I started writing this by myself but decided that it would be wider ranging and more informative if put to the board, so I asked the help of the excellent professional bods on the festival elves site. It’s raised some great points (over 100 comments!) Out of which I tried to compile 16 distinct, very useful gems of advice for would be Arts and Festival industry workers. Some of this I still struggle with myself, and all of it I wish I’d known when I started. Thank you so much to everyone who’s contributed to this thread, you know whats what!
So here goes:
Getting paid properly for your time is vital If you know that a jobs not going to pay properly at the outset don’t do it:
“Don't pitch an over ambitious concept that completely uses the budget to the last penny with only £100 contingency just because you are worried that someone else will get the commission otherwise.”
“Always add 10% contingency. Always everything at cost with a company fee as a percentage of the overall (the client can't argue about the cost of things and can see what they are actually getting for their money). 50% upon confirmation of the job and remainder on completion. Work a photographer and/or videographer into the gig if you can so you have images for portfolio. If the client adds extras - they're extras to the budget as well and don't be afraid to say that! In your budget have budget, actual and the difference - this way you can see where you under budgeted and if you're always doing it in the same places. Pick your crew cos you like them and they’re fucking good at what they do. Only work with suppliers you trust and get a good feeling from (some are just knobs and you can usually tell from the offset - if they don't reply to emails for days and you have to chase them loads for quotes they're gonna be like that for the show). It will take approx 2 years of freelancing to get steady clients so keep going! Don't be afraid to turn work down - better to keep your sanity and not burn out!!”
“You have to say no to the shit job offers to get the good jobs even if it feels like you are making yourself unemployed. Something will always turn up. “
It can be tempting to take on those exciting little jobs or the ones you cannot afford to say no to and just think : “Well at least i’ll be making a little bit.” But then something goes wrong and you cant afford the time and the money to fix it, or another better paying job comes in and you don’t have the time to do it.
Your day rate exists to allow you to have the space to make mistakes, fix broken machinery and plan what you are doing properly. When you are working for less than your day rate you are essentially working for free every time something goes wrong.
Accepting less than your normal day rate only really works out if you are working on a day by day basis (rather than a per job basis) for somebody else - And you like working with them. “
“Always ask for a deposit at time of booking and the rest on day of delivery”
2) Check yo maths!
Many a grave mistake has been made through late night budget calculations, but sometimes thats the only bit of the day you have free to do them. Always recheck your figures - Preferably in the morning with a cup of coffee.
“watch out for sums / formulas in spreadsheets. Always ensure your columns are adding correctly. Google spreadsheets especially like to not include extra rows that you've pasted in so double triple check your maths before submitting a quote!”
“Never add a line at the bottom - always in the middle. That way it's included in the sum.... if not yeah you're fucked!!!”
3) Watch out for the myth of “great exposure”
“ Never take on a job where you’ve been promised “great exposure” - This almost always translates into - we are just a bit fucking tight.”
“Don't work for a major festival on the promise of proper paid work the next year! Hippies are just as self serving as corporates”
“If the event director wants a verbal agreement, make him sign a contract or get a job in Sainsburys”
“Nobody will ever come through on the promise that "next year we will have a bigger budget and will pay you properly". It goes two ways, either they have no more money next year, or they do have a big budget next year at which point they go to the people who they could not afford this year and give them the work.”
4)But…. sometimes it’s ok to work for free,
It’s ok (and sometimes necessary) to work for free, as long as its a job you love, really good experience, helping a mate out or teaching a new skill.
We’ve all worked for free at some point Just make sure its something worthwhile that is not going to make you feel shafted later on. Some of the best jobs i’ve ever had were voluntary (like building giant Teapots in the desert for Mutoid Waste at Burning Man) and I’ve learnt so much from the chances i’ve had too work with other companies and artists.
Try to do what you care about and not what you think you should do for your “career”.
If your making art and (vitally) you get to keep the art that counts as payment too - you are getting your costs covered to make it and you can hire it out later for free. (See our blog on making a living in the arts or events sector)
5) It’ll be ok financially - but it could take years.
You’ve gotta be pretty brave to make that jump into working full time in arts and events, but remember if you are not available to do them, those exciting jobs will pass you by. Try and decrease your outgoings and remember that your time is a valuable commodity. And quit the day job at the right time of year! Springs good, - Autumn/Winter not so much, as you can see below festival life is of course at all times super glamorous!
