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Event Strategy, Trends, Event Technology

Top 5 Challenges Facing Music Festival Operations in 2021 (and How to Overcome Them)

by Ian Davis
on October 4, 2021
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Let’s not sugar coat it, the last year and a half was an unprecedented time of uncertainty. The world came to a screeching halt as the Covid-19 pandemic took center stage. 

Thankfully, music festival planners were given the green light this summer to get their festivals up and running for 2021 after the rollout of vaccines and standardized testing protocols. So far the results from the summer music festival revival have been really promising, with major music festivals like Electric Zoo, and The Governors Ball putting on epic experiences in expedited time frames. 

Over the past few months we've talked with over forty festival and live event leaders to understand how the challenges have changed (or stayed the same) post-pandemic. We’ll unpack the top challenges based on our conversations and provide practical solutions to help your team uncover new opportunities to operate your events more smoothly.

5 Common Pitfalls for Music Festival & Live Event Operators to Watch:

Let’s take a closer look at these five most common challenges facing music festival planners in a post-pandemic landscape plus practical solutions to help you stay one step ahead:

Challenge #1: Communication Struggles & Breakdowns

Over the last few months we spoke with over forty industry leaders in the music festival space, and the most common hurdle they mentioned was unanimous—communication. Whether it was with artists, vendors, sponsors, even their own staff… when you're in the middle of planning and advancing a huge gig you cannot afford to lose connection with your people. The pandemic only amplified this challenge for most, as the constant changes in budgets, timelines and resources created the need for more seamless communication.

For event leaders like Sarah Henry of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, adopting one centralized system of communication has never been more important:

"The biggest challenges has been uncertainty due to changing COVID protocol and needing to have multiple contingency plans in place. We had 6 budgets at one point in time and we were modeling a million different scenarios. With so many groups and details changing on the fly, clear communication has been more key than ever before."

The current systems event teams rely on like unstructured Slack chats, disjointed spreadsheets and complicated email chains are extremely inefficient and error-prone. When communication breaks down, festival directors are left in the dark waiting around for requests and confirmations, all time wasted which could be invested back into more critical tasks.

Instead, they end up sifting through endless email chains and whatever other messaging tools their contacts are spread across for crucial information—left guessing on credential, asset, and equipment needs which costs time and wastes money.

The solution?

Centralize all of your communications—manage and send SMS, emails, documents & alerts in one system. Event portal software helps teams work in harmony with one centralized hub for all communication to flow through and be stored. This has become an essential component of any successful music festival. Lennd’s event portal serves as the communication hub event teams need to connect with the right people at the right time. 

Spend less time digging for answers and stay focused on what you do best—finding solutions. As Travis Grech, Project Manager of Ultra Australia, puts it, “As it gets closer to the event, you’re getting inundated with emails. It’s hard to keep track of it all. We need an app or a platform that allows us to track and share information across all of our departments and third-parties.

Challenge #2: Lost Profits from Overspend & Over-ordering

Of course, the biggest determining factor that any music festival planner faces is the “B” word, budget. As Nas once put it, “Cash rules everything around me” and it’s possible this could be the official motto of a music festival or live event director. If your event hemorrhages money, chances are you and or the festival will not be back for years to come. 

This has always been true, and the COVID-19 ripple effects have only exacerbated the pain with rising costs of goods and services, and a lack of asset resources thanks to supply chain disruptions. Common materials like laminates and plywood commonly used in exhibit construction are limited and more expensive due to their scarcity. There is even a shortage of used golf carts in the market due to a lack of production over the last two years. 

For Kait Callahan, Sr. Project Manager at Backbone Entertainment, these shortages have made setting a budget nearly impossible: 

"The biggest constraint has been budgeting and getting the infrastructure we need - a lot of companies don’t have the ability to supply shows because everything is happening at the same time. Everything has risen in price by 20-25% because the demand is super high."

Having an accurate system of record when planning your budget during your festival advance, the better off you are at staying within the spending margins and producing a profitable event. Simply put, you cannot plan an event budget without a good idea of the expenses you will incur

The solution?

Start tracking everything, all in one unified database. As the old saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. By operating credentials, assets and catering across multiple systems or spreadsheets, you’re creating data blind spots that make accurate measurement impossible. In turn costing you in terms of wasted time, and profits.  

That’s why music festivals like Electric Zoo have pivoted to a platform that allows them to track and manage all of their back of house festival expenses seamlessly in one database.

Chase Wilkes, Credentials Manager at this year’s E-ZOO festival explained that, “having a crystal clear picture of credentials, assets, and catering by department with exact numbers is a game-changer” when discussing the importance of staying on budget.

Challenge #3: Staffing Shortages --- Doing More, with Less

Perhaps the most unprecedented challenge that has presented itself as a direct result of the COVID-19 lockdown was the decimation of the live event talent pool

It takes a lot of seasoned event professionals to get music festivals off the ground and running smoothly. Unfortunately due to the lengthy gap between gigs through 2020 and into 2021, many of these folks were forced to find a new source of income and employment. Once things opened back up this past summer, many who had once worked back-of-house at music festivals small and large did not return to the industry. 

As of July the Bureau of Labor & Statistics reported the highest ever labor shortages recorded to date—9.3 million unfilled job openings in the U.S., with 1.6 million unfilled positions in the leisure and hospitality industry. Nick Schling Director of Operations at the Farmer's Insurance Open knows the challenge all too well:

"Anyone in temporary labor is seeing about a 50% markup from two years ago. Supply chains are completely bottlenecked and constrained and the lead time is twice as long. With the pandemic still lingering, the uncertainty of the event world as a whole is challenging and the pressure to get ahead and get organized is greater than ever before."

