How Do Music Festivals Work?

What a question. How do music festivals work? Coming from my own experience of seeing several come together, I would say it is a combination of zip ties, bike gates, and sheer determination, but there is certainly a little more nuance to it than that. Whether you are a patron looking for a little more insight or someone looking to be a part of the magical and wild community that brings festivals together, follow along to get an idea of how exactly we make music festivals happen.

How Do Music Festivals Work?

Who Puts On A Music Festival?

A great first question to ask is who exactly makes a music festival possible. The answer to this changes with every festival, but it can generally be separated into three main categories. Category one is the major entertainment companies, like Insomniac and Live Nation, that create massive and internationally known festivals of all kinds. Category two would be the smaller, more community-based promotion and entertainment companies that put on smaller events, and finally, you have the personal promoters, like Excision and his festival Lost Lands, that put on festivals with their own teams of people. 

No matter who puts on the festival, though, it actually takes hundreds of people of all different skill sets, from stage crews and production teams, to food vendors, security, bartenders, medics and so much more. It takes a whole village and a venue full of patrons to make everything as magical as a good festival truly is. 

So What Does It Really Take To Make A Festival?

There are so many things that make a music festival possible. Let’s go over what the main points of an event like this really take. Think about the last music festival you’ve been to. What were the main roles you saw from a patron perspective. 

You definitely had some interaction with security and the box office, probably got some merch, maybe some food from the vendors, possibly the parking and traffic team or guest services. Some other teams that you maybe haven’t interacted with, but have probably seen would be the medics, the VIP team, the stage crew and ADA Services. There are literally so many groups of people that are needed to make a festival happen.

Here are some of the main ones.

The Producers

The people who make and put on a music festival are the producers. These are the people that spend more than just a few days putting the event together, do all of the planning and essentially are what make the music festival happen. These people range from being the festival executives, to team leads, to individual roles that simply help the festival run smoothly.

The people who get the “Producer Credential” can have any of the following titles: Executive Director, Production Manager, Talent Buyer, Artist Liaison, Box Office Lead, Staff Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator, and so much more. 

These are the people that truly make everything happen.

The Teams

The teams that producers help to run make up the entirety of a festival. These are some of those teams: Stage crew, Box Office, Guest Services, Merchandise, Bartending, Vendors, Staff Services, Medical, Security, Media, Hospitality and Artist Relations, and Grounds.

Here is a little bit more about each of those teams.

The Stage Crew

The Stage Crew is defined as “the members of the technical crew who supervise and operate (“run”) the various technical aspects of the production during a performance.” (Wikipedia) Often this crew is a self sustained company that is hired out to run the stages of festivals. They handle everything from building a stage from the ground up to running the sound and lights of a performance to loading, unloading, and setting up the stage sets for all of the different acts. 

The Box Office

The Box Office

Depending on the event, the Box Office’s responsibilities can range from ticketing and will call, to parking to guest services. Usually, the bigger the event the less broad their responsibilities are. Mainly, the Box Office handles ticketing and sales leading up to the event, and then, once the event actually starts, they handle the onsite sale of remaining tickets as well as will call for people who need to pick up their tickets.

 Along with that, they handle the distribution of credentials to staff, artists and anyone on the guest list, as well as troubleshooting for anything that may go wrong with tickets and wristbands during the event. 

The Guest Services Team

The Guest Services Team

The Guest Services team is usually the frontmost facing team of the festival. They are the people who help to handle all of the questions about the things going on all around the festival. Sometimes this role is filled by the Box Office, but with larger festivals they cover their own tasks and responsibilities. 

Guest Services also usually handles or is associated with other teams, such as Lost and Found for the event and ADA services, which helps people with different kinds of disabilities to enjoy the festival just as much as everyone else. 

As a little subsection, ADA handles everything from people who cannot move through the crowds or stand like everyone else to see the event, to those who need accommodation for hearing impairments and anything else that you would consider an ADA compliance need. (ADA National Network)

The Merchandise Team

The Merchandise Team

This is the team of people who sell the merch. Usually this is both for the event and for the Artists who are performing at the event. These teams are usually one of the bigger ones and can range from handling the physical creation of merchandise, down to just selling and inventorying the merch. This team is incredibly important to the front-facing part of the event as it can be a huge money maker for both the festival itself and all of the people performing at it. 

The Bartenders

The Bartenders

Another incredibly important part of any music festival would be the bartending teams. Usually, these groups are hired through a subcontracted company, because of all of the qualifications they need to actually perform their job. 

