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Splendour in the Grass crowd
Photograph: Bianca Holderness

The music festival scene in NSW and Australia is tanking – here's what's going on

Here's what the Australian government's study of the music festival industry found

Winnie Stubbs
Written by
Winnie Stubbs

In case you missed it, NSW's (actually, Australia's) festival scene is tanking. Last month, NSW's Splendour in the Grass (AKA the biggest music festival in the country) was canned. Back in February, the touring festival Groovin the Moo was canned due to insufficient ticket sales. Last year's Falls Festival took a break. And another one bit the dust when Tassie's Mona Foma called it quits. And while we like the idea of focusing on the positives – NSW has welcomed a slew of new live music venues over the past 12 months openings – it's pretty clear Australia’s music festivals are facing something of a crisis.

Creative Australia (the Federal Government’s peak arts body) commissioned a large-scale survey into the music festival industry in response to the changing landscape, and has reported an “alarming” drop in attendance by young people. This fall in interest from young people has been cited as one of the main challenges the industry is facing – along with unpredictable weather events (leading to higher insurance premiums), currency fluctuations and rising costs across the board. The report, titled 'Soundcheck', highlights the obstacles the industry is facing, and the benefits that music festivals can bring to our economies and communities. The main takeaways? The impacts of climate change and the cost of living crisis are weighing heavily, and as running costs rise, more festivals are pulling the plug.

Crowd at Groovin the Moo
Photograph: Groovin the Moo/Joseph Mayers

'Soundcheck' reported that in the 2022-23 financial year, a total of 535 music festivals were held across Australia. Of all these, more than one in three (35 per cent) of music festivals reported a deficit – with a median deficit of $470,000. This deficit comes as a result of many factors – with unpredictable weather conditions (including that Splendour in the Mud washout) contributing to rising running costs.

The report also found that 18- to 24-year-olds are purchasing tickets at lower rates than before the Covid pandemic, with this age group now making up only 27 per cent of attendees.

Forty-seven per cent of festival organisers say rising operational costs have a severe or major impact on their festival, and 39 per cent say the lack of funding and grants available has a big impact. Similarly, the cost of tickets remains “the most common barrier to attendance”, with 'Soundcheck' finding the cost of festival tickets impacts 55 per cent of Australians.

'Soundcheck' highlighted the benefits that Australian music festivals bring to society, which range from promoting and supporting the Australian music industry to supporting local tourism to fostering communities. If you’ve ever bumped into a festival-friend on the on the streets of Sydney, you’ll know what they mean.

It's all quite depressing, so what can we do?

Well, let's all show our support for live music in our local areas – New South Welshmen are lucky that the number of venues hosting live music has skyrocketed in the last year, and there are also these trusty bars and pubs that have been supporting musos for yonks. Turn up to show them you care, and so that the venues can keep putting hosting live music. And when festivals do open up ticket sales, get around them.  

P.S. If you like festivals, there's one little piece of good news in the mix: Triple J has announced that their One Night Stand will return to make a regional town a live music capital for what they say will be "one unforgettable night".

P.P.S. You can read the full report over here.

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