Starting a music festival is no easy task. Behind the scenes months of hard work, blood, sweat and tears are poured into that weekend you’ve got marked loudly on your calendar, and that you’ll look back on so fondly. We don’t often think of festivals as businesses – but rather dream states, whirlwinds of euphoria with your best mates as you enjoy hours upon hours of the current top picks of the music biz. It’s easy to disregard the mountain of organisation that goes into them, but the people behind these events are the ones we owe some of our greatest memories to. If it weren’t for them, the world would be a much sadder place.
Cameron Wade is one of these people, a pioneer of sorts, and the man behind the magic of By The Meadow festival, the annual autumnal music soiree that takes place just outside of Melbourne. Moving into its sixth year, By The Meadow is a weekend long festival that showcases some of the most exciting current music from across Australia and beyond, with 2019 headliners including The Goon Sax, Collarbones and Thando. Currently in the heat of its curation, Cameron and his team have been working tirelessly as they pull together a festival to leave you weak at the knees and pining for the next.
Amongst all the hustle and bustle, Cameron found the time to share his week with us and we’re so grateful he did. Read all about the non-stop life of this festival aficionado below!
A job description in your own words:
I’m a full time engineer with a second almost full time job running By The Meadow music festival on the side for a little over half the year.
We’re still at a cosy enough size that I get to be involved in all aspects of running an event from curation and booking through to operations, logistics and facilities. I’m essentially the day to day contact for anyone reaching out the festival for any reason at all. I work as part of a very small team of collaborators in ticketing, marketing, stage operation and design to bring the festival together.
For the sake of this journal, I’m going to pretend we’re right in the thick of things (as we are right now) preparing to make our lineup announcements for next year’s festival. The reality is, the work is very cyclical and I’d give a totally different weekly summary depending on where we’re up to.
In between, around (and sometimes over the top of…) working through my day-to-day 9-5 job as an engineer, I’m currently working through booking the bill for our 2019 festival. On a Monday, there’s a good chance I’ve spent the weekend just gone checking out bands that we’re interested in hosting, so I’ll be sending out some early morning emails containing offers on these artists or requests for more information. These booking discussions can resolve themselves in an agreement within a day or two, or could trail out across the rest of the week or even over many weeks to come. It’s a patience game where you get the best results when you get in early.
After work on a Monday, I have my own band rehearsal, so other than a few more emails coming through, that’s normally about it for Monday.
Oh… other than social media. This is a constant background activity. Every day. Content to keep punters engaged and excited about the event ahead.
We’ve been trying to expand our lineup catchment area. Reaching out further internationally, but figuring it all out ourselves. So Tuesday morning I’ll check emails first thing and see how our booking conversations with international agents are going. These are generally a lot harder and more complex conversations to work through than bookings on Australian acts, but it’s an exciting challenge to come to understand and something that’s probably going to take a few years to master!
After scanning through these emails, I’ll quickly check our socials and answer any queries coming through there or via our contact email. Any ticketing troubles, facilities questions, festival information requests will often come through at night whilst people are contemplating grabbing a couple of tickets.
At some point in the day, I might have a call with one of the many local agents we work with, who want to pitch more new music. It’s important to keep up with as many of these relationships as possible, and always exciting to hear what various artists are up to, so I always try to make time for these calls, and sometimes even try to catch up in person.
Tuesday after work, I get my first chance to devote a good chunk of time to all that goes into the operation of the actual event. This comes together over a 6 or so month period, and right now, we’re working on our food offerings. We like to keep things local and unique to our particular event. Other operation-based work that we might be doing would revolve around toilets, campsite facilities, glamping contractors, drinking water setup, sound and lighting
technicians and equipment, our cinema programming and equipment, shelter (shade and rain), artist riders, council requirements, other authorities (CFA, Police, etc…) requirements, first aid officers, fire management team, security personnel. This list goes on as long as we want it to. And… it grows every year.
