Getting up close and personal with your favourite live music acts with a drink in hand, whilst the sun shines, doesn’t sound much like work, does it? But if you work in the festival industry, that’s your lived reality.
Saying that, it’s not all glitz and glamour. Just ask Amy Smith, who worked as O2′s Music Sponsorship Manager for four and a half years. (She’s now their Sports Sponsorship Manager).. Amy nabbed her first role with O2 after working on the student festival scene for a few years whilst studying before moving into festival management full-time.
She’s pretty much done it all whilst working in the festival industry; from helping launch one from scratch, to cleaning the port-a-loos, to marketing and negotiating deals with big acts.
We sat down with Amy to gather her insight on how to navigate such an exciting career and, what you can do to follow in her footsteps if you’re interested…
Go where the experience is
Amy went to Bournemouth University and studied a Masters in Events Management, but noted that you don’t have to do that to work in the festival industry these days. “I wanted to get a qualification that also offered a placement because back then it wasn’t very common” she explains. “My Masters offered placement at a little festival in Cornwall that was a student festival, so I took the gamble and applied for the course so I could maybe work there”.
Amy’s gamble paid off and she ended up working with the festival for six months as an events assistant. When the festival moved to London due to its success, she was promoted to events manager and then deputy festival director (that’s one under the boss FYI!). “We moved from 2000 people attending a festival to five years later having almost 30,000 people.” Amy explains.
Make yourself known to festival organisers
Amy believes it’s possible to have a super-fast rise up the career ladder if you put the work in and make yourself indispensable to organisers when you start out. “It’s a small industry and a lot of people who started off doing similar jobs to me have also risen to the top of the ranks now” she says. “If you have passion, dedication and put in the long hours – because it is hard work and unsociable hours – you will have a quick career trajectory and get to where you want to be. But you do need to start at the bottom.”
Be prepared to do it all
Recalling how she nabbed her role at a new student festival that was just starting out, Amy says she was “lucky to get to grow with them”, explaining that she did all kinds of jobs as a result.
You have to throw yourself into every task that comes your way if you want to work in the festival industry. “As an intern, you have to get stuck in” she notes. “At 2am, I’d stick on a high-vis jacket and get a radio and sit outside doing the nightshift. I’ve been involved in everything from the site design, the production, meeting the council, event management to booking the acts.”
Volunteering is vital
Amy knows that the idea of working in the festival industry is popular, so she advises looking for volunteering placements as soon as you can if you want to work in the festival industry. “Go for festivals that you like” she advises. “99% of the time they have a volunteer program running. Get in there, start early, and you can work your way up.” Amy noted that Outlook and Dimensions in Croatia have “a really great placement which is a step-up from a normal volunteer work…a lot of people who have done that have gone on to work with that company and work in other festivals.”.
“There are so many different elements when you work in the festival industry” she notes. ” From production to marketing and promotions, knowing about the infrastructure – the tent system, the health and safety – and programming, sponsorship, artist liaison…volunteering allows you to do it all.”
Remember it’s seasonal work
Festival season just so happens to be holiday, BBQ and party season. So what does that mean? Well, you’re going to have to miss out on a few things back home whilst you’re working. “I’ve skipped hen-dos, birthdays, weddings, the lot” Amy says. “March to September is the key season so I didn’t get to go to many things my friends had on.”
Things will fail
To work in the festival industry is to learn how to respond to large-scale events management challenges. And one year, Amy said everything fell apart at the last minute. ” It was my third year at the student festival in Cornwall and we’d sold out all tickets, but at the last minute the council pulled the license from us for various political reasons” she explains. “We had a sold-out festival and no site with a week to go!” Amy explained they moved the whole thing to Kent after a site became free, but had to get their PR team to majorly spin everything, and offer people coaches and petrol money to get them over to the other side of the country.
“We won two festival awards that year…but we had to build a festival in 100 hours!” Amy notes. “Dizzee Rascal finished up and played ‘Bonkers’ so it ended on a high, but it took a couple of years to recover after that…”
But the highs are pretty incredible
As a freelance festival organiser, Amy has worked all over the world, putting on live music events everywhere from Croatia to India. She tells us her favourite festival was Snowbombing festival, in the snow-covered Austrian mountains. Amy also said the best part about working in the festival industry is “seeing everything all come together. Building something with a team and bringing it to life with your hard work and imagination”.
The people make the job too, she explained. You work and live for days or weeks at a time with a small group who become a “festival family”. Amy notes that when you’re all “trying to hold a tent down during the biggest storm for 20 years, you learn how to pull together.”
And of course, all her years in the industry mean she’s able to get tickets for just about anything now. “It’s nice!” she confesses. But on the flip side, Amy can’t attend a festival without analysing the structure of everything around her. “For the first time ever this year I went to a festival as a normal ticket holder… but I was constantly thinking about things like where the toilets are or their queuing system…I can’t switch off now!”
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