How Does Your Music Festival Grow?

Michael Arnone, Rob Gibson, Danny Melnick, Jennifer Pickering, Mel Puljic, Bruce Labadie

Thinking of starting your very own music festival?  Well, to make it a success it takes a lot of hard work and planning.  You need to be prepared for disasters and cancellations…basically anything that can go wrong…in advance so that your festival won’t go down the tubes before it’s even begun.  The Curating a Music Festival discussion was moderated by Hugh Southard (President, Blue Mountain Artists) and the panel included Danny Melnick (President, Absolutely Live), Rob Gibson (Artistic Director, Savannah Music Festival), Bruce Labadie (Festival Dir. San Jose Jazz Festival), Michael Arnone (Producer/creator Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Fest), Jennifer Pickering (Exec. Director, Lake Eden Arts Festival) and Mel Puljic (Principal, Mondo Mundo Agency).  According to the panel and moderator, you will most probably lose money the first year and won’t see any kind of profit until at least the third year.  So, be prepared…it’s not the party you hoped it would be.

Hugh Southard

Michael Arnone, originally from Baton Rouge, started his own crawfish fest in Northern New Jersey some 22 years ago.  He started small…70 people showed up for a one day event to eat crawfish, gumbo, jambalaya and to hear some live music.  It’s now a three day event on Memorial Day weekend with about 15,000 people expected to attend this year.  Approximately 1,000 of those actually camp there for the whole fest.

Several of the panelists founded their own festivals, but some are currently working for already established festivals that have been around for many years.  So, what keeps these festivals going strong when many seem to disappear as quickly as they came?

It’s all about the event.

The event istelf is the draw for festival goers.  The New Orleans Jazz Fest, for example, has people who come year after year from all over the country, regardless of who will or will not be performing. Repeat attendees want to have the experience of being at the fest. The entertainment is just a bonus.  It also has to do with community…making sure you know what your community wants and how to use the festival to have a positive impact on it. Many festivals have educational and other programs that run year ’round…making those connections with traditions and families so they consider those festivals to be an important value in their lives.  Since the economy has been a real issue for many people, giving them a quality product that is affordable will also keep them coming back every year.

Other important factors are funding, design, location, signage, relevance and the actual dates of the festival.  Some festivals tanked right out of the gate simply because the location was difficult to get to, there wasn’t enough free parking, there were too many other events on the same dates, or worst of all…no one cared about it.  As far as funding is concerned, it’s never a good idea to rely solely on corporate sponsorship.  Corporations can (and often do) pull sponsorships quickly and without warning, which can cripple or cancel a festival altogether.  Like a stock portfolio, it’s always wise to diversify.  Long term planning is the key because all of these things can have a huge impact, individually and collectively, on the success or failure of a festival.

Treat your festival like a business instead of a party.  Make a business plan so you’ll have to think critically about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.  Talk to other people who have started festivals or are working for successful ones.  In most cases, if they have the time to spare, they will gladly share any wisdom they’ve gained from their experience.  Find out all you can from anyone and everyone, adopt the Boy Scout motto: Always be prepared and you never know…you might just create the next great music festival.


Posted on May 23, 2011, in Music Business, Sync Up Conference and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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