Deciding to organize a jazz festival is a noble goal, and you should certainly do it, as long as you employ common sense. If it’s your first time doing it, and if it’s the first year you’re organizing it (hoping for it to become annual), then you need to be aware of some crucial factors and potential problems that invariably appear before and during the festival. You won’t always be able to control everything, but everything is manageable to a certain measure.
A jazz festival should surely exist for the sake of jazz. What could be a higher purpose? Right? Well, you should remember that what you’re looking to do is organise people with a vast spectrum of interests, values and agendas. Don’t try to get people on board with you, but rather with an idea, a purpose, a cause that is larger than the festival itself. You will have to summon the enthusiasm of the people who are directly involved with organising, as well as the willingness of the festival goers to pay the entrance fee.
Festivals can be a fantastic way of putting a town on the map, of boosting a sense of local identity of the people, or supporting a charity. Whatever it is, it must be authentic. A vapid marketing slogan will be poorly received if it has nothing real to give it substance.
The obvious core component of the jazz festival is the artists. Here is where the purpose of the festival will also play a role. Negotiating deals means having an understanding of who you can afford and for how long. You won’t get everyone you have in your sights for your first festival, so manage expectations. But it’s important to book the headliners first. Once you have a solid list of prominent artists, it will be easier to convince fresh talent to join in, making it an actual festival.
Not all artists will want to perform on the same terms. If your jazz festival if a paid entry event, you need to be careful about how much you charge, so you’re able to pay the artists, while not making the entry price prohibitively high. Don’t make any promises you can’t keep – in the context of a jazz festival, it’s easier to recover from a financial loss than from a reputational one. If your jazz festival is connected to a charity, make sure its a charity people trust with a cause that is meaningful. The artists will then be more inclined to put their name on the list when it has a powerful cause with social momentum.
Remember, this is not just the one night, which makes organizing a venue tricky. A single night event is easier to negotiate with a club, bar or any venue with a stage. But taking over a place for several days represents a greater risk for the venue owners. To mitigate this, you’ll need to be realistic about the crowd you’ll be able to attract, and how inclined towards jazz the local population is. Don’t get obsessed over one venue that you think may be perfect. Remember that you can use multiple locations of various sizes and vibes – this may actually be an advantage to the festival itself. If multiple venues are your only option, make sure they are close to each other, so that people can pop out of one place and migrate to another. If the venues are not within comfortable walking distance – you won’t achieve the jazz festival feel you’re looking for.