Need advice for setting up a crowdfunded music festival
June 27, 2014 8:15 AM   Subscribe

A group of friends and I have been considering setting up a small music festival around May next year and are trying to get our heads around what we will need to think about, so that we can work out the cost of it all. Extended explanation inside.

The idea is to do a boutique-ish, family-friendly, one-day small event with the participation of some local music acts and maybe a couple of indie international acts. Our group of friends includes independent food shop owners who have a pretty big audience, designers, and other folk leading some interesting independent projects.

We need to get a better idea of things like the infrastructure needed to do this, all the way to how to promote it effectively and how to attract a good mix of acts people would want to come and see. We want to understand what makes an independent festival a hit.

In terms of funding, what would make people crowdfund an idea like this? This group of friends have amazing pieces of memorabilia signed/owned by musicians that they are willing to give away as rewards, as well as experiences such as sewing courses, professional BBQ lessons by a chef and so on. But would this be enough to get people to part with their money - I mean, how can you emphasize the idea that people will be funding (what we hope to be) an awesome community-created festival?

As well as individuals, the idea is to get companies to buy into this idea (perhaps using the CSR angle) to get quotas of the crowdfunding campaign in order to bring the international acts. Again, what do marketing execs of big companies want to see as a result of that kind of investment?

About the caterers and other people who would be part of the festival - some of the friends we mentioned above have businesses that sell food, ice cream, independent breweries and so on and would be selling food there. We would like to involve other people like NGOs and so on to do fundraising as well.

About the international musicians - what is the protocol when you invite bands to play in a foreign country? Flights and accommodation are a given, but are you expected to meet all the food & drink expenses too? What sort of lead time do bands need in order to commit to something like this - also, do festivals have a contract to tie in the musicians months in advance?

Since this would be a first festival, there is a lot of goodwill involved, but how can we make this into something that is worth financially speaking?

Some advice from marketing and operations people who have been involved in festival set-ups, sponsored it or book bands for those sorts of events would be much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by heartofglass to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am a festival promoter, but I am not your festival promoter.

The first and most important piece of advice is to bring a promoter on board. This isn't only because the promoter will have spent years figuring out the answers to these questions, but because if you are going to try to convince people to give you money to run a festival, you will want to demonstrate that at least a single person involved in the spending of that money has at some point demonstrated expertise in running a festival.

With that said, I'll try to answer a few questions on the logistics end of things, although most of this can vary wildly with your local and national laws. Which is why you should get a promoter who knows what the rules are where you live.

The protocol for inviting bands to play in a foreign country is that you contact the band or their agent, see if they're free and willing to play on those dates, and then make an offer. With a festival you want to do this 6-10 months before the fest, depending on size. You will be expected to pay for transportation and for the performance fee.

You will also be expected to process and pay for all relevant immigration paperwork so that the bands can legally perform in your country. In some countries this paperwork can cost thousands of dollars per band and needs to be filed six months in advance with three different agencies. In other countries it's a phone call. In most cases you will need to have signed contracts with the bands in order to process the paperwork. With many bands you will need to give them a cash deposit of 50% or more of the performance fee in order to get them to sign the contract.

You will also be expected to pay for the requirements outlined in the tech rider and the hospitality rider. Here is an example of what a tech/hospitality rider for a smallish band looks like:

a) All sound and lighting equipment to be provided by Promoter or Venue.
b) A secured stage of no less than fifteen feet (15’) wide and ten feet (10’) deep.
c) Two (2) Direct Inject (DI) boxes (band also brings 2 of its own)
d) A clean twenty-amp (20A) power circuit dedicated to Artist’s equipment. This circuit must be isolated from lighting equipment.
e) 5 wedge (or systematically equal) monitors.
g) One (1) drum rug or mat approximately 5’x5’
h) Four (4) SM58 or SM57 microphones and necessary cables and boom stands.
i) 24 channel mixing board (powered optional)
j) Four (4) power drops as indicated on stage plot
k) Two (2) rolls of black Gaffers tape should be on hand for potential usage.
l) all powering, cords and cabling to accommodate a 2 guitar/1 bass/1 keyboard/1 wireless mic/1 drum tech set up. (Please refer to stage plot)
m) Power drops and monitors should be in place as indicated on stage plot.
n) One (1) small smoke machine with plenty of fluid to last the set.

a) Twelve (12) guest listees (excluding Artist Publicity guest list)
b) Twenty-four (24) bottles of sealed room temperature water
c) Snacks and dinner for eight (8) people or a buy out of $10 per person.
d) Twenty-four (24) bottles of Beer (or equivalent drink tickets)
e) 750 ml’s of vodka (1 micky) (or equivalent drink tickets)
f) eight (8) cans of Red Bull
g) Six (6) clean full length towels
h) Three (3) clean hotel rooms with double beds
Every band you book will give you a tech and a hospitality rider like this, and it is very important that there are no surprises if you want the bands to perform when they arrive. You will also need to have arranged parking permits for all tour buses/vans in advance.