As a result, music festival and live event directors have been left struggling to fill key roles with whoever is left with experience that they can find, and forced to hire those with little to no experience when they come up short.

The solution?

Automate the mundane. Implement systems that streamline tedious and error-prone tasks that are keeping you tied down. 

Lennd’s event portals provide time-saving workflows teams need to get more done, with less. It provides a more flexible system to operate from and eliminates the human error that comes with complex event data management. When you are able to access all of your groups, data, communication, and reporting in one centralized database you are empowered to work nimbly and adapt on the fly when necessary. 

Having your entire advance done on one platform empowers festival planners to get the job done better with less hands on deck. Not only can you save on the expense of additional employees, you can also boost your music festival or live event's ROI by implementing an all-in-one event software.  

Challenge #4: Ever-Changing Covid Protocols

A huge hurdle facing music festival planners as we  relaunch the industry is, of course, how to handle compliance with Covid-19 restrictions. Mask or no mask? Do we test or require negative tests? Do we require vaccines? What’s legal? What’s CDC compliant? It requires teams to have multiple plans in place to support, and to change on a dime, as independent event contractor Shelby Goodsell notes from her experience:

"The plan is always changing so it’s hard to pin down a process. You find yourself having to scrap a full month of work and starting back from scratch. It's an ever-changing operations process."

Music festivals like Lollapalooza were the first major festival sized guinea pigs to face the music and see how it would turn out, and they were proof that greater precautions in fact did mitigate exposure.

The festival required attendees to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test—and nearly 90% of all attendees were fully vaccinated. As a result, only 203 COVID cases of the 385,000 attendees were linked to the event due to heightened safety protocol. As event planners continue to keep contingency plans in place for the remaining shows closing out 2021, other industry leaders are following suit.

Now, upcoming Rolling Loud Festival dates in New York City and Los Angeles will require attendees to be inoculated against COVID-19 or present a negative test before entering the venue, in accordance with state laws. This looks to be the policy moving forward for music festivals small and large. The question now is, how in the heck do music festival directors manage this process?

The Solution?

Take your testing digital. Invest in a tool today, with the ability to scale for uncertainty when protocols and requirements inevitably change. 

 For many event operators across the in-person event space it’s all about adopting a CDC compliant protocol

Thankfully there are tools like the Lennd Health Pass  that can help a music festival track and manage testing statuses and health questionnaires. Not only will it provide you peace of mind, but also save you time, by eliminating the paper-heavy processes that come with questionnaire and vaccination card management. Take advice from Mary Rich, Director of Event Operations at The Dew Tour:

"We were looking for a program that had everything in one place, and Lennd was the answer to that. With so many moving parts, all the administrators, and constant changes to COVID protocols, Lennd’s features made it easy for us to stay on top of things. We would have been in over our heads with spreadsheets and physical paper copies."

It’s a win-win. Music festival planners can operate more efficiently and make sure everyone is CDC compliant to maintain the reputation of the event and remove liability due to unforeseen circumstances.

Challenge #5: Data Everywhere: Lack of Infrastructure

It has become painfully obvious just how integral a centralized solution is to the vitality of a music festival or live event. The problems that event directors and operators have always faced have only been amplified by the pandemic. With the time off, many database manager and event operators had a moment to reflect on their advancing process, and evaluate new systems or processes to potentially implement.

The constant rat race from one festival to the next has made it difficult to even consider adopting a new platform, no matter how much it could increase profit and efficiency. 

But honestly, aren’t you sick and tired of dealing with the same old struggles on every single gig?  How many times have you found yourself juggling spreadsheets, applications, contracts, on-boarding docs, and communicating with your groups through every different messaging platform known to the human race? 

The Solution?

Streamline all of your event's data under one system of record for more accurate data management and reporting.

The beauty of implementing an all-in-one event management software will set your groups up for success from the start, and your entire festival advance is streamlined through Lennd’s Event Portal.  

When you add a rock solid infrastructure to your event operations, it makes life so much easier on you and your crew. Also, considering many event producers and operators are more inclined to take on independent contracting work, standardizing a process will provide the oversight, control and adaptability to take on more shows and make more money.

Imagine a world where you could…

As lives events and festivals make their comeback, now is the time to set new standards that bring rock solid infrastructure to your ever-changing event management and operations. Here's what independent event contractor Shelby Goodsell sees as the biggest opportunity for event teams as they evaluate their technology and processes for 2022:

"I think we will see more collaboration across the industry - we’re meeting more people, working together more, and we're more open to hearing other people’s thoughts, experiences and processes. I'm seeing more inclination to want to standardize our processes—we're realizing we don’t need to do things manually, and that things can be easier." 

Take Back Control With The Power Of Event Portal Software

Despite the new challenges presented to music festival operations teams, now is the time to focus on solutions, as Nick Schling, Director of Operations at the Farmer's Insurance Open notes:

"With the lapse in events it gave us a pause and the ability to determine what worked but ask if there’s a better way to do it. I've seen a greater adoption of technology and the need for a structured system to operate by is in higher demand. I think initially people thought the digital way would be hard for people to accept and comply with, but that hasn't been the case."

Find the new way forward and set yourself up for an incredible finale to 2021, and an even better year in 2022 by adopting a powerful and comprehensive event management software.

Adopting one centralized system will help you uncover new solutions to these common pitfalls holding festival and live event operations teams back. 

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Can you really afford to waste your time and money on the same old challenges forever? Or are you ready to take action today and find out why Lennd is paving the way as the leader in music festival advancement? 

Book a demo with our team today! 


Lennd is a technology company that builds infrastructure to help bring events of every size to life. From small music festivals to major conferences, sports gatherings and everything in between—event leaders across the globe trust our software to manage their event operations and provide their people with one streamlined experience.

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