This Wednesday will be one week since our first announcement was made, and tickets going on sale. So after starting out much like Monday or Tuesday, it’ll be a good time to check in to see how our ticket sales are going compared to the first week in previous years. We can also get a quick idea about how anything new we’ve added is selling, like our Otway Panther Safari (an experimental experience being put together for the 2019 event).
Wednesday night, and I’m back with our graphic designer (and my good mate) Seb Cotton who’s just finished with all the bits and pieces we needed to get the website up and running and is now onto posters, wristbands, merch, socials content and just about everything else that you’ll see coming through our communications channels.
His work essentially sets the mood for the coming event. I don’t think Seb has missed a single festival so he understands what we’re trying to put together quite intimately and works quite autonomously in shaping the artwork direction each year.
Finding this founding wisdom really helpful? We have courses galore on event start-up, check ’em out here.
Not always on a Thursday, but at least once a week I like to jump on Triple J Unearthed and make sure that I’m as up to date as I can be on emerging artists in Victoria. That website is an absolutely massive facility for uncovering new music, and I can easily spend 2-3 hours each time I’m on there just trying to scroll right back to where I left off last week on Victorian acts alone. If I uncover something new, I can then dig a little deeper on Facebook, Soundcloud and Instagram to learn more about the artists to help me shape the decisions we make in our bookings.
Thursday night will be one of the first nights in the week we could be catching shows for acts we want to book. We’ll get a handful of emails each week from artists wanting us to come see what they’re up to. This is an absolutely integral part of making a festival more than just a collection of bands being hyped by music media. It’s so important to us that we know exactly what we’re booking as we want to guarantee punters that our artists’ live shows are mind-blowing enough to justify a position on our bill. In our current Victorian festival environment, with new events
appearing every year, it’s evidently so easy to book based on the opinions of others. You can pick an entire bill based on what one radio station will tell you, or one music website, but in a day and age where it’s easier than ever for artists to make studio grade music from their bedrooms that will rack up the radio plays and streaming counts, it takes this extra effort to ensure that the live show is also more than impressive. That’s part of real curation.
Release day. What’s new? Friday is full of new singles and we need to be pretty much across anything that’s relevant here. If we don’t get in early, we might see other events snap up artists releasing new tunes that would have been perfect for By The Meadow.
In a few weeks’ time Friday will also be when we start to head out of Melbourne on the weekend to commence work on the site. We’ll spend quite a bit of time around Bambra through the first quarter of the year preparing all the physical facilities that enable the event to take place.
But, for now, Friday and Saturday this weekend will probably involve more live music…
Challenges and accomplishments in your week:
It’s comforting to see our bookings spreadsheet move forward this week. More green boxes, more artists locked in, and closer than ever to having something we’re proud to share with our punters come Autumn. Undoubtedly, there were challenges in agreeing on fees, billing order or perhaps set times with agents, but these are all part of keeping a small scale festival vital. This week we also managed a smooth launch to our 2019 event with our first tickets now on sale.
Highlights of the job:
Seeing the bill firm up is absolutely a highlight. Sharing our announcements with the public is part of that. And finally, seeing it in the flesh, and hearing the feedback from punters is confirmation that we’re doing the right thing and making the right decisions. Knowing that people enjoy our curation is probably the greatest highlight.
Lowlights of the job:
Bookings that don’t work out after months of negotiations. Other features of the festival you work to build and create that don’t turn out to be viable. Basically anything you can tip hours and hours into that could hit a dead end. There’s a lot of rejection involved in pulling an event together and you’ve got to get used to that despite how endlessly draining it can feel. There’s also pack down. You know the feeling of packing up your campsite after 3 massive days and nights at a festival. Now imagine the feeling of packing down the entire festival.
Words of wisdom for people considering a job in your field:
To keep things very, very brief, I believe that in Victoria in particular, we are probably beyond the saturation point for smaller scale music festivals. Despite the strength of our local music industry, I doubt there is capacity within our punters to support additional events, without detracting from the vitality of those that currently exist.
I’d think about this in depth before I considered creating a new boutique style festival. Unless there is a niche you feel has been untouched, prepare for a very hard and dedicated slog to build something viable.
Having said this, if you have the passion, nothing is impossible.