You will also probably need to get a number of permits for your festival, although this depends on your venue. Many concert halls will charge you a flat room rental fee and will handle all the paperwork, but will have licensing deals with specific breweries and will not let you bring in craft brewers. If you're renting a general-purpose event space you may be able to bring in your own beer, but you will need to get a liquor license, an event license, insurance, and possibly hire a few paramedics or security guards to hang out in the parking lot for liability reasons.

Basically what I'm saying is hire a promoter.
posted by Jairus at 9:04 AM on June 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

You sound overly ambitious for a first project. I've seen a lot of passionate and well meaning people bite off more than they can chew with music festivals and end up losing large amounts of money on it. What you're describing sounds like it would be outdoors, and local outdoor festivals are highly weather dependent. A lot of people will wait until the last minute to decide whether to buy tickets or not when they can see what the forecast is like.

First time amateur events also often turn out to be nightmares from a logistical standpoint; many established bands won't work with amateur events with no track record because they go so badly.

I would suggest that you find a local concert promoter and see if they would be willing to partner with you on an event and what they think the local market will support and be interested in. It can be dauntingly hard to get more than a few hundred people to come out to events (even free ones), even if you know what you're doing and have experience.

Start small with what you and your friends know (a food and beer festival) that happens to have a few bands playing.
posted by Candleman at 9:06 AM on June 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

My job is providing production (sound, lighting, staging) for events, and I spend a significant portion of my time in the spring, summer, and fall doing shows that sound very similar to what you're considering. Most of these are outside in more-or-less public spaces. (I'm in the midwestern U.S., so there may be some YMMV, as your profile says you're in Chile.)

First, I'll give a strong second to what Jairus & Candleman have said, especially the parts about getting some assistance from a known promoter, and that getting international acts might really be pushing your limits & expenses.

For example, if your bands have to fly in, due to airline luggage size & weight restrictions & cost they will be traveling with pretty minimal equipment - guitarists will bring 1 guitar and a few effects pedals, drummers will bring cymbals, sticks and a snare drum - so part of the tech rider will include "backline"; some instruments and instrument amplifiers will have to be provided by the festival, which can easily add thousands of dollars to the cost.

Tech and hospitality riders are negotiable, but only to a point, and where that point is can depend very much on the band and their tech crew and their management. The rider is actually part of the contract, so failing to fulfill the rider or provide agreed upon substitutes means that you will be in violation of the signed contract, which means they don't have to play and you will still have to pay them. (Actually, in reality, mostly what happens is that people scramble around like mad trying to get ahold of the right equipment/food/drink at the last minute, which means the promoter pays top dollar for it.) IOW, if you've got any kind of "name" band, whether from Chile or not, you can't just ignore the riders and hope that two microphones and a couple of speakers you borrowed from your buddy who's in a band will be acceptable and that the band will be O.K. with some pizza and a few bottles of water. Even for a local/regional-band-only festival your life will likely be easier if you (or the promoter) hires a professional production company to provide sound, staging, & lighting, and to interface with all the bands from a technical standpoint.

One thing a lot of newbie festival organizers screw up is the performance schedule. Bands need time (a half-hour is not unrealistic) to get their gear offstage and the next band on. If you try to schedule smaller acts "in-between" the main bands, guess what? You no longer have bands able to change over, because other performers are on the stage!! Don't do this.

Other thoughts & considerations in no particular order:

Electricity: how much do you need? Where's it coming from? The band might need 1 20-amp circuit, but that's just for instrument amps. The sound system and lighting will need quite a bit more than that. What about power for vendors/food/beer? That better not be coming from the same source as production power. How are you going to distribute the power to the vendors?

Sanitation - Bathrooms & hand washing & trash: In the U.S. you'll see portable toilets and hand-wash stations at pretty much every outdoor public event. They're available for rental from a variety of companies. And you'll need containers for trash, and for recycling, and someone's gotta collect full bags and put in fresh empty ones, and at the end of the day all the trash and recyclables have to go somewhere.

