Top 10 Ways to Make Your Festival Successful

Last week I had the honor of moderating the “Festival Panel” at the Billboard Touring Conference in New York.  I hadn’t really wanted to do these type of things since starting the Aspen Live Conference (Dec. 11-13 @ St. Regis, Aspen http://www.aspenlive.net), but when Ray from Billboard emailed me the list of panelist, it was an easy yes.  After all, we are talking about the best and most successful music festival producers in North America.

The panel; Chris Shields from Festival Productions (New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Playboy Jazz Festival, etc),  Charlie Jones from C3 Presents (Austin City Limits Festival, Lollapalooza, etc), Tony Conway from Buddy Lee Attractions (CMA Festival, Nashville…formerly Fan Fair), Chuck Morris from AEG-Live, Rocky Mountains (Mile High Festival, Rothbury), and Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment (Bonnaroo, Vagoose) really are the best at what they do.  Our Canadian representative got sick and was unable to…well represent.  The basic question that we were dealing with was the health of the festival business in North America.  Is there room to grow?  Are there enough headliners to go around and still have each festival keep its identity?  The easy answer to all is yes.

Tony Conway pointed out that the CMA Festival actually raised their ticket prices this year and are at this point well ahead of last year’s sales to date, without announcing a line-up (the event takes place in the spring).  On a call prior to our panel, Charlie Jones talked about how the Austin City Limits audience “must be trained or something”.  The fact is they are…trained to expect that the event will be well run, with great music and food, clean port-a-johns, plenty of places to get a bottle of water that doesn’t cost $4, amazing transportation system, and a friendly staff.  The ACL and CMA audiences are trained to expect quality and value.

Based on my notes from our panel, here is what the experts had to say…at least on that day is the TOP 10 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO MAKE YOUR FESTIVAL SUCCESSFUL!!!

1)      Know Your Market There is so much that goes into a festival’s workings, that without knowing about traffic patterns, neighbors, law enforcement, political issues, competition, and a whole host of other issues, you are setting your festival up to fail.  Chuck Morris pointed out that artists that aren’t big around the country can draw in Colorado.  One reason being radio station KBCO in Boulder.

2)     Community Relations – Each of our panelists at the Billboard Touring Conference had at least one story of how building relationships with community and business leaders, neighborhood associations, law enforcement, fire and rescue, parks & recreation officials, health department, and others gave them some kind of advantage.  Whether it was bidding on a new project, going into a new city, or getting into trouble and needing help, there is no substitute for being a good citizen.

3)     Over Deliver – Especially in year one, it is important to over deliver for your consumers and talent.  Even if it means the difference between breaking even and losing money, spend the extra to WOW the audience.  It keeps them coming back…”trains them”.

4)     Price – Price is very much tied to knowing your market, but for some reason, festival pricing is much more sensitive than regular live entertainment pricing.  Your customers really want to feel they are getting their money’s worth since there is an assumption that what ever they are going to see will be watered down (music act will play a shorter set without their production, food festivals will give you smaller portions than the restaurant would, etc).

5)     Transportation & Housing – This really should be 2 if not 4 separate departments of your festival team.  Certainly if you going to have 2 departments you need to separate responsibilities between those that handle transportation or housing for artists and crew and those that will get the audience from place to place.  Housing is a place not to be overlooked.  Every try to get a hotel in a city where there is a large festival?  Good luck!

6)     Booking Talent – The strong message here is that anyone can book a really big headliner; it is the whole package that makes a festival. Remember, a festival is more than a line-up it is about passion.

7)     Camping vs. “City” Festivals – Our panel all believed that the growth in North America would be more in the non-camping festival model (ACL, Jazz Fest, CMA Fest, etc).  With that said, Rothbury only started-up last year in Michigan and it is a camping festival.

8)     Food & Beverage – Every producer will tell you about the part that food and beverage play in the overall feel of your festival.  With festivals like New Orleans Jazz & Heritage and Austin City Limits, the food has become almost as much of a draw as the music.  Also price was a big topic.  Some people just have a problem with $4.50 for water.

9)     Technology Is Your Friend – Use technology whenever and wherever possible to make your fan’s experience more enjoyable.  Things like an event schedule that consumers can customize to plan their day at your festival have become necessity.

10)  Build a Model – All of our panel’s festival producers pointed out that once you had a model that worked, you could reproduce that model in other cities and with other festivals.  The key here is experience.

If there was an 11, it would have to be staying out of trying to do a festival if you have no experience.  Better to partner with someone like those listed above who already have their “models”, and can make things run smoothly for you.  Going in head first without learning to swim can make all of us drown.

Talk to you soon,

Jim

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