How Much Control of Your Event Should You Let the Fans Have?

The UK’s Alt-Fest debuts in August, with help from crowd-funding, and major decisions such as booking and bar policy decided by the fans. But what are the consequences of giving up so much control to the fans? Co-founder Dom Void tells us all…

Dom Void from Alt-Fest

UPDATE 31.8.14: Alt-Fest has been cancelled.

The Alt-Fest story starts like many festival tales: having been inspired by their own experiences, and over not inconsiderable quantities of sangria, alternative club promoters Dom and Missy Void decided they wanted to launch a festival. Having attracted up to 1,500 people a time to their bi-monthly events for the last 10 years they wanted to grow the concept – and putting it in a field seemed the best way of doing it.

The event got off the ground as a result of an early round of crowd funding. “We used to think that to do a festival you needed big name corporate sponsors, which didn’t sit well with the ethos of the event,” Dom tells Festival Insights. “But the idea of crowd funding really appealed to us. We thought ‘lets go to the people and make it a crowd-created event’. We wanted everyone to share in it, from the bands we booked to the other elements we had on site, what they liked and disliked about other festivals.

“What’s interesting is that people have the same complaints – usually the facilities such as toilets, the price of food and drink on-site and the fact that once you’re at a festival, you are forced to accept the expensive drinks prices, plus a lack of soft drink alternatives for families, such as orange and apple juice.”

Once Alt-Fest was underway, it wanted to up the level of acts, and reached out to its fan base through a Kickstarter campaign – aiming to raise £30,000 target to spend on bigger name acts. The initiative raised £60,000.

The success had other, unexpected effects. “When we first went out to people asking which bands they wanted to see at the festival, we ended up with a big list of artists. We approached all the agents, and most of the time we were fairly down the list of priorities,” Dom admits. “It’s understandable considering so many festivals fail before the gates open.

“But, once the Kickstarter campaign proved so successful, and we had booked some bigger names, we suddenly found agents, artists and managers were coming to us offering the acts we had sometimes been turned down for previously.”

‘Instead of having to answer to shareholders, we answer to the people. And it’s the people that drive our growth and our success’

Asking the fans to decide on the line-up wasn’t without it’s difficulties. “When we first asked for suggestions, we told people we couldn’t afford stadium-sized acts,” Dom says. “But we still got people asking us to book Iron Maiden. We just had to be very clear in our communication that we couldn’t afford them – or acts like them.”

This communication is key to the success of a crowd-curated event, Dom explains. It’s not just with the fans, either. “We work very closely with our suppliers, being very open about how many people we have coming, so we know what level of resources are required. We give them regular updates on how many tickets we have sold and where this is on our projections, so everyone is aware of exact numbers.

“For example, with the traffic management plan, we asked our contractor to supply a variety of different scenarios based on differing numbers of attendees. This means we have plans in place for differing levels of attendance, and means we won’t be paying for more than we need, or won’t be in a situation where we don’t have enough.”

Similarly, he has worked closely with bar operator Creative Bars to ensure that the variety of drinks being served matched expectations of the fans.

“At our club nights we sell beer for slightly cheaper than you might expect, because we believe that you’ll sell more beer at £3.50 a pint than at £5 per pint, which means that the money to the bars will work out, despite it being cheaper. We applied this same logic to the festival, following feedback from the fans that they were fed up of expensive beer at festivals. We also want a wide range of drinks, rather than just a few of the usual lagers.”

With the debut festival now imminent, and due to feature acts such as Marilyn Manson, The Cult, Gary Newman, Killing Joke and more on 15-17 August, would the couple continue to hand over so many decisions to the fans, or has it been a case of ‘too many chiefs, not enough Indians’?

“If anything, we want to expand it next year,” beams Dom. “We want to get people involved with more decisions, and to make that decision-making process more efficient. It means that instead of having to answer to shareholders, we answer to the people. And it’s the people that drive our growth and our success.”