How Much Money Goes behind Top Festivals

The first Ultra Music Festival in Miami in 1999 cost $200,000. In 2013, Russell Faibisch estimated in a Miami New times article that in 2013 Ultra would require $25 million to $30 million dollars to pull off. This is a significant jump from the infant days of UMF. Today EDM music festivals cost tens of millions of dollars to put on. In a Forbes article, Pasquale Rotella was interviewed about the history of EDC and stated in 2014 that it would take $36 million to throw EDC in Las Vegas. Ultra Music Festival in Miami and EDC have large impacts on the surrounding area and add to the burgeoning $6.9 billion EDM industry, but the economic boom provided does come at a cost that is running ever higher.

Tomorrowland began a little over a decade ago in 2005 with about 10,000 unique visitors and had swelled to 180,000 unique visitors in 2016. Tomorrowland is looked to as the trendsetter when it comes to stage design and production. However, it is not the visual environment that ID&T founder Duncan Stutterheim, the founder of ID&T, feels it’s costing festival organizers an arm and a leg. In remarks made at the Noorderslag Seminar in Groningen in 2015, Stutterheim discussed the rising costs of booking DJ acts. Tiesto and David Guetta can command $350,000 while Calvin Harris could be paid up to $500,000 per an investigation by QUOTE. So how have festival organizers dealt with these rising costs? One way is sponsorship, the double-edged sword.

Sponsorship is a way for festivals to invest more money into the festival experience without having to worry about the increased financial risk, but festival organizers are still making a big gamble in favor of reward over that risk. Festival organizers have to find the right balance and ensure the festival isn’t turned into one big marketing bonanza as sponsors will expect there to be some product placement and advertisement. But even with sponsors, there are going to be expenses festival organizers will have to manage.

All manners of work are involved in putting on a festival, and all of those workers have to be paid. Festival goers encounter the front line: parking attendants, security personnel, food service workers, and ticket box workers. Employees who are in the background but whose skills are ever present are sound engineers and stage workers. Then there are porta potty vendors, sales managers, talent buyers, web developers, sponsorship coordinators, social media managers, operations assistants, city officials (for fees and licenses), and venue operators. Remember all the people it takes to put on a festival the next time you gasp at the cost of admission. What is paid for memories for a lifetime is a fraction of what it costs to provide the experience for those memories.

Music Festivals Are Actually on the Rise

Is the era of music festivals coming to an end? I don’t think so! Yes, I’m aware of all the cancellations of big name festivals these past few years, but along the way, there’s been room for new music festivals like Okeechobee art & music festival (debuted in March of 2016), Insomniac’s new festival called Middlelands ( coming May 2017), EDC Japan ( coming April 2017) and much more.

What I’ve also noticed is that many of us are too focused on the bigger markets shifting and not seeing outside the box with smaller cities getting back on the map hosting music festivals with an all-around lineup with impressive names.

EDM DJ Kaskade says the festival scene is on the rise and far from dead in this latest interview!

European Festivals vs US Festivals

As you sit there and read this article, I admire that you are curious about festivals across the Atlantic Ocean. It is a sad fact that many Americans don’t leave their country nor do Europeans travel far beyond the festivals in Europe. The chance to learn about an entirely new rave culture is something that transforms you from being just your “average” raver into a “World Class” raver who can brag about their experience abroad.

Music and Production

In the US, the production of an event takes priority. Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) in Las Vegas is regarded as one of the top Music Festivals in the US. What makes EDC unique is the thought of the souvenir ticket box coming in the mail, the huge, elaborate stages, the entertainers, and the fireworks display which put most Independence Day fireworks to shame. The music will come somewhere into that mixture, arguably in a secondary nature. The artist line-up for EDC is good. However, it doesn’t quite compare to that of European festivals. But, the US is beginning to catch up.


In Europe, Creamfields in England schedules the music as a priority. A glance over previous years of line-ups will reveal a who’s who of the Dance Music industry. If you were at Creamfields 2016, for the Final sets on Sunday, you had to choose between Eric Prydz, Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki, Fatboy Slim, Aly & Fila and Tiesto. Creamfields is a well-established brand with a contact book that can lure almost any major DJ to the festival. Additionally, since most DJ’s are European-based, then it makes it easier for them to book on their timetable. Having said that, Europe is catching up on the production levels as Creamfields has introduced new stages such as the Steelyard. Tomorrowland is a good example of a cross between the productions of EDC with nearly the same lineup power of Creamfields. The competition is good for all festivals as it is helping to evolve the scene and enhance the rave experience.

The Ravers

ravers at creamfields
Girls at creamfields

The culture is very different except with one key value… “Everyone is accepted.” American ravers wear some eccentric clothing. A girl wearing pasties with a thong, wearing a tank top with a unicorn vomiting rainbows and a guy in tight white shorts with rainbow fluffies are all familiar parts of the crowd in EDC. Then there is Kandi. As a European going to an American rave, I had to learn about Kandi and frustratingly had to produce it. The very important notion of PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect) is an inspirational code to have at a rave, although Europeans may see this as a standard with no need to mention it.
In Europe, there are fewer outfits and most are conservative compared to the US. The crowd is friendly, and Americans are welcomed as we like to see different cultures embrace the European way. There is no Kandi, and PLUR is unheard of outside of US although girls tend to think it’s cute when you give them a bracelet. Europe has a great music vibe accompanied by many European cultures from Scottish, Irish, English, Dutch and German all mixed together who accept the people from around the world to join our party. The majority of individuals go for solely the musical experience however it is more understated than the major American festivals.

This experienced ravers advice is to look beyond the festivals in your country. If you love music and you can afford to do it, then travel abroad and look for other festivals. If you don’t have your friends, don’t worry. In both cultures, everyone is welcome. You could be the European who watched those magical EDC fireworks with your new PLUR friends; you could also be the American who went to Creamfields and partied with Scottish people to Above and Beyond. You just need to explore….