Op-Ed: Radius Clauses: What Are They Good For? Absolutely Nothing

Just like war, what are radius clauses good for? Absolutely nothing.
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Radius clauses. They are back in the news because Coachella is being sued for their radius clause that allegedly covers December to May and five states that surround Indio in California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington or Arizona. They are also a fact of life for festivals. They aren’t something that is advertised, but can be found if you read between the lines. If you have an EDM festival in New York in June and then another in August, the lineups are different because in large part because of radius clauses and a few other reasons, which we will get to. However, beyond big name artists who can negotiate their way out of them, they can do some real damage to mid-size acts who want the feather in their cap of playing a premiere festival, but then lose being able to play in that city for months at a time. So why do they exist and are they really necessary?

Festivals will say they are a way of protecting their investment. It keeps an artist from playing a show or another festival in the area two weeks before or a month after the festival. It also prevents some sort of small festival from popping up with half of their lineup at half the cost a month before. There may be some truth to that, but they just benefit the biggest festivals.

The festivals that can pay the most will lock in the biggest artists and enforce their will on the surrounding events in their area. How large that area and for how long depends really how demanding they want to be and probably what their lawyers say they can get away with. Lollapalooza reportedly has a radius clause for six months before and three months after the festival. Coachella allegedly has a five-state, five-month clause. You can expect the same from other major festivals around the world. It hurts smaller festivals who can’t pay the same booking fees, won't have the same crowd size, and don’t have the same prestige that would go on an artist’s resume. Big bands can negotiate out of a radius clause, but smaller groups will be tied to it.

There are a few reasons why we don’t radius clauses any more.

1. Relationships: 

Artists don’t want to ruin relationships with promoters by booking a show at a venue right before a festival just to get a show in when they know they will piss off a festival, which is likely booked by Live Nation or AEG. Even if radius clauses didn’t formally exist, owning most of the venues in the country, Live Nation and AEG could enforce de facto ones on their own venues to prevent you from playing at their venues for a period around the festival in that area. No artist wants to lose relationships with these behemoths.

2. Trust The Bookers (For The Most Part):

Now this may seem rather farfetched with so many festivals having the same headliners and many of the same artists on their bills, but you can likely trust them not to have the same artists at the same festivals right next to each other. One point of radius clauses is to prevent bookers from all grabbing the same hot artists and having a slew of the same looking lineups with the same artists in the same area. However if a festival a few months later in the summer wants a few of the same artists, that won’t kill festival A in June compared to festival B in September. 

The artist may say no to protect a relationship, scheduling conflicts or they don’t want to do another festival in that market, but the option should be there. The booking community is small enough that they will know who is being booked where. They will be able to coordinate to not have the same headliners at the same festivals in the same city. It would only hurt the festival’s bottom lines to do so. A nuclear option would be to book the same headliners as a way of sabotaging the other guy’s festival, but in the end everyone would lose out and the artists may not even sign on for that.

3. Trust The Fans:

Fans will speak with their wallets. If they see that festivals are all booking the exact same talent in the same areas, then they won’t go to these festivals. It will force events to diversify. Smaller festivals already don’t book the big mainstream acts and genre-specific festivals fill the needs of fans that only want hip-hop, rock, metal, dance and more. The people who go to Coachella aren’t always the same people who go to Desert Hearts. People who go to Elements generally aren’t the same ones who to Governors Ball. The fans aren’t stupid and for all of the tricks with delayed lineup announcements, twenty phase lineup announcements, lineup parties, etc., at the end of the day, the artists you book speaks for itself. If they don’t meet the standard people expect or the asking ticket price, then people won’t go. There is too much competition to book bad festivals.

4. Trust The Artists:

Artists know that they can't saturate a market and wear out their fans if they play there too much. If you are an up-and-coming band and you do six gigs in a year in a market with the same set, there better be a good reason you are doing sets four through six. You better be an opener or have had some major breakthrough because those same fans aren’t likely to come through. Even massive artists don’t play in big markets often because they want to spread their shows out over the world, come up with new production and challenge themselves with something new each time. Doing four (for example) similar festivals over a summer plus a few extra gigs in LA that year may seem like a great way to see your fans, but in the end, less people may come out to your other gigs if they have already seen you all of those times. There will be a lot of pressure to come up with some big the next time.

The built in monopolies that Live Nation and AEG already have give them such an advantage that they don’t need radius clauses. Yes music industry is pretty broken and the free market isn’t perfect, but radius clauses only allow the rich to get richer. It only protects their already large revenues and hurts artists and fans. Let’s change that. 

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