Gatekeeper perceptions on adopting environmentally sound information and communication technology-enhanced live performances to improve the sustainability of music festivals

Adrian Bossey (Cornwall Business School, Falmouth University, Falmouth, UK)

International Journal of Event and Festival Management

ISSN: 1758-2954

Article publication date: 8 April 2022

Issue publication date: 7 June 2022

458

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to consider perceptions of sustainability, information communication technologies (ICTs)-enhanced performances, authenticity, COVID-19 and performance futures in relation to digital content for use on-site and off-site at music festivals/events. It responds to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 9 – Industries, Innovation and Infrastructure. The research analyses existing literature to inform a dialogue among music festival organisers, consultants and performers. It addresses the thesis that: industry gatekeepers’ opinions on the authenticity of environmentally sound ICT-generated live content will influence its adoption at music festivals.

Design/methodology/approach

Primary research was carried out using purposive sampling of 50 live music industry professionals to collect and interpret expert empirical evidence through informed narrative. Using a mixed-methods approach, respondents completed a structured e-mail questionnaire comprising closed questions, a five-point Likert scale and additional qualitative open questions.

Findings

Predominantly positive quantitative responses relating to the live music industry's role in advocating sustainability contrasted with negative responses to virtual festivals. Responses adopting and rejecting environmentally sound ICT for live content were evident in qualitative results, with significant proportions of undecided or uncertain respondents. The prevalence of postponement and rejection responses around authenticity may prevent adoption at some music festivals.

Research limitations/implications

The limitations of this research include the relatively small sample size and limited scope in terms of the artform.

Originality/value

The “snapshot” of digital aspects of sustainability at music festivals within this research is of particular value due to the paucity of research in this area, rapid change in virtual music festival provision prompted by COVID-19 and its narrative from varied industry professionals. The paper makes recommendations to artists, music festival organisers, consultants, academics and public funders to attempt to advance sustainability.

Keywords

Citation

Bossey, A. (2022), "Gatekeeper perceptions on adopting environmentally sound information and communication technology-enhanced live performances to improve the sustainability of music festivals", International Journal of Event and Festival Management, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 307-325. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEFM-07-2021-0060

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

The use of information communication technologies (“ICT”) is becoming increasingly central to the way in which audiences experience music festivals. There is growing acknowledgement within the music festival industry of the need to significantly enhance sustainable practices. However, the potential of ICT to drive sustainability at music festivals is under-researched.

In 2019, the band Coldplay announced a decision not to tour their new album and instead encouraged their audience to stream two live performances of “Everyday Life” from Amman Citadel in Jordan (Patterson, 2019, p. 1). Chris Martin, the band's lead singer, said the break in touring would create time “over the next year or two, to work out how our tour can not only be sustainable [but] how can it be actively beneficial” (Patterson, 2019, p. 1). This temporary substitution of digital performances for a world tour can be seen as part of a growing trend of environmental consciousness among musical artists (Stubbs, 2019, p. 8). It preceded the COVID-19 crisis, which prompted a global proliferation of online music festivals to stimulate new ways for audiences to engage emotionally with ICT enhanced performances (Haferkorn et al., 2021, p. 5).

While Coldplay's decision implies a belief that deploying environmentally sound technologies (“ESTs”) reduces environmental impacts of live musical performances, digitising performances is contentious. Coldplay's booking agent Steve Strange previously stated “I don't believe in virtual festival experiences, you can really only experience a festival by being there” (Bossey, 2019, p. 414).

This research considers perceptions of music festival industry gatekeepers on sustainability, ICT-enhanced performances, authenticity, COVID-19 and performance futures in relation to digital content for use on-site and off-site at music festivals/events.

The research analyses existing literature to inform a dialogue with music festival organisers, consultants and performers deploying mixed methods to address the thesis that: industry gatekeepers' opinions on the authenticity of environmentally sound ICT-generated live content will influence its adoption at music festivals.

Literature review

Music festivals

Festivals have been defined as “short term, recurring, publicly accessible events” that provide opportunities for entertainment and prompt feelings of belonging (Mair, 2019, p. 5). Music festivals broadly comply with Mair’s definition and can be synonymous with the term “festival,” for example; Shuker (2012, p. 130) defines a festival as “a concert, usually outdoor, often held over several days”. In the UK, there were 35.3 million visits to outdoor music events in 2018, generating on-site and off-site spending of £17.6bn and providing 234,380 full-time equivalent jobs (Jackson et al., 2019, p. 1).

Music festivals can foster individuality and/or a sense of community (Duffy, 2019, p. 307). Occurring outside the everyday, they enable “communitas” (Turner, 1969, p. 94) or “pleasure in sharing common experiences” (Turner, 2012, p. 2) to create feelings of belonging which may endure. Music festivals have been described as powerful drivers of societal change (Jones, 2019, p. 78), although they may also drive exclusivity (Wilks, 2011, p. 7).

The nature of music festivals is fluid over time, so “no one can take a patent on the concept of festival” (Harsolf, 2020, p. 7). A fertile space, therefore, exists for experimentation with both the form itself and as a proxy for ways of living increasingly sustainably outside of a festival experience.

