GLASTONBURY, England (Reuters) - In a digital world that is destroying the value of recorded music, the most analogue part of the industry - playing live to thousands in a muddy field - is more popular, and more lucrative, than ever.
Glastonbury, Britain’s biggest green field festival and held on a dairy farm in south-west England, sold 135,000 tickets priced at 225 pounds ($350) in a record 26 minutes in October, months before any of the main acts were announced.
U.S. rapper, songwriter and producer Kanye West tops the bill on Saturday, a choice that generated familiar howls of outrage from some who said who say he does not fit the festival’s rock ethos.
But it is a calculated risk that will likely pay off, both in keeping Glastonbury relevant and winning West new fans. And there are plenty of alternatives, including Deadmaus, Jon Hopkins and for 1990s indie holdouts, Suede - all performing at the same time as West.
Music industry analyst Mark Mulligan at MIDiA Research said the growth trajectory in live music was almost the mirror opposite of the decline in recordings.
“Live remains a scarce experience; you can only get the experience of being there by being there,” he said. “Whereas a music track is available across legal and illegal platforms for free.”
Live music in Britain was worth 789 million pounds in 2013, up 28 percent on the year before - skewed by the London Olympics occupying venues in 2012 - whereas the value of recorded music fell 3 percent to 618 million, according to industry body UK Music.
Mulligan said big established artists, such as Sunday night headliner The Who, now saw touring as being the end game.
“A couple of artist managers I’ve been speaking to say for a big superstar artists on their books, they expect music sales to be maybe about 10 percent of their income,” he said.
The presence of big names rubs off on smaller acts, who can win new fans and use the Glastonbury billing on social media.
Seafret, a hotly tipped acoustic duo from the seaside town of Bridlington in northern England, who have released a couple of EPs, are playing Glastonbury for the first time.
“For us, going there is incredible, but being able to go there and play is on a different level,” guitarist Harry Draper said. “We are so excited, we’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.”
Chris Carey, chief executive of Media Insight Consulting, said with platforms including Spotify, iTunes and YouTube offering an unlimited array of music, being chosen to play a festival bestowed credibility.
“Playing even a small stage at Glastonbury has huge value because you can say: ‘I played Glastonbury’,” he said. “It adds to that artist’s story, which is hugely valuable from a marketing point of view.”
The change in the way people consume music - listening to an ever-changing selection of tracks on streaming services such as Spotify - also means younger fans were much less wedded to genres than previous generations.
“We are in the age of the playlist, and what is Glastonbury apart from a playlist of live music,” said Mulligan.
The main stages at Glastonbury run from Friday to Sunday.
Editing by Louise Ireland