How to Get a Job at a Music Festival
What makes a music festival successful? Obviously you need a killer lineup, in a location where people want to go, with cool “bonuses” like awesome food vendors, a record fair, and a toilet situation that doesn’t give guests nightmares. The real beating heart of a music festival, though, is the people who make it happen behind the scenes. These people are pros; it can be a high stress job, with logistical challenges, long hours, and bad weather, which is why you’ll often see the same people working at the festival year after year. They know what they’re doing. The festival organizers know they can count on their expertise. Since it’s largely the same people staffing the important positions every year, the few openings for professional jobs at a music festival can get very competitive. If working at your favorite festival is your dream job, don’t get discouraged! This blog post will put you on the path to landing a music festival job, even if you don’t have much music business experience on your resume.
Get Your Foot in the Door
Getting a job at a music festival is a long game. You need to start planning your career moves as much to a year ahead of the actual festival. Start by making a list of potential employers, whether you’ve got an “in” at this organization or not. Asking someone you know about openings is always preferable, but if you don’t have a connection, do some internet research on whom to reach out to about getting involved. Look for positions relevant to what you want to do at record labels, production companies and concert venues that regularly participate in the festival of your choice. If you have very little music industry experience, look for street team, volunteer or internship opportunities with organizations you know will be at the festival.
Check the festival’s website for job fairs or volunteer opportunities. A lot of times these job listings are for Ticket Takers or Parking Lot Attendants. Positions like these are hit or miss for getting you on the path to your dream job. If you’re a teenager with very little work experience, these roles will look good on your resume and show you’re interested in working your way up. However, you’ll have to network like crazy with people in more music-focused job roles at the festival to show your interest in moving from the parking lot to the production offices, and you won’t always have this chance. It’s much easier to meet the people you need to know when you’re working closer (both physically and skill-wise) to where they are. This is why, especially if you have some music-related experience—whether through a college degree course or relevant employment—you should keep an eye out for positions where you’ll be working with music industry pros.
Network to find your first festival job and network to move from a volunteer role to a staff position.
It might seem counterintuitive, but be aware landing a job at a music festival might require you to volunteer for a few months to a year to prove your commitment, and for people on staff to get to know you. Some festivals, such as SXSW or Bonnaroo, rely on volunteers to help visitors, hand out press badges, and staff the festival’s merch booths. If you’re weighing a position where you’ll be staffing the info booth at the festival for free versus selling tickets and getting paid, choose the volunteer position. You may be starting from the bottom, but you’ll meet a ton of people, and if you do a good job, you’ll be able to talk to your supervisor about expanding your responsibilities or possibly moving into a position closer to what you want to do in the future.
Keep in mind it’s easier to get involved way ahead of the festival when there’s less competition for jobs and your potential employers aren’t dealing with deadlines and last minute snafus and can give more of their time to a promising new member of the festival staff. Getting involved with an organization prior to the festival season also gives you time to demonstrate your commitment, work ethic, and eagerness to learn, so when festival time rolls around, you’ll be a shoo-in for festival staff.
Of course, the key in all this is networking. Network to find your first festival job and network to move from a volunteer role to a staff position. Volunteering will help you get a foot in the door, but to work your way up your desired position and to make a career out of working at festivals, you have to build connections with the people who make the festival happen. This is easier to do at a small festival than a huge one like Coachella, for example. At small festivals people wear more hats, and it’s easier to get to know people in the industry when you’re one of a hundred volunteers versus one of six hundred. You’ll also have better luck if you’re trying to get a job at a festival in your local area since it’s easier to capitalize on your existing music industry contacts to help you sniff out any available openings, and it’s easier to stay in touch with all the people you meet through the festival if they happen to attend the same shows as you or get their morning coffee at the shop where you work. Plus, festivals hire their staff from people they know who are active in their local music community. If, eight months before the festival, you start working as an assistant to a well-respected Sound Tech at a big concert venue in town, festival organizers will probably already know your work and your local connections will put you ahead of someone with less proven experience.
Do Your Research
Research all organizations involved with the festival, from the Concert Promoter to the Videographers to the corporate sponsors. As has been stated, it’s important to reach out to your contacts about possible festival-related work early. If you don’t personally know someone at an organization, do some internet research to find the person who could hire you. Email them your resume and tell them about your interest in the organization. With so many different segments of the music industry coming together to make the festival a success, there’s sure to be something to fit your skill set.
It will take time to work your way up and for people in the position to hire you for your dream job to get to know you.
Major players at all festivals include:
- Concert Promoters and/or Talent Buyers, who book all the acts. The Promoters usually dream up the entire festival experience, setting the tone of the festival through the acts, vendors, and theme of the event.
- The Production Team, which coordinates and facilitates everything from the restrooms to the VIP areas to the beer tents. They also hire security.
- Artist Managers, who accompany the bands on tour, make sure they’re being treated well, and handle their day-to-day needs.
- Videographers and Photographers document the festival as it’s happening, often through live streaming or photos sent to local newspapers.
- Stage Managers make sure everything on stage goes smoothly. They work with artists to ensure they’re on stage at the right time, with the equipment they need to perform.
- Merch Table Staff and Record Fair Vendors sell T-shirts and albums. It might seem like all you’re doing is handling money in this position, but it’s actually a great way to meet record label employees and others involved in the world of music retail.
- The Marketing and PR Staff are the ones who made sure the festival got a full-page ad in your local alternative weekly, the festival’s Twitter account is posting set times, and you’re reading about the festival on your favorite blog.
- Sustainability Consultants are increasingly becoming more of a fixture at festivals, as they try to reduce the carbon footprint of the fest. While this is an environmentally-focused job, this role also finds the worker interacting with all the higher ups at the music festival, and can be great for networking.
Come Back Next Year
Yes, you’ve been working since 8am and it’s now past dark. Yes, it’s ridiculously hot outside. Yes, you just missed the band you wanted to see most because there was some kind of last minute emergency and you had to skip your break. Working at a music festival is intense, hard work. If you’re starting from the bottom, the way to get people to remember you and want to work with you again is to keep smiling, be the person who grabs water for their coworkers, and can crack a joke even when it’s 1am and your feet hurt. This is the kind of person who makes a long day more fun, who people remember and who will get hired back next year.
Which should be your goal. It will take time to work your way up and for people in the position to hire you for your dream job to get to know you. As has been previously mentioned, lots of the time music festival jobs are held by the same people for years, which is why it’s essential to get your name out there before an opening comes up when someone on festival staff retires, moves to another city or gets hired by another company. So, once the festival is over, stay in touch. Give yourself and the staff a few days to recover, then reach out with a friendly email or a thank you card. Tell them how much fun you had on staff, how much you enjoyed getting to know them and tell them you can’t wait for next year. Throw in a couple sentences about your excitement to learn more about how festivals work and your desire to keep working in the industry. Don’t be pushy. Respond in a timely manner if they write you back. Then, later on down the road, reconnect. This can be as simple as telling the Photographer you want to work with that you loved seeing their photo in NME. Then ask if you can take them out for coffee to ask about their career, and see if they have any advice for you. If it seems appropriate, ask if you can help out as a volunteer or as a paid assistant. Keep checking in throughout the months leading up to the festival to see if they need any help. Once these industry professionals have gotten to know you and have seen how much of an asset you can be to their team, you’ll be in the running for the coveted music festival jobs everyone wants.
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