How to organise a festival
- Jeanine Hoekstra
- How to
- 21 Jun 2019
- Edited 6 Oct 2022
- 7 min
Thousands of people partying, enjoying music, and dancing to smooth beats under a clear blue sky. Festivals are definitely here to stay. Tickets often sell out so fast, you are lucky if you can get hold of one. Organising your own festival can be quite challenging. There are many things to consider. Do you have a back-up plan for an unexpected change in weather? Do you know which licences you need? Here is a step-by-step plan for successful festival organisation.
In the Netherlands, the festival season traditionally kicks off around Easter and ends late September. After two lean years, 234 festivals were scheduled in the Netherlands in 2022. All corona restrictions have been lifted, but there are still challenges for festival bosses. Staff shortages, for example, but also new regulations around first aiders and the use of disposable plastic.
This article is aimed at entrepreneurs who plan to organise a festival when the corona-related restrictions have been lifted.
Make a roadmap
Organising a festival starts with a detailed plan, the so-called roadmap. In this roadmap you outline how you will create that once-in-a-lifetime experience that your attendees will never forget. In your festival roadmap you need to address:
- Target audience
- Location and date
- Planning schedule
- Risk limitation
Determine your target audience
You organise your event for a specific group of festival goers, your target audience. If you identify their age, interests, and online and social activities, you will create a target group profile. For example, which social media channels do they use? Do they meet in the local trendy coffee shops, or at family gatherings? All these little details not only help you determine the type of festival you will be hosting, what the design should be, and what food trucks and musicians you need. They also form the basis for your marketing and communications strategy.
Secure the location and date
Do you have a location and date in mind? Ask your municipality about the possibilities. You will have to secure popular locations, such as beaches, at least a year in advance. When securing a location/venue also check that it is big enough, has facilities, and how you can minimise the noise for people living in the neighbourhood.
Set up a planning schedule
Planning is key. Fully describe your activities, the programme, the venue, the number of tents, stalls, and stages, restroom facilities, food trucks, and an estimate of the maximum number of attendees present at the same time. If you have this information, it will be easier to estimate the costs.
In addition to the date and location, you also set specific time slots in your planning. What time does any given action start and what time does it end? When planning your festival, factor in other festivals and events. Make sure that your event does not fall on the same date as other popular festivals. This way, you have a bigger chance of standing out.
Determine your costs
Organising a festival costs money. How much? That depends on several factors, such as the size, location, expected number of attendees, your marketing strategy, and whether you are organising it alone or with others. Another determining factor is your goal. Is it about making a profit to you, or is your goal more of public interest?
Do not forget the entrance fee. Will you sell tickets? Or is it a free festival where the revenue comes from the catering?
Inquire with different companies and invite multiple quotations. Keep an eye on the budget throughout the entire organising process. Is it all still within budget? Or do you need to adjust? Do not forget to reserve extra money for unforeseen expenses, like tents in case of bad weather.
How to get funding?
Tip! A festival is an outstanding example of an event perfect for crowdfunding and sponsoring. Also look into the possibility of receiving subsidies through your municipality. In exchange, you can provide free tickets to your festival.
The municipality will always request a safety plan. What must be included in the safety plan differs per municipality. Therefore, always ask the municipality where you organise the event for their specific guidelines. In the safety plan, you must address fences, scenarios for lost children and bad weather, stability of the tents and stages, and the use of alcohol and drugs (in Dutch).
Also address emergency exits, evacuation routes, and accessibility in your safety plan. For example, how do the attendees get to the festival location? Discuss accessibility with the public transport organisations. Should there be extra trains, for example, because everybody will leave at the same time.
Which licences will you need?
Depending on the type of festival, you as the organiser of the event will probably need to apply for one or more licences. Are you organising a small event? In that case, you may only have to notify the municipality where your festival takes place. What is considered a small event, differs per municipality. For example, the municipality of Utrecht applies a maximum of 250 attendees, and in the municipality of Almere the maximum is 100 attendees.
