Festival Headliners Are Getting Older, New Study Says

What do this year’s major international music festivals and the 2015 blockbuster Jurassic World have in common? They’re both major events, populated mostly by ageing headline acts, many of which young people just don’t seem to care all that much about anymore. At least, that’s according to a new study from the folks at Spotify.

As reported by The Economist, new data shows that the average age of headliners at nine British festivals has risen from about 31 in 1996, to 43 in 2015.

Spotify’s director of economics, Will Page, has pointed out that, in the 1990s, bands in their mid-twenties, like Radiohead, headlined at Glastonbury. And although some exceptions still exist — like 28-year-old Florence Welch getting drafted in at the last minute to replace Foo Fighters as one of this year’s Glasto headliners — it seems to be a rarer and rarer occurrence.

The problem, as Page has noted, is that the demand for music festivals has increased, while the pool of artists able to appeal to the crowds of 80,000 plus people that such festivals attract, has shrunk.

And those artists who are able to excite – in some cases – hundreds of thousands of punters enough to persuade them to fork out eye-watering prices for a festival ticket are pretty much all, not to put too fine a point on it, old farts. See this graph, via The Economist:

economist graph

“Part of the reason for this may be that punters themselves are ageing,” The Economist reports. The average age of a festival-goer in 2014 was 33, and the industry rag believes promoters may be reacting to this by putting on older acts.

But music consultant Chris Carey reckons it also reflects a “supply-side constraint in the market”. “Fewer small clubs and pubs exist for new young bands to start out, and older bands are still keen to perform live in order to boost their coffers,” he says. “This means that fledgling artists find it both harder to start a career and to muscle in to a headline slot once they have gained momentum.”

This is something we’ve definitely seen here in Australia, with just a handful of Aussie acts making the cut to play even some of the smaller stages at Soundwave, while the average age of the event’s international headliners over the past five years has been 46.

In comparison, using the same method as Spotify (averaging out the ages of the headlining act’s front-person), the average age of Splendour In The Grass headliners over the past five years has been lower, at 34, with the addition of a teenage Lorde in 2013 helping to bring the number down substantially.

As Billboard points out, different genres of music may also play into the ageing of festival headliners, and the punters who pay to see them. While it seems like fewer and fewer young rock and heavy metal acts are cutting through the white noise, young and successful EDM producers are multiplying like viagra-doped rabbits.

“If you’re looking for a younger audience, look at Tomorrowland, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Sonar Festival,” writes Billboard. “Young concertgoers follow young musicians: Avicii is 25, Afrojack is 27, Calvin Harris is 31, Deadmau5 is 34, and Armin Van Buuren is 38.”

Some music industry big wigs are calling for music festivals to change tact and evolve with the changing trends. This might mean upping their game when it comes to amenities and food and beverage options, shelling out for multiple strong mid-level acts instead of one big-name headliner, or, as Vans Warped Tour boss Kevin Lyman has pointed out, creating more intimate experiences to engage the younger generation.

Watch: The Who – My Generation Live @ Glastonbury 2015

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