6) Learn to turn up at the event prepared for anything
“Expect that not everything you've been promised by the organisers will happen, especially at smaller festivals. The power won't be there, or you'll be told your under trees and then find you're working in an open space, or someone will promise a rope that never materialises etc. We've even turned up at festivals where nobody knew who we were or why we were there because the music guy had booked us and never told the decor manager!
Plan for nothing to go as planned, be patient, learn to improvise, and don't be too precious about things being exactly how you wanted them. When people ask me about working at festivals I always say "whatever you think it will be like... It won't be like that" which pretty much sums it up!”
“Never ask a steward for directions.” because chances are they’ve been on site less time than you have. - unless they are a Green Steward - they’re really good!
7)When your self employed prevarication is a bastard.
I must spend up to an hour of my working day staring at my phone. Switch it off.
8) It can be a very macho environment
“You don't have to act like a bloke or act like a bloke to work with the blokes, remember to be a girl, lady, woman is a great thing to be too. But don't use being a woman as a reason for needing help, in a oh look at me I'm helpless kind of way, it's OK not to be able to physically do something as long as you look around and see what else needs doing and get on with it. So be a strong woman, in mind body and soul, but be a woman.”
9) Never EVER EVER syphon a back stage hot tub with your mouth. But it is important to stay hydrated
10) No matter how great the event photographer is, they will never take a photo of your work, so do it yourself.
Or even better employ your own photographer (If you can afford too!) I’ve done many a build and taken a few crap snaps thinking that I’ll just get better ones from the event later on. It never happens because event photographers are there to photograph people not things. Without the photos you’ve got no portfolio - which is half the point of doing poorly paid festival gigs anyway! - Perhaps this is a note for photographers too; if you get a few good snaps of the background art, the artists concerned will almost certainly pay you for them (I sure would)
11)The transition from working with friends to working as a professional team is hard
“ Its important to operate professionally whilst usually working with, for or employing friends. I think most festival art is born of experiences with friends, be it free parties, traveling or a shared idea. I would iron out the 'who's the boss' question fairly early on and have those discussions about it being work etc.
The dynamic totally changes when you have to make money from it and being prepared for that is time well spent.”
“Don’t be snobbish about working commercial gigs, the free party festival hippy in me used to look down on gigs that actually paid the bills preferring to live hand to mouth, but the corporate world can really up your game and festivals are becoming more and more professional. Nobody respects you less for working a corporate gig but they will respect the skills you come back with for sure. “
13) Always be polite and professional to everyone you work with
“ This is a small industry and you never know who is going to pop up again. Also a lot of work comes from meeting other people on a job. People always remember your attitude good or bad so try to make it good. ‘
“even if you're at the top of your game, there will be situations or circumstances that stretch you. Do not be afraid to ask for help.”
Being able to ask for help is actually a strength, and being open, friendly and honest will win you support from the people around you.
14) Feed yo self (and your team)
“Remember to eat! Especially if the job is stressful or cutting it fine to set time. Its amazing how a bit of fuel can make you so much more able to deal with the stress!”
“More importantly make sure anyone working for you eats. Sign of a good boss is one that asks "have you eaten yet?" Or suggests you take a short break because they notice you need it.”
“100% check on the welfare of your team. It's amazing how many people will go with out breaks etc because they don't want to let the team down when it's all a bit difficult; making the team look after themselves as well as each other is vital.”
15) “No matter how much life you think you've witnessed, planning you have done etc, the Public will continue to astound you”
“I remember years ago setting up a small area at a festival in Ireland. We spent a couple of weeks making the place look beautiful, big chill out hammocks, sculptures dotted about, a small stage and two geodome as space and cafe etc.
The festival was late opening but they had open the bars in the campsites, with little to do but drink, the punters were hammered, 20,000 of them pissed and excited, then boom! Gates open right next to us, like a plague of locus, these guys systematically destroyed everything in their path, it was a great lesson in lay out, crowed control and building things a little more robust than you may think you need to be.”
"what would naked fox man do?”
And saving the best til last
16) “Always open bags of cable ties in the middle, not the end”