Municipalities play a key role. They must approve the venue, date, start and end times, number of attendees, and applications for licences. Your festival might be important to them, too, because it promotes the city and brings collaboration with other parties.
Tip! Make sure that your festival is listed on the municipal event calendar. Some municipalities even have this as a condition for issuing a licence.
Apply for licences well in advance with the municipality where your festival is going to be. It will take more than a few weeks to get a licence. On average, it takes at least 8 weeks. Furthermore, you also need time to promote your event and attract enough visitors.
Licences and requirements that you may have to comply with are listed below.
You apply for an event licence with the municipality where the festival is being held. The procedure varies per municipality. Ask for information about the requirements. The costs for licensing can range from €180 to €4900. The costs depend on the size of the festival and the activities.
Tents and stages
Have a construction drawing prepared. This will make clear how the tents are constructed. In this construction drawing, you record the wind load on the tents or stages and the arrangements you made to ensure proper anchoring.
Are you organising a music festival? Or do you intend to play music at your event? In that case, you have to comply with music rights. Ask the Dutch copyright organisation Buma/Stemra what the costs are and what you have to do about licensing for events that will happen more than one year.
You have to consider the noise when you are hosting a music festival. It is not only the music that is loud; the attendees can be quite noisy as well. That is why municipalities require a noise management plan. Is your venue near a residential area? In that case, there will be strict requirements for sound levels.
Only people aged 18 or over are allowed to serve alcohol independently. They can only sell it to people aged 18 or over. Is your promotion team 16 or 17 years old? Then they are allowed to serve alcohol, but not drink it. You do need to have a manager present who is at least 21. The name of this manager must be included in your permit. Young people under the age of 16 are not allowed to work in places where alcohol is served.
Food and non-alcoholic drinks
Do you sell food or soft drinks? Then you have to consider hygiene and food safety. You have to comply with the rules of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA, in Dutch). An example is the hygiene code for the hospitality industry. Are you going to hire food trucks or other caterers? Ask if they have the proper licences.
If you plan on having fireworks, you will need an . You also have to notify the provincial authority, or ask for permission to light the professional fireworks (Ontbrandingstoestemming). There are strict rules for transport, storage, weight, and lighting fireworks.
Limit your risks
If you organise an event, there will be risks. You can limit these risks by choosing a that is suitable for your situation. For example, a sole proprietorship, general partnership (vof), private limited company (bv), or foundation.
You can also insure risks. A business covers the damage that you cause others. Bear in mind that the liability of your business is not covered by your personal liability insurance. You can also take out a legal expenses’ insurance for professional legal support for a business dispute, for instance.
And do not forget to draw up general terms and conditions. General terms and conditions are the rules that apply to you as well as the festival goers.
Promoting your festival
Creativity is a major factor in successfully organising an event. On the whole, you want to stand out from other festivals. You do this by focusing on the experience of your future attendees. That is why you need to think about promotion, social media, online activities, appearance, colours, and design of the event before you start.
Keep the public engaged in the days leading up to the festival. Let them know how the preparations are going. Ask attendees to come up with ideas for, or vote on, the acts they want to see. Come up with fun or funny promotional activities.
Just make sure that you keep promoting the experience in everything you do. On the day itself, you can use event hashtags, apps, and video screens for information about the line-up, and short backstage videos. During and after the event, you continue to use the socials to stay connected to the attendees’ emotions and reactions, and respond to messages. And most of all, do not forget to thank the attendees afterwards for their input, and for making it a wonderful day. You could not have done it without them.
Evaluate and measure the success of your event
Do you want to organise an event that makes a profit? Then you need to evaluate and analyse the festival afterwards. How did the attendees feel about your festival? Will they be back next time? And why do they return? Or why not? How is your website traffic? Do visitors check out or stick around?
Make sure that you are active on social media and ask festival goers for their input on how you can improve your event. In exchange, you could hand out free tickets or a VIP arrangement as a gift.
Tip! Go and attend other festivals and look at their organisation.