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Marooned In L.A. For A Week, Coachella Bands Make Do
Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:51 am
The massive Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival came to a close in California on Sunday after two weekends worth of sold-out shows by over 150 artists.
One of those acts was the Austin, Texas, band Explosions in the Sky, which first played Coachella back in 2007 and has seen its profile grow since then.
"We were going from playing in rooms that were 400, 500, maybe a thousand people," says Munaf Rayani, one of the band's guitarists. "After that Coachella, and after a couple of things around that, we came back to California and the Palladium in L.A., which [has a capacity of] 4,000, and filled it up."
The festival itself has seen its stature rise as well. When it first launched nearly 13 years ago, Coachella couldn't get an audience or a profit. But sales have become so reliable that this year, tens of thousands of tickets were sold before any bands — or holograms — were announced. Coachella also announced a second set of shows, with an identical lineup, the following weekend, April 20-23.
That was good news for fans, but the response in the music industry has been mixed. Especially for those who operate in geographic proximity to the festival.
That's because of something called a "radius clause" in the musicians' contracts with the festival's promoter, Goldenvoice.
"They basically want their event to be as exclusive as possible," says Tom Windish. A booking agent who had 20 bands playing Coachella this year, Windish knows the contract the festival has his bands sign. The radius clause essentially bans artists from playing any shows in most of Southern California — starting several months before the festival begins and lasting a full month after it's over — without the festival's consent.
With songs and albums available for free on the Internet, bands these days rely on proceeds from touring. So Windish had to find places for his bands to play. "The radius clause has existed forever," Windish says, "so we know what's outside of it: Las Vegas and San Francisco."
That's where he booked his bands, including Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Gotye, which both played San Francisco between the Coachella weekends.
"Basically, I found out what the dates of Coachella were going to be, immediately emailed about 50 venues and said, 'Let's start talking about some shows,' " Windish says.
No one with the festival would agree to an interview — with tickets selling out in a matter of hours, they didn't need the press, and radius clauses have caused problems for other festivals, including Chicago's Lollapalooza. In 2010, that festival's organizers were investigated by the office of Illinois' attorney general after local venue owners complained that the festival's exclusivity restrictions kept them from booking bands.
But an offer from Coachella is still attractive, even with the radius clause, and it hasn't stopped many of the bands from playing during the festival's gap week. Some bands, like Windish's, performed outside the limited zone. Some bands — including Pulp, Bon Iver, St. Vincent, Wild Flag and M83 — played the greater Los Angeles area in between the two weekends of the festival, but those were Coachella-sanctioned events, mostly at venues associated with Goldenvoice or its parent company, AEG, one of the world's largest concert and sports promoters.
The Georgia band Black Lips did not get to play one of those shows. Singer and guitarist Cole Alexander says he and his bandmates were happy to play Coachella, but not to sit around in L.A. for a week.
"Honestly, we would like to play, like, while we're in L.A. and DJ, but they told us not to," Alexander says. "So we're like, 'Whatever, we'll just record.' "
Thanks to the Coachella radius clause, they may have even found an unlikely collaborator: When NPR spoke with the band, Ke$ha was there, talking about a potential album. Black Lips' label insists the collaboration hasn't yet actually made it into the studio, but there are plans for the band to record with the L.A.-based singer and rapper. Maybe something did come out of all that sitting around.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The massive Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival came to a close in California on Sunday after two weekends of sold-out shows by over 150 artists. When it first launched nearly 13 years ago, Coachella couldn't find an audience to turn a profit. But sales have become so reliable that this year, 60,000 tickets were sold before any bands were even announced.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
So the festival repeated the identical lineup of shows for a second weekend. That was good news for fans, but the response in the music industry has been mixed. That's because of something called a radius clause in the musicians' contracts. NPR's Amy Walters explains.
AMY WALTERS, BYLINE: Ever heard of the band Explosions in the Sky?
