With the wide open spaces that Australia is known for, it is no surprise that the number of music festivals available for music lovers is constantly on the rise. Whether it’s  a small community event or a top tier festival with global headliners, music festivals are complex operations that that require careful planning. This article outlines the various legal considerations that you will come across if you want to start a music festival and provides some handy hints about how to best minimise your risk.

Venue

Whether you’re looking to hold a small neighbourhood festival of local acts, or a week-long camping experience, one of the first things you will need to decide is where to hold your festival. There are two main types of venues that you will need to consider:

  1. a ‘greenfield’ site; or
  2. an established venue – this includes stadiums and exhibition centres.

A ‘greenfield’ site is a public or private space that can be used for a number of different types of events, like:

  • music festivals;
  • community events; or
  • corporate exhibitions.

‘Greenfield’ sites hold most festivals. Essentially, this means that you have a blank canvas and need to organise everything – from fencing, toilets and food to the stage, sound and lighting. Parks or recreational reserves that are controlled by the local council are common ‘greenfield’ sites. To hold a festival in a ‘greenfield’ site, you will need to obtain a permit from the relevant local council. When councils decide on approving or denying permits, they consider:

  • how many people are expected to attend;
  • if alcohol and food will be available for purchase and consumption;
  • what time of day the festival will be during; and
  • how loud the festival will be.

If you decide to have alcohol available at your music festival, you will also need to obtain a liquor licence from the relevant state authority.

Venue Hire Agreement

In addition to applying for the relevant permits, you will likely also need to enter into a venue hire agreement with your venue. The venue hire agreement sets out a number of details, including:

  • the commercial terms of the hire (i.e. how much it costs);
  • the cancellation terms;
  • who is responsible if something goes wrong;
  • what insurance you need to obtain; and
  • any extra costs that are not included in the venue hire fee.  

The venue hire agreement needs to be carefully reviewed and understood to ensure that you know:

  1. the total cost of hiring the venue (often you will need to pay extra for cleaning, power, security and bump-in time); and
  2. what your responsibilities are when putting on the festival.

These contracts will usually be drafted to remove all responsibility from the venue. Therefore, it is essential to ask for changes to the contract if there are tasks that the venue will be responsible for. These may include the venue:

  • providing staff that will perform to a certain standard; and
  • being financially responsible for any issues that they contribute to or cause.

In case your festival does not sell as well as expected, you should also to find out when and at what cost you can cancel the event. You should also ensure that the venue cannot cancel at the last minute if they are contacted by a hirer who is willing to pay more.

Ticketing

One of the most important aspects of organising a music festival right is ensuring that you have a good ticketing system in place. For many festival-goers, this will be their only contact with you before the festival, so you need to make sure that it is done right.

Depending on what type of venue you decide on, your ticketing may be provided either by:

  • the venue;
  • a ticketing agency that exclusively provides services at the venue; or
  • your own ticketing system.

If you are being provided ticketing through a third party (such as a ticketing agency), you will generally enter into a ticketing services agreement. You should make sure that this agreement sets out the service levels that you expect this third party to provide.

For example, you should outline the website uptime and response time to any customer contacts.

You will also need to consider the payment terms with the ticketing agency. Most ticketing agents will hold on to the funds until after the event has passed, so make sure that you structure any payment arrangements with venues, contractors and artists accordingly.

The purchase of tickets will also be a chance for you to set out any terms and conditions for attending the festival and your refund policy. When thinking about your refund policy, seek guidance from the Live Performance Australia Ticketing Code of Practice.

Artists

Generally, artists are the biggest drawcard of any music festival. That makes it all the more important to ensure that you have the right contracts and payment structures in place. The key document that governs the relationship between you and the artist is an artist agreement.

Most artists will have an agent, or a manager, that manages the relationship between you and the artist. When you decide to engage an artist and have agreed on the commercial terms for the show, the agent will usually provide you with an artist agreement. This contract deals with a number of details about the performance, including:

  • when you have to pay the artist;
  • any revenue share (such as profits or merchandise revenue);
  • the cancellation terms, both for you and the artist;
  • how the artist will appear in marketing for the festival; and
  • exclusivity.

Ordinarily, these contracts will be drafted heavily in favour of the artist and may include:

  • allowing the artist to cancel any time before the show without you receiving any compensation; or
  • having to pay the artist the full amount of their fee if the event is cancelled due to weather.

Additionally, the artist agreement is an excellent opportunity for you to outline what you need from them, such as minimum set times and taking part in publicity and media.

In some cases, for smaller artists, the agent won’t provide you with a detailed contract. In this instance, you should have your own contract drafted to provide to the artist. Make sure that the contract outlines the details that are important to you and will make sure that your festival runs smoothly.

Other Considerations

Aside from the key items above, here are some further issues that you will need to consider:

Sponsorships If you are going to be selling sponsorship packages, you should have a sponsorship agreement in place.
Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) Fees You need to pay fees for the music that artists perform. These fees are collected by APRA and distributed to the original songwriters.
Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) Fees In addition to the APRA fees, the broadcast of recorded music attracts fees payable to the rightsholder of the sound recording. PPCA is responsible for collecting and distributing these fees.
Insurance In the unfortunate case that an incident occurs at your festival, you should ensure that you are properly insured. Make sure you have the appropriate forms of insurance for your event. This will usually include public liability insurance.
Contractors When hiring contractors, make sure that you have appropriate contracts in place which cover what the contractors are responsible for.
Marketing There are various rules around advertising in Australia. You need to make sure that your advertising displays prices accurately, and does not mislead or deceive consumers.
Competitions As part of your marketing strategy, you may wish to run a promotion that involves a game of chance (i.e. “go in the draw to win…”). Each state has various rules that you must follow about games of chance.

 

Key Takeaways

Organising and executing a music festival is no simple task. There are a number of legal considerations that involve a number of stakeholders, including:

  • councils;
  • regulatory bodies;
  • large and small businesses;
  • artists; and
  • ticket purchasers.

It is important to carefully consider these issues to ensure that your festival is successful, and becomes a staple in the Australian festival calendar. If you need help drafting or reviewing any of these contracts or starting a festival, get in touch with LegalVision’s contract lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form below.

James Adler
If you would like further information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please get in touch using the form on this page.
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