Bartending teams are great to be on because they make the festival and themselves so much money. They are usually massive teams, filled with incredibly hard working people who are always on the move. This is a very fast paced part of the front-facing side of the festival world. 

The Vendors

We’ve all experienced festival vendors in some form, whether it is through purchasing some delicious festival food or buying a cool new thing, these teams are an integral part of the festival experience. The vendors themselves are all independently contracted, and have their own systems to put together everything they need. 

There is a team, however, that acts as their liaisons, making sure that they have everything the festival can provide to make the events run as smoothly as possible. This team handles everything from providing them with credentials, making sure they have electricity and internet, keeping them stocked with ice and just generally acting as the mediator between all of the vendors and all of the other festival staff. 

Staff Services

The Staff Services teams are a collection of different teams that are there to make the front facing staff’s lives all the easier. These teams include things like staff credentials (which can sometimes be a sub-team of the box office), staff catering, equipment, electrical, radio and key check and more. 

These teams make sure that everyone has what they need in order for the entire festival to function properly. They don’t always seem like the most important or relevant parts of an event, but without them, the rest of the staff simply wouldn’t be able to function at their highest capacity. 

The Medics

The Medics

This is probably a pretty obvious one, but all festivals need a medical team to be on call in case anything happens. These people are usually trained to handle as many medical concerns as they can onsite, as well as be able to address and respond when the person they are working with needs to be removed from the event. 

These teams handle everything from scraped knees to heat exhaustion to overdoses and just about everything in between. They are regularly the heroes of music festivals and a lot of other events. 

The Security

The Security

Another group that is usually a contracted company would be the Security team. These are the groups that you have almost definitely seen when at an event. They handle the general crowd control, the bag checks, the personal protection of the artists and other celebrities, and the general guarding of locations that require a certain level of clearance.

The Media Team

This group is a team that almost works all year round. They connect with the patrons and fans all year to get them excited about the event and then once it actually starts, they have the honor of sharing that with everyone that doesn’t get to experience the festival in person.

On top of handling the festival’s own social media and press, they work with all of the other press outlets to coordinate what they are allowed to see, photograph and write about. They coordinate press and media credentials and work both publications and different artist’s own teams to decide who gets access to what, as well as how the rest of the world gets to see this event unfold. 

The Hospitality and Artist Relations Teams

The teams that run Hospitality and Artist Relations are the festival teams that work the most closely with the artists. They are the ones who set up the green room, handle all of the artists’ needs, escort them to and from the stages they are supposed to perform on, and simply be there for whatever the artist may need.

These people work incredibly hard to be professional and respectful while keeping artists of all kinds happy. What makes this job especially hard is the number of artists and green rooms they are handling within a day. Often these teams are very tight knit and work like a well oiled machine to make the day go smoothly. 

The Grounds Team

The Grounds Team is often one that you don’t even think about when going to a festival, but without them, you would really just be standing in a field. This team usually handles all of the major changes to the venue, from mowing the lawns, to helping set up the fences and signs and all of the other things that turn a field into a venue.

Sometimes the grounds team can be split into smaller sub-teams, like signage, creative dressing, fencing and other things like that, but overall, they are the people who make everything look the way that it should for everyone who comes to experience the event. 

This team sometimes also includes things like cleaning teams, which handle garbage, port-a-potties and everything that may need to be cleaned or re-set during the event. 

There are lots of other teams that help to make a festival happen, but these are some of the bigger and more prominent groups of people that help to make your favorite events into what they are. To top all of that off, you also have volunteers that jump in and help out in almost all of these teams. 

The Volunteers

One of the teams of people that we see at an event would be the volunteers. These are usually the people who help out with the festival for a short period of time in order to get in for free and to get involved with the event. 

Volunteers work closely with different aspects of the festival leading up to, during, and after the event has taken place. Usually, their jobs are less focused on skill sets and more focused on doing the basic things that help paid staff to get their work done.

These groups of people are crucial to the creation of a festival and are always a blessing to staff who are looking to get work done. It’s also a great way to get involved with an event for the first time. It can be a fun way to go to a festival for free, make friends, and get involved. 

There is so much that goes into making an event as big and exciting as a music festival. Even those of us who live our lives working at these events don’t know everything about it, and this list really only scrapes the top of what it takes. If you’re interested in being a part of the festival world, see if they have a volunteer team, or try and make your way into the paid staff. Just be careful, because it is so easy to get hooked on this lifestyle, trust me.