Security/First Aid: Of course, you hope like hell there are no fights, but sometimes people just get wound up and need to be removed. Plus sometimes there's a need to just keep the curious public away from musicians and/or expensive equipment. And people do get minor injuries that need some attention. In the U.S. it's not uncommon for off-duty cops to "moonlight" as event security in their uniforms.

family-friendly: kids like music (a LOT, generally), but think about having specifically kid-friendly activities, and a place for them to do stuff away from the volume of the music.

what do marketing execs of big companies want to see as a result of that kind of investment?

Here in the U.S., a lot of companies of various sizes are willing to provide some funding for events simply for P.R./community goodwill purposes. In exchange they'll get their name & logo on a banner that hangs on the stage and/or some signs around the event area and/or "thank you" announcements from the stage by an emcee. One festival I work every year (mostly local bands with a few low-level "name" acts) works on a model of getting local businesses to sponsor specific bands, and each band is required to thank their sponsoring business three times during their set.

IOW you sell "outreach via community festival" to the businesses, not the theoretical popularity of your musical acts.

About the caterers and other people who would be part of the festival - some of the friends we mentioned above have businesses that sell food, ice cream, independent breweries and so on and would be selling food there.

Hm. Well, the blunt reality is that very very very often in the concert/event business, ticket sales and sponsorships and donations are what cover the expenses - the actual profit and/or the next event's startup budget comes from sales of food and drink, especially alcohol.

So possibly one option would be to form an actual partnership with your food-serving friends, where it's spelled out that proceeds from food or drink sales will go into a fund for the next festival.

One very common model for festivals here is that the festival will sell "booth space" to food, drink, and arts & crafts vendors. The vendors get a designated space to set up in in exchange for a flat fee and/or the festival gets a piece of the vendor's proceeds.

At the festival I mentioned above, the organizers and volunteers take care of beer sales - no other vendors can serve alcohol. They contract with a local distributor to get kegs at wholesale prices, and then sell it by the glass for average bar prices.

Another festival I work covers some expenses via selling booth space, but mostly makes money by selling lemonade, water, ice cream, and t-shirts. (No alcohol sales at this event.) Other food vendors can sell soda, coffee, juice, or tea, but lemonade and water sales are reserved for the festival.

We want to understand what makes an independent festival a hit.
how to attract a good mix of acts people would want to come and see.
how can you emphasize the idea that people will be funding (what we hope to be) an awesome community-created festival?

Mmmmm. Actually, you may be putting a bit too much emphasis on the acts you want to bring in. Which makes sense if you're specifically trying to sell tickets to see a specific act, but in terms of a small community festival is maybe not so important - it seems like an easy way to promote crowd-funding ahead of time ("Raise the funds to bring RockStar X to Chile!!") - but in terms of actually drawing people to your festival and having them enjoy it enough to return for the next one . . . .

I know you're thinking of a "music" festival, but lots of people like lots of different kinds of music, and for a small community festival the actual acts are not necessarily the draw. It's the "community" part that people like - a chance to eat and drink and talk with their friends and neighbors and try some interesting new foods and maybe buy some cool jewelry or pottery or a photograph . . . . AND listen to some good music while they're doing all that. In a lot of ways, booking a popular local band would actually do you more good than trying to bring in someone from out of the country.

I mentioned above two festivals I work at regularly. One does bill itself as a free music festival - the acts are almost all local, with a few bands from different cities and different states (who are No Big Deal "locals" in their hometowns) and a couple of slightly-more-well-known "national" acts. The other one doesn't specifically call itself a music festival, but the music is a very important part of the whole event. It's all local bands.

Both festivals will have between 10,000 and 20,000 people in attendance over the course of two or three days.

Now, admittedly, both festivals have been going for many years, but even the one with the national acts only started booking those in the last 5 years or so, and it's not that these acts have much name recognition, it's that they're really good bands, which makes people walk away saying, "Wow, those guys were great, I'd never heard of them before, but I'll come back next year to see whoever's playing this fest, because they book really good bands."

So WHO you book actually might not be as important as you might think. Your food shop owners might be as big of a draw as your musical acts. People feeling a sense of community and having a good time is what will allow a festival to continue and grow year after year.

Tying into the idea of the emphasis of your festival being "community", it might be worth investigating if you can get some assistance from your local government. There might very well be funds available specifically for the purpose of creating community events. Even if no actual cash changes hands, your local politicians can often help find a space for the festival, and expedite the permit process, and waive fees, and figure out (legitimate) ways to get city employees to, say, cover the trash collection needs. Helping to promote and organize a community festival is actually the kind of thing politicians are ideally supposed to do, and a lot of them would love the opportunity to have their name associated with a cool music festival.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:18 PM on June 28, 2014

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