Sustainability

Sustainability has been defined as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland, 1987, p. 7). This requires optimising the use of resources without destroying the regenerative capacity of natural systems and implies the acceptance of alternative, environmentally sound strategies and technologies (UN Environment Programme, 2020, p. 1). In 2015 the United Nations pledged to adopt 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 9 – Industries, Innovation and Infrastructure include target 9.4 “Upgrade all industries and infrastructures for sustainability” (United Nations, 2015, p. 15) this includes “greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies” (Our World in Data, 2020, p. 2). ESTs are techniques or technologies which decrease environmental harm (OECD, 2001, p. 1). ESTs include know-how, procedures, goods and services, equipment, organisational and management procedures, so have been described as “total systems” (Srinivas, 2015, p. 4).

All systems comprise independent parts (Cummings and Worley, 2009, p. 754) and total systems approaches can enhance sustainability by considering multiple interrelated factors and instruments (Clayton and Radcliffe, 1996, p. 13). Indeed, some stakeholders have advocated for a systems approach across the SDGs to achieve a coherent overarching outcome (Future Earth, 2021, p. 1). However, effective and inclusive systemic solutions can be challenging to identify (Hutchinson, 2013, p. 55) so when total systems approaches are applied to supply chain management “gatekeeping” activities become influential (Min, 2015, p. 3).

Within cultural industries, “gatekeepers” are individual mediators who can exclude or promote an artist, work or format (Janssen and Verboord, 2015, p. 443). Individual gatekeepers curating/supplying live music performances determine the performances that reach their audiences (Gaupp, 2020, p. 127; Foster et al., 2011, p. 2). Organisers of, consultants for and performers at music festivals can all be considered gatekeepers regarding the adoption of ICT. Significant “drivers” for adopting sustainable practices at music festivals include organisational/personal values of gatekeepers (Mair and Lang, 2012, p. 691).

Many music festival organisers are working to reduce environmental impacts by addressing on-site factors including, for example, waste management and ethical procurement. Glastonbury Festival's report in 2019 that 99.3% of tents were taken home and zero plastic drinks bottles sold (Young, 2019, p. 4) is an example of success in this regard. However, reducing local on-site environmental impacts only mitigates selected effects of music festivals (Collins and Cooper, 2017) and is just the beginning for most events (Getz and Page, 2020, p. 46).

Audience travel for the live music sector accounts for 43% of the entire UK music industry's Green House Gas emissions, with other live music impacts adding a further 30% (Bottrill et al., 2007, p. 3). Powerful Thinking estimated that audience travel generally represents 80% of an individual music festival's known CO2 emission, while the total UK music festival industry's emissions (excluding travel) are 19,778 tonnes of CO2 per year (Johnson, 2015, p. 2). Music festival organisers were advised to customise travel emissions reduction strategies (Bottrill et al., 2009, p. 7). However, Webster (2014, p. 26) recorded a 13.1% rise in audiences travelling to UK music festivals in cars containing 2 or less people.

Some festivals attempt to mitigate CO2 emissions through carbon offsetting. While these simple transactions may sound appealing “you are instantly absolved of culpability” (Petrusich, 2020, p. 11) they remain problematic. In 2019, hundreds of UK local authorities declared a climate emergency, prompting Massive Attack to state that the likelihood of licences being granted for music festivals that do not dramatically reduce emissions is low (Del Naja, 2019, p. 9). Positively, several advocacy organisations including A Greener Festival, Julies Bicycle and Positive Event Impacts support UK music festivals to adopt best practices regarding sustainability throughout their industrial processes.

Music festivals are reliant on a range of services that impact sustainability and content. Because live music represents one element of the music industry supply chain, an industry-wide systems approach to sustainability is required. Quantities of plastic used by the US music industry shrank dramatically as digital formats to consume recorded music became dominant (Julie's Bicycle, 2009, p. 1). This might infer lower carbon emissions, but data centres storing and processing music in the cloud use enormous quantities of resources and power (Brennan and Devine, 2020, p. 7). Usage rates are also a factor as streaming an album more than 27 times consumes more energy than manufacturing a CD (George and McKay, 2019, p. 11).

All digital consumption processes globally use energy due to manufacture, shipping, powering and cooling (ClimateCare, 2021, p. 4) generating an overall carbon footprint of 3.7% of greenhouse gasses. Due to COVID-19 lockdowns global internet traffic grew by 40% between February and April 2020 (Taylor, 2021, p. 3). Therefore, new digital industrial processes may have increased the overall carbon emissions of the global recorded music industry.

In addition to studio recordings of musical performances, potential exists to reduce the impact of live music. Here the use of ESTs remains under-developed and currently the overall carbon footprint of digital consumption processes for live performances at music festivals is hard to quantify. However, evidence exists of increased efficiencies, with Spotify transitioning to the Google Cloud Platform during 2018. As a result, Spotify decommissioned six of its seven data centres to claim a reduction of almost 1,500 tonnes in the carbon footprint of its streaming and computing platform (Spotify, 2019, p. 22). “Upstream” suppliers, including musicians, may be another source of innovation (Liburd and Edwards, 2018, p. 191).

ICT enhanced performances

UNESCO (2019, p. 1) define ICT as the “diverse set of technological tools and resources used to transmit, store, create, share or exchange information” which specifically includes the Internet and live and recorded broadcasting technologies. The music industry has embraced ICT so it is now “perhaps most succinctly characterized by the gradual disappearance of a tangible product” (Askin and Mol, 2018, p. 168). ICT is becoming increasingly deployed in the production of live performances at music festivals through social media, enhanced production, live streaming, holographic performances, virtual reality (“VR”) and augmented reality (“AR”) (van Winkle and Bueddefeld, 2020, p. 8; Bossey, 2020, p. 11).