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND MUSIC)
MUNAF RAYANI: We're 12, 13 years in, been playing this whole time.
WALTERS: They're from Austin, Texas. They did the theme song for the TV show "Friday Night Lights," and Munaf Rayani is one of the band's guitar players.
RAYANI: And now, we're at a point in which we're getting invitations to pretty great festivals, like Coachella, and we might be getting the sunset slot on the second or third stage.
WALTERS: At 10 p.m., they missed the sunset, but not the Friday night lights. They played on the second biggest stage of the festival, right before the Friday night headliner.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND MUSIC)
WALTERS: The band's first Coachella performance was back in 2007, and the musicians have seen the power the festival has.
RAYANI: You know, we were going from playing in rooms that were four, 500, maybe 1,000 people. After that Coachella and after a couple of things around that, we came back to California, and we're playing the Palladium in L.A., which was 4,000 and filling it up.
WALTERS: And it's not just the numbers. Playing Coachella gives artists a certain cache. But there's a price to pay. The musicians must sign a contract with Goldenvoice, the festival's producer, that includes a radius clause, preventing them from playing any shows in most of Southern California without the festival's consent. The radius covers seven counties, over 30,000 square miles. Tom Windish says the festival's producers include that clause for a reason.
TOM WINDISH: They basically want their event to be as exclusive as possible.
WALTERS: Windish is an agent. Twenty of his bands played Coachella this year. Maybe you've heard this song by Foster the People?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUMPED UP KICKS")
FOSTER THE PEOPLE: (Singing) All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, you better run, better run, outrun my gun. All the other kids...
WALTERS: He brought it to Coachella last year, and he faced similar restrictions then. The festival is not alone in insisting musicians abstain from playing elsewhere while they're under contract. Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, other festivals also require performers to sign a radius clause. The Illinois attorney general launched an antitrust investigation into Lollapalooza's clause two years ago. That investigation is apparently closed, though the attorney general won't comment.
Coachella's radius clause specifies that bands are prohibited from performing in the region several months before the festival and one full month after it's over. With songs and albums available for free on the Internet, bands these days rely on proceeds from touring. So Windish had to find places for his bands to play.
WINDISH: The radius clause has existed forever, so we know what's outside of it: Las Vegas and San Francisco, the most obvious ones.
WALTERS: And that's where he booked his bands. Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Gotye both played San Francisco between the Coachella weekends.
WINDISH: Basically, I found out what the dates of Coachella, the two weekends were going to be. Immediately, I emailed about 50 venues and said: Let's start talking about some shows.
WALTERS: No one with the festival would agree to an interview. With tickets selling out in a matter of hours, they didn't need the press. And the festival did let some bands play Los Angeles between the Coachella weekends but mostly at venues associated with Goldenvoice or its parent company, AEG, one of the world's largest concert and sports promoters. The Georgia band Black Lips didn't get to play one of those shows. Cole Alexander, who sings and plays guitar for the band, says they're happy to play Coachella, but not about sitting around for a week.
COLE ALEXANDER: Honestly, we would like to play, like, while we're in L.A. and DJ, but they told us not to, so we're like, whatever, we'll just record.
IAN ST. PE: This is Ian with the Black Lips. And they said, no, you're not playing, and we go OK. Well, we're going to do an album with Ke$ha.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Tick tock. This is Ke$ha.
KE$HA: Yeah. I'm actually the new lead singer of the Black Lips.
WALTERS: Well, not really. But they did hook up during the festival and plan to record an album together.
KE$HA: Yeah. We, you know, we get a little crazy in the studio. We all make, like, different animal noises.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We should do a beat and just do the monkey.
KE$HA: Oh, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible) the beat.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONKEY NOISES)
WALTERS: Maybe something will come out of a week's worth of sitting around.
KE$HA: That's all we can give you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You can only get a little bit. The record company called and said only samples.
WALTERS: Amy Walters, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.