While summer vacation may be on the minds of many, it's go time for music festival producers across the country. From now until late fall, these festivals will host a mixture of bands and vendors, hoping to make this year's party for thousands of concertgoers even better than the last. And to make that happen, the producers have a strict process of planning, strategy and coordination.
After hosting its party for 10 years on San Francisco's Treasure Island, the Treasure Island Music Festival announced in June that this will be the last year the music festival will be held on the island. And for the last bash, which will run from October 15-16, planners expect an epic couple of days with performances from Ice Cube, Sigur Rós, James Blake and many more.
But while bands perform, vendors serve and attendees sing along, there are others hard at work behind the scenes, ensuring everything goes on without a hitch. We spoke to one of Treasure Island Music Festival's producers, Dawson Ludwig of production company Noise Pop Industries, about how he handles the unexpected and deals with the financial headaches that come from hosting two days of nonstop music.
When does planning for the festival begin, and when does the execution of the venue coordination kick into high gear ahead of the festival?
Booking starts as early as one year in advance of the festival, sometimes longer if there are acts that we've had our eye on for a while. Venue coordination is also about a year out, working with the city to ensure that everything is lined up and approved.
What sort of issues or concerns often arise as the day of the festival nears?
There are a lot of moving parts with live events, so anything can happen. In many ways we are prepared for everything and nothing. The most common issue would be weather which we can't fix, obviously, but we can make our attendees aware of the cold, heat, wind or rain.
We've been very lucky in the past and haven't had any extreme weather. However, Treasure Island can get cold and windy so we are constantly reminding the audience to be prepared.
How do you budget for the issues that arise in the final few days?
An event is like a business in and of itself — we budget in a safety net to account for any mishaps or unexpected expenses. Ultimately we are prepared to take a loss if something forces us to spend beyond that safety net, but ideally we don't have to.
A few years ago there was a potential transportation issue on the bridge that would have forced us to ferry our Ferris wheel into the island rather than driving it on. That would have cost a nice chunk of change but luckily we never faced that problem.
How many people are involved in preparing the venue?
The organization of the festival is done by about 10 to 15 people. The actual execution of the festival is done by 200+ people, when you account for vendors, security, stage, etc.
Does your staff have to come to you before solving issues that could eat into the budget? What's the process for that?
A budget is set for each area of the festival and managers are given relative autonomy to spend within that range. If, for whatever reason, we need to spend beyond what's budgeted, we review the options together and make a decision based upon safety and the quality of the event.
Ryan Derousseau is a journalist with nine years of experience writing about investing, technology and leadership issues. His work has been read in Fortune, Money, U.S. News & World Report and Fast Company, among other publications.