Streaming content from music festivals enables individual consumers to “listen to music or watch live video in real time” (www.bbc.co.uk) (British Broadcasting Company, 2012, p. 1). Market penetration of holograms in live music markets is increasing, where audiences accept holographic performances like live music (Hughes, 2020, p. 118). VR or “near reality” (Virtual Reality Society, 2020, p. 2) is developing rapidly, so may be deployed to offer “live” content from music festivals. AR could transpose elements of a live performance from a music festival onto the physical environment that an individual user inhabits, adding to the reality a viewer would ordinarily, see Emspak (2018, p. 1).

Audiences at music festivals are often open to innovation and highly engaged with social media (Hudson and Hudson, 2013, p. 221). The development of hybrid events which simultaneously engage remote live audiences with venue-based music festivals is occurring (Cal, 2020, p. 3). Although contextual relationships between digital experiences and specific music festivals are important considerations (van Winkle et al., 2016, p. 216).

Authenticity

Consumer perceptions appear central to the establishment of authenticity within live music. Wang (1999, p. 352) identified three categories of perceived authenticity within tourism; objective, constructive and existential: Objective authenticity is object-related and based on evidential or objective standards. Constructive authenticity is object-related and based on projected expectations, preferences or beliefs. Existential authenticity is experience-related, referring to a state of being linked to emotions, sensations and a sense of self. Various academic studies underlined how important considerations around authenticity are to cultural tourists when forming “satisfaction judgements” (Dominguez-Quintero et al., 2018, p. 249). Existential authenticity appears key to the perceived validity of digital experiences for cultural tourists, including attendees at music festivals.

Authenticity has been described as a relational institutional practice, performed by: “producers, consumers, and selectors of music”, which is becoming increasingly difficult to manage in a digital music industry (Askin and Mol, 2018, p. 181). Authenticity is essential for most visitors to music festivals (Girish and Ching-Fu, 2017, p. 1,551), who regularly demonstrate inventiveness when in co-creating experiences (Szmigin et al., 2017, p. 10) to author elements of existential authenticity. Senses of communitas and “living in the moment” may be factors here.

Music festival audience's sense of “liveness” is evolving to incorporate technology so live music “can no longer only be considered as the unmediated performance experienced in a natural face-to-face contact” (Tsangaris, 2020, p. 202). In this new environment “live” could mean a virtual event within an online archive enjoyed without the restrictions of time and place (Mallinder, 2020, p. 55). Some audiences may already feel digitised music festival experiences are validated by existential authenticity, however, industry “gatekeepers” dictate access to experiences.

Impacts of COVID-19

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus (Bender, 2020, p. 3) which severely impacted the music festival sector in 2020/2021 and initially stimulated an outpouring of online content (Gudgin, 2020, p. 3). The global COVID-19 pandemic forced the majority of events to be cancelled or postponed (Parry, 2020, p. 1) leading to an estimated US$8.9bn loss for the global live music industry in the calendar year (Pollstar, 2020, p. 1). Globally, the pandemic will lead to permanent changes in the usage of digital solutions (NESTA, 2020, p. 1). COVID-19 reduced performance income for musicians, with potentially “catastrophic” financial implications despite income from ICT enhanced performances for some (Hancock and Tyler, 2021, p. 14). The viability of live music venues is threatened (Rendell, 2021, p. 1,105) and a long-term support strategy is required for the live music sector (Davies, 2020, p. 6).

COVID-19 accelerated the uptake of virtual events and streaming which fast become “the new norm” (Tan, 2020, p. 1). The imposition of “lockdown” stimulated a migration online for planned music festivals and the creation of entirely new online concepts. One of the first planned events to migrate was circularly organized sustainable music festival DGTL (Kocay, 2020, p. 1) who delivered a free livestream music festival in early April 2020 from Amsterdam. Other “big name” music festivals shifting online included Burning Man who perceived Virtual Black Rock City 2020 as being “messy and awkward with mistakes” (Burning Man Project, 2020, p. 2).

New online music events across all genres during early 2020 fostered a sense of “weird, exhilarating intimacy” (Empire, 2020, p. 4). Club Quarantaene, a 36-h virtual rave, broadcast exclusive sets and allows users to interact with each other virtually. The Folk on Foot Front Room Festivals “created a potent sense of solidarity and community” (Folk on Foot, 2020, p. 3) among fans and artists of an artform not previously especially noted for digital performance. A ticketed live-streamed gig by Laura Marling from Union Chapel, London, worked successfully to monetarise the form, geo-lock tickets and stimulate; “the delicious buzz of exclusivity and climax that makes live music so special” (Richards, 2020, p. 4). Post COVID-19, live music venues will need to integrate digital experiences (Westermark and Donovan, 2021, p. 7).

Methodology

In scope, the research was limited by artform to live music festivals. Primary and secondary research was carried out, adopting a mixed methods approach. A conceptual framework considered sustainability at music festivals, ICT enhanced performances, authenticity and early impacts of COVID 19.

The research analysed existing knowledge to inform a dialogue with organisers of, consultants for and performers at music festivals who act as “gatekeepers” (Janssen and Verboord, 2015, p. 443) influencing audience experiences. Performers and organisers correspond to Askin and Mol's (2018, p. 168) “producers” and “selectors”, respectively, with “consumers” intentionally absent so audience members were only tangentially included in the research (I.E. industry respondents as consumers).

The principle investigator previously worked as an artist manager representing clients who performed at numerous international and UK music festivals and headlined Glastonbury Festival main stage. This enabled abductive research, supplementing prior knowledge of the live music industry with a literature review to identify the broad issues for questioning.

