Ghost Festival – The big silence

The Ghost Festival, the biggest concert event ever to be held in Switzerland will take place over the next weekend. The line-up includes around 300 bands and artists. However: There are neither performances, nor music or light shows. The Ghost Festival which was conceptualised as an initiative of solidarity for the Swiss music scene, is emblematic for the disastrous situation creators and artists find themselves in during the corona crisis. SUISA supports the festival as a sponsor. It had a video interview with Baldy Minder, the co-organiser of the festival regarding the facts behind the non-festival. Text by Giorgio Tebaldi; Video by Nina Müller

The line-up of the Ghost Festival makes the heart of every Swiss pop and rock music fan beat faster: Established names such as Stephan Eicher, Patent Ochsner or Dodo are lined up next to the “young and wild ones” such as Crème Solaire, Annie Taylor or KT Gorique. Unfortunately, you will not get much more than their names. Music is something you will not find at this event, nor will there be brilliant live shows or the usual festival feeling with tents, catering stalls and queuing in front of mobile toilets.

The Ghost Festival is “the festival that does not take place”. It is not going to take place over the weekend of 27/28 February 2021.

Ghost matches in football were the inspiration for the Ghost Festival

Brought to life by a few Berne music lovers, the Ghost Club, the Ghost Festival is an initiative of solidarity for Swiss music creators and performers.  Baldy Minder, booker and manager of acts such as the Bern Hip-Hop-Kollektiv Chlyklass or the female rapper 11Ä is a member of the Ghost Club. In the backstage area of the Zurich concert venue “Exil”, he told us during the video interview what the basic idea of the Ghost Festival is: “There are ghost matches in football. And as a supportive football fan, you show your solidarity these days by renewing your season ticket even though the future is uncertain. And that is how the idea for the Ghost Festival came about.”

Music fans can buy tickets for the festival as follows: A one-day pass for CHF 20, a two-day pass for CHF 50 or a VIP ticket for CHF 100. And because it does not take place, the tickets are never sold out. Furthermore, there is a broad range of Ghost Festival merchandise from T-shirts to hats and caps or hoodies and jackets. The income thus made will be paid through to the artists as well as their bookers, light and sound engineers and others. This kind of money is more than just a nice little top up: In the current situation, the most important source of income for most of the music creators and artists – in the broadest sense – drops out: concerts. And this situation has been ongoing, apart from a few short periods of relief in the summer of 2020, for one year now. And an improvement is not in sight.

A hole of more than CHF 50,000 in the financial ledgers of the authors and publishers of music

This is also reflected at SUISA when it comes to the collections from performing rights which include concerts and festivals, among others. Based on the example of the Ghost Festival, this can be well demonstrated: Around 15,000 tickets have been sold so far for the festival. If this was a normal event, where artists perform their songs, the composers, lyricists and publishers of the performed works would receive more than CHF 50,000 in royalties. Since no music is played, this kind of income simply drop off.

Around 400 festivals take place in Switzerland each year, the country with the largest festival density worldwide. Most of these festivals had to be cancelled due to the corona pandemic last year. As a consequence, SUISA’s income for copyright arising from concerts in 2020 were more than 50% lower than in the previous year. In absolute figures, this is, compared to 2019, CHF 12m less which will be paid out to the music creators in 2020 from concert income. And this detrimental situation is going to last well into 2021 and probably also into 2022.

An initiative of solidarity also aimed at bookers, sound engineers, roadies and other participants

And these are only the collections for those who composed or wrote the lyrics to musical works or are in the publishing business. For musicians, there is also the loss of gig fees, which are usually much higher than the copyright royalties. Concert and festival cancellations are not just problematic for musicians: The crisis which has now been going on for about a year has also affected the people that make such a festival and concerts possible in general: Bookers, sound and light engineers, roadies, tour managers, merchandise salespeople, security staff or of course the concert promoters themselves.

“The idea is that it is not just the bands who benefit but also that there is a holistic promotion and support for people who work in this sector”, says Baldy Minder. “When bands are on the road, they have a tour manager, a light engineer or a sound engineer; bands who travel with instruments have stage hands who help to carry all the equipment. There are an awful lot of people involved who currently have very little to do, unfortunately, and thus much less income.”

100% of the ticket sales go to the music creators

That is why the artists and bands could name two additional people from their entourage who should also benefit from the income generated by the Ghost Festival. In total, this is about 1,300 people. “The collected monies will be distributed on a per capita basis and not on a per-band basis”, explains Baldy Minder. While 100% of the income from ticket and merchandising sales flow to music creators, a part of the sponsorship funds will be used to pay for the work of the organisers. “The partnerships enable us to pay our salaries”, says Baldy Minder.  And adds: “Whatever remains of the sponsorship funds will be allocated to the artists.”

One of the biggest challenges for the organisers was time management: The idea came about at the end of November 2020. There were just three months to carve out the biggest festival in Switzerland. Even if there are no performances in the end, there are some parallels between organising a ghost festival and a real festival, as Baldy Minder explains: “A major part is rather similar to a real festival. You have to make a booking, you initiate the entire promotion, social media and press campaign. You have a lot of contact with the bands. What you don’t have is the entire infrastructure. You do not have to build a fence, set up a stage and we do not have to organise a PA company. We also do not need security. We do not need to pay SUISA fees since nothing is going to happen from a copyright perspective, after all, you won’t hear a peep at the festival.”

Ghost sounds, if anything

The event organisers have also intentionally renounced on organising streaming concerts for the weekend. Baldy Minder says: “Many people are asking for streams, but no, there will simply be nothing this time, no music. It is now finally the time where you can lean back and give back.”

For the audience of the Ghost Festival that does not want the sounds of silence and is missing the music, there will be something to listen to after all, even if it is no music: “We will release an album. It won’t be a compilation but an album as “The Ghost Orchestra”, announces Baldy Minder. It will be released on 26/2/21, one day ahead of the festival.” It is going to be released as a CD – with a clear idea behind it, as Baldy Minder explains: “The CD is totally anti-cyclical, a little bit of a ghost which is slowly vanishing.” Most of the bands from the line-up will be included on the mysterious CD. And they are artists from all language regions of Switzerland. After all, the Covid-19 pandemic affects music creators across all of Switzerland.

SUISA is a partner of the Ghost Festival
The Covid-19 crisis heavily affects SUISA members. For that reason, SUISA acts as a sponsoring partner of the Ghost Festival, not just the Cooperative Society itself but also its staff members. Each ticket that is bought by the SUISA staff will be enhanced in value by the company: Each one-day ticket will be upgraded to a two-day ticket, each two-day ticket will be upgraded to a VIP ticket and for each sold VIP ticket the staff receive a second VIP ticket.Above and beyond that, SUISA will be reporting from the festival on the festival weekend and talk to some artists and organisers. More info will be available in the coming days on www.instagram.com/suisamusicstories.

 

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