Atlantic Cities

The Where and Why of Coachella 2012

The Where and Why of Coachella 2012
Flickr/sputnik_mi_amor

The Coachella Music Festival, to be held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., over two weekends in April, released its lineup last week. Coachella has emerged as one of the biggest and most important music festivals in the U.S., drawing around 75,000 concert-goers. This year, its first weekend sold out in under an hour, and tickets for the whole thing were gone in just 180 minutes.

The annual festival draws its share of super stars and marquee acts. Headliners this year include Radiohead, The Black Keys, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre along with reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and Squeeze. But most of the acts are very far from radio stalwarts or recording stars in the traditional sense.

Coachella and festivals like it play an increasingly important role in popular music in an era that's seen sales of recorded music decline dramatically. The rise of the Internet has taken the money out of selling records for most acts. Many essentially give their music away for free online and tour to develop a following and build their reputations. Festivals are a big part of this process. 

Making the bill at Coachella signals a certain level of value to big labels and record industry tastemakers as well as to the wider public. The rapper Azealia Banks rode a wave of Internet buzz to this year’s Coachella stage before she signed to a major label or even made a full-length record. Being a big act’s protégé can help too. Rumor has it, for example, that Dr. Dre only agreed to perform when the festival booked his protégé, Kendrick Lamar.

Coachella thus provides an interesting lens into the evolving geography of popular music, enabling us to map the locations and music scenes where not just the most established acts, but some of the most intriguing up-and-coming acts hail from. MPI alum Patrick Adler, now a grad student in Urban Planning at UCLA, gathered locational data on the 2012 Coachella acts from multiple sources, including band websites, MySpace, Sound Cloud, All Music, Pitchfork and music journalism. When possible, he gave priority to locations entered by the acts themselves. For veteran acts, he used their location when they achieved their greatest popularity. For acts with multiple locations, he gave fractional points to each location.

London leads with 61 Coachella acts, four in ten of the total. Los Angeles comes in second, with 23 acts, or 16 percent of the total.  New York is third with 12 acts, 8.5 percent of the lineup. Stockholm, home to Swedish House Mafia, Miike Snow, and Sebastian Ingrosso among others, is fourth with seven acts and nearly 5 percent of the total; followed by San Francisco, with GIRLS and tune-yards; and Paris, with David Guetta and Justice (both with 6 acts or 4 percent).

Then there’s Austin (4.5 artists, 3 percent), Toronto and Manchester (each with 3 acts, 2 percent), Portland (2.5 acts), and Montreal, Mexico City, Berlin and Atlanta (2 each).

Of course its simple math that the bigger the city or metro, the more acts it’s likely to produce. To control for this, Adler calculated how many acts each metro contributed per each million of its residents. The rankings change considerably.

Now Stockholm leaps to the top of the list with 3.3 acts per million, followed by Austin with 2.6. But London and Los Angeles continue to do well, scoring third and fourth place, with 1.86 and 1.85 acts per million respectively. New York drops to seventh place with just .65 per million, behind San Francisco (1.45), Portland (1.12) and Manchester (1.16). Toronto is eighth (.64), Monteral ninth (.58) and Paris tenth (.5). Atlanta, Berlin and Mexico City round out the list.

The world of popular music is spiky. More than two-thirds of Coachella’s international roster of acts (71 percent) hail from just 14 metros.  And four in 10 (43 percent) come from the “big three” of London, L.A., or New York. Interestingly, only a small percentage hail from established music scenes, like Chicago’s, Seattle’s or Nashville’s.

What’s especially interesting is the rise of non-American music scenes. Eight of the top 14 cities are outside the U.S. In fact, slightly more than half (71) of Coachella’s 141 acts hail from foreign cities. This is something of a sea change in popular culture. Of course, English acts have been a powerful force in pop music ever since the British Invasion in the 1960s. Seminal sixties festivals like Monterey Pop and Woodstock featured The Who, Ten Years After, and Joe Cocker, as well as India’s Ravi Shankar and South Africa’s Hugh Masekela. But the vast majority of their headliners were home-grown—and most of the English acts played music that was steeped in American blues, folk, country, and R&B.

Coachella’s vibe is genuinely cosmopolitan and multinational. Perhaps popular music is having its own “post-American” moment a la Fareed Zakaria—signaled by the rise of the musical rest.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Sputnik_mi_amor.

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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