Primary research was carried out using purposive sampling (Daniel, 2012, p. 92) to collect and interpret expert empirical evidence through informed narrative. Calls for contributions recruited 50 respondents; 24 via A Greener Festival's Green Events and Innovations 2020, 8 from the Sustainable Event Alliance's Event Industry Hackathon 2020 and 19 from the author's personal contacts. Balance was ensured through selection criteria devised to guarantee a mixed sample of occupations. Respondents self-identified as 10 festival organisers, 11 sustainability consultants, 5 service providers, 6 artists, 2 booking agents, 1 artist manager and 15 other respondents. No venue managers were represented.

Drawing on two of the three categories of festival stakeholders (Brennan et al., 2019, p. 11), a re-coding exercise amalgamated respondents into three groups. Twenty relating to music festival organisers, including venues and production companies (“organisers”), 15 relating to sustainability, including advocacy organisations (“consultants”) and 15 relating to performers, including artists, managers, labels and booking agents (“performers”). All respondents agreed to take part in the research and while no individuals have been named, 35 agreed to their identity and organisation being stated (Table 1).

Respondents completed a structured e-mail questionnaire on Microsoft Forms: Closed questions related to name, occupation, employer, country of residence, age and gender. In total, 30 respondents were male, 19 female, 0 non-binary, 0 gender fluid and 1 preferred not to say. There were 0 respondents under 20, 4 aged 20–29, 14 aged 30–39, 11 aged 40–49, 17 aged 50–59 and 3 aged 60 and over. By nationality 33 respondents were based in the UK, 11 in the European Union, 4 in the USA and 1 “internationally”.

A five-point Likert scale (Table 2) ascertained gatekeeper opinions on factors relevant to the thesis. These were validated through literature review and comprised: Awareness and support for SDGs, music festival impacts and advocacy role, physically visiting a festival, adopting EST, impacts of Coldplay not touring, engagement with virtual music festival content, the impact of COVID-19 and authenticity. Chi-Square testing of asymptotic significance (p-value) identified 11 sets of Likert scale responses which were statistically significant and one (Q7(h)) which was not. Quantitative analysis using nonparametric testing was applied to selected responses through SPSS to address the null hypothesis that medians are the same across categories of gender and age.

Additional open questions (Table 3) elucidated qualitative information, responding to Wilson et al. (2017, p. 206) who recommended that “festival studies embrace greater methodological diversity, including qualitative studies”. Data collection and analysis employed open coding to identify potential narrative themes and categories. Resultant responses were carefully reviewed to conduct thematic narrative analysis, which “reveal the undercurrents that may lie under the simple narrative of the story” (Walliman, 2011, p. 142). Categories were created for specific ICT technologies, sustainable approaches or perceptions of authenticity/interest. Utilising a “conceptual framework of innovation responses” (Nabih et al., 1997, p. 193) themes of adoption, postponement, rejection and no opinion were identified and outcomes coded against individual qualitative questions.

A convergent design which merges the results of qualitative and quantitative data analyses (Creswell, 2015, p. 35) was used to integrate quantitative and qualitative results.

Ethical principles regarding objectivity were considered around the author's historic professional relationship with some respondents. Sharing the questionnaire beyond personal contacts ensured that over 60% of respondents were previously unknown to the author. Identifying respondents who gave informed consent to waive anonymity was deemed to be important in maximising the credibility of the research by evidencing professional standing to confirm their expert status. The research was approved by institutional research ethics processes.

The limitations of this case study include the relatively small sample size, mitigated by influential respondents and limited scope in terms of artform.

Discussion of findings

Sustainability

Responses on the Likert Scale to Q7(a) indicated that 80% of organisers, 93% of consultants and only 60% of performers agreed or strongly agreed that they were aware of the SDGs. Furthermore, in Q7(b), 90% of organisers, 86% of consultants and 73% of performers agreed or strongly agreed that they support the aims of the SDGs. However, in Q7(c) 95% of organisers, 100% of consultants and 100% of performers agreed or strongly agreed that the live music industry has an important role to play in raising awareness of sustainable development.

While these results are generally encouraging, it is noted that a higher proportion of organisers supported the aims of the SDGs than were aware of the SDGs. Given that individual artists can act as gatekeepers and potentially achieve higher profiles across all media than most individual festivals, the evident disparity in their awareness suggests that artists and their representatives could benefit from enhancing their knowledge of SDGs. This could support music festivals to maximise their potential as significant drivers for change (Jones, 2019, p. 78).

When considering music festivals in Q7(d); 90% of organisers, 86% of consultants and 73% of performers agreed or strongly agreed that they were aware of specific environmental impacts. Furthermore, in Q7(f) 60% of organisers, 86% of consultants and only 20% of performers agreed or strongly agreed that they considered fostering innovation by adopting clean EST to reduce environmental impacts at music festivals. The lower proportion of performers may suggest that artists and their representatives would benefit from enhancing their knowledge of music festival impacts and potential mitigations from ESTs and clean industrial processes. Greater adoption of ESTs by artists and other music festival industry gatekeepers would increase alignment with a total systems approach (Srinivas, 2015, p. 4).

