How to Produce a Music Festival with $0.00

In a world of apathy and mediocrity, accomplishing anything real can seem kind of impossible. If you find yourself struggling to take action, then keep reading. The chart below outlines how to get things done. Ready? Here we go:

  1. Find what you want to do

  2. Do it

Seriously. It’s just that easy.

Okay. Maybe that was a lie. Some things are really, really, really hard. And some things are so easy a caveman could do it. But somewhere between those two dichotomies is a thing that you want to do. Think of that one thing. Now what exactly is stopping you from doing it? Is it a valid reason like, oh I don’t know, it’s illegal? If it’s not, then the chances are high that it’s simply just an excuse.

“But wait!” you say. “I don’t know how to do that!”

I don’t care. Honestly, I really don’t. Last fall, myself and five other twenty-somethings had an idea for a music festival. None of us knew a thing about music festivals, but that didn't matter. Together, we had collection of ideas that we knew we wanted to turn into something real. So we did. And thus, The Highlander Music Festival was born. If you're interested in finding out what drove us to take action (hint: we got angry), you can read the back-story here!

Here’s a list of all of the things we didn't have but probably (definitely) needed:

  1. Time (the festival was scheduled to happen in under two months)
  2. Bands
  3. Sound equipment
  4. Promo material
  5. Decorations
  6. Money

That last one is huge. We had an official budget of $0.00. That in and of itself could have been enough to make us reconsider. But we pushed on. Time was against us and there was no changing that. We were battling Thanksgiving and finals week and Christmas, so November 14, 2014, was the only shot we had.

After we set a date, we started naming every artist we knew in town that we thought would be a good match for what we were trying to accomplish. As more and more musicians and bands responded, it slowly started to dawn on me that this was going to be good. Really good. Eight incredible local bands agreed to play in our festival even though we couldn't pay them a single dime, and all we had to do was ask.

Securing a lineup of solid artists was a huge relief, but next on the list of unknowns was equipment. Speakers and microphones and amps and cords and input lists and stage plots and everything else that goes into a show that most people don’t ever think of. We'd thrown around the idea of renting it, but again, zero budget. After a week of lost sleep over what we were going to do, my friend Ben (who's band, Minos the Saint, was playing at the festival) came to the rescue in perhaps the most nonchalant way possible:

“Why don’t I just handle all of the sound stuff?”

My jaw dropped. Problem solved. We had the musicians, now we just needed people to come out and hear them. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, disbelievingly, “A music festival? At a coffee shop? What?” Well…I’d have a lot of nickels. Facebook was our primary mode of communication, but we knew we had to have some printed material. We had a beautiful flyer designed by Roland Parker, but again... no budget. So we pooled our resources and went to the nearest FedEx to print 20 posters to hang around town.

Here's the spell-checked version...

Here's the spell-checked version...

The pride we felt as we looked at our posters and reveled in the event we were creating was short lived. I quite literally sunk to the floor when I realized there was a typo on the poster:

“The Highlander Music Festival: Novemeber 14.”

NovemEber. Ugh. We were out of money so printing another batch wasn't an option… unless the woman working behind the desk was feeling generous. And she wasn't. So we pouted some more until someone else volunteered to go ask for more free copies. She must’ve pitied us by then because she gave in and let us reprint the posters. Crisis avoided. (Okay so I’m a little dramatic, give me a break).

As we got closer to the festival, the craziest thing kept happening. Things were… getting done… it kind of looked like we were actually going to pull it off. Make no mistake, this didn't magically come together in a swirl of fairy dust. The day of the festival was spent in chaos as we transformed a coffee shop into a festival venue with twinkle lights and candles and mason jars (Thanks, Pinterest). The event was originally going to take place outside on the patio, but the 40-degree weather prevented that from happening. So at 4:00pm on November 14, crammed inside a coffee shop, we had a music festival. And people showed up. Hundreds of them. There was standing room only, unless you were lucky enough to snag a seat on one of the bags of coffee beans conveniently located right in front of the musicians.

I was in a daze for most of the night. When I and the rest of the people who helped organize the festival finally stopped to take a breath and realize what we had accomplished, we were kind of in disbelief. All I could think was: “We did this. Like… we… actually did this.”

The point of all of this isn’t to make myself sound cool. It’s to say that The Highlander could’ve remained as an idea on a page. A nice thought. A “maybe one day.” But it wasn’t. It was an authentic, memorable and unique event that I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life.

Is every “thing” you decide to do going to be a huge endeavor? No, that’s too much to ask. But the moral of the story here is that you just have to do it. Whatever it is, just do it. Make it happen. Stop making excuses and make a plan. A good place to start might be to pick up your iPhone or laptop or maybe even a good ole pen and paper and just start writing. Maybe it's a list. Maybe it's a timeline. Maybe it's a doodle (Check out The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown) But just put something on a page (or a screen).

Here's a few questions to ask yourself before you up back to square one:

"What's next?"

Keep asking yourself this and you'll keep moving forward. Every time you make progress, immediately set another goal. (Hint: goals don't have to be outrageous, it can be as simple as making a call or running an errand.

"Who can I ask for help?"

Take all of that nasty pride and put it away because it has no place here. One of my favorite quotes is by 17th century poet John Donne, who said that "No man is an island." This is so easy to forget. What's the worst thing that can happen when you ask someone for help? Usually, it's just that they might say no. And maybe that'll be a little embarrassing. Or, maybe you'll ask the right question to the right person and end up with just the right answer. It's your call.

"Why am I doing this?"

This is crucial. Ask yourself this a million times until you think you're going to go crazy. Not only will the answer to this question be the metric by which you judge your success, but it will also help you learn about yourself and what motivates you. If we'd switched goals for The Highlander half way through from supporting local community to making money, then it would've been a totally different (read: probably nonexistent) event. Since we stayed focused on the reasons behind the festival, we were not only able to stay on track with our planning but also to look back and see if we accomplished our original goals.

You can roll your eyes at this blog post and think I'm naïve, but I know that life is hard. It's busy and messy and painful. But I also know that there are so many people on this earth with an unbelievable capacity to make it better, even in the tiniest ways. How many ideas are we missing out on?

Lauren Cross is a student, photographer, dancer, and, now, writer. She studies mass communication, religious studies, and business at LSU. Recently she helped coordinate The Highlander Music Festival, which you can read more about here.