How to start your own festival

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It seems every Tom, Dick and Harry is putting on a festival this summer – from the people behind the spooky Woolfire to this one, run by 29-year-old Alex Trenchard. Standon Calling started in 2001, and takes place in his mum and dad‘s garden. Here, he tells us how to set one up under your own parents‘ gazebo

  • Having rich parents helps

    ‘We started it in the garden,’ says Trenchard, ‘and we’ve gradually moved into the fields surrounding. My parents own some of the land and we work with a farmer who lends us a campsite. Last year we had a secret stage, so people were watching New Young Pony Club in the garden of a seventeenth-century house. I think we’re the only festival with a swimming pool, too.’

    A good vibe is essential, maan

    ‘There haven’t been any trashings of the garden. Part of the reason is that we have an amazingly friendly vibe. We’ve grown [Standon Calling] by word of mouth. Until last year , if you wanted to come you had to be invited by somebody who’d been before, so everybody felt more linked into the vibe.’

    Use your friends…

    ‘The first and second year we just had DJs, generally people I knew. The third year we had the first bands. A couple were mates and one was Do Me Bad Things, who I knew through a friend. We didn’t know how to build the stage properly so the drummer ended up in a hole.’

    …and family

    ‘They see me as a slave driver. You always drive your family harder than you’d drive anyone else, but that’s family.’

    Always be on the lookout for talent

    ‘In 2002 this South African guy turned up and spent the entire party at the barbecue. Subsequently I was walking down Portobello Road and saw a food stall selling Spanish meats and it was run by the same guy. So we got him in. This year, because we’re bigger, we want more variety, so I’ve been speaking to stallholders at Borough Market.’

    standon calling2.jpg
    Step 1: move your parents' furniture outside and invite your mates over

    Rent-free land is essential

    ‘If you look at most small events they tend to be on property without rent, or they have an agreement with a farmer that should it get to a certain size they’ll look at somewhere else. It’ll be interesting to see, with grain prices going through the roof, if farmers will keep doing that.’

    Shake things up a bit

    ‘We think the process of putting on a festival is like a theatrical production, by which I mean you don’t see the event as being static. We set-design secret areas, open them up at midnight – there’s always something happening. Music is essential, but I put a lot of thought into getting set designers in, artists in, just to try and make it more three-dimensional.’

    Standon Calling

    When August 1-3Where Standon, HertfordshireLine-up Super Furry Animals, Dan Lec Sac Vs Scroobius Pip, Mystery Jets, Acid Mothers Temple, Johnny Flynn, Late Of The Pier and moreTickets £120 parent and child ‘early bird’, then £150; £69 ‘early bird’, then £89; free under-13sInfo www.standon-calling.com

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27 comments
gavin
gavin

im from ireland with no money no expierence but a lot of enthusiasm i wold be greatfull for information about EVERYTHING lol

Rob Kay
Rob Kay

Having a family fortune to back you up may actually prove to be a bit of a poisoned chalice - if you start with nothing your planning is a bit more realistic. And you make sure that you are a limited company to protect your ass in the event that something goes horribly wrong.

james smith
james smith

how ironic / curious that the guy in the article, alex trenchard, forgot to mention tht he ran up 350,000 worth of debt running standon.... debt on his tesco company credit card who sent him to jail for theft...

Boyce
Boyce

Please take me out of your website.

John
John

Everyones insane thinking they can just set up a festival easily. Trust me, I've catered at many and the team of organisers involved and the insurance responsibilities etc. is extremely difficult You'll be lucky to exceed 1,000 people on your first event, Standon only sold 3,500 tickets last year and Standon is a pretty unique event that attracts a fair amount of people. I'm all for people setting up events, but don't think its a walk in the park - it isn.t Oh and if your going to be charging the catering stands, make sure your prices are sensible otherwise your punters are going to be moaning that the burgers cost £7 a go. Caterers may make a nice profit at the end of the event, but they've probably worked 40+ hours over 3 days each and then have the risk of it all going to pot, charging them super fees means they pass those costs on otherwise they won't bother

Rob Kay
Rob Kay

Thanks! Actually we have have hired artists from a very wide range of ethnic backgrounds for the KIC: , American, Indian, Japanese, African, Latin American. But we tend to choose the ones who are already domiciled here, often by virtue of marriage. We did get a lottery grant in 2007 to go to Northern Ghana and brought a team of ethnic drummers and dancers over here. That was a real blast: I loved the trip and the team we recruited out there were immense. But then, we are a CIC, a not for profit organisation, so we can apply for all sorts of charitable-type funds.

Michael
Michael

To fund your festival with virtually no risk, see Rob Kay's comment below. In a nutshell, put together a website (cost: about £50 if you do it yourself) promising an amazing festival with at least 10,000 capacity, contact traders, charge them upfront, use their money to pay for your ego-trip, then if it fails, you've lost nothing.

Bec
Bec

The thing I want to know is how on earth can one afford to bring people over from the states, not to mention accomodation ect... if anyone has done this can u let me know if you got a loan out and had received the money back from ticket prices? It's harder when I want to put on a christian festival because i feel charging money for the gospel is not neccessary but because i want to see this happen - there must be a logical way to save a bit of money??

walter houghton
walter houghton

I intend on creating a festival over two days, i have plenty of event organising on small scale. but this ones gonna be the way glastonbury was meant to be. what i need is the legal side so anyone with great experience on the event side with just general hints tips, or an idea. then bung me a response, that includes bands that would like to added to the list. walterhoughton at g - mail dot com would be appreciated

Boyce Sekese
Boyce Sekese

I would like to know more information about organizing a music festival. I hope to here from you soon. Thank you.