Overarching quantitative data from Q7(f) was compared to qualitative data from Q8, where 28% of respondents were coded under adoption and 38% postponement (Nabih et al., 1997, p. 193). The majority of respondents were engaged in reducing environmental impacts of on-site music festivals. When asked about their experience to date of adopting clean EST as part of the delivery of on-site music festivals in Q8; 24% of all respondents had none and 38% only cited physical improvements or raising awareness. These included recycling, renewable power sources, compost loos and eco levies. A total of 8% had engaged with streaming and 4% mentioned digital ticketing technologies; 6% had engaged but did not elaborate; 2% mentioned smart power and 2% had run networked events; and 4% could not comment. Through omission, the findings support the need to move beyond mitigating selected on-site effects of music festivals (Collins and Cooper, 2017; Getz and Page, 2020, p. 46).

Adopting paperless ticketing solutions can deliver operational benefits at music festivals. In 2000, Organiser 15 devised and launched a paperless ticket system for UK event organisers. Part of the brand was its environmental message “but this was difficult to quantify”. In 2012, Organiser 15 commissioned an environmental analysis of three forms of online ticketing: (1) paper tickets in the post; (2) print-at-home tickets delivered by email; and (3) paperless tickets based on a booking reference. “This showed the relative carbon equivalent cost was 1086:400:1 - quite startling!”

Regarding Coldplay's decision not to tour their album and stream live content instead of in Q7(g); 40% of organisers, 26% of consultants and 40% of performers agreed or strongly agreed that this will lead to a growth in virtual music festival content utilising ICT. The lower proportion of consultants who agreed/strongly agreed may suggest that some sustainability professionals underestimate the power of significant artists to drive change and could harness artists to greater effect as advocates. Nonparametric tests supported a null hypothesis that median scores are the same across categories of age (0.631 significance) and gender (0.618 significance). Any responding growth in the use of ESTs in response to the band's decision would reduce the impact of touring by other artists and therefore arguably constitute an active benefit (Patterson, 2019, p. 3) as broadly desired by Coldplay.

The tendency to identify (and prioritise) mitigations for on-site, transport or advocacy-based impacts suggests that organisers, consultants and performers would benefit from additional training in the advantages and impacts of environmentally sound technologies for music festivals. Suggestions in the literature review that support organisations often prioritise physical processes on-site and/or transport (Bottrill et al., 2009, p. 7) were evidenced through the 20% of consultants citing no/very little experience of adopting clean EST and some commentary “efforts are more often about mitigating environmental impacts, rather than using innovative technologies” (Consultant 5). However, there are signs of change and Consultant 6 confirmed “we are moving our focus to include this aspect in our assessments”.

ICT-enhanced performances

Responding personally in Q7(i), 35% of organisers, 33% of consultants and 40% of performers agreed or strongly agreed that they currently engage with virtual music festival content using ICT. The proportions who disagreed or strongly disagreed were; 30% of organisers, 40% of consultants and 46% of performers. It is interesting to note the higher proportions of performers who had engaged and had not. These responses contrast with 26% of all respondents who agreed or strongly agreed and 54% of all respondents who disagreed or strongly disagreed that they had engaged with virtual music festival content using ICT last year, Nonparametric tests supported a null hypothesis that median scores are the same across categories of age (0.964 significance) and gender (0.361 significance).

Although the significance level for the Q7(h) data set was above the qualifying threshold of 0.05, some increased engagement with digital content is observable. This is likely to have continued since the research was undertaken due to the ongoing pandemic (Haferkorn et al., 2021, p. 5). The 30% of organisers who had not engaged is a reminder of the potential power of “gate-keepers” to the live experience who may not support virtual festival experiences (Bossey, 2019, p. 414).

When describing their experiences of working on virtual music festivals in Q9; 50% of all respondents had none, 24% had an experience of online events, 12% cited the experience of streaming and 14% were looking to develop virtual events. Working with ICT is “still very much a learning curve” (Performer 13) with nascent beginnings of a mixed world approach in evidence from several respondents. Streaming and podcasts from festivals are “definitely growing in popularity” (Organiser 3). For example; Ultra Festival in Miami live-streamed music and video content from festival stages via YouTube (Organiser 5). Organiser 20 described commissioning a piece of music and programming 2 brass bands to perform together from Durham and Copenhagen.

Other “adopters” (Nabih et al., 1997, p. 193) were pro-actively researching and experimenting with virtual content and immersive shows, sharing positive early results “but nothing that I would categorise as a powerful ceremonial festival experience” – Performer 12. Organiser 4 is piloting an Alexa platform to deliver music content to “lonely and isolated people in South West England”. Performer 9 works with artists who had performed at virtual festivals including Seachange Festival. Performer 14 represents a DJ who performed “a number of virtual streams since the lockdown”.

Conversely, some artists reject virtual festivals altogether, “we have had televised performances from festivals, but are not currently interested in the encroaching Facebookification of live music culture” (Performer 15). It is interesting to expand consideration of contextual relationships between digital experiences and specific music festivals (van Winkle et al., 2016, p. 216) to also include contextual relationships between artists and digital experiences. Regarding working at virtual festivals; 36% of respondents were coded under adoption, 14% postponement and 2% rejection (Nabih et al., 1997, p. 193).

Authenticity

Considering virtual music festivals in Q7(l), only 5% of organisers, 26% of consultants and 6% of performers agreed or strongly agreed they offer an authentic festival experience. Furthermore, 50% of organisers, 20% of consultants and 33% of performers were neutral, and 45% of organisers, 53% of consultants and 60% of performers disagreed or strongly disagreed. This view was typified by Consultant 10 who believes “humans need live experience, engagement, close contact to experience.” The lack of audience feedback diminishes online performance for Performer 8; “adrenalin delivered by audience reaction is what most artists crave”.

