If you think festivals are just about music, greasy food and cans of Red Stripe, we’re about to change all of that. We spoke to Kat Morris, Festival Director of both Somersault Festival and The Great Escape, John Empson, master of everything festival, and Kara Godfrey, who worked as a Steward at Glastonbury, about their roles, how you can get into the industry and the skills you can learn just by volunteering!
Kat Morris, Festival Director of Somersault Festival and The Great Escape
Work experience (as a Label Assistant at Finger Lickin’ records) helped Kat’s career in the industry, but it was a role at MTV that really kick-started things for her in events. ” I originally joined the company as an Event Coordinator for The Great Escape ‘Europe’s leading festival for new music’, then I was promoted to Operations Manager in 2008 and to Festival Director in 2012. I also took on the role of Festival Director for Somersault in its inaugural year and now work across both festivals,” she explains.
This means that Kay’s responsible for driving the festivals forward, making key strategic decisions, managing both teams and budgets for both festivals which, she says, “means I have to manage my time well and be very organised”. Out of festival season, it’s a meeting-heavy role, discussing everything from production, planning and programming, to creative, marketing and finance and once the festivals are underway, Kat’s role is much the same, just in a different location. She credits her position now to hard work , a passion for music and being very organised.
Her advice to you? “Work hard, put 110% into what you do and show your enthusiasm for the role. Keep up-to-date with industry news and network with people. Being on-site at a festival is a great way to may new contacts in the events field.” If you love music this could be your ideal job, but beware of the downsides; the main ones for Kat being juggling her time and struggling “to maintain a social life during festival season as long hours and trips away. It’s all worth it when you see the event come together, though,” she adds.
John Empson, Director of Music at the Eden Project and Headline Programmer
“I always knew I wanted to work in music. I walked into my first gig aged fourteen and instantly wanted to get involved and did,” says John, co-founder and partner of Somersault Festival and headline artist programmer across Wilderness, Somersault and Citadel festivals. Oh, and he’s also the founder and promoter of The Eden Sessions and manages a couple of bands. All in all, a pretty busy bloke.
With so many plates spinning, there’s no ‘normal’ day in the office. “It’s really unpredictable – sometimes you think you have a day to sort out everything in the office and you have to jump on a train or drive across the country for a meeting. I never know what the week will bring which is both exciting and stressful. I guess the one thing is it’s not boring!,” he says.
Roles vary depending on the season: “festival season is obviously spent in the outdoors, the winter in organisation/booking mode and the spring working out details and trying to sell tickets!”. Unsurprisingly, John states securing headliners is the most challenging part of his job and as competition increases, so does the hard work required to secure big acts (This year he’s secured 16 headliners across all the events and hundreds of other artists. Keeping on top of your phone messages and inbox is another challenge he faces everyday!)
Still sold on working in the industry? “I think you have to have a passion for music and festivals to work in this industry; if you have passion you don’t mind the long hours, poor pay and constant stress!” John says. “My advice is always go to lots of gigs and talk to people, make friends and see where it takes you. You need to break some doors down to get your foot in; once you’re in you can work out exactly what it is you want to do.”
Kara Godfrey, Steward at Glastonbury
Kara went to Glastonbury with Oxfam, signing up on the stewarding page of their website. “You have to pay the ticket price upfront to deter cancellations, but you get that money back afterwards so it’s basically volunteering and being rewarded with a free ticket! Glastonbury give the money of your ‘shifts’ to Oxfam so you working is getting money for charity,” she explains.
You have a day of training before you start but it’s what you learn during your time checking tickets and parking cars that teaches you the most valuable skills. “Speaking to crazy groups of men dressed up as Dolly Parton or parents with sleepy kids in a makeshift wagon, you get to meet some characters. With ticket checking you do insane hours such as 10pm ’til 6am so you have to be good with people and make it fun or you’ll end up hating it. I ended up with a megaphone telling people to have their tickets ready and had sing-a-longs with the crew; it broke the ice in the long queues!” says Kara.
Then there’s the teamwork skills you build and the ability to work under an unbelievable amount of pressure when 10,000 people are trying to get in and you’re the one trying to check their tickets. “It comes with it’s downfalls: your shifts sometimes mean you may miss your favourite band, the hot water kept failing as did the showers and the field was a bit further out than usual,” Kara says. “But when you realize you’re in a festival for free, it’s all relative,” she adds. Plus, the perks sound pretty cool too: a private campsite, 6 free hot meal passes, free hot water for pot noodles and hot teas, hot showers and private portaloos!
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