Business Interviews Live Business

Q&A: James Drury, Festival Awards

By | Published on Wednesday 9 November 2011

James Drury

Originally launched as a poll of readers of the Virtual Festivals website in 2004, the first proper UK Festival Awards ceremony took place two years later. Since then the event has grown each year, splitting off from Virtual Festivals to become an entity in its own right in 2009.

Now the Festival Awards company operates two annual ceremonies, the UK awards, which this year take place at London’s Roundhouse, and the newer European Festival Awards, which is held during the Eurosonic Noorderslag festival in the Netherlands.

The UK event is now also accompanied by a conference of its own, bringing together the British festival promoter community to discuss issues affecting their industry. Taking place on the day of the awards ceremony, that will this year be held at The Forum in London with a keynote speech from industry veteran Melvin Benn.

Ahead of this year’s UK Festival Awards and Conference on 15 Nov, CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke caught up with Festival Awards Ltd Managing Director James Drury to find out more.

CC: How did the Festival Awards come about?
JD: The awards were launched by Virtual Festivals in 2004 as an online poll of its readers. For the first two years there wasn’t a ceremony and the trophies were driven to promoters’ offices across the country! Then, following demand from the industry, an actual awards ceremony was launched in 2006.

CC: At what point did the event become its own entity, rather than something run by Virtual Festivals?
JD: Festival Awards Ltd became an independent company in its own right two years ago.

CC: When did you join the Festival Awards?
JD: I joined eighteen months ago, from Live UK and Audience magazines where I had been News Editor.

CC: What is your role, and has it changed since you joined?
JD: I take care of the day-to-day running of the company and its direction and I seek opportunities to expand and improve the business, often working in close relationship with the industry. Since I started, we’ve grown the awards to be at The Roundhouse, launched a series of regional seminars, added an industry website, and the European Awards have really taken off – it means my daily role is incredibly varied, which is very exciting.

CC: How has the UK Festival Awards grown since it launched?
JD: Since first starting as an online poll it has grown into an awards ceremony in its own right – the first one was at the O2 Academy Islington – and from there it expanded to Indigo2 at The O2 and, this year, at The Roundhouse. We’ve also added the UK Festival Conference, European Festival Awards, a festival industry website called Festival Insights, and a regional seminar programme called The City Sessions.

CC: You’ve introduced more ‘expert judged’ categories this year, why was that?
JD: The Festival Awards celebrates the hard work of everyone in the festival industry and my aim is for it to be as inclusive as possible, so all festivals can benefit. In the past, most awards were decided by public vote, but I recognised that for some festivals, their fans might not be of the demographic to go online and vote. By introducing more judged categories, it means that all festivals can take part – and it’s really produced results: last year we had about 170 festivals taking part, this year it’s just over 200.

CC: Why did you launch the Festival Conference?
JD: Our awards event is probably the only time you’ll get so many people from the festival industry in one place at the same time, so there was an opportunity to enable everyone to get together on the day of the ceremony, with the aim of enabling the festival industry to become stronger through better networking and intelligent knowledge-sharing. Many festivals are run by very small teams and there are few opportunities to meet other people in the industry and discuss common challenges, so the UK Festival Conference aims to provide a platform for that to happen.

CC: How do you see your conference fitting in with the other live sector and general music business conventions?
JD: While many music industry conferences will feature a session on festivals, the UK Festival Conference is dedicated to this sector, meaning if you work in the industry you can have a full day of focus on topics which are of relevance to you.

CC: What do you think will be the highlights of this year’s conference?
JD: The tragic deaths at festivals this summer have really brought bad weather protocols into sharp focus and I think that session will see a lot of interest, as will our Q&A with Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn – he’s at the top of his game not just in the UK but globally, so his insight will be fascinating. We’re also going to be giving festivals advice on what can be achieved with social media, as well as how – in such a competitive landscape – festivals can maintain loyalty and interest. What’s particularly exciting me, though, is our discussion of RFID technology, which I feel is about to take off in the UK following its successes in the US at festivals such as Bonnaroo and Coachella.

CC: How did the European awards come about?
JD: Many European festivals used to come to the UK Festival Awards. Following a meeting with Christof Huber from European festivals association Yourope, he offered to help us grow into Europe. Eurosonic Noorderslag threw its support behind the event (the European Awards is the opening event of the annual conference and showcase festival in the Netherlands) and we were up and running!

CC: How do the European awards differ from the UK awards, in terms of categories and voting process?
JD: There are thirteen categories in the European Festival Awards, while the UK has 23 awards, otherwise they’re very similar in format. We have over 200 European festivals taking part, from around 32 countries, which is an incredible number of events considering this will be only its third year. We are very fortunate to have the support of so many promoters from across the continent.

CC: As someone with an overview of the industry, do you think the UK festivals market is in good health at the moment?
JD: There have been many media reports of the decline of the festival industry this year, but although it’s been challenging, the market remains healthy and people are still very keen to attend festivals – even making sacrifices in other expenditure in order to get tickets. The fact that so many festivals, such as T In The Park, V Festival, Green Man, Kendal Calling, Bestival and so on, sold out this year is proof of just how popular festivals still are.

CC: What are the big issues affecting festival promoters?
JD: With the economy hitting consumer confidence – and therefore making them cautious with expenditure – it’s more important than ever to keep a tight control on budgets so ticket prices don’t increase dramatically, no mean feat with many costs going up. The UK festival market is one of the most competitive in the world and promoters have to exercise great skill to stay on top.

CC: How many festivals did you go to this year and what were your personal highlights?
JD: I was at twelve festivals this year – including one in China, which was an incredible experience. It was fascinating to see how this nascent industry is mushrooming, and how enthusiastic the public are about festivals there.

Musically, Pulp’s set at the Isle of Wight Festival was a real treat, as was seeing Odd Future at Gaymers Camden Crawl and Reading Festival, and Metallica at Sonisphere. But I think for me, the best thing about this summer has been the little snippets of conversation you overhear from people at festivals – from absolutely hilarious nonsense to the genuine excitement from people who’ve never been to a festival before.