When I tell people I saw Beyonce at both weekends of Coachella, most people assume I spent as much as my tuition to do so. But in reality, I got to go to the trendy festival for free in exchange for the work I was doing while I was there. Since then, I’ve worked at two other music festivals and that number is expected to increase this summer. If you want to spend a few weekends doing something exciting and different during your time off from school, just take a look at the list below for everything you need to know.
1. Working at music festivals means actual work.
You can’t just show up for the free ticket, put on the t-shirt they give you and then go off on your own to do whatever. And while accommodations can be made for disabilities in most cases, the majority of work will labor. Whether it’s catering, groundskeeping, waste management, etc., you will have to do work. And even if you do something simpler, like monitoring a certain area (a.k.a making sure drunk people don’t hurt themselves), you still have to be aware and stay in your assigned area.
2. Your work experience drastically depends on where you go.
I’m trying to generalize as much as I can in this, but the truth is that experiences will never be replicated from festival to festival. This isn’t just in terms of the work you do, either. Some places have you work on short shift every day, and some make you work part-time some days and have full days the rest of the time. Sometimes you will get other perks such as free food or merchants discounts, and sometimes you won’t. You’ll most likely know the conditions of working at a certain festival when you apply, but be prepared for any circumstances.
3. You might have to apply through an organization rather than the festival itself.
While all festivals hire at least some amount of workers themselves, most of it is done through contract work. And if you want to do a work-for-music kind of arrangement, like we are here, then they usually let another organization handle that. The two I’ve worked with in the past are Global Inheritance and Work Exchange Team (WET). Global Inheritance is a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting sustainability at music festivals. WET is a company that just connects you with opportunities, and the festival determines the work that needs to be done. Both application processes are simple, and they tend to be very transparent about your expected work experience.
4. Sometimes you’ll make money, but mostly you’ll just break even.
Just like I said with every work experience being different, every cost is different as well. Even though I say you’ll be “working” at music festivals, sometimes it’s just technically volunteering because you don’t get paid. In exchange, of course, you get a free ticket during your time off (though they’ll usually have you make a deposit beforehand just in case you don’t show up to your shifts). Other times, you might pay a discounted ticket price and get paid enough to break even (or maybe even more). If it’s a festival at which attendees can camp at, then you will almost always get free camping as well. As for food, sometimes it’s covered and sometimes it isn’t. However, you always have to pay for your own transportation. But hey, it’s still way cheaper than buying your own ticket.
5. Working with friends always makes it better.
Not only is working with a friend incredibly fun, but it also makes outside costs a lot easier to handle. Food costs are split, and if you carpool, then you can split gas money. If you camp out, you’ll probably one need one tent to share which saves a lot of time during set up and take down. And even though you definitely make friends while you work, it’s great to have someone you know will always be at your side (especially if it gets rowdy). Plus, you’ll get to jam out to incredible shows together. What more could you ask for?
6. Hygiene is incredibly important.
This doesn’t sound like it needs to be said, but it needs to be said. You will get hot and sweaty and feel gross the entire time you are there. Usually, staff showers will be free, but you want to freshen up throughout the day as well. Bring unscented body wipes and carry them with you everywhere (this is especially helpful when the port-a-potty runs out of toilet paper). If the bathrooms don’t have sinks, then hand sanitizer will also run out very quickly, so bring some of that too. And just be prepared to interact with some very smelly people.
7. Take opportunities to network.
If you enjoy your work experience at a festival, talk to other workers. A lot of people will travel to work at multiple festivals, and they can give you tips on where to go next. And if you think you might enjoy a career in a more specialized area of festival work, such as sound design/operation, photography or event planning, try to find the people who are doing those things. They won’t be in the same workgroup as you’re in, but if you see one of them lingering by a stage between sets or sitting near you in staff catering (if you have access), then ask them about their work. They’ll usually be happy to answer your questions, and even if they don’t have time, then they might at least point you in the right direction. What do you have to lose?
Working at music festivals is no picnic, but the experiences I’ve had are ones I’ll never forget. The atmosphere will change everywhere you go, and it might be easier to make friends in some places rather than others. But the music will always be incredible, and you’ll gain work experience by doing it. So if you’re looking for a break from that office internship this summer, take a few days off and enjoy the music.