Blur announced their decision to pull out of Big Day Out 2014 via social media.
Photo: Linda Brownlee
The organisers of musical festival Big Day Out could be forced to fork out millions to book a high-profile replacement for Blur with less than eight weeks to go.
Former music promoter Stuart Coupe, who managed acts including Hoodoo Gurus and Paul Kelly and wrote a book about the Australian rock industry called The Promoters, says the short notice would likely mean premium prices.
“Most artists have their touring schedules in place eight weeks out but if they’re prepared to throw enough money at someone then they’ll find someone but every agent and band manager will know their predicament,” Coupe says. “You’d have to be talking at least another million bucks, depending on how many shows.”
Blur announced via social media on Sunday that it would no longer be performing at the 2014 Big Day Out, which kicks off in Auckland on January 17 before touring to the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.
“The band feels that with the constantly shifting goal posts and challenging conditions of the organisers, they can’t let it drag on any longer and want to make this announcement, to be clear to Blur fans that they won’t be there,” says a longer statement on Facebook.
The organisers hit back via Twitter, with investor AJ Maddah tweeting that the Big Day Out crew had gone to great lengths to keep Blur happy and the news came as a shock.
Coupe says the situation is “bizarre” and he believes there is more to the story.
“None of it adds up in terms of logic,” Coupe says. “We’ve not got Big Day Out saying they’re going to sue for breach of contract, there’s not been even a hint of that, so the sub-text is they don’t have a legal leg to stand on. If it were me I would not be as placid as the Big Day Out people, I’d be screaming blue murder, so the inference is they screwed up.”
Coupe says the usual procedure is for the promoter to pay a third of the agreed fee when contracts were signed or by a certain date, another third when the band arrived in the country and the final sum during or at the end of the tour. The money would be held in trust and the Big Day Out organisers would have no problem recouping any payments made so far.
BRW has contacted Maddah and Big Day Out chief executive Adam Zammit for comment but they did not respond by the time of publication.
Zammit has used Twitter to promise a replacement act to be announced soon and refunds to anyone who wants their money back.
The remaining headline acts are Pearl Jam and Arcade Fire.
Coupe says refunds might not be legally obligatory but would be essential from a brand management point of view.
He says he saw the outrage on Facebook and Twitter and while hosting a radio show FBi on Sunday night and it was clear that many fans bought Big Day Out tickets especially for Blur.
“A substitution is not going to placate the Blur nutters,” Coupe says. “There would be such bad blood if a promoter tried to say that ‘no, Big Day Out is bigger than one act’.”
The Big Day Out co-founders have either left the organisation or stepped back and the festival is part-owned by Texan music company C3, which runs Lollapalooza in the US.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports the 2014 festival has lurched from one crisis to the next in recent months, with one Sydney show cancelled, rumours of poor ticket sales, staff sackings and defections and claims a big financial loss is looming for organisers.
Coupe says the music festival scene is under pressure more generally, because consumers have a lot of options and ticket prices are expensive.
“Too many people out there are thinking it is easy – let’s get an open space that’s green, put up a stage, get a few bands, put it on Amex and make a squillion dollars,” Coupe says. “The truth is once you get a bit bigger it’s frighteningly easy to lose a million dollars.”