How Much Is Too Much?
By Randy Harris
With all of the deals, contracts, promoters, managers and other goings-on behind the scenes, many fans have a hard time understanding why artists choose certain locations for their tours, while omitting others. While there is certainly no simple explanation to this query, there is one big factor that has been a continuous strain on artists and venues alike: the Radius Clause.
The Radius Clause is a common section in many employment contracts (which is essentially what an agreement to perform at a venue is), not just in the music business.
In the context of a contract between a promoter and an artist, the Radius Clause restricts the artist from performing within a specified distance and time period from the performance under contract. According to a 2012 article by Jacob Ganz on NPR Music:
“A common radius clause says that a band may not play another show for 60 days before and after the festival within a 300 mile radius of the festival grounds. For a band playing Bonnaroo, in Manchester, Tenn. on June 10, that would mean four spring and summer months with no shows in Nashville, Atlanta, Louisville or Tuscaloosa. (Raleigh’s fine. So is Little Rock).” – A Nerdier Guide To 2012 Summer Music Festivals Than You Require
One particular festival, however, has raised some serious issues with its seemingly outrageous Radius Clause. Lollapalooza brings some of the world’s highest in-demand artists to Chicago’s Grant Park year after year, but at what cost? A 2014 article on PolicyMic written by Matt Pollock in June 2014 provides details on the festival giant’s restrictions:
“A part of every band’s contract that reportedly bars festival performers from playing within 300 miles of Chicago for six months before the festival and three months after it. For the geographically disinclined, that’s an area that stretches as far as Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison, St. Louis, Iowa City and Indianapolis. It’s a clause that gives them a near-dictatorial control over music in America’s midwest.”– How One Insanely Popular Music Festival Is Keeping You From Seeing Your Favorite Bands
So, in short, if an artist wants to play Lollapalooza, that artist cannot play any of the cities mentioned in the quote above for nine months out of the year. That means that if you, as a consumer, cannot make it to the festival or miss out on tickets for whatever reason, you may have missed your one chance to see many of the artists on the bill that year.
While this may seem like corporate plotting and greed, it raises an interesting point. Sometimes we forget that, even though for us consumers it is all about the music, many people make their living off of the industry. The performers may be all about the music at heart, but at the end of the day, they have families to feed. Even the promoters may be all about the music to the ends of their days, but the bottom line is that they run businesses. They were hired because their bosses expect them to be able to create the highest profit in order to keep the business running for the future. We also tend to forget that, without these businesses (promoters, record labels, management companies, etc.), we would not have anywhere near the amount of access to all the great music out there. We want the whole world to have the Woodstock view of “Peace, Love & Music,” but the reality is that without somebody behind the scenes finding ways to monetize the industry, there would be no concerts, no albums and no festivals. The people who run these businesses have interests to protect, and their jobs are to maximize profits, while adhering to the morals and views of the companies, some of which differ greatly from our own.
Now, this does not necessarily excuse the extent to which Lollapalooza has pushed the boundaries of the Radius Clause. It certainly does seem excessively greedy, considering the fact that Lollapalooza sells out within minutes of opening ticket sales. Perhaps, however, this clause may have something to do with that. Perhaps Lollapalooza sells out because consumers know that the festival basically has exclusive rights to all the talent that is booked for the weekend. As Matt Pollock quotes in How One Insanely Popular Music Festival Is Keeping You From Seeing Your Favorite Bands: “…it preserves demand by capping supply.”
A very common strategy in the business world, and the festival industry is a business just like any other industry. Am I upset that one festival holds that kind of power over the industry? You bet I am! But obviously artists still want to perform on that stage and consumers still want to buy tickets. So who can blame them for having a product in high demand? And if artists and consumers were really that upset about it, then stop buying tickets and stop agreeing to perform there! Lollapalooza obviously has something valuable to offer consumers (a one of a kind festival experience) and artists (the spotlight on one of the biggest stages in the world). I hate the thought of it, but unfortunately, it is just simple economics.
Another factor to consider is that Chicago is one of the most competitive markets for festivals in the world! Between Lollapalooza, North Coast Music Festival, EDC Chicago, Wavefront Music Festival, Spring Awakening and more, Chicago’s central location in the country differentiates itself from other big cities such as New York City and Los Angeles, allowing for festival goers from all corners of the country to attend more easily. In short, Chicago’s geographic location makes the city a breeding ground for festivals, allowing artists to be seen live in person by a much broader audience than festivals in any other city. Can we really blame Lollapalooza for utilizing its demand for a leg up on its heavy competition?
Now, all of that being said, here is where we get into some of the nastier dealings. We now know all about the festival’s outrageous Radius Clause, and we either forgive them for running an efficient business model or don’t. As many of you may have noticed, however, the quote above mentions Milwaukee as one of the many large music markets restricted by Lollapalooza, but Outkast was booked to headline Milwaukee’s Summerfest (held in early July) this year before the Lollapalooza lineup was announced. Then, it was announced that Outkast would headline Lollapalooza (held in August)… raise any eyebrows?
As it turns out, Lollapalooza has done this for a few choice artists this year and has made similar deals scarcely for other artists of “superstar” status in the past. Contracts are always negotiable, and these types of deals have been made behind the scenes in the music industry for years to benefit those in the highest demand. My question, however, is why is such a severely restrictive Radius Clause necessary if they are not using it to protect their biggest commodity? The artist that is bringing in the bank has done its job without having such wide restrictions, so what does it matter if mid-level or small-time performers adhere to such restrictions? Whatever reasoning Lollapalooza may have, it does not seem as if we will see any changes in the festival’s dealings anytime soon.