Music Festivals, a long time favorite of European summer, have now taken over the US and the world. They have become the go-to places to experience and listen to new music up close. Naturally, every DJ and upcoming producer is now looking to one day play on one of these massive stages in front of hundreds of thousands of screaming fans.
Getting booked to play a music festival has become extremely competitive. To start with, getting recognized by the event organizers will be a lot of work! You would definitely need to have the support of an A-list producer to start putting yourself out there.
Generally speaking, if you’re an A-list DJ, you’re easily earning 6-figure numbers. But how much a DJ makes when they perform at an EDM festival depends a lot on the event, the time slot and is always open to some level of negotiation.
On the other hand, upcoming producers and DJs are also cashing in some good money! They’re still earning in the 5-figure numbers. That sounds pretty awesome if you ask me! On the other hand, there is a lot of talk (and confusion) regarding how these DJs are booked and what happens to bring them on as a festival headliner. In the below post, we delve deep into the details. So if you’re interested in the subject, or even aiming to one day book your favorite superstar, read on!
The Booking Process
The booking process for any festival follows almost the same structure and procedure. To simplify it, let’s break down in general, and in simple terms, what happens when a festival wants to book an artist:
- The “promoter” (the festival in this case) reaches out to their desired acts/artists via their agent(s).
- The artist’s agent looks at the date(s), venue, festival, location, capacity, profile and other major factors in order to determine if the event is worth the artist’s time or if it is on the level this artist is expected to perform at.
- Normally for festivals, the agent has a set figure, called their ‘Festival fee’. Depending on the festival, and the factors above, they will go back to the promoter with a price.
- The promoter then enters a negotiating phase with the agent.
- Once both parties have reached an agreement on a price, the agent goes to the artists/act and puts in the formal offer to them.
- The artist/act then confirms or refuses the offer.
The factors that determine the price of the act (or artist) are extremely situational and sometimes subjective. Let’s take a look at a more comprehensive list below:
• Location of the event (Country, Region and ease of access – logistics to get the artist to the venue are expensive)
• Venue capacity
• Ticket Price (this and the capacity, gives the agent an idea on how much ticket revenue they will make. For example, Glastonbury Capacity is 135,000. Tickets cost £250. Income just from ticket sales will be almost £34million.
• Previous performers: Who were the previous headliners at the festival is important to show what kind of style it is and who played there before.
• Profile: How well-known the festival is. An unknown brand can be perceived as too amateur and might result in production problems, showing the artist in a bad light.
• Broadcasting/Recording options (this can either increase or massively decrease the fee)
• Sponsors: obviously if an act doesn’t like a company, they don’t want them sponsoring a show they are playing at
• What other shows the promoter organizes: How much experience in this sector do they have? Can they handle the problems and unknowns that might occur?
• Billing: is it a headline slot, a support show?
• Staging: what stage they are on?
• Branding: if there are any brands associated with the show/stage, what’s the theme of the event? Do they need to know of any sort of costume, clothing color…etc?
• Profile: Who they are, what type of music they play…etc
• Previous chart successes
• Availability/how busy they are that time of year (they might require more money to be able to make the event date)
• Cost of bringing the full entourage (guests, band, backline, tech, media, videographers/photographers, transport, fees, taxes)
• Any coming up releases: They might showcase new music at the event, which brings in more publicity
• Previous festival fees: What they’ve charged so the promoter has an idea of how much to negotiate
Once this is all factored in, a price is formed. Now, there are normally two types of fees. One is referred to as a ‘Landed’ deal and the other is a ‘Plus, Plus, Plus” deal (other ways of saying these two terms are common).
• Landed: The fee includes everything: transport, flights, visas, hotels, backline etc.
• Plus, Plus, Plus: The fee is just for the artist to turn up. On top of this, the promoter will need to pay for hotels, flights, riders etc.
Now, to get down to what you’re really wanting to know, numbers. This is hard to really say, as we’ve just explained in the above text, there are many factors to consider. But let’s take a quick look at what a promoter has been offered for various acts over my time (all for major UK festivals):
Note: +++ is the Plus, Plus, Plus fee.
Muse – £750,000 landed
Linkin Park – £600,000 landed
Avicii – £500,000 +++
Calvin Harris – £950,000 +++
Oasis – £1,000,000 for EACH band member +++
Eminem – £1,000,050 landed
Drake – £900,000 +++
Jamie XX – £200,000 +++
The 1975 – £180,000 landed
Rudimental – £85,000 landed
Two Door Cinema Club – £75,000 landed
Sigma – £25,000 landed
Fixed Number Vs Different Prices
There’s a lot of talk about festivals now paying a fixed fee for all of their artists no matter what “type” of following they have. A-listers in this formula get paid the same as upcoming new names who might be playing the music festival for the first time. On another hand, other festivals like Coachella pay headliners differently. The names which are more prominent on the poster (usually they’re higher up the list and shown in a bigger font) are paid significantly larger sums of money.
For example, Ariana Grande made history this Sunday, April 14 2019, as the youngest ever Coachella headliner. In 2017, The New Yorker reported that Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead, and Lady Gaga each received between three and four million for headlining, compared to some of the lesser-known artists on the lineup who made less than $10,000. On the other hand, Cardi B shared that she made $70,000 per weekend for her performances at Coachella in 2018.
Just like in football for example, festival fees happen to feature ridiculous numbers. Another thing to consider as well is that compensation doesn’t always come just in the form of the booking fee. There are promotional guarantees and merchandising deals, music licensing (especially for EDM events that produce their own music compilations) and other joint ventures and partnership deals that happen behind the scenes. Some festivals will even provide equity or a profit sharing model to bigger acts if they think it help get a new festival off the ground.
It doesn’t make sense for festivals to have a fixed number for all DJs on the lineup. Some names are well established and will bring in a huge following of fans who will be eager to watch them perform live. Others, are just starting out or building a following and so, will need to put on a bigger show to get to the top levels. This is why huge festival brands like Ultra, Tomorrowland or EDC, pay within a range. Sometimes anywhere from 30K-400K per set. On the other hand, the Vegas Night Club, Hakkasan paid Deadmaus 425,000 dollars per show.
No matter the deal, or the offer you’ll hear about, it’s important to understand that the actual deal points, and exact fees, are almost NEVER disclosed and for good reason. For example, if a festival finds out the artist played there for 50,000 it would be hard to negotiate 75,000 for another festival.
Another thing to note, publications like Forbes will sometimes publish an “Earnings list” for DJs. The problem with these is that 9 times out of 10, the booking figures are polled off industry databases like Pollstar. They’re not as credible as you think since they’re quoting gross ticket sales figures, and not the actual artist fee. While the poll might say that Mr Famous DJ made 250,000 in one night, his actual take could be very much under 100,000. And if you take out 10 or 15% agency fee, a 20% (or more) management fee, his/hers lawyer’s fee, and all of the expenses involved in the production of their show, you’ll end up with an even smaller (and more realistic) number.
Don’t get this wrong, artist like Calvin Harris and Tiesto are certainly making a lot of money. It’s just highly unlikely the number you read is accurate. Keep in mind that every artist is different and every performance is different. And no one except the people who’ve signed on the specific contract can tell you the exact figures.