Crikey spent last weekend at the Splendour in the Grass festival in the delightful South East Queensland hamlet of Woodford. While headliners Kanye West and Coldplay would have walked away with tidy sums and an adoring crowd ringing in their ears, for the vast majority the equation didn’t seem to stack up.

For the first time in years, Splendour failed to sell its 30,000-odd tickets with locals urged to pay cash at the gate. That might have had something to do with an underwhelming line-up (despite the top heavy presence of the aforementioned mega-acts) or it could have been simply trop cher, as excellent French electro act Yelle, who smashed it in the mix-up tent on Sunday might say.

As blogger Danny Yau helpfully demonstrated a few months’ back, this year’s Splendour was by far the most expensive festival in the world and probably the most dear of all time with a headline ticket price of $523.60, including camping and booking fees (it was $401 plus booking fee sans accommodation).

And that’s before the food, booze and (totally legit) stimulants. Realistically you’re looking at well over $1,000 for three days entertainment. The cost, of course, is born not by most of the 22-year-olds that attend but their parents.

Owing to Queensland licensing regulations that apparently prohibit full-strength booze at festivals only mid-strength beers for $6 and truly dire Smirnoff pre-mix (3.5%) could be acquired, although weirdly, a wristband to the “Gold Bar” or the even more exclusive “Tackle Shack” permitted you to go the whole hog — not only was full strength Pure Blonde on tap for $8, but you could also get a notorious Smirnoff Ice “double black” (6.5%) for $12. And then take them back out into the festival.

You couldn’t camp with alcohol or bring it in the venue proper, even though many campers employed the classic Glastonbury “bottle in each gumboot” tactic and cheerfully quaffed martinis out of plastic cups all weekend in full sight of security.

Despite all this co-promoters Paul Piticco (who did not respond to email queries) and Jess Ducrou wouldn’t have come away anywhere near a loss. A well-informed music industry insider was invited by Crikey this morning to jot down the numbers on the back of an envelope.

Assuming 29,000 payers are stumping up an average $450 each, the duo raked in at least $12 million in gate receipts. And that’s before the alcohol sponsorship orgies, vendor fees, and bar takings are factored in.

But what about costs? According to the insider, Splendour would have cost about $15-16 million — pretty steep when something like Big Day Out costs about $25 million for seven shows. Part of the problem lies at the feet of savvy agents shopping their stars around in an increasingly competitive and saturated domestic festival market.

Kanye would have set back organisers $1.5 million (plus accommodation, flights and incidentals taking it up to about $2 million), Coldplay about $1 million, Jane’s Addiction $700-$800,000 and a mid-tierer like Cloud Control $20-25,000. Even a smaller local act like The Holidays would cost about $10,000. Total takeaway profits from Splendour? Around $4-5 million, according to the source.

There are also some creative synergies. The most glaring are the links to Piticco’s own label, Dew Process, with many of the festival’s local acts drawn from that milieu. Out of the label’s 31 signed artists, 11 played this year. Just two — Freelance Whales and Dropkick Murphys — have never played the festival. Piticco also did extremely well as Powderfinger’s manager in their 30-show “Sunsets” stadium tour last year.

Factor in co-promoter Jess Ducrou’s booking agency Village Sounds, Piticco’s management arm Secret Service and tour promoter Secret Sounds that handles the lucrative side shows and you’ve got a nice little monopoly developing.

Further, a lot of the bands are repeat performers. This informative table from Collapse Board shows just how dependent the festival has become on a small cabal of Australian bands that comprise about half the lineup.

There are also some tie-ups with national youth broadcaster Triple J, who provides marketing cachet via constant spruiking by its presenters on the condition the festival grant it exclusive broadcast rights. It also seems to play most of the acts on high rotation.

But sometimes the festival abacus slides off the rails. Crikey understands that there are some severe stressors around September’s also-not-sold-out Soundwave Revolution festival with two headliners still sought to play after Alice Cooper. Promoter AJ Maddah, who also looks after the Harvest Festival, may also need to replace Van Halen, with that band’s management reportedly teetering.

Still, the future for Splendour appears to be rosy. Next year a permanent super site at North Byron will swing in, depending on NSW government approval and the outcome of a bitter spat with the local council which has moved to limit festivals in the shire to two per year over 6,000 capacity and in excess of two days.

That would let the Blues and Roots Festival and Splendour continue on — but there’s also plans to use the new site at other times of the year, enraging conservative Councillors but letting the gravy train get a little thicker and richer.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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