What Not to Do: Sustainable Festival Production
Let’s create our own Festival!
It can seem from the outside that putting on a gig, event, show or festival is an easy and fun thing to do. The complexities of it, and the true realisation of what goes into event production – and festival production in particular – is lost on most people. Specifically, it is lost on people who are new to the game.
Many times over my career, I have come across young people with drive and ambition to create a festival. They might be motivated by the idea of bringing like-minded folk together to share experiences, or they might be inspired to try and create something new. Showcasing independent Irish talent is a classic theme I’ve come across more than once, as the platforms for this artistic expression are often lacking on this little island of ours.
Let’s ‘break the mould’!
Sometimes budding festival organisers are stressed out by how ‘rulesy’ festivals can be – certainly when one brings huge crowds of young people together to enjoy music and new experiences, unfortunately certain rules do apply. It seems from the outside that there’s a better way to do it, and sometimes there is!
A genuine concern for young audiences is also around sustainability. It’s easy to look at large-scale shows with a critical eye (I do this all the time), and wonder why there aren’t better recycling points, better transport options, why is there so much plastic everywhere?
Why is there no solution to the startling amount of camping equipment left behind, the phenomenal waste that’s left in the campsite on Monday morning? It can seem that organisers just don’t care about the environment – and sometimes that’s true – but the reality is that the issues are far more complex than you might imagine.
Everything carries a cost
There is no match in my experience for the energy and overconfidence that young, inexperienced folk can bring to creating events. Or perhaps there is a match – this is matched by the uncanny ability to lose money. Lots of money. Running into the thousands or even hundreds of thousands of euros.
Over the course of my career, I have witnessed many independent festivals start-up, fall prey to the vanity of organisers, and fail, leaving behind a trail of sizable debt and broken dreams. I’m not saying that all independent festivals are doomed to fail! But those that succeed are genuinely few and far between.
So how to not fail?
Never begin to plan before you understand the magic of good site selection
Do not select your site on the basis that it looks like a beautiful piece of land, or because it’s a friends farm and therefore cheap. Have you considered how you’re going to get all of the infrastructure you need, into the field? Are there any roads to drive trucks on? Does the road only go one way? Is it a dead-end???
Where is the site? Is it close to public transport links, or local townships? What are the roads like that access the space? Will trucks be able to make it there? Will your audience be able to drive there, or even more importantly, will buses be able to approach, drop passengers off safely, and leave again?
This is especially important if you’re hoping to create a sustainable event. Did you know that up to 80% of an event’s CO2 emissions are created through audience, crew and artists transport? Choosing a really remote location, as gorgeous as it may seem, might not be the best way forward.
How does that piece of land react when the weather is bad? Working in Ireland, I’ve been fighting with bogs for all of my career, I’ve witnessed trucks and buses sinking to their axles in the mud. It is not fun trying to get them out again. I’ve closed venues due to waterlogging. Seen people injure themselves on slippy wet ground. The land is the greatest asset for a festival – choose it wisely.
Don’t begin without a clear outline of roles and responsibilities for the team
Do not begin to even dream about undertaking festival production without putting real thought and consideration into your team. Recruit your team, and be certain that everyone understands the level of commitment that is required to carry out whichever tasks they have been assigned.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, producing a festival is an undertaking and a complex beast. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, fun or easy. (Ok sometimes it’s fun). Some of your team will give it their all, but their job might not suit their strengths. Figuring this part out is a science and an art! You will need at least one person to work on it consistently, and to pull all the threads together. Keeping communication going is vital, as is timelining out all of the tasks.
Don’t begin without a budget!
Do not, ever, lose track of costs. Write a budget, and a profit and loss, and stick to it. Get some professional advice on this as there are going to be loads of hidden costs you haven’t even thought of. A classic example here is fire extinguishers – did someone remember to order them? Very unsafe to let an event go ahead without them, and if you’ve got a festival up and running, and the local Fire Officer decides to pay you a visit, you had better be prepared!
Top Tip: Local Knowledge
Finally, never underestimate the value of local knowledge. Many young entrepreneurs entering into the independent festival foray are urbanites with no real understanding of the land, the schedules of farming practices, the nuances of local residents and community groups. Putting a dedicated community liaison in place and ensuring that they are well-equipped to fulfil that role could save you untold heartache throughout the festival cycle. The insights to be gained from neighbours and land managers are to be highly valued. You have been warned!