Music

The Man Behind Coachella Just Spilled All The Festival’s Secrets

Ever wondered how much Beyonce was being paid to headline?

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Over the course of its 18-year history, Coachella Music & Arts Festival has been elevated to a near-mythical status. It’s not just a music festival, it is the festival — the one every music fan needs to attend at least once, and the one that every band wants to play.

It’s not hard to see why. Coachella has boasted headliners like Prince, Bjork, Oasis, Nine Inch Nails, The Beastie Boys and Madonna — as well as legendary performances, like when Daft Punk debuted their famous pyramid there in 2006, or when Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg rapped beside a ghostly hologram of Tupac in 2012.

Paul Tollett has been at the helm of Coachella since its inception in 1999, and he’s just given an extensive interview to The New Yorker that dishes the dirt on the politics of booking a major music festival. It’s a long read, but a fascinating one — here’s five of the juiciest things we learnt from the piece.


#1 Coachella Headliners Earn Millions

The fee an artist commands for a festival set is usually hush-hush, but The New Yorker isn’t keeping quiet. The 2017 headliners — Beyonce (later to be replaced by Lady Gaga), Radiohead and Kendrick — will receive an eye-watering $3-4 million each for playing.

But given Coachella grossed a whopping $95 million last year, it’s money the festival is happy to part with. And not every artist on the bill does quite that well — some of smallest acts on the poster will earn less than $10,000 for their appearance.

#2 Your Band’s Position On The Poster Is Very Important

“We have so many arguments over font sizes [on the poster],” Tollett says. “I literally have gone to the mat over one point size.” It’s not as ridiculous as it might seem – a artist’s position and the size of their name on the poster has a direct impact on what they can charge for booking fees in the future. The higher you get, the heavier your pay packet becomes.

“Sounds like a small thing in the great scheme of life,” Tollet adds. “But, as it relates to these bands, it’s huge.”

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#3 Social Media Metrics Matter

Tollett pointed again to this year’s poster, where Dutch dance star Martin Garrix is on the same line of the poster as DJ Snake. This time, though, the issue is the set times. “Everyone wants to play in the dark, so they can use their full production,” Tollett says. “But not everyone is going to get dark.”

Garrix’s agent was fighting hard for his client to play later in the evening, based on the fact that Garrix has a much larger Instagram presence. “His socials are four times bigger [than Snake’s],” the agent argued. “He is in the top one per cent of connected artists to his fan base.”

In the end, Tollett decided to schedule DJ Snake later than Garrix, but Instagram is only going to become more important — for genres like EDM where record sales don’t hold much sway, an artist’s media presence becomes their currency.

#4 There’s A Big Move Towards EDM

The first 10 years of Coachella were largely focused on big name alternative bands — your Radioheads, your Jane’s Addictions — but lately the focus is shifting towards EDM and pop music.

“When you take an indie-rock band, five or six members, not everyone is on the E-flat seventh at the same time, so it doesn’t sound perfect,” Tollett says. “With electronic music, it’s pre-programmed, so it sounds flawless. There are no mistakes. There’s a generation that’s used to flawless, and when they don’t hear flawless it may suck to them.”

#5 Coachella Is Eyeing A Move To The East Coast

While Coachella reigns supreme on the West Coast, on the other side of the US there are more names to compete with. New York festivals Governors Ball and Panorama cover very similar ground in terms of line-ups, but Tollett believes there is room for another event: a ‘Coachella East’. He’s currently searching for a site that could hold the festival, which would also focus on art, tech, fashion and New York’s culinary scene.