What's Stopping the Philippines From Having Good Music Festivals?
Countries around the world have been mounting their own music festivals for years. Not that we haven't been in on the fun, but ours have been plagued with the same issues at almost every attempt. Festivals give us the chance to see our favorite artists perform our favorite songs live. We're not just paying to see one act on stage for more or less two hours, we bought tickets to see a handful for half a day. But, are we really getting our money’s worth?
Every year, we look forward to who's headlining local music festivals. We pay for the activities, the music, the overall vibe all day and well into the night. It's a plethora of moods and tastes. After all that adrenaline and while we wallow in our post-festival feelings, it's time to get real. We read the good reviews but who mentions the negative nowadays? As much as we want to think it was perfect, more often than not, it isn't. This is not to throw mud on festival organizers. The intention here is for us to be more organized and mindful of the people we're working with.
Music festivals always aim to be the next unique fan experience. Being the big business that it is, festival organizers have changed the way music is consumed. Majority of the attendees go for the line-up, while a few go just for the aesthetic. It's more of a cultural shift in the global youth culture. The current design is a massive sensory trip. With LED screens everywhere, activity areas, merch and sponsor booths, and artsy spaces that look like they were built to beef up your social media feed.
Aside from these add-ons, our local festivals have evolved from a single stage to having multiple stages in one place. The result: more stages equal tighter sound restrictions. Having multiple acts playing at once isn't all that bad as it provides more choices for the audience. The problems that arise with this format though, are the technical and logistical errors that often result to overlapping sound that divides people's attention.
"Musicians get to collaborate and explore when they prepare for a show. It also allows musicians to represent Filipino music and talent, especially if the festival is known to attract a mixed crowd."
There have been instances in the previous years where the musicians experience technical difficulties during their sets. Band member Conrad Javier cites this as one of the festival's disadvantages. "The sound on stage will always be a struggle because you're dealing with a different sound crew and supplier every time. Unlike in bars where you often play in where its second nature to set your equipment at certain levels to get the best sound. For festivals it, helps a lot if your act has their own road crew and you get to do sound check before the show. But sometimes no crew might be good enough for a really crappy supplier. If you’re lucky, they get to fix the sound by the second or third song. Unfortunately, there have been several stories of bands playing in big festivals where they felt they played bad sets because of crap monitors/mixing."
Band manager and freelance event producer Valine Aquino shares her observation on this matter. "Big bands bring their own sound engineer, sometimes lighting director pa, which small bands don’t have. Kaya walang nag-aayos ng tunog ng small bands, walang nagtitimpla. Unless the music festival hires an overall sound engineer, everyone would sound good. But often, they don’t. So you are left at the mercy of the sound system supplier."
Ebe Dancel's former road manager Caryl Benavides also weighs in on the issue. "Yung ibang tech kasi hindi marunong magpatunog sa open space. Basta may sound na lumalabas, okay na yun. This results to poor sound quality 99% of the time." For Karl Kliatchko who plays for a handful of rock bands, he treats this as a challenge for the performers. "Festival sound systems are usually above average compared to your regular old gigs, but they do take some getting used to. Sometimes what sounds like levels completely out of whack on stage may be perfectly balanced when the sound hits the front of house. Compare to an indoor venue with a smaller stage, where what one hears is close enough to what everyone hears."
When the organizers release the set times, some opt to just go when their favorite band's about to perform, which is bad practice. For the performers, getting invited to play at a festival means exposure.
From the hallways of their high school to SXSW, Flying Ipis considers this invitation a key benefit. "It's fun, it's exposure for the band. It's exposure for Filipino music if the music festival is in a different country," Gaki Azurin (drummer) said. "As a performer, you'd take any platform to perform. As a musician/artist, you'd take any stage to share your music/art. So I'd say this is the key benefit of performing at music festivals since they give performers, musicians, and fellow artists, the opportunity to express to and share their art with a large audience," Deng Garcia (vocalist) added.
For musicians Hans Dimayuga and Mike Ducusin, one of the advantages is being able to perform in guaranteed packed venues where they get exposed to a wider, receptive audience who really come to listen. Marga Joson focused more on artist unity. "Musicians get to collaborate and explore when they prepare for a show. It also allows musicians to represent Filipino music and talent, especially if the festival is known to attract a mixed crowd. A festival is like a gathering for everyone in the scene. Even if they’re not playing, even if they’re from different prods, as long as they are music and art lovers, they’ll go."
