BAM!: A Blueprint For Disaster?
News posted Thursday, July 1 2010 at 11:00 AM.
Related: Lost Weekend, Blueprint, BAM!.
The announcement of a “completely new style of festival” in Queensland in October sent alarm bells ringing at M+N HQ. And with good reason. After all, it was only 12 months ago that a guy called “Azza” aired his plans for an “all Aussie music festival in Melb” on the discussion boards, prompting a chorus of detractors who warned that he was way out of depths. He didn’t listen of course, and the festival ended up landing him and his brother a whopping $500,000 in debt. Likewise, organisers of Queensland’s Lost Weekend started off with big ambitions – they wanted to emulate Victoria’s Meredith Music Festival – but admirably pulled the pin when an 11th hour venue change gave them insufficient time to “achieve critical mass”.
So how does BAM! plan to succeed where other newcomers have failed? In an effort to seek some answers M+N user noneabove attended a compulsory artists’ meeting in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley on Monday (June 28) as a “concerned friend” of a band on the bill. Here's what transpired:
The event takes place in a printing and merchandising showroom above a printing workshop on a side street in the Valley. Dozens of demonstration stalls, posters, shampoo bottles and display awnings litter the room. A data projector at the front of the room throws onto a screen that appears to be a bed-sheet held onto a frame with bulldog clips.
Festival director Sarita Beavis talks like she’s delivering an introduction to Amway and ends her opening with the threat that we'll later break off into groups. She acknowledges almost immediately that the festival has seen some negativity from the public because of the failure of Lost Weekend and Blueprint, but she doesn't address those concerns. Rather, she explains how they’ve been carefully planning and researching BAM! for two years and uses a Powerpoint slide to show how it’s structured.
I put my head down just long enough to note that there's currently no listed logistics coordinator (they’re “TBA”) and when I look back up the slide is gone, replaced by a map of the campsite.
Sarita runs through the features of the campsite. If artists want to camp at the festival it's $100 per tent (two beds per tent) and the artist campsite has power (presumably this means the general site is unpowered). You also have your choice of camping outside the festival grounds or inside. Apparently outside is nice, quiet and isolated (which I took to mean “from the public”), the catch being that if you camp outside you actually have to drive around the perimeter fence to get into the festival itself.
Sarita also mentions a “VIP Stage”, which comfortably fits thousands of people, but will be limited to 600 punters. Anyone can do an “intimate” or “unplugged” show there – you just have to ask. She reveals there are around 300 VIP passes remaining, which is odd, seeing as their website points to them being sold out. She moves on to promotion, mentioning that BAM! has a comfortable relationship with local stations 4ZzZ and Switch 1197AM and that any artist who wants an interview should be able to get one. There will also be media there on the day (she doesn't say who), granting on-site interviews (again, to anyone who asks). She also mentions they have a “My Festival” poster available, which features each band at the top of the bill. (More on that later.)
Sarita then introduces a guy called Evan, who mentions he's been living overseas for the past five years, but has worked with Cirque du Soleil and DJ’ed at Monastery and Family (the mainstream clubs in the Valley). He says Bluesfest and Splendour spend big money on international acts, whereas local artists don't get a look in in terms of media and are given a “carton of water” and forgotten about. It’s interesting to note that BAM! artists aren’t paid at all, however, Evan maintains that bands still have an “opportunity” to make money by selling tickets. There's now a $5000 bonus for selling 100 tickets, which he admits is unlikely, but bands can join forces to increase their chances. He then claims that if at least one ticket is sold by every band member and organiser – there are more than 50 bands on the bill already, and 50 more to be announced, as well as 80 organisers at their count – the festival will well and truly break even.
He says they're not spending money on marketing because they want to keep costs down, and that both staging and stage managing are being handled by people who have major festival experience and are doing it through sponsorship or “belief”. Keeping the budget lower will keep numbers down, he says, and if they tried to get too big too soon they'd fail – they don't want 10,000 people in the first year because nobody would “get the right experience”.
He raves about the venue – the Ivory's Rock Conference Centre on the outskirts of Brisbane – and says it can hold 120,000 people, but makes no mention of how Lost Weekend failed only six months ago at the same site. The next thing he says makes me think they might be onto something: they have no intentions of making BAM! an exclusively “Brisbane festival”. Instead, they're targeting Ipswich and the Lakes district because they're untapped markets that will continue growing for the next five to 10 years.
The obvious counter is that few people in those areas would have any idea who these bands are. The majority of them are small Brisbane bands with little or no media exposure. On top of that, Brisbane's market is hardly saturated with festivals. The major festivals, Splendour In The Grass and The Big Day Out, are either held at the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast hinterland and involve as much travel for Brisbanites as people in the outer reaches (BAM!’s apparent target market). He says in closing they expect 5000 people to attend.
Sarita returns to the mic and stresses that while tickets sale aren’t compulsory, they’re relying on everyone in the room to put in a 100 percent effort to avoid BAM! becoming another Lost Weekend. She says the bulk of ticket sales are expected to be generated by the people in the room, and that tonight’s turnout shows commitment and that the event is a “big thing”. (It’s worth noting that there’s no more than 50 people here in total, including several organisers for BAM! and multiple members from the same band. So if we're providing the bulk of ticket sales and there's roughly 35 bands represented and we sell five tickets per band that's ... about as many tickets were sold for Lost Weekend.)
Sarita ends the evening with a round of applause for the attendees, while people are encouraged to grab some ticket books (and there are plenty to take) or talk to Evan about the posters (again, plenty to take). There is no Q&A, which is a pity, so instead we hide in the shadows outside and harass other bands for more information.
One band member has the same question about the posters as us: What’s the point if billing is determined by higher ticket sales? And if the band times are now public (some bands are even posting them on Facebook) and the headline order changes because of ticket sales, won't that make the whole thing look like a disorganised mess? Evan confesses that the playing times are subject to change, and that if ticket sellers help the festival break even early, more paid headliners will be brought in, resetting the bill and playing times yet again. Nothing is set in stone, it seems.
BAM! will take place from October 8-10 at Ivory’s Rock Conference Centre in Queensland. For more information click here.