6 Real World Tips To Successfully Start Your Own Music Festival

Music Industry Inside Out Festival Article

DIY Music Festival Tips!

We all love attending music festivals – seeing live music, having fun with friends and escaping everyday life. It’s a special experience! But have you ever wondered how it all happens and what goes on behind the scenes? Do you want to be a part of making the magic happen? Music Industry Inside Out is here to bring you some real-world tips for creating and running your own music festival from three very passionate festival directors:

Top Tips for Creating and Running your Own Music Festival

1. CREATE A STRONG FESTIVAL VISION

Bill tells us ‘the logistics and planning came after, it was the dreaming that came first.‘ In the early days of Woodford they ‘grew a shared vision amongst a group as large as we could make. There was a strong sense of ownership and from that grew an ethos that became very powerful and still exists.’ 

Having a clear vision for your festival will help you to know what you are working towards and why. This is where your passion comes into play! All three festival directors stated that their visions for their festivals have remained the same, and remained strong since the beginning.

When asked about the importance of boutique festivals, such as Jungle LoveRaymond says ‘they are an incubator for positive social change. They usually attract a crowd that shares similar values to the people who are staging it. One of our goals is to create an inclusive environment for like-minded people to come together and create friendships and special moments that would go on to positively affect their lives.

What has inspired you to start your own festival? What is your definition of a festival experience, and what does it mean to you? This special experience is what you want to create for your patrons, and it will show! Another thing to consider is what will make your festival unique and stand out amongst the others.

Bill: ‘Every festival is like its own being. It has to discover its own way of moving forward. That’s because of the personnel that makeup the festival – creating what it is and what it becomes.’ Bill also reminded us that festivals have different purposes. ‘There’s the big city festivals – Sydney Festival, Melbourne Festival etc. which are all great and achieve things in their own right. Then there’s the Woodford level, which has it’s unique purpose and ideas, small community. Then you have music industry festivals like Splendour in the Grass and Byron Bay Bluesfest. All great festivals in their own right but all have a different purpose.‘ Be sure to know what type of festival yours will be so you know how to work with that.

2. START SMALL

Raymond: Start really, really small. If you can get just 300 people into a paddock and pull off something very basic, but get all of the little things right, they’ll have a great time and they’ll tell people to come back the next year. But even before starting a festival, try throwing a few house parties with several bands. There’ll undoubtedly be hiccups and you’ll learn so much each time so that when you do do a festival you’ll be far more experienced with what it takes to run a smoother production. Don’t be daunted by the scale of other festivals you love. I made that mistake when I went to my first Big Day Out. It didn’t occur to me at the time that it didn’t start out as a 50,000 person touring festival, it took years to build up to that. Every festival starts out with humble beginnings.

Bill: ‘In 2004, I was gifted a fellowship to go to the USA and Canada to study festivals. I toured around and went to festivals when they were on, and met the owners and organisers of the festivals when they weren’t actually on. (Which is where I learnt most things because you couldn’t really talk to people when it was on.) From my study, what was common among non-for-profit festivals in America and Canada was that they all started small and grew, the same as we did. There were no exceptions to that. I think there’s some wisdom in starting small, and boutique. You can grow it and if it’s successful it will become major.’

3. GROW GRADUALLY

Whilst it’s important to have a strong vision and set goals, that doesn’t necessarily mean shoot for the stars and go wild! Be realistic and aim for gradual, incremental growth in order to create strength.

Phaedra: ‘We hold Nannup as it is, and allow it to morph and change, but not lose the magic it is. We are happy with the size, and protective of our values and philosophy. I think being community owned and run – a not for profit, helps hold all of this safe. It’s created and run with love, and that filters through. If you get too big, or dream beyond possibility, this sense can easily be lost.’

Raymond: ‘Jungle Love has grown at just the right pace each year. We’ve only ever allowed for small increases in patronage each year to ensure that our team can deliver the right experience. We aim to grow the festival through the networks of people that already attend so that we can keep the vibe that makes it so special. I think it’s always important to aim to do a little better each year and aim for growth, but we’ve learnt that it’s important not to set your budget by anticipating growth because you might not grow as much as expected. Do something great within your budget and if you do grow then it’s a bonus and also super nice to have some money left to reward yourself. It’s immensely harder to do things when you’re in debt!’

4. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

Building a strong, positive relationship and reputation within your local community (residents as well as council) will be beneficial in many aspects. It’ll make life easier when you need to ask for favours from them and they’re happy to help out!

Phaedra recommends ‘getting your community’s support and vision as they are important stakeholders. The shire/council are vital too, without their go ahead it might not eventuate. These guys will help with all the governance, permits permissions etc.’ 

Raymond says one of their very first steps was ‘to start telling all of the people we knew that we were starting a music festival and drumming up excitement in those people who would go on to be our biggest supporters.’

+ If you’ve read this far you must be keen! Check out our courses on Producing and Promoting Your Own Events.

5. IT’S NOT EASY, BUT IT’S WORTH IT

As with any project, there will always be set-backs and issues but of course these can be solved! In Raymond‘s words ‘our biggest challenges become our biggest opportunities to learn.’ It will all be worth it!

Raymond: ‘Every year there’s something, without a doubt. People never really see it, which is probably a good thing. I can imagine from a punters perspective that it feels like a year rolls around and then “voila!” it’s on again. But every year we have huge hoops to jump through.’

Bill:I look back and realise we had more courage than sense. We didn’t know what we were doing but it was probably a good thing. It all looks sweet from the outside, but on the inside, it’s been very difficult. But there’s been determination and some wonderful outcomes.’

6. SEEK SUPPORT

Of course you can’t do it all alone! Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be sure to have a strong team around you.

Raymond: There are others that have done it and made all of the mistakes and they know how difficult it is to start one and keep it going. They’ll point out many things that you didn’t even consider. I think most would offer support to someone wanting to do the same for others. If you are serious about creating a festival, invite me for a coffee and I’ll very happily tell you everything I know!’

Phaedra: ‘Find some peers. It’s great working alongside others doing similar things, or just meeting regularly to share insight, whether it’s about logistics and resources, or current funding possibilities. Who’s touring, what can be shared, how to write a contract etc.’

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