The longest list of music festivals ever assembled in Australia appeared in Music Forum in April 2012. It was compiled by Carolina Triana, and provides a truly national perspective. The same issue of Music Forum also contained invited stories of individual music festivals, some of which are being reproduced with permission on the Knowledge Base.
Carolina Triana was asked to check each music festival on the list, but not to do statistical analysis. This article uses her list to remedy this.
The list consists of 346 music festivals, ranging widely in size and across genres. It was originally a single long alphabetical list “from Adelaide to Yackandandah”, but in the Knowledge Base it has been split into eight genre groups and a group of festivals with unidentified genres, sorted by state. The information collected was the name, location and state, time of year, principal genre, and URL of each festival. There was also a column for notes that the responding managers might wish to add. All the information in the original list has been retained.
The reconstructed lists of genre groups are shown, split into genre groups, in Australian Music Festivals: Lists. Although this is the most extensive list built to include all festivals where music is a major element, it may not be complete. We will keep an eye out for new and previously excluded music festivals, and update the information in due course. But the list is so extensive already that this part of the music sector can now be said to be very well defined, as far as numbers, locations and genres are concerned. The information relates to late 2011/early 2012.
The classification into genre groups which was carried out for this analysis is based on the “principal genre” definition offered by each responding festival management. Table 1 shows the basic statistics.
The statistical analysis in this article is presented in terms of states and territories, share of capital cities and examination of general location patterns within each state, and the extent to which festivals play multiple genres, or perform only within one genre group. There is also a section on the seasonal pattern of festivals over the year.
The largest "genre group" of multi-arts/multi-genres covers festivals for which no genre was in fact identified (90 festivals). That group are followed in close order by rock/popular music (54) and country music (53), and further down the list by folk and jazz music (43 and 42 festivals, respectively). There are fewer festivals of classical music (21), blues (17), and world music (14). The smallest category (12) lists festivals based mainly on vocal performance (opera, cabaret, musical theatre and singing).
The classification is made slightly more complex because some festivals play other genres in addition to the one they mention first. This means that the description of most genre groups is followed by a plus sign. The existence of many music festivals playing multiple genres is discussed in the section on single versus multiple genres, below.
Some other decisions affecting the classification had to be made:
As a result of incorporating a few small groups into larger ones, the number of genre groups was reduced to eight, all sufficiently large to make statistical sense, plus "multi-arts/multi-genres". Full detail, of course, is available in the detailed tables published in Australian Music Festivals: Lists.
The largest number of festivals on the list are located in New South Wales (116), followed by Victoria (77), Queensland (53), Western Australia (33) and South Australia (26), with smaller numbers in Tasmania, Northern Territory, and Canberra (ACT).
The total population in Australia at the time of the survey was 22.5 million, shown in the left-hand box.The population in New South Wales stood at 7.2m, in Victoria at 5.6m, Queensland 4.5m, WA 2.4m, and SA 1.6m as shown in the box.
Viewed superficially, the total number of festivals in each state and territory follow population patterns reasonably closely, as shown by Chart 3. There are real differences, however, even in the distributions of total numbers of festivals, and more so in particular genre groups.
Looking at total numbers, there are relatively many festivals in New South Wales and South Australia where the percentage of festivals exceeds the population ratio, and the relative difference is even more striking in Tasmania and the two territories. The ratio between festival and population percentages varied from 1.08 in NSW and 1.07 in South Australia, to 0.94 in Victoria and Western Australia and only 0.80 in Queensland. Part of these differences may be due to the festival numbers lagging behind the population attracted by economic growth, notably in Queensland and more recently and even more dramatically in Western Australia. On the other hand, NSW and SA have long been “festival states”, so they may have more events than expected from their population share. The main surprise among the mainland states is Victoria, which we expected to host more music festivals.
It is the smaller areas, however, that really punch above their weight with Tasmania’s share of festivals showing a ratio of 1.46 to its population share — in other words, that it has 1.46 times more festivals than expected on a population basis. The Northern Territory ratio is an even higher 2.04 with 2.1% of festivals and only 1% of the Australian population. It may be more according to expectations that the ratio for the ACT was 1.64, as the national capital territory.