Festivals have major brands as partners or sponsors. Tickets range from P3,000 to P15,000 depending on the ticket section and festival package. They invite concessionaires to fill in the venue with various items on sale. According to band managers and the artists themselves, those who play for exposure, especially the upcoming ones, don't get paid enough. Deng and Gaki recognize this disadvantage but they said it would depend on personal expectation. The same goes for Weil Ylagan, unless the artists are okay to play for less/free. Unfortunately, getting performers on the concept of "exposure" don't sit well with some musicians. After all, performing puts food on their tables.
Getting performers on the concept of "exposure" don't sit well with some musicians. After all, performing puts food on their tables.
On a marketing perspective, Valine said, "The huge advantage of playing for music festivals is profiling. Like a resume. You share the stage with known bands. It makes the band seem legitimate with some level of credibility because people would get the impression that, “Hey, they played in this music festival with so and so…,” If you don’t know the band yet, you’d be impressed with that kind of credibility. For music insiders, it gives you network. You meet possible production organizers, labels, management, that may want to pick you up. Possible brand endorsements also."
Artist exposure at music festivals are more along the lines of them being able to expand their network. Performers get to share the backstage with other performers, friendships form, phone numbers are saved. A few days later, they'll call their newly-saved contacts, keeping the industry engines running.
On artist treatment, Deng went on to describe what usually happens backstage. "Disadvantages of performing at music festivals...sometimes you see the bias of the organizers and experience some backstage drama. When they don’t follow schedules and prioritize some artists over another...that totally sucks. Really happens too. It's disheartening. But then, that’s for one to process and deal with on their own."
Marga and Caryl have the same sentiments. "Kapag hindi naayos ng tama yung program, ang dami delays. So, ang haba ng waiting time ng artists. Sayang ang oras. Or mas malala, icu-cut nila ang air time ng artist. Minsan masyadong maraming banda. Nalilimit ng three songs each band. Sobrang bitin nun for the bands and the audience. Kasi may iba maghihintay ng sobrang tagal para makita idol nila. Tapos three songs lang," Caryl said.
The shuffling and reshuffling of the set times also happens in bar gigs. It can be forgivable, but when it's a music festival where some of the audiences are about to hear the artist for the first time, an uninterrupted and uncut set time is important. If they're put in the right time slot and are able to perform effectively, these festivals can make the difference between them just going where they're led and actually thriving. Another inconvenience mentioned by artists is that some festivals don't have decent holding areas and bathrooms. No matter how many sponsors they get, the unease can't be justified. Behind the brands, the success still lies on the planning and coordination.
When you go to supermarkets and convenience stores, you can buy a bottle of water for less than P20.00. At festivals, they cost up to 2x more. And they run out fast. When you're in a crowd, all sweaty and exhausted from all the singing and jumping, what do you usually look for? Water or alcohol? If you answer alcohol, you're in luck. Come night time, sometimes that's all you're forced to have. Festival-goers can forgive the technical glitches. But, no drinks, insanely expensive food, plus the portalets a.k.a. death traps? If we're paying loads of cash, shouldn't we be provided with a more comfortable space?
"The huge advantage of playing for music festivals is profiling. Like a resume. You share the stage with known bands. It makes the band seem legitimate with some level of credibility
Our local festival market is booming. That's for sure. But beyond the memories, as soon as the music stops, what's left behind is garbage. Some event organizers have made conscious efforts in keeping the venue clean, but as concerts attract more people, the concerns around waste management also grow. Do our festivals have initiatives to work on their ecological impact?
There’s one quick fix to this waste disaster. If we want to continue attending these events, let's not turn the event grounds into a landfill. Despite having paid for the event, we share the responsibility with the organizers in making sure we clean up right after. With the attendees practicing proper trash disposal, the fans can change what is already considered as normal festival attitude.
Again, this isn't intended to offend event organizers. This serves as a mini-checklist of what they should keep in mind so artists and fans can thrive in a world where a direct, social experience with music is invaluable. So, how can we be 100% ready to do music festivals?