EXPERT TIPS: How to organise a music festival

If you’ve ever dreamed of running your own music festival, you’re not alone. However, making this dream a reality can be extremely difficult. Here to help is Johnnie Littler, the founder of the First Thursday Music Club in Thame and the Director of Thame Town Music Festival and Convention, who has provided his expert advice on organising a music festival:

“In 2016 we had an idea to add to the fun and vibrancy of Thame, provide talented musicians looking to break through in this challenging industry with a platform to perform, and to give more people the opportunity to see live music – from this the Thame Town Music Festival and Convention was born. The event was founded and exists to enhance Thame and get live music thriving in our town, which is why we are a non-profit organisation - it is all for the love of music.

As we get ready for our second year we’re excited to have nine venues and to host 58 acts with over 200 musicians. It’s set to be a great festival and we expect to see over 8,000 people attend to enjoy the town we love and some great music too.

When we first started the event, to be honest, we never expected it to be so difficult to get off the ground. However, its first year was a huge success and it’s an incredibly rewarding experience, and without a doubt the best part is the friendships and joint experiences created during the process, with people from different backgrounds, ages and interests all brought together through a passion for music.

Over the years I have learnt a lot about what you should (and shouldn’t!) do when trying to set up an event like this. Below are some of my top tips I have learnt for those considering setting up a music event of their own.

Research

Research is key before even attempting to get a festival going. Before taking on the challenge of Thame Town Music Festival, we did a lot of research, and there were three themes that remined consistent from all sources:

  1. Start early and get plenty of help – the work of our volunteers is the reason it is possible to put on such a great event.
  2. It is a lot of work! Be prepared to work some gruelling hours!
  3. There’s no money in it, you have to do it because you love music. Our event is supported by Thame Town Council and is funded through sponsorship, grants, venue and stall fees, advertising and merchandising revenue. Thankfully, this year we have also received support from British watchmaking company Christopher Ward who are the headline sponsors for the event this year.

Stick to your principles

As we grow and approach the festivals second year, now more so than ever our principles have never been so important. This is what the festival was built on and how we want it stay. Our principles are:

• Treat everyone in the way in which we would like to be treated • To do each task as well as we can • It’s all about the music

Get the right people

It is vitally important to get good people to help and playing to their strengths. Don’t ask someone to do something if they are not able to do it, no matter how much they say they will try. Also communicate as much as possible - it’s amazing the ideas and offers of help you get from the unlikeliest corners which comes because you have managed to tell people what is going on!

Keep growing

In an ever-changing world it is important to keep progressing and not standing still and admiring your work. This year we have added a song writers’ competition to the festival as we continue to grow and look for new and exciting ideas.

We know it’s the songs that communicate and create that “soundtrack to life” memory bank we all talk about. Whether its Carol King, Lennon and McCartney, the Arctic Monkeys, Drake, Ed Sheeran or Adele – it’s the songs that are the things that connect and survive. So many people have something to say and choose to say it through writing songs. We want to shine a spotlight on some of these and promote the profile of writing. This year we have already had over 50 entrants and we are only halfway through the submission phase.

Get the right acts

We like acts who are good quality and who are performance ready, and we have a team of curators to find the best acts possible. Our principles are that we favour original and authentic music. There are enough covers bands festivals already. We like to support new music as much as possible. We also give preference to people who have not played the festival before if we can. We also look for a mix of genres, so we can appeal to as many sections of the audience as possible. We then work with the different venues and split them into those that can accommodate bands and those that suit duos or solo artists better. Then the team just try and create a great schedule and variety of music that builds over the day.“

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