws and, a concern particularly visible in the medieval city where the festival is usually populated by 17% foreigners , the English no longer land. “Brexit… sighs Pascal Dupont. We are welcoming John Legend this year, we would have received 1,500 English people three years ago, they are no longer there! So it’s not full. “Same observation at the Mas des Escaravatiers, in the Var, where Ben Mazué sold out in two weeks, Vianney in nine days, when the British of Morcheeba, complete in no time in 2017, are struggling to round up the crowds.

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And the Frenchies are not as easy as before to have in its programming. “They are tougher in business. There is a terrible jealousy because they do not understand that they are paid less than in other countries, ”reveals Pascal Dupont. It is true that receiving Simple Minds costs 400,000 euros while for Benjamin Biolay 80,000 euros is enough… But, faced with the cancellations of the concerts, the artists have all increased their prices: from 15 to 30% compared to 2021. An envelope that represents 35% to 40% of the overall festival budget. And when negotiations were possible in the past, they are no longer so today, producers preferring to go to the highest bidder. “Our relationships are less human than before,” observes Pascal Dupont.

For Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck, only 95% of the tickets have passed

Another big problem: singers see bigger and bigger. Their shows have become dantesque, combining pyrotechnics, flames, dancers… And there again, the budget explodes. 40,000 euros for a single artist turns into 100,000 euros with an American-style scenography. More what to add for the technique. Hosting Stromæ this year means reinforcing the usual structures to support the additional tons of lighting for its incredible staging and making twice as many staff available. “Theatrical tours have ramped up,” explains Christophe Sabot, president of Olympia Production (Garorock, Les Déferlantes, Inversion, etc.).

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As we work with two-thirds of the festival tour kit, with us too, it has evolved. The public is a winner, but ticket prices will have to increase. And there again, it gets stuck. Because the festivals all apply to stay within a reasonable price range and the spectators are ready to accept an increase of a maximum of 3 euros per day from one year to the next, which is not enough to balance the scales. “As an independent, says Sébastien Costamagna (Le Mas des Escaravatiers), we adapt the price of the ticket to that of the stamp. Today, for certain artists, it would be necessary to go up to 200 euros per head to enter into our expenses. What I will never do. »

For Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck, the Monte-Carlo Summer offered 500 places at 250 euros and still lost money, only 95% of the tickets having sold out. “It’s a choice, adds Sébastien Costamagna. Angèle is less present this year because many have done the math and preferred not to spend so much to have it. »

If the artist cannot play and he has a medical certificate, he does not receive his money and the public is reimbursed

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Especially since the stars of the scene have not been the only pole of increase since the start of the health crisis. Festivals have had to deal with the rising cost of raw materials, but above all with a shortage of equipment and personnel. “We all use the same service providers and hundreds of events are being held at the same time this summer. It’s harder to get a stage or a truck than a headliner! notes Béatrice Desgranges, co-founder of Marsatac, in Marseille. Share of technology in the overall budget: 40%. As an indication, 2000 people work on Garorock. Security companies have also inflated their prices. And to avoid fights, stings and sexual assaults, impossible to do without; the image and survival of festivals depends on it. Most have boosted their device: additional cameras, “stewards” in the public and supporting mobile applications. Of course, insurance has spotted the vein.

None covers the risks linked to the Covid, but the teams had to get their hands on the wallet. “They have never been so expensive,” asserts Christophe Sabot. “On the other hand, if the artist cannot play and he has a medical certificate, it goes into the “unavailability” box. At that time, he does not receive his money and the public is reimbursed, ”adds Sébastien Costamagna. Typical example: the two French cancellations of Liam Gallagher. In order to anticipate the risks, some have left the usual sales networks – Fnac, Ticketnet, Weezevent and others… – to create their own. Double advantage: avoid fees (1.80 euro per ticket for Fnac, 1.95 for Leclerc…), but above all manage reimbursements yourself. “The average customer who buys his place on Fnac thinks that his money is in our pocket, whereas we touch him after the festival and that we have no control over the reservations, explains the director of the festival of the Var. If you have your ticket office, you cash directly and you can refund directly. »

It’s harder to get a stage or a truck than a headliner!

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Ah! The nostalgia is great for the time when the organizers only cared about the weather! And even there, caution is in order… After the storm that shook the Eurockéennes this summer (fourteen injured and two canceled days), the Déferlantes organization spent four hours with a bailiff, the police and the fire brigade before having finally the authorization of the insurance to play. “There was a little wind. Ten years ago, we would have played without asking questions. Today, no one would take the risk anymore”, admits the president of Olympia Production.

Fortunately, the recovery is also good. Starting with private patrons and local authorities who largely help finance these events and who have not deserted. As for the National Music Center, it has allowed those who opened – and achieved catastrophic figures – in 2021 to get back on their feet. “Masks, not masks, tests, not tests, the regulations changed constantly and we were insulted, remembers Sébastien Costamagna. I had the worst fill rate in my history with 58%. »

While some, faced with the proliferation of festivals, are still struggling – Musilac in Aix-les-Bains, barely breaking even with 90,000 spectators – others, such as Solidays, Rock en Seine, Le Mas des Escaravatiers or Marsatac broke attendance records. The increased costs don’t allow them to make much of a profit (if any for Marsatac, for example), but everyone agrees that the public was delighted to return. “At the start of the school year, we will make a point to rethink our economy, announces Christophe Sabot. Society is changing, so are we. One thing is certain: there will be a before and an after-Covid. »

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