Results generally supported Girish and Ching-Fu's (2017, p. 1,551) assertation concerning the centrality of authenticity to music festival audiences. Significantly higher proportions of consultants had considered adopting EST to reduce environmental impacts at music festivals and felt that entirely virtual music festivals offer an authentic experience. That 60% of performers disagreed regarding the authenticity is relevant, as they control rights to their performances and could potentially boycott virtual music festivals.

Maximising remote engagement with on-site music festivals was very problematic for 18% of all respondents. Many respondents felt there was more to music festivals than music, “art, workshops, talks, community, togetherness, party, new friends, food, drinks, grass, air, tents, volunteers, crowds and more” (Performer 11). Consultant 12 worried about losing “all the learning that people do in a wide and new community, solidarity and behaviour change”. However, according to Performer 10; “I think we will get to a stage where we consider it an authentic experience I just don't think we are there yet.”

Qualitative feedback from respondents around the importance of shared common pleasures “workshops, talks, community, togetherness, party, new friends” (Consultant 13) supports Turner's (2012, p. 2) concept of communitas, confirming its importance to a sense of authenticity at music festivals. Experience-related physical co-location was evidently important to a significant number of respondents when considering existential authenticity. Other responses suggest this significant challenge to the perceived authenticity of virtual music festivals may not be insurmountable over time.

Responding to Q7(k) regarding watching a live performance from an on-site music festival remotely using ICT, 20% of organisers, 20% of consultants and 20% of performers agreed or strongly agreed this constitutes a “live” experience. The proportion in each group who were neutral was roughly equal and 50% of organisers, 53% of consultants and 53% of performers disagreed or strongly disagreed. Nonparametric tests supported a null hypothesis that median scores are the same across categories of age (0.202 significance) and gender (0.575 significance). Performer 4 felt that “no amount of technology will ever be able to replicate the atmosphere at a festival”. However, a minority felt engaging remotely with an on-site music festival constituted a “live” experience. This aligns with the work of Tsangaris (2020, p. 200) and Mallinder (2020, p. 55); supporting claims that audiences for music festival audiences are evolving their sense of “liveness” to incorporate technology.

COVID-19

Considering COVID-19 in Q7(j), 85% of organisers, 73% of consultants and 80% of performers agreed or strongly agreed the pandemic has led to a growth in the audience for virtual music festival content that utilises ICT. COVID-19 was significant in driving interest/activity in virtual music festivals for 12% of all respondents; both as an audience member “since COVID-19, I've attended multiple virtual club nights and events” (Consultant 5) and “due to this year's cancellation” (Organiser 11). Interestingly, COVID-19 “is paving the way for more online ICT opportunities for festivals to engage with their audiences remotely” (Organiser 8).

The high proportion of respondents who agreed that COVID-19 has grown the audience for virtual music festival content aligns with suggestions that the pandemic is accelerating provision of virtual content (Gudgin, 2020, p. 3) and increasing audience acceptance of digital formats (Tan, 2020, p. 1). Corresponding growth in artists engagement with, and monetarisation of, ICT enhanced performances could further address existing financial challenges for musicians (Hancock and Tyler, 2021, p. 14) and drive innovation (Liburd and Edwards, 2018, p. 191). Quantitative data from Q7(j) regarding gatekeeper perceptions on COVID-19 derived audience growth was compared to qualitative data from Q9 concerning experiences of working on virtual music festivals to date. Potentially COVID-19 may prompt a “step change” in the programming of digital music festival content for some audiences, which may endure over time.

Performance futures

Opinion at Q10 regarding music festivals of the future designing their audience experience to maximise remote engagement with live, on-site performances was divided.

Amongst all respondents; 18% anticipated some form of hybrid events solution; “interaction and engagement is key” (Consultant 1). “The combination of virtual and physical making the audience feel more engaged and the event more ‘real’” at Boiler Room exemplified some learnings for Performer 9. Music festivals could potentially incorporate self-selected attendee journeys through multiple “spaces”, and the ability to cluster socially; “creating break out rooms for themselves to mirror the ‘chill-out’ experiences people like to have together away from main stages” (Organiser 2). While Organiser 12 anticipated the inclusion of “behind the scenes access and additional VIP experiences”. For Consultant 14 hybrid events enable longer-lasting experiences for festival audiences and “co-creation year-round”. A hybridised approach to future festivals in the medium term seems the most likely outcome at scale for existing music festivals. This supports predictions of a growth in hybrid events (Cal, 2020, p. 3).

VR/AR/MR felt important to future festivals for 12% of respondents. Performer 3 envisaged VR enabling “a member of the audience to transmit their viewing experience” and Consultant 4 proposed “placing” a person in the venue using “Brain Computer Interfaces”. Supporting the need for innovation, Consultant 11 said; “what a tough mission … all I can think that might help is VR.” Gamification was specifically alluded to by 6% of respondents. Consultant 3 envisaged “unique gamification elements that are specific to the festival”. While the future of festivals could become “like a video game, goggles and all” (Performer 12). “The key is to create a totally different experience–not trying to copy the original experience, designing a-new” (Consultant 13). This may suggest a willingness to explore more radical experiences than currently easily available and that some gatekeepers believe audiences at music festivals are open to innovation (Hudson and Hudson, 2013, p. 221). That 14% of respondents did not feel qualified to comment may reflect uncertainty in the sector.

