Music festival success

Fancy holding your own music festival? Read tips and advice from a PTA who has been through it all

Lynn Wyatt-Buchan from Kingham Primary School Association in Oxfordshire was instrumental in setting up a music festival as a fundraising event, making a profit of around £8,000 a year (and having a lot of fun in the process!). Since it’s launch in 2005 it has gone from strength-to-strength.

In fact they have merged with ‘Harvest’, the new festival organised by Blur’s bassist Alex James, who is hosting a four-day event on his Oxfordshire estate. We asked Lynn how PTAs can go about setting up their own music festivals...

How far in advance should you start planning/marketing the event?

Depends on how brave you are. We used to began preparations in the January, but then we moved to starting straight after the last festival had finished! It can be done with concentrated effort in four months.

Is there a particular day, date, time that you found worked well?

We checked the diaries of local villages so not to clash with any of their events (if at all possible to avoid). We also looked at the bigger festivals calendar and tried to avoid them wherever possible. Our village is located next to a private school so we tried to avoid end of term of exam time. Early June and July were the most useable dates for us.

How many PTA committee members and how much time does it take to organise a music festival from scratch?

We had a key team of five people. Two were particularly hands on with all pre-event preparation and co-ordination. The other three organised big bands and music performers. On the day the same two co-ordinated the 20 plus volunteers while the other three took care of all tech organisation. The main PTA members helped to fill rota slots and organise specific tasks set by the two key team members.

Where do you source the acts and do you pay them (if so how much), do you supply their refreshments?

Acts are sourced in a number of ways. Our techie team members work in the music industry and have contacts and know where to look. Bigger names can be contacted through their Myspace pages etc. Smaller more local bands were contacted by building relationships with venue owners where they had performed previously. A more personal relationship was then built and we now have direct lines of contact with our favourite bands.

Headlining acts performed for greatly reduced fees in support of the charitable aspect of the festival. One headline act asked that a small donation be made to a nominated charity personal to them. Smaller acts have accepted travel reimbursement as their fee. Where accommodation has been required we have developed a relationship with a large hotel who offer a heavily discounted room rate for us which enables us to offer this as a perk for performing and costs us very little.

We do provide food and it can either be in the form of redeemable vouchers where a performer can get refreshments from a PTA organised stall or we provide a bag of goodies that have been paid for through vouchers from local supermarkets. We write to supermarkets in advance and ask for this kind of support.

Are the acts all local musicians, or were some made up from children at school?

Our festival has a strong ‘young talent’ ethos so we look to include as many local bands as possible. We do have a larger name headlining but also have up and coming talent from the Oxfordshire circuit; Battle of the Bands competition which all schools in local area are invited to put forward bands for and we work closely with a local Rock School that has a stage for very young talent and children who just want to have a go.

What hardware do you need – staging, lighting, amps etc.? How did you source this (hire or buy)?

Stages and sound techie equipment is sourced through a local provider who we have worked with since the festival began. We are fortunate to have three music people in our team who always know someone who can. Other items such as fencing, fire extinguishers, site lighting, etc. is donated for use at the event by a local builder’s supplier. We pay for the stage and sound equipment and preferable rates through negotiation and relationship development. We also offer as much marketing as they would like us to give as a thank you.

What legal requirements do you need to meet (licences etc.)?

For the early events we applied for a Temporary Event Notice from our local authority; this was needed to sell alcohol. As the festival grew in size we were legally required to obtain a Premises License, as more than 499 people would be attending. Our local authority provided excellent information on the various licences that a PTA might need, especially when an event features live or recorded music and the provision of alcohol.

The festival take place about 200 metres from our village pub and restaurant where the landlady is extremely helpful and supportive of the PTA activities. We always contact the local police, have a risk assessment and assessor; we have a PRS PPL license for a nominal fee because the event is charitable. We have marshals on site (volunteers who have a relevant background – ex-police officer for example). We needed public liability insurance and we ensured that all third party sub-contractors and hired-in equipment (whether this was charged for or donated to the event), came with its own public liability cover.

Any other considerations – parking, toilets, noise effect on neighbours?

Parking needs careful consideration especially because we are based in a very small rural village. We work with the Parish Council and have allocated parking on the village football pitch (another reason for June/July date – end of the football season). We work hard with the villagers who ensure that they are affected as little as possible and we have never had a complaint about noise etc. We hire toilets in at a favourable rate from a recommended supplier (through the builder’s merchants).

How much do you charge for tickets?

This is always a difficult decision to make because, yes we are looking to raise money, but we are also asking parents of school children to buy tickets. We ensure that children under 12 go free because it is a family festival and it to raise money for them. We offer a discounted early bird rate for parents and families in advance of wider ticket sales. There is then an increase for those that come from outside the area or buy late. Last year and early bird family ticket was £25 while in advance (for all) was £20 per adult and £25 on the gate. Concessionary for teens, OAPs and students was £5. Teaching staff from the school went free. Organisers and helpers paid early bird prices.

Is there an age restriction on children attending?

No, everyone is welcome!

What refreshments/stands do you have and do you charge for the pitch or take a profit share of sales?

We organised as many of the stalls as possible. We have had some outside providers who donated approx. 50% of profit. Some donated 100% after paying staff costs out of goodwill.

Do you have any other advice?

Have a plan and work through it. There is always a plan B option and a way through all challenges. Have key individuals to co-ordinate and make sure tasks are done and ticked off as they are completed. Work closely with the school, parish and local people as much as possible and HAVE FUN... it will come together on the day!

Lynn has kindly provided the checklist she used to help organise the Kingham School music festival – download it here.