I have played and worked at large festivals such as Electric Picnic and Glastonbury for over 10 years now. I am sad that in all that time, these large festivals (most notably the Electric Picnic) still do not pay the majority of local and non superstar artists and performers. All year-long I see meme after meme regarding musician playing for free being shared far and wide around social media. It annoys me when festival season comes around, the same like and sharers are off to play these monsters. In some cases artists are even having to buy their own tickets in order to get in and play a free gig.
Lets take a minute to break down the workers that are needed to pull off such a spectacular weekend event and also what they work for:
Carpenters/Stage Builders: work for pay
Electricians: work for pay
Promoters: work for pay
Ticket Sellers: work for pay
Security:work for pay
Production Staff: work for pay / sub contract work out with heavy reliance on volunteers
Sound Engineers/Technicians:work for pay
Superstar/VIP Bands/Musicians: Varying contracts involving money
Local Musicians/Artists: Work for tickets/exposure
Vendors: Pay to be there and pay lower workers in tickets and sometime with pay.
Emergency Services: Paid but also large number of volunteer workers
Notice anything? Pretty much every major work group gets paid except a large number of artist and musicians. I often wonder why is this and I think one reason may be the lure of exposure. This lure has created such a crowded market that it both devalues the art and perpetuates itself into the next generation of musicians as the cool thing to do. “Look I’m playin the picnic”. Profits are being made by someone at this thing while even the perks for performers are dwindling each year.
Picnic goers, don’t get me wrong by all means go and enjoy yourselves and get as much damn exposure as you possibly can. Here is a list of things to just bear in mind especially if performing in the Body and Soul area:
- Bog Camping: Expect to be sent to a bog field to camp. The lower rank artists are ushered into the lowest field on the site. When it rains at all (and always expect rain at the picnic) that field turns into a marshland. A tip I have is migrate up the hill and park your tent behind the big house.
- No Proper Artist Assistance: Expect to lose at least 3 hours and/or miss your gig if your wristband falls off (this has happened to me and a number of others I know (some of them things just fall apart). Even if you are holding the faulty/broken wristband and your ID, you are sent off site and must have have full on arguments with up to 3 layers of management before you are maybe let back in. You may even miss your gig.
- Hospitality: This varies depending on the venue you are playing but generally you might get free water and Aldi/Lidl level booze if you make it to a B&S main stage. Imagine playing a free gig in a bar or nightclub somewhere and not be offered a drink or some sort of proper food at the very least. Its depressing it really is.
- Terrible sound: There have been a huge number of people I have talked to who have had issues with the quality of sound in general at larger Irish festivals and the Electric Picnic in particular. Last year I spoke to many who have travelled to other festivals in England, Europe and further afield and rate the sound at the Picnic as one of the worst in Europe. For my sins I worked sound for the Bog Cottage last year and am well aware of the challenges facing engineers in that field. I think a big factor is stages/bars/shops packed too closely together and all throwing out huge dB levels through massively amplified yet improperly tuned systems. Things like Funktion-One stacks in coffee tents hooked up to mp3 players and iPhones….madness. Each venue in a death spiral style race annihilate headroom and push through to the digital sound ceiling. Its like watching the loudness wars real-time it’s absolutely crazy.
- Plus 1 Donation: Expect your +1 guests (if you even get a plus 1) to pay a “donation” of up to or exceeding €50. These forced donations are then totted up and advertised as donations raised (possibly used as a tax write off for festival). No problem with charity but donations should not be enforced like this.
- Security check after security check: In the earlier days of gigging for passes, a big advantage was the ability to travel around the site with minimal security/wristband checks. As the years progress the artist has less and less freedom to travel backstage and take shortcuts to venues etc. Now a lot of the time you are sent round with general punters. This adds time and annoyance to your trip so allow plenty of time and patience for these.
- No Artist Only Shower/Toilet area: Showering and wash facilities are shared with all boutique campers so get up early if you want a shower without having to wait in line. Same goes for toilets.
- Plus 1 wristband may not be allowed to camp in artist area: If your +1 is coming down on Sunday make sure beforehand that they give her/him camping wristband or else they will be kicked off site that evening and certainly not let camp. This is a big one that we experienced and believe me there is no help or care given. We wasted the entire day being sent from production office to production office on a wild goose chase. Finally at 11pm, 12 hours later were given a different but equally useless wristband. If this happens to you my advise is this; get to know the security on the camping gate. There are a few really sound lads there who are reasonable enough, especially if they recognise you from being cool all weekend.
- Sheer Numbers of Artists: The fact that so many will perform for peanuts sorry I mean tickets means that the place is flooded with people who are looking to make it in “the business”. Last year, every second person seemed to be proudly displaying their artist wristband. That said make sure you have something that will make you and your group stand out. Be confident in your performance and well rehearsed to get the best possible response. Also bring something; a nice banner or wear t-shirts with your group’s name or logo, gimmick anything that will help to gain new support rather than just relying on your existing fan base to show up. Again with so much happening your best bet is getting that hook into passers-by to draw them in.
- Equipment not stored after Gig: If you are playing on Friday say, be prepared to share your tent with your equipment post show for the rest of the weekend. This is another slap in the face to artists performing for free and weekend secured lock-up for equipment should be afforded to all artists. Some places such as the Salty Dog are very cool and accommodating but don’t expect the same from the B&S main stage.
- Focus on the Hustle: If you are there to enjoy yourself then enjoy yourself. If you are there for exposure go around to as many of the smaller venues, coffee houses etc and try hustle yourselves some gigs over the weekend.. These gigs can sometimes be the most fun and most rewarding in garnishing new fans and links.
- Lastly Negotiate: Don’t sell yourself short and don’t be afraid to say no when talking to the promoter. If you’re not going to get paid, see about expenses; if there are no expenses see about +1’s; if there is no +1’s see about other perks; if there is still no give just walk away. This is especially true if you are back for a second time, you would not be asked back if you had a shitty gig so use that leverage for all its worth.
So that’s about all I can come up with off the top of my head. This is not meant as a dis to anyone going and playing at this thing. It can be a really great weekend and a cool place to make links (especially with other artists). Just be aware going in of some of the deficiencies and problems with it that you may encounter. Also being prepared and focused on your goals can keep your weekend fun for you and a success for your brand.
And for Gods sake lads, make sure you go out there and enjoy yerselves!