Bestival Goldsmiths university

10 things to remember to help you run your own festival

We attended Bestival at Goldsmiths to learn from the teams behind Bestival, Field Manoeuvres and Bristol’s Simple Things on what’s important when launching a festival.

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 20 Jun 2016
  • min read
The University of Goldsmiths was recently transformed into a festival of art, culture and performance thanks to the team behind Bestival.

Over the course of the day, acts including Rosie Lowe and Ghostpoet performed while a conference strand also ran exploring musical creativity, giving advice on becoming an artist and running your own festival event.

With the latter, we heard from Bestival’s Rob Da Bank, Glenn (Peckham Rye Music festival), Tom Frost (Crack Magazine/Simple Things Festival) and Ele Beattie from (Field Manoeuvres) on their top tips. Check out their words of wisdom below...

Don’t do this for the money

Rob da Bank (RDB) - People look at festival promoters and think they’re coining it, driving around in a pink roller. The reality is different. Most are doing it for fun reasons, hedonism, a passion for music and because they want to share the love. We’ve never been driven by money.

The most boring thing is money/finance, how you’re going to come back next year and not let your punters down, how you’re going to keep your show on the road. In 13 years we’re still learning.

They do say it’s a three year process to break even,. Even then, there’s no guarantee.

Be careful about branding/sponsorship

G - In year one we said no to offers of sponsorship. I felt like we needed some time to establish ourselves and get an identity not muddied by anything else. We had some interesting meetings with different drinks companies, some of which really got the ethos of what we were trying to do and some really didn’t.

At the start we said, we need to focus on the festival experience and getting it right. Then let’s talk about the right sort of sponsorship in year two.

E - We got away with very good deals. There are some people who say ‘we’ll give you loads of money to put a giant trainer in a field’. We turn those things down to try and keep the purity of what we want to do.

Work with the right people

T - You need to involve the right local partners to help promote your event. That leads to more ticket sales. The more good people you include in your party, the better. It directly impacts audience numbers.

Don’t just do festivals on their own

RDB - We’re all jacks of all trades somewhat. Everyone of this panel is multi-disciplined in various things. The lesson here is that if you are doing a festival, it might not sustain on its own so it’s good to have a back up plan as well.

Planning is important

RDB - The whole process of putting on a festival lasts a year pretty much whether it’s big or small. As soon as you finish one, then the next day you need to start investigating headliners for next year and dealing with problems from the previous year and starting to tackle them for the next.

Maintain good working relationships with the authorities

E - Ambulance services, fire services, police, environmental health - try and get on with them. They say what they need - you say what you need and you agree on a set of terms that allow you to throw the event.

You’ve got to make sure you become best friends with the council and other people. Just work with them - they want to bring more people to the area. So it makes sense to get a good relationship with them.

R - When we started Common People in Oxford, all our team are very experienced but we went in to the meetings with the authorities like little mice. We got everyone we could on board to try and sweeten the pill. We produced a safe, creative event for Oxford but they were so cynical about us going there. You have to nod politely to the environmental health officer. You’ve just got to bow and scrape. Once people know you’re doing a festival, then everyone wants a piece of the action. The traders, the police, the ambulance – they all want to be on that. Make sure you’ve done your ground work.

Talent booking is the dark acts

T - It’s the murkiest bit of the whole operation as essentially when booking acts you’re dealing with someone who wants to rip you off. The agent has to get the best price for their artist so the whole thing is an email, phone call mind game. You need to be really aware of it, especially when you’re on a tight budget.

We booked Skepta for a certain price just before he blew up. A friend of mine who runs a festival booked him two months later and it cost him £20,000 more.

R - Talent is king. I used to pretend that headliners don’t matter. But they do, depending on your festival. Festivals like V and Isle of Wight live and die on headliners. When you get to 30,000, 40,000 people you need talent. It’s a hot potato.

Be creative with your line up

G - I have a spreadsheet with a long list of artists. About a third of the list are all boxed in red. It means that when I approached their agent, they immediately said: ‘No, they are not playing London again this year’.

Booking local acts can help – that was one of the commitments at the core of our offering. We were bringing in some big acts but also shining a spotlight on artists from Peckham. We did a 50/50 split on that.

You have different audiences to sell your event to

G - Remember you need to market yourself at your audience and people you want to buy tickets. You also need to market yourselves at agents and artists for the next year. Have nice photos and a nice video to show how your event was a great weekend. That can be really useful.

Finding your niche is important

RDB - Finding your niche is important. When we started out Bestival, no one else was doing an event that was all about fun, dressing up, being flamboyant with great headliners. The amazing thing about the UK market is the diversity and breadth of what we’re doing.