AFO Conference 2012 The Report
AFO Conference 16 to 18 November 2012, Eastwood Hall Conference Centre, Nottingham
THE RAIN, THE POUND AND THE CROWDED DIARY
If there was ever a year when the economics of festivals became the biggest talking point, 2012 was it. As over 280 delegates gathered at Eastwood Hall for the annual Conference of the Association of Festival Organisers the discussion on many lips was about appalling summer weather, cancellations, and postponements but mixed in amongst that were several that suggest the festival scene is alive and reasonable well in the current climate. Quite a few festivals claiming sell outs, others on break even, a few fell by the wayside sadly, but were replaced instantly by many more. One survey claimed that 5 years ago 6.5% of the festivals that they had on their list were cancelled due to bad weather or economics. In 2012 the percentage was about the same, which suggests, as was pointed out in the opening speech of the General Secretary, Steve Heap, there are plenty of festivals and plenty of people wanting to go to them. It’s all about economics.
AFO was delighted to welcome a partnership with the Atlantic Canadian Music Industry Associations over from Canada with 8 Showcase artists and an ambition to bring some great Canadian music to the English Festival scene. It was a pleasure to work with our Canadian friends and hear more about how festivals, booking tours and artists in both directions can work. An association that we hope will be repeated in future years.
Conference opened with Dan Raffety from Shambala Festival talking about what appeared to be Shambala, the big secret. This is the festival that over its first few years built its reputation on not even announcing where it was taking place. It now has a fairly permanent venue and does announce some of its artists in advance. But with a massive loyal following it is a great success story and perhaps no longer a mystery. Dan very kindly unloaded a good number of the Shambala secrets onto an attentive audience.
Delegates were hustling and bustling around the Conference Centre doing what they do best, networking, meeting and greeting and enjoying the Friday Showcase, three English acts and two of our Canadian visitors. These were Tim Edey, Tyde, Nicky Swann, Jessica Rhaye and Terry Penney.
A late night music session for some led to a few late arrivals for breakfast but the Conference got underway with an introduction to the Economics of Festivals linked to how business copes in such an economic climate lead by businessman Richard Carver. One2Ones with Rick Bond on Constitutions and Government, Beth Noble with Funding Opportunities from Arts Council England, John Payne, Horsey, Lightly Fynn on Legals and Licensing and Paula Hawthorne from La Playa Insurance Services the AFO Partner. These were in place for the day and had many visits from delegates. Digital Promotion and the Big Debate on Festival Hospitality got the sessions off to a good start. Festival Hospitality was overtaken more by technical riders and perhaps will be revisited in future Conferences. After tea and coffee, Kevin Brennan, MP and musician gave us a Keynote speech reminding us that festivals are part of the British tourist economy and play a very large part. In fact if there was an upturn in the economy in the summer of 2012 it could fairly well be laid at the door of the events industry through such things as the Jubilee, the Olympics and several other successful festival events. The proof of the pudding will come in the following quarters.
After a buffet lunch delegates were given options on Media Buying – ‘are adverts in magazines worth their salt?,’ Cancellation Insurance, ‘is this something we should all be considering?’ and Managing and Budgeting for traders and caterers. These sessions were getting down to the nitty gritty of festival and event management as were the following sessions on Wet Weather Planning and the A-Z of Festival Management, a very quick, rough guide for first timers and students.
Conference was delighted to be able to give the floor to colleagues from Womex who will be hosting this amazing event in Cardiff in October 2013. Keep an eye on the Womex website for details. The Big Debate No2 brought us back to our main heading i.e. ‘Are there Really Too Many Festivals?’ and the general conclusion of the panel was that, no there are not too many, just not enough people going to them. And the discussion headed more in the direction of how we might approach and attract a new audience, in the confidence that we know once we get them to our events they will have good value for money and a thoroughly good time.
LATER - SAME DAY
On Saturday afternoon the ugly side of ticket selling arrived on our Agenda in the form of Ticket Fraud. Something that has been with the Rock and Pop Industry for some time and has more recently started appearing on the acoustic and community festival scene. Several good points from ticket agencies and festival organisers that can help us all guard against fraudulent use of credit cards. Rick Bond, long-time friend of AFO, very kindly gave us his best knowledge in a session called ‘Fund Raising for Beginners’ which was swiftly followed by Jon Payne giving the whole Conference an update on The Licensing Act with changes to the 2003 Act that came about in 2012. Graham Smout of GPS Agency led the Agents Breakout which attracted approximately 25 agents and representatives of artists with a hot debate especially on Foreign Entertainer’s Tax a subject that will be followed up by AFO as soon as possible.
The busy day was lightened by 5 acoustic showcases featuring Bella Gaffney, Debs Newbold & Laurel Swift, The Willows and Maniere des Bohemiens, plus one unique walkabout and street show featuring a post office van by Kilter Theatre.
THE AFO INTERVIEW
To round off the day Colin Irwin joined us at Conference for the AFO Interview which should have been with Eliza Carthy but sadly Eliza was not well and her place was taken by Jim Moray and Alistair Anderson. Colin very swiftly switched the questions and an entertaining end of the day chat ensued. That should read End of the Conference Day for it was about now that our friends from Canada took over by offering food, beer and wine and 6 more of their excellent musicians, singer-songwriters and bands in the Canadian Music Industry Associations Showcase. These were Dennis Ellsworth, BackYard Devils, Paper Beat Scissors, Andrew James O’Brien, Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac and finally, Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys. Whilst at the same time on another stage the UK Showcase featured Spiro, The Young ‘Uns, Jess Morgan, The Joseph Topping Band and Merry Hell. All of whom left the venue with gigs under their belt!
AND SO TO SUNDAY
Another music session in the bar led to late nights for some and although a little thinly attended at first, Sunday was indeed a busy day. Our Round Table Drop Ins featured Agents and Managers and how to approach them, Finance and Budgeting from Robin Simpson of the Voluntary Arts Network, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers from Sue Torres and Jo Tuffs and Booking Canadian Artists. Big Debate No3 was chaired by Ian Anderson, fRoots and talked about artists fees. A hot debate ensued, professionally handled and politely conducted; there will no doubt be more. Living alongside that was more on the Publicity and Marketing front with Social Media in Depth and after the coffee break, Making Websites Work for You was led by a panel of experts coming up with lots of new ideas for us to absorb. James Findlay performed for delegates in the last acoustic break of the Conference. As we approach the end of the day Free Access Festivals was expected to be attended by those involved, but in fact turned out to be a very busy session discussing just how they work, perhaps there are more free access festivals on the horizon.
A successful Conference was rounded up around 1 o’clock with sincere thanks to everyone who helped make it such a great event including the Conference Centre management and staff and a whole raft of sponsors who see the AFO as an important partner. These include EFDSS, La Playa, Proper Music Distribution, AVLS, OneBigStar, My Favourite Holiday Cottage, Maverick, Horsey Lightly Fynn, fRoots, Tickets South and of course our partners from across the water; The Atlantic Canadian Music Industry Associations.
The AFO Conference has become a must visit date in festival organisers diaries and as the delegate list expands both in numbers and in genres and styles the Conference confidently announced dates for 2013 as 15, 16 and 17 November using the same venue at Eastwood Hall, Nottingham.
30 November 2012