How To Become a Festival Director
Festival Director Gina Martinez says, “I oversee the festival from a bird’s-eye view. I make sure everybody has everything they need, down to [when] the ice is being delivered, the box office has the tents, the fence is in the correct location, all the permits are pulled, [and] the police are there.”
Festival Directors work behind-the-scenes to make sure everything goes smoothly from the earliest stages of the event to when the bands are packing up and all the fans are heading home. These duties include dealing with the city where the festival will be held to secure the necessary permits and building relationships with key companies in the community.
On the festival grounds, the Director manages the location and the employees, oversees setup and breakdown, deals with contractors, and creates materials such as maps and signage. They are in charge of setting up on-site offices, maintaining relationships with food, liquor, and merchandise vendors and coordinating festival staffing. They also ensure the festival receives adequate insurance coverage, and work with other top-level execs to project potential income and risks for the event.
Due to the varied nature of this line of work, Festival Directors work with a huge range of people, including vendors, Talent Buyers, city officials, musicians, security, ticketing/box office representatives and basically anyone you’d see on the ground, working at a festival.
On average, Festival Directors earn approximately $151,100 annually. The salary range for Festival Directors runs from $149,000 to $153,000.
Festival Directors are often salaried employees, but this can vary. “I’m in a unique situation because I’m a part owner of the festival,” Martinez says. In fact, since Festival Director is such a high-ranking position within the organizational structure of the festival, many do have ownership in the event, which means their income is dependent on its success.
With so much on their plate, it’s natural to assume Festival Directors lead a somewhat hectic lifestyle. Martinez believes it’s important to try to maintain a healthy work/life balance despite needing to be always available as issues arise.
She says, “I do travel a lot but I also only travel when I absolutely need to be somewhere. If I’m gone, I’m there for a purpose. I was just in El Paso for a week, making sure everything was buttoned up and all issues were covered ahead of time. I’m on call 24/7, so if I get a text at midnight I’m going to respond to it. Sometimes you’re out grocery shopping and you’re responding to emails or in the car making calls.”
With such a diverse skill set required for the job, there is no set career path for Festival Directors. Most start their careers as Interns or volunteers at a music festival or live music venue and work their way up to positions such as Talent Buyer or Concert Promoter before taking on the duties of a Festival Director.
Others land the position after years working in a tangential field such as event planning or wedding planning. Advancement comes through working on festivals with bigger audience turnouts and more well-known artists. A Festival Director may also decide to strike out on his or her own, by founding a festival production company in which they are a partner or sole owner.
To land a first job on a festival Martinez advises “volunteering and interning. I think those are the two best ways to get in. You have to go in and stand out, to show people you’re willing to go above and beyond. A lot of Interns come in and do the job and [then] there are the select few who just blow you away and get things done, faster, quicker and more on point than you ever expected.
“Those are the people who are brought on board to be permanent team members and not just seasonal help or temporary workers.”
- Start planning little parties. I think that’s a way to understand the dynamics of an event.
- Attend events and look at every single detail that goes into them, from staffing to box office to porta-potties and where they’re placed and why you think they’re placed there.
- Start working on bigger events. Help a Wedding Planner. Help a Corporate Event Planner.
- Volunteer or intern for an [event] production company.
- Work hard and do the best you can at that position so you can move up in the company. The other path is to do something on your own. If you see an opportunity, seize it. Look for money and funding. Do as much research and development as you can; reach out to city officials and other pros in the industry and build from there.
Experience & Skills
“First of all,” Martinez says, “I think it’s really important people learn how to hustle.”
Since Festival Directors are responsible for everything from liaising with city officials to lining up proper insurance to overseeing setup and breakdown of the event, they must have a diverse skill set that can only be attained by actually working in live music and festival production.
Martinez advises aspiring Festival Directors start building the necessary skills by seeking out “entry-level positions like volunteering for festivals, getting internships with festival production companies, attending events to see what’s popular and not popular (what works and doesn’t work) and [by] taking notes.”
To be a successful Festival Director, Martinez says, “I think the right type of personality is someone who is detail-oriented and willing to take on anything to get the job done. In this job, there are a lot of moments where I look at my staff and am like ‘figure it out.’”
A Festival Director should also be “an independent thinker and personality and somebody who can think outside the box. I’m faced with a problem right now where I’m not able to put things where I want them to be because there’s a fire lane that must be maintained. I had asked the Fire Marshall previously about this, but now I have to figure out where to put things. I have no option of saying ‘I can’t figure this out.’ I have to get the job done.”
Education & Training
Since their job duties encompass such a variety of roles, Festival Directors come from all walks of life and different educational programs. Some have degrees in Music Business, others have no degree at all. And some, like Martinez, had college majors completely outside of the music industry.
She says, “I have a degree in Fashion Merchandising with a minor in Business Administration and I was a Teacher for ten years so I have a unique background. I think being a Teacher gave me the patience and attention I need to be an event producer — to give me the big picture idea that goes into events production.
“I think the degree gave me a really well-rounded education in finance, marketing, and public relations. My combination has worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s the suggested route; people have to find something they love and can focus on and be passionate about. If that means event production and there are degrees that provide that [training], if it’s Music Production, etc. if you’re meant to be in the music business you find your way here.”
As this is such a specialized position, there are no professional groups or unions dedicated specifically to working as a Festival Director. However, festival employees may find resources like the International Festivals & Events Association or the European Festivals Association helpful in terms of education, networking, and experience.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Hustle. Get an internship, get a volunteer position and work as hard as you possibly can. This is not an easy job and it’s not for everybody. It might sound cool, exciting and like a fun position, but it is hella stressful. But if you work hard and are passionate about this, it can be the right job for you.
“You have to make sacrifices. The work/life balance can be a little wonky but if you know how to deal with it, it can be amazing.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“One of the biggest mistakes I see is people coming in and thinking this job is way easier than it is. They underestimate the level of details that must be maintained. There are so many things that need to be organized in advance all the way from day 1 to [final] cleanup and if someone doesn’t have that attention to detail, this job isn’t for them.
“There are over 1000 people I’m communicating with, from supervisors to ground staff. I have to be super detail-oriented and have a great team in place to help me do that.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“I think that people don’t ask me what the best part of my job is because they think it is all glitz and glamour. Ninety percent of my day is actually spent in front of a computer responding to emails, text and phone calls.
“The best part is I get to create these experiences so people get to have these memories they will talk about for years on end. That’s important to our community. I need that in my life and in my job. It’s giving people — mostly younger people — the opportunity to have this culturally rich experience that livens up their lives.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Passion. I love my job. I love what I do, and because of that I’m willing to go to all ends of the earth to make whatever needs to happen, happen.”
Gina Martinez is a partner in Austin, Texas-based live music event production company BGZ Presents. She has also worked as a contractor for hip-hop promoters Scoremore Shows and as a Festival Director and Event Producer for Splendid Sun Productions, the company behind El Paso’s Neon Desert Music Festival, whose headliners have included Tiësto, Future and Deftones.