Technical challenges and financial limitations were identified by 10% of respondents, including user capacity (broadband connectivity, home equipment, etc.) requiring a platform that “runs well with poor connections” (Consultant 1). This may drive the inherent celebration of mistakes (Burning Man Project, 2020, p. 2) as digitised formats continue to experiment with what is technically possible. High-quality Internet connections are sometimes problematic on-site at music festival locations; however, roll-out of high-speed Internet in remote areas can provide mitigation. Organiser 18 believes this will empower organisers to create “creative spaces that play into a more broadcast type of environment”.

Film production values demanding multiple camera angles and good sightlines may influence site layout “as part of the key design process” (Organiser 3). Technical challenges and high production values underline both a potential need for government investment in infrastructure such as high-speed broadband and a possible disparity between festivals at different scales' ability to invest in the ESTs. One potential solution would be the enhanced provision of grant funding for this purpose.

Accessibility benefits were envisaged by 12% of respondents including 4% who specifically mentioned affordability. Performer 10 was mindful that for many people with accessibility challenges “this might just be an extension of their current experience”. Respondents addressed the exclusive nature of festivals (Wilks, 2011, p. 7) and identified potential for ESTs to address elements of physical and financial exclusion to increase inclusion at music festivals. For Organiser 16, “accessibility and inclusivity and a woodier audience will all become part of the mix”. Consultant 6 identified positive benefits for attendees “who would not usually afford or enjoy the real “live” festival experience”. Developing the idea of livecasts, Consultant 2 conceptualised “a remote place of gathering’ replicating the ‘sense of community, amenities and vibe of event brand for a reduced price to incentivise participation”.

For Q10, 32% of respondents were coded under adoption, 36% postponement and 18% rejection (Nabih et al., 1997, p. 193). This represents both the highest combined adoption/postponement score and the highest level rejection score. Quantitative data from Q7(k) can be directly compared to qualitative data from Q10, with the divergence of opinion and some rejection of ICT enhanced performances evident in both results.

Conclusion

The literature review evidences an urgent need to upgrade the music festival industry for sustainability. Primary research suggests that industry gatekeepers' opinions on the authenticity of environmentally sound ICT-generated live content will influence its use at music festivals. Statistical analysis of quantitative data indicated that there were no significant variances relating to age or gender against sample responses to sustainability, ICT enhanced performances or authenticity.

Respondents were generally aware and supportive of SDGs although performers were the least well informed, despite collectively possessing the greatest media reach. Artist's power to advocate for change is partially supported by responses from 40% of organisers, 40% of performers and 26% of consultants, agreeing/strongly agreeing that Coldplay's streamed world tour will lead to a growth in virtual music festival content utilising ICT. A discrepancy in agree/strongly agree responses to Q7(g) and to Q7(k) amongst gatekeepers is noted. The potential of artist-led advocacy could be further explored and SDG training provided for artists, their representatives and festival organisers.

Most respondents alluded to music festivals as addressing resource use efficiency by improving physical processes on-site. There was significantly less awareness of the potential of ESTs to retrofit the music festival industry, although some respondents felt this could also improve accessibility, generate new forms of celebration/experiences and stimulate entirely new artforms. Sustainability consultancies could develop training packages in ESTs throughout all industrial processes for the live music sector.

The majority of respondents stated that COVID 19 has led to a growth in the audience for virtual music festival content that utilises ICT, supporting claims of increasing audience acceptance of digital formats (Tan, 2020, p. 1). Increased engagement with digital content is observable from the respondents themselves and is likely to continue. This could partially mitigate existing financial challenges for musicians (Hancock and Tyler, 2021, p. 14). The importance of communitas to the festival experience was noted by respondents and will be important for organisers of music festivals developing ICT-enhanced content.

Some respondents reacted positively to future event formats including enhanced streaming, VR/AR/MR and hybrid events which simultaneously engage remote live audiences with venue-based music festivals. This supports the growth in hybrid events (Cal, 2020, p. 3) and the fluid nature of music festivals (Harsolf, 2020, p. 7) meaning significant format change is possible by adopters (Nabih et al., 1997, p. 193) who may derive commercial advantages. Organisers of on-site music festivals could experiment with hybrid delivery utilising EST to create an authentic offer as a precursor to future developments to integrate digital experiences to music venues (Westermark and Donovan, 2021, p. 7).

Some respondents alluded to technical and financial barriers to developing a live offer that incorporates ESTs. Others identified cost as a barrier to attendance for some audiences. Additional public funding for EST could be provided to upgrade smaller scale music festivals for sustainability. Music festivals could explore lower cost digital offers to increase accessibility to potential audiences who cannot afford admission prices for physical events.

Generally, respondents felt that perceived authenticity remains a barrier to developing digital consumption. This supports the work of Girish and Ching-Fu (2017, p. 1,551) and is important given the power of individual gatekeepers regarding live music performances (Gaupp, 2020, p. 127; Foster et al., 2011, p. 2). These factors may limit the uptake of content-based ESTs, suggesting that significant further developments are required if some sense of parity of experience is desired between virtual and physical experiences. Innovation in this regard will require pro-active engagement from music festivals and artists, alongside other stakeholders. This is contentious with some respondents rejecting engagement with digitised content.

Predominantly positive quantitative responses relating to the live music industry's role in advocating sustainability contrasted with negative responses to virtual festivals. Responses adopting and rejecting environmentally sound ICT for live content were evident in qualitative results, with significant proportions of undecided or uncertain respondents. The prevalence of postponement and rejection responses around authenticity may prevent adoption where gatekeepers curate performances for audiences (Gaupp, 2020, p. 127).

