What we learnt from working at a festival

Photo credit: Ania Shrimpton

This article was written by freelancer Shelley Welti.

Think work experience at a festival is all about running about in wellies, fetching things and making cuppas? Think again. For Oli, Clara and Adam (all students at BIMM, Europe’s largest and leading music college, which creates opportunities for their students to gain experience by putting on stages at festivals), gaining experience behind the scenes at indie festival 2000trees recently – which saw Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, You Me At Six and Deaf Havana performing – was invaluable.

From leading soundchecks to liaising with artists, it was all about getting stuck in and being a key member of the team, as they explain…

Photo credit: Luis Kramer

19-year-old Oli Redman who is a recent graduate of BIMM’s Live Sound And Event Production course, enjoyed being hands-on getting the stage ready and then experiencing a range of other vocations to inspire his future career choice.

“Our tasks covered pretty much everything to do with a festival stage. For me it started with setting up the PA, setting up the lights, programming the lights and patching in stage boxes,” Oli says. “After the show was on the road, we all took it in turns doing different roles, such as front of house engineer, monitor engineer and stage hand.”

Oli feels that his time at 2000trees has helped him to build his confidence within a team environment, while also getting more familiar with sound and lighting techniques. “I definitely think being at 2000trees has helped me to develop better team working skills. Having the opportunity to be there for five days really allowed me to reflect and improve everyday too,” he adds.

Photo credit: Ania Shrimpton

Clara Charlier who’s going into her final year studying for her BA Hons degree in Music Business also enjoyed the wide range of tasks she was able to do; from artist liaison to sound engineer. “On my first day, I was asked to step into the role of artist liaison for our stage. It was great, as I got to greet acts before they went on stage and generally just had to make sure they were happy,” the BIMM Brighton student explains.

“For the rest of the festival, I helped the sound engineer and set up bands on the Forest Sessions stage. This meant monitoring engineering for the likes of Deaf Havana during their acoustic set or even more crazily, actually mixing some bands in front of house!”

For Clara – like so many of us – it was the firsthand experience of actually doing something for herself that helped her to learn how soundchecking works and made her feel more positive about her abilities. “When shadowing sound engineers, it is difficult to see yourself putting such skills in practice without actually doing it,” she says. “So this hands-on experience was great to gain confidence.”

Of course, as the saying goes: ‘you don’t ask, you don’t get’, so during his 2000trees experience 25-year-old Adam Henderson (who studies Music Production at BIMM Bristol and who ‘had a go at everything’, from setting up microphones to operating the front of house mixing desk), asked the festival’s stage manager if he could also try his hand at artist liaison. He then spent a day and a half meeting and greeting artists, something he says is one of the most memorable things from his time at the festival.

Photo credit: Luis Kramer

“It was a highlight as it meant I got to interact with the artists that I knew as well as getting friendly with a few of the others. Meeting some of the larger bands that were performing acoustic sets was also exciting. The experience as artist liaison was handy for developing interpersonal skills in both a professional and relaxed demeanor,” he says.

It’s this positive go-getting mindset that each of the students advise others thinking of doing work experience, whether at a festival or elsewhere, to consider. “I’ve found that if you have the drive and the willingness to learn, you will be treated like an equal and will be taught the ropes until they directly pass them on to you,” Clara suggests. Oli agrees and says that being interested, confident and trustworthy goes a long way: “If people can trust you there is a better chance of you getting to do work experience in the area you find relevant.”

While for Adam, he believes that by being brave, asking questions and getting involved, you can potentially make other doors open for you: “Most industries seem to be opportunity driven in that the people that put themselves out there and take opportunities are more likely to meet the people that can lead them to greater opportunities,” he explains.”Music festivals are essentially major networking events and conferences for music people.”

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