What Does a Festival Director Do?

Festivals come in all shapes and sizes, and the job of directing a small chamber music festival is quite different from the job of directing, say, Lollapalooza. Still, all festival organizers have the same overarching goal: to run a successful and well-attended festival that comes off without a hitch. It might be a simple-sounding mission statement, but is certainly no simple task. Festival directors oversee almost every aspect of the festival, which means juggling dozens of operations at once.

Festival directors must be able to multitask, delegate, meet tight deadlines, and problem-solve on the fly without losing their cool.

The festival director is usually responsible for securing the necessary permits and insurance for the event; building relationships with local contractors and companies that provide goods and services; staffing the festival; creating materials such as maps and signage; planning and supervising site setup and breakdown; coordinating with artists and their teams; and managing user experiences such as festival-centric mobile apps. And all of that is before the gates even open!

During the festival, the director is in constant motion, making sure that everyone has what they need, that all of the parts are moving smoothly, and that everything is proceeding according to plan. Needless to say, there are many opportunities for things small and large to go wrong, from a delayed ice delivery to a last-minute performer cancellation. It's the festival director's job—with the help of a skilled staff—to plug holes and devise fixes on the fly without affecting the audience, creating a seamless experience.

People in the Field

Virginia Schmitt

Name:

Virginia
Schmitt
Position: 
Director of Event Operations, Danny Wimmer Presents

Festival Director at a Glance

Career Path

This is a senior position, attainable after at least 10 years working in the event- and festival-planning business. Many festival directors start out as volunteers or members of event operations staff. From there, they progress to become event operations coordinators, giving them responsibility over some of the logistical decisions that go into every live event or festival experience. Experienced event operations coordinators who have proven themselves time and again might be picked to direct the entire festival, which means comparatively more control over the experience, such as selecting the designers who create the visual aesthetic of the festival or choosing which styles of cuisine to serve. 

Finding Work

Before applying for an entry-level job at a music festival, it is a good idea to gain experience by volunteering at a festival or interning for a festival-promotion company such as AEG PresentsGoldenvoiceC3 PresentsLive NationLiveStyle, and Superfly. Upon landing a festival gig, hard work is the path to advancement, leading to bigger festivals with more prestigious artists. In the meantime, critical observation of festival planning—particularly things like the layout, traffic flow, food and drink services, and placement of portable toilets—goes a long way.

Professional Skills
  • Event management
  • Contracts and negotiation
  • Budgeting
  • Hiring
  • Live performance
  • Leadership
  • Multitasking
  • Written and verbal communication
Interpersonal Skills

Festival directors are incredibly detail-oriented and possess excellent communication skills. They must be able to multitask, delegate, meet tight deadlines, and problem-solve on the fly without losing their cool. A good festival director is simultaneously perfectionistic in their pursuit of the best possible festival experience and utterly prepared when things don't go as planned. It's also important to have a strong vision both for audience experience and staff operation.

Work Life

During the early period of conceiving of and planning the event, festival directors spend an impressive amount of time on email and the phone, creating and negotiating the connections, relationships, and teams that will form the basis of the event. During the run-up to the festival, they are likely to work long days and nights to ensure that everything is progressing according to schedule. During the festival, directors are likely to actively manage personnel and delegate problem-solving as necessary. It's only after the last scraps of garbage have been swept up that the festival director can finally relax and begin to catch up on sleep until the process repeats itself in a few weeks.