Despite the significant emissions generated by digital media (Julie's Bicycle, 2009, p. 1; ClimateCare, 2021, p. 4), which increased due to COVID-19 (Taylor, 2021, p. 3), it is likely that increasingly efficient ESTs for streaming and other digital formats will emerge over time. Therefore, digital consumption of live performances from music festivals may increasingly represent a lower environmental impact than the physical act of attending a music festival in person. Potentially, a drive to reduce the overall number of attendees at on-site music festivals enabled by monetarising authentic, “live” online attendances, for some audiences and artists, may represent one element of the future of music festivals.

The benefits of deploying EST to sustainability for music festivals and implications of senses of authenticity to virtual content for music festivals are under-researched. Academics could consider the benefits of deploying EST to sustainability for music festivals, implications of authenticity to audience development and motivators for rejecting ICT for live performances among music festival gatekeepers.

List of respondents who waived anonymity

RespondentRoleOrganisationQ10 innovation response code
Consultant 1Sustainability consultantBody and Soul FestivalPostponement
Organiser 1Service providerRunway Images ProductionsNo opinion
Consultant 2Sustainability consultantAsteria Arts and Music FestivalAdoption
Consultant 3Sustainability consultantAccess All AreasAdoption
Consultant 4Sustainability consultantBoom FestivalAdoption
Performer 1Service providerLivewire Youth MusicAdoption
Organiser 2Festival organiserShambala FestivalAdoption
Organiser 3Festival organiserGreenbelt FestivalPostponement
Organiser 4Co-promoterCreative KernowPostponement
Consultant 5Sustainability consultant and PhD studentKendal Mountain FestivalPostponement
Consultant 6Sustainability consultantA Greener FestivalAdoption
Consultant 7Sustainability NPOREVERB.orgAdoption
Consultant 8Sustainability consultantA Greener FestivalRejection
Performer 3ArtistNoneRejection
Organiser 8Operations and production managerCornburyAdoption
Performer 4Tour managerSam FenderAdoption
Performer 5PRWild PromotionsAdoption
Performer 6ArtistJim BobPostponement
Performer 7Artist managerManagementNo opinion
Organiser 9Festival organiserEmagic; Awake FestivalRejection
Consultant 10Sustainability consultantGreen StagesAdoption
Performer 8ArtistAbdoujaparovRejection
Performer 9Record labelFull Time HobbyAdoption
Organiser 11Festival organiserMusik i LejetPostponement
Organiser 12Festival organiserKilimanjaro LiveAdoption
Consultant 11Sustainability assessorA Greener FestivalAdoption
Consultant 12Sustainability consultantTeam LoveRejection
Performer 10Agent, artist, organiserThe Local, Folk IdolPostponement
Organiser 15Ticketing consultantn/aAdoption
Organiser 16Festival organiserKambe Events LtdAdoption
Performer 12ArtistarcadiaRejection
Organiser 18Service providerInsomniacPostponement
Consultant 14Sustainability consultantBristol VolksfestAdoption
Performer 14Booking agentAce AgencyRejection
Organiser 20Festival organiserPaul Gudgin Festival and Event ManagementAdoption

Responses to Likert scale questions

Likert scale questionPlease indicate your level of agreement with the following statementsStrongly agree (%)Agree (%)Neutral (%)Disagree (%)Strongly disagree (%)p-value from Chi-square test (%)
Q7(a)I am aware of the UN Sustainable Development Goals4038121000.001
Q7(b)I support the aims of the UN Sustainable Development Goals503416000.013
Q7(c)The live music industry has an important role to play in raising awareness of sustainable development70282000.001
Q7(d)I am aware of specific environmental impacts of music festivals76202020.001
Q7(e)Physically visiting a specific place is an important element of having an authentic music festival experience50428000.001
Q7(f)I have considered fostering innovation by adopting clean and environmentally sound ICT to reduce environmental impacts at music festivals144432640.001
Q7(g)Coldplay's decision not to tour their new album and stream live content instead of for environmental reasons will lead to a growth in virtual music festival content utilising ICT828362620.001
Q7(h)Last year I engaged with virtual music festival content using ICT10162036180.052
Q7(i)I currently engage with virtual music festival content using ICT12242624140.038
Q7(j)The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a growth in the audience for virtual music festival content that utilises ICT424016200.001
Q7(k)Watching a live performance from a music festival remotely using ICT constitutes a “live” experience4162830220.027
Q7(l)Virtual music festivals offer an authentic festival experience2103628240.001

Open questions (coded)

QuestionAdoptionPostponementRejectionNo opinion
Q8What experience do you have of adopting clean and environmentally sound technologies as part of the delivery of music festivals in a specific physical place?14 (28%)19 (38%)2 (4%)12 (24%)
Q9What experience do you have of working on virtual music festivals?18 (36%)7( 14%)1 (2%)24 (48%)
Q10How might music festivals of the future design their audience experience to maximise the ability for audiences to engage remotely using ICT with a live performance at a festival that takes place in a specific physical place?16 (32%)18 (36%)9 (18%)7 (14%)

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Further reading

Bennet, R.J. (2015), The Digital Evolution of Live Music, Chandos Publishing, Edinburgh.

Meyer (2015), “Liveness: Phelan, Auslander and after”, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, The University of Kansas, Kansas, Vol. 29 No. 2.

Corresponding author

Adrian Bossey can be contacted at: Adrian.Bossey@falmouth.ac.uk

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