One possible explanation for the number of music festivals in Tasmania and the territories might be a desire to have a variety of different genres, but this is not borne out by the statistics: country, classical and world music are unrepresented in Tasmania, and only four of the nine genre groups occurred in the Northern Territory, and five in Canberra (see the appendix table). One of the genre groups, however, was multi-arts/multi-genres, represented by three festivals in each of these smaller areas. These genres are not specified in the survey though they could presumably be identified through local knowledge.
The data in Table 1 can be readily converted to show differences in shares of particular genre groups. The main features of this analysis are listed here, with some comments in italics:
Summarising the mainland states where numbers range from 26 in SA to 116 in NSW (Table 1):
People who know these scenes are invited to comment. We are confident that the effort to produce such a comprehensive list has been valuable. Nevertheless: Should the listing process be further strengthened (and then how), or does the current list present a true picture in all local settings?
The distribution between metro and non-metro varies quite widely. Overall, Chart 4 shows that only 33% of music festivals are in metropolitan areas, compared with 67% in non-metropolitan areas. Of the genre groups, only “multi-arts/multi-genres” have more festivals in the capital cities (57%). Above-average minorities of rock, world and classical music festivals are located in metropolitan areas and roughly one-quarter of jazz and blues, but only 9% of folk and a mere 5% of country music festivals.
Queensland, not unexpectedly, shows the highest proportion of festivals outside the capital city (85%), followed by Victoria with a surprisingly high 78% non-metro count. Among the states, only South Australia had less than half of its music festivals in locations other than the capital city (46%). The ACT, of course, is almost entirely populated by Canberra, but even it shows one non-metropolitan location (the Corinbank Festival in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve west of Canberra).
A correlation might be expected between the ratio of non-metropolitan to total music festivals and the percentage of the population living in country areas — bearing in mind that 67% of festivals in Australia occur in areas occupied by only 34% of the population, as illustrated by the central pair of bars in Chart 5. In other words, the expected percentage of non-metro festivals will always exceed the percentage of the population living in non-metropolitan areas.
Such a correlation seems to exist, but there are major deviations in Victoria and Tasmania, and to some extent South Australia. Victoria has a far higher share of non-metropolitan festivals (78%) than would be expected, since only 25% of its population lives outside the metropolitan area of Melbourne (which with a population of 4.2m dwarfs Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, the largest rural cities in Victoria with 177,000, 97,100 and 87,200 inhabitants, respectively). Conversely, 58% of Tasmania's population don't live in Hobart but "only" 64% of festivals take place outside that city, which is a much smaller difference than for the mainland states and the Northern Territory.
Clearly, there are other factors. We thought that Hobart is a small capital city with a population of 216,000 which is rivalled to some extent by Launceston in the north, with 83,000 inhabitants. But only one music festival is on the list for Launceston, compared with four in Hobart and six in smaller Tasmanian locations.
In South Australia, Adelaide's reputation as a cultural centre may be part of the reason why relatively few music festivals are conducted elsewhere in that state. The initial hypothesis was that SA has a dearth of major provincial towns (Mt Gambier is the largest with 28,400 inhabitants in 2011, followed by Whyalla with 22,600 and Murray Bridge with 20,800). However, the evidence from other states suggests that major provincial cities are not popular locations for music festivals. Possibly the geography of the state may be a factor discouraging country-based festivals, but even the numerous wine districts attract only three: a rock and a Folk/Celtic festival in the Barossa, and a classical music festival at a vineyard in McLaren Vale.
In Victoria, the list shows a plethora of small country towns hosting music festivals. Some, but not many, are in the vicinity of Melbourne. None of the three major rural cities figures in the Victorian list, though Ballarat and Bendigo would be on an updated list.
The largest provincial population centres in New South Wales are Newcastle/Lake Macquarie (population about 356,000) and Wollongong (126,000), followed by Wagga Wagga (68,600), Maitland (68,500), Albury (59,600), Tamworth (58,700) and Port Macquarie (49,000). The list includes three music festivals in Wollongong, two in Tamworth, and one each in Albury, Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Wagga (total 9). With Sydney hosting 36 music festivals and non-metropolitan locations 80, this means that 71 festivals were in smaller country locations — 61% of total music festivals in NSW.
The situation is somewhat different in Queensland for two reasons. First, we have an almost continuous urban area with close to three million inhabitants between the NSW border and Noosa: the Gold Coast with a population of 527,000 in 2011, Greater Brisbane with 2,147,000, and the Sunshine Coast with 317,000.