Martin
Martin

What licensing and permissions do I need to stage a music festival with a beer tent, music and camping. Who do I need to contact. I will have public liability insurance but do I need insurance to cover bands equipment or anything else etc. I can do all the organisational stuff - I just neeed to know what rules to plat by - any advice will be brilliant...

Jean-Claude
Jean-Claude

-Does the local council need approched first with a business plan for starting a festival or other government body need consulted first ( for funding ect..). -How to get the event widely publicised? -How to get revenues from it? -Does the event need registered as a ltd or some kind of over company? -Is insurrance and liability necessary in case things go wrong?

mateo
mateo

is anyone interested in organizing vortex 2 this summer in OR, USA? Please respond!

Rob
Rob

Posted by Libbie on 17 May 2010 18:45 We have managed to build an indoors festival over the last 5 years from NOTHING not a penny, and its all going pretty well.. we are looking to go outdoors next year, anyone wanna get involved let me know. search "Harwich Rock and Rave " Congratulations on a job well done Libbie! We have taken a couple of years off but we are coming back this mid-August with a three day festival - the BIG KIC - we are now registered as a Community Interest Company with limited liability to protect us if anything goes wrong, and we are reckoning to turnover £100k this year. Of course it's high risk for everyone involved, but then, who wants to stay at home and watch 'reality' TV?

Libbie
Libbie

We have managed to build an indoors festival over the last 5 years from NOTHING not a penny, and its all going pretty well.. we are looking to go outdoors next year, anyone wanna get involved let me know. search "Harwich Rock and Rave "

Richard Balman
Richard Balman

Hi i e-mailed you the other week asking if i could just have a little more info on how to start up, because like i said i have all these amazing ideas and i just want to know the ins and outs of how to start up thanks alot Richard Balman

Richard Balman
Richard Balman

Lets just say that i dont have rich parents how and were do i get the funding for setting i have really big ideas and i just want to put pen to paper and follow it all threw, if you could tell that would be brilliant. thanks Rich

Michael
Michael

"If you don't want to then there are others who will. " Good Attitude

Rob Kay
Rob Kay

The festival organisers already carry a huge risk, (e.g.bad weather, poor ticket sales) and many of them are doing it for love not money. So if you want the business, you need to put the investment up front - regard yourself as a partner in the success of the event, take an interest, get to know the organisers and their skills and capabilities.. If you don't want to then there are others who will.

Frank
Frank

Re caterers, Rob said "If they don't want to pay cash up front, don't let them anywhere near the site". Given the number of festivals that just don't happen/get cancelled, why should a caterer risk paying, say £1000 up front with no guarantee? This is a virtually uninsurable risk. We are happy to pay a deposit up front, but there is an increasing trend to request full payment up front, which is probably funding the festival. The organiser must be prepared to shoulder some of the risk too. If I wanted to invest in festival organising, I would do it instead of catering. If you have confidence in your festival, then a deposit plus a percentage of the caterer's gross sales will show this, plus give you greater rewards for the success of your festival.

Rob Kay
Rob Kay

If you know someone who knows someone, that can help. Or go and talk to the bands at another gig - you wouldnt book them without hearing them live would you, so ask the organiser for a backstage pass - organisers all network like mad. Otherwise Myspace is good - and you can sometimes sideline the agents who always want to charge far more than the musicians are happy to play for. Bands need to know the usual stuff: where, when, how much, etc etc - its fairly obvious really.

Jess
Jess

My biggest thing is how to get the bands.... how do you approach them and what information do they need in order to get them in your lineup? I have plenty of local bands, but I need a headliner to draw the crowd.

Rob Kay
Rob Kay

hi Paul, You dont say whether you are a caterer or an organiser. If an organiser, its one of the most tricky and important parts of running a festival - and the revenue you get from caterers is vital. If they dont want to pay cash up front, dont let them anywhere near the site...a lot of them will try you on with promises but let you down on the day, so you need to be very firm. Quality and diversity of food is more important than cash!

Paul Farley
Paul Farley

Hi. Would love to get some feedback on how to organise a catering pitch at music festivals. all the 'Ins and outs' would be appreciated. Cheers

Rob Kay
Rob Kay

You dont need £250k to start a festival. Here in Kilsyth three of us got together five years ago to start a festival, - KIC (Kilsyth International Carnival) with £46 we made from busking, we begged a little, borrowed a lot, and put in a few grant applications to the Council and the lottery. Five years on, we are pulling bigger crowds every year with some excellent headline acts like the Peatbog Faeries, and we still only charge £2 for admission by programme!

Sarah
Sarah

Thanks you've given me inspiration now!

Ruth Burgess
Ruth Burgess

Thanks for a brilliant festival. I didn't get to see the biggest name acts but thoroughly enjoyed the day. The circus skill workshop was a big hit with the children (aged 6 and 9) and meant we all had a good time. I live close to Clapham and got to here of the festival from a friend in Liverpool! There was very little local publicity and although it was featured in the local paper the week before it clashed with Jools Holland in Bedford park. I mention this only because the attendance may have been a little disappointing for the organiser. The number of toilets meant there was no queuing and the Bar arrangments were the slick. Long may the Rhythm Festival continue!