There are several terms to describe musical events. The terms concert, show, and festival probably pop up a lot when you hear about your favorite bands on tour. They’re not interchangeable, though.
With that in mind, what’s the difference between concerts, shows, and festivals?
Most people envision Concerts when they hear “live performance,” with thousands of fans packed in a stadium. A show is a broad term to describe most musical performances. Festivals have several concerts or shows from different artists in one location.
However, there’s a bit more to what makes concerts, shows, and festivals unique. We’ll go over some hidden differences and famous examples, so you’ll never be confused again.
What is a Concert?
If you go to Dictionary.com, a concert is “a public musical performance.” However, this definition implies that your neighbor playing guitar in the cul-de-sac counts as a concert.
When we talk about concerts, we’re talking about performances with specific traits:
Played in an arena or concert hall
Several hundred to several thousand audience members
Because of these characteristics, concerts are a unique form of live music. It also means that they’re usually for artists who’ve made it big. To have a concert gig, you need to have loads of money to put down, plus thousands of listeners in a single area to buy tickets.
Additionally, concerts need crews. Artists must hire dozens of people to plan, set up the stage, optimize sound, provide security, and arrange transportation. When it comes to a rock concert, you can expect a pretty big deal.
What is a Show?
On a more general scale, a show is any musical performance. Therefore, a concert is technically a show, but not all shows are concerts. Jumping back to your neighbor playing guitar in the cul-de-sac, that might not be a concert, but it’s a show.
Because of the broadness of its definition, shows can take many forms.
Playing in a club
Musical street performances
Playing for your mother
Unlike concerts, virtually all existing bands can do a show. A show includes local cover bands playing at a bar in town, where the band members can generally handle planning and transportation.
You can have a show anywhere if you set your mind to it. If you’ve uncovered a talent for an instrument and people seem to like your playing, you might be able to make a few bucks.
What is a Festival?
Festivals are hugely profitable, highly-attended events that feature several artists performing over several days or weeks. Turnout for music festivals can surpass 100,000 people. Woodstock, for example, had over 400,000 people attend in two days.
Concerts and shows are parts of music festivals. Other traits make them attractive for both performers and fans, including:
High ticket sales
Opportunities to meet people
Thus, a festival is just a bundle of concerts and shows. They have some compelling advantages. As an artist, it’s often easier to attend a music festival than set up a concert from scratch. As a fan, you may have an opportunity to see several of your favorite bands in one day.
While COVID-19 is still putting a damper on festivals, more opportunities may soon open up. Someday soon, we’ll be able to see our favorite artists perform live among thousands of other like-minded fans.
Overview: Difference Between Concerts, Shows, and Festivals
The main difference between concerts, shows, and festivals is size. Concerts can be huge, but festivals are even more significant as they may contain several massive concerts. Shows are typically much smaller events and have an ambiguous definition.
1,000 to over 1 million
Concert halls, arenas, stadiums
Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival, Genesis Reunion Tour, Run DMC/Beastie Boys in Miami, The Rolling Stones at Altamont Speedway
Bars, small venues, streets, other
Mariachi bands, local recitals, jazz lounges
50,000 to over 3 million
Outdoors (parks, farms)
Woodstock, Coachella, Monterey International Pop Music Festival, Rock in Rio
How are Festivals Set Up?
Woodstock happened on a dairy farmer’s land in New York, thanks to four young entrepreneurs. Despite potentially massive turnout, starting a music festival is comparatively straightforward. They may be on public or private property.
In the former case, festival crews need to hustle to get everything up, running, and done before their time slot expires. Setting up a festival in a public place is not going to be without complaints, either. While those who attend them may have a good time, potential complaints from nearby residents are enough to turn many cities away from the idea.
In the latter case, festivals may go on as long as people are willing to come. Landowners have the authority to charge what they wish, and it’s easier to negotiate with them than the government. Fortunately, people with land to spare usually relish the extra income if things go on a bit longer.
In addition to land, other expenses include sound hardware, electricity, and setting up the gates.
Despite these complexities, artists and their crews tend to do a lot of the work themselves. All a festival is is a consolidated area to enjoy outdoor music.
How are Concerts Set Up?
Setting up a music concert takes a lot of time and money. When it comes to how they operate, most of the work isn’t when the artist performs. It’s when crews of people work tirelessly in the days leading up to those few hours on stage.
A successful concert depends on promotion. This situation is why concert promoters often receive six-figure salaries. If not enough people buy tickets to turn a profit, there can be no concert.
Also, working out the perfect location is tricky. Sure, it’s not like with festivals where you may need hundreds of acres. However, choosing the correct city to play in means artists need to know where their fans are.
Lesser-known artists have an even tougher goal – convincing people to give them a shot. They can’t expect thousands of fans to show up like Taylor Swift or The Rolling Stones can. For them, the concert game is how they get their name out there.
Are Concerts or Festivals Better for Artists?
If you’re an artist or band looking to perform publicly, should you hop in on festivals or book your stadium for a concert? The answer is: it depends on how popular you are.
Concerts vs. Festivals for Small Artists
For small bands (and artists) looking to grow their fan base, festivals are the superior choice. Even if nobody knows who you are, performing at a festival makes your music super accessible. Your audience is already there, and people are more willing to give new bands a listen when they don’t need to drive hours to a standalone show.
Plus, you’ll get to network with other bands at the festival who may refer their fans to you. You don’t get such a luxury at a concert unless you’re an opening act. Admission tends to be cheaper, too.
Concerts vs. Festivals for Famous Artists
Say you’ve made it big. You have millions of fans and a budget roomy enough to play wherever you want. For you, concerts are the ultimate choice.
Unlike festivals, artists are in control of their concerts. They get to determine admission price, how long they get to play, and whatever crazy special effects they want to add. This creative freedom is liberating for those who can afford it.
You can also decide on what kind of alcohol to sell when you run the concert.
What is a Tour?
When you hear about famous concerts, they’re usually part of a tour. A tour is a series of concerts by a single artist or band. When artists go on tour, they’ll usually plan out multiple concerts at once. This multi-show setup allows them to effectively reach fans worldwide without stopping midway from figuring things out.
Tours may last a couple of months or several years. This period depends on the artist’s preferences and the tour manager’s decision.
Because bands need vast amounts of equipment, transportation takes a new scale. Some of the most famous artists’ world tours can take several cargo planes and dozens of semi-trucks to accomplish.
Concerts, shows, and festivals refer to special musical events. Concerts are an outlet for significant artists to connect directly to their fans, while festivals are several-day-long events where many artists perform.
A show may be anything from playing guitar at a bar to performing in front of a hundred thousand people packed in a stadium.
Together, concerts, shows, and festivals form the language of live music. While execution is always a challenge, the hard work pays off for musicians and listeners.
For artists, live performances are a chance to connect with audiences and make great money doing what they love. For fans, they provide unforgettable musical
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