Secondly, there are five population centres in excess of 100,000 inhabitants in the rest of Queensland: Townsville with 180,000, Cairns with 148,000, Toowoomba with 144,000, Mackay with 116,000, and Rockhampton with 112,000 people.
The population distribution is compared in the left-hand box with the number of festivals in Queensland. The general preference pattern is similar to other states: Brisbane with 48% of the population accounts for only 12 of the 53 music festivals (22.6%), and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts with almost 19% of the population was home to only five festivals (9.4%), and three of these were not coastal but close to the inland border of the Sunshine Coast.
The five major urban centres, with 15.7% of Queensland’s population, hosted 10 music festivals (19%). These were concentrated on the Far North with five in Cairns and three in Townsville. Rockhampton and Toowoomba played host to one each, Mackay to none. Extraordinary then, we find that the smaller centres and rural areas in Queensland, with 17.5% of the state population, attracted almost half of all music festivals in Queensland (49%).
The last state to be reviewed is Western Australia. The population pattern there is very different from Queensland. Greater Perth, with 1.83 million people, accounts for 78% of the WA population. The largest urban area outside Greater Perth is Bunbury on the coast 175 km south of Perth, with 96,700 inhabitants (only 4% of the state population). 225,000 people live in the Outback region from Esperance in the south and Kimberley and Pilbara in the north (43% of total non-metropolitan WA). The Bunbury region (including the areas around the city) is home for 162,000 (31%), and the Wheat Belt for 133,000 (26%). In total, a small and scattered population over a vast area, with the main concentration apart from Perth in coastal areas to the southwest and south.
Greater Perth, with 78% of the population, was host to 45% of the listed music festivals, the rest of WA, with 22% of the population, to 55% of festivals. Only one of the 18 non-metropolitan festivals was in the largest provincial city, Bunbury, which has 4% of the state population. So once again small population centres account for a disproportionate proportion of music festival locations — 17 of 32 festivals, or 53% of the state total, being hosted in areas containing only 18% of the state population.
The general conclusion from the existing lists is that there is a pronounced tendency not just to conduct festivals in non-metropolitan areas but in small towns rather than major provincial cities.
Chart 5 sums up the above discussion, showing the differences in metropolitan share in total music festivals and population. The visual impression could be further dramatized by showing the share if small country locations are separated from the largest provincial urban centres (or by drawing maps for each state showing individual locations). We expect music festival specialists to be well aware of the pattern, but we doubt that is has been specifically demonstrated to a wider audience until now given that it needed a comprehensive listing of music festivals for the statistical analysis.
When genres were specified at all, as 74% of the respondents did, they revealed that most festivals perform only one genre, but some nominated a number of genres or simply indicated that they played other genres without nominating these.
As far as nominated multiple genres are concerned, it is reasonable to assume that the first one mentioned is the principal one. Specified genres not heading the list are deemed to be important but second-order. We can therefore build up a list of all genres played as long as they are specified and not just represented by a plus sign. It is also a reasonable assumption that unspecified genres are of least significance or may fall into an already defined genre group like rock/popular music.
Using the examples in the right-hand box:
The distribution of second-order genres gives some indication of the diversity of music festival repertoires (right-hand box). The relevant measure is the number of music festivals with more than one specified genre (not just a plus sign), compared with the total number of festivals in a genre group. This ratio is highest for folk music and blues festivals, with folk festivals specifying blues, country, rock, world music, and Celtic, Irish and Scottish music. Blues festivals also played folk, rock, roots and world music.
World music festivals also played folk music, and Latin and West African music was specifically mentioned in two cases, though they would be part of the broad world music "genre". Indigenous music was included in the group — it was the principal genre in two festivals, while a third festival mention botyed world and Indigenous music.
Jazz was the supplementary genre in six classical music festivals, world music in one.
Only 13% of country music festivals played specific supplementary genres, the largest group being bluegrass indicating a focus on this subgenre of country music. There was one observation each of blues, jazz and rock as supplementary genres, all three followed by a plus sign to indicate other unspecified genres.
Rock festivals stuck very much to rock and related genres within what this analysis combines as popular music. Only 9% played supplementary genres outside that group. There were two observations each of country music and jazz, and one combined indie rock and “multi”, which may mean several unspecified genres, or even related popular music that is covered by the definition of the genre group.
Finally, all opera, musical theatre, cabaret and vocal music festivals played that particular genre or artform only (so did the Cairns Ukulele Festival which was included in this last group).
Summing up, second-order genres were mentioned by 23% of the 256 “non-multi” festivals that specified supplementary genres rather than just writing “+”.
It is interesting to explore these combinations of genres further. Table 3 summarises what other genre groups were played in addition to the main genre. We can build up a picture of how “pure” or “unmixed” festival repertoires are.
In this case we have reversed the principle of combining the individual genres within the “world/Indigenous”, "country music" and “rock/popular music” genre groups, in an effort to shed further light on the diversity. “Indigenous” therefore appears as another genre played in the world/Indigenous genre group. Similarly, Table 3 shows that dance, electronic, funk, hip-hop, pop and rockabilly (subgroups of the broad genre group) were specifically mentioned as “other genres played”. Similarly, bluegrass is made distinct from (mainstream) country music, and Indigenous, Latin and West African music from world music.
Viewed this way, world/Indigenous has the lowest “unmixed” ratio among the major genre groups (36% unmixed, 64% mixed). Rock/popular music has the second-lowest ratio, but we know from the previous analysis that the vast majority of this is due to other varieties of popular music. When these groups are combined, only a few cases of other genres remain.
At the other extreme, the least mixed genre groups were jazz, country music, and the mainly vocal group (which was made up entirely of unmixed festivals).
We can take this further, at least in a qualitative way, by picking some of the main genre groups and watch the extent to which they appear in the repertoires of other genre groups. Table 3 marks the world music group red, rock black, folk brown, blues blue, jazz purple, and country music green. The same colour scheme is used to indicate other genres played.
Chart 6 shows the interactions between six of the genre groups identified in Table 3. Arrows indicate if a given genre group is represented in festivals in another genre group, though the frequency of such connections are not established (it is relatively rare for country music festivals to feature other genres). For example, rock/popular music is also played at country music and jazz festivals (black arrows), and country and folk music and blues are played at one or more rock festivals (coloured arrows leading to the black rock box.
Some double arrows on Chart 6 may indicate relatively strong affinities between pairs of genre groups: folk and world music, folk music and blues, and rock and country music.
Classical music was added to Chart 6 to show that jazz and world music were supplementary genres at classical music festivals, but no music festival plays classical music as a supplementary genre.
Each festival indicates which month it performs, which makes it possible to estimate the seasonal pattern for all festivals, including establishing the differences between the five mainland states (Chart 7 and Table 4).
March is the favourite music festival month in Australia, with 14% of the total number. September, November and January are all preferred by 10% or more of total festivals. The least favoured months nationally were December (3.6%), July (4.2%) and August (6%).
The seasonal pattern differs across states, with Queensland the extreme case (Table 4). This can be readily demonstrated by comparing the pattern in each mainland state in the March and September Quarters (which nationally amounted to 31.5% and 20.6%, respectively, according to Chart 7).
State by state:
The listing of Australian music festivals represents a major step towards further knowledge of this market. It has enabled some statistical research to be presented for the first time. It would be useful (if practical) to add the year a festival was first conducted, to test a hypothesis that there may be a fair amount of turnover with many coming and going. It would also be an improvement to prompt festivals to specify genres, to reduce the incidence of unspecified "multi-arts/multi-genres". These improvements may not be possible within the available resources, given that the information is not available from the basic list that was collected.
A repeat survey would provide a basis for judging the turnover of festivals, and whether the rate of change differs between genre groups.
The full story of festivals would require further research, notably into audience numbers and financial outcomes of various types of music festivals, and their community role. This is a more ambitious project which should be conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics or another large organisation. Meanwhile, the initiative to build the initial list has been valuable, and future updates should be scheduled.
Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Entered on Knowledge Base 25 February 2014 (follow-up recommendations amended 9 March 2014). The original list of music festivals was compiled by Carolina Triana and published in Music Forum, April 2012, pp 40-44. That issue of Music Forum included several invited contributions from festival directors and others (pp 17-39).
A previous article on the list of music festivals, by the same author, was placed on the Knowledge Base on 11 May 2013. Some of its findings were incorporated into the updated research which was built on improved analysis incorporating the new classification into genre groups.