From Handmade Festival's John Helps...

Ever come away from a festival feeling slightly unsatisfied?

There comes a time when most people think, "I could do better". For most, though, it remains a lingering thought at the back of their mind, an unrealised ambition curbed by the rigours of everyday life, the constraints of the day job.

John Helps, though, didn't let it hold him back. A huge music fan he now hosts Handmade Festival, a three day celebration of live music in Leicester. "That’s the beauty of Handmade," he explains. "It is a DIY festival - created and curated with a real love and attention to detail. It has to beg, borrow and steal in order to exist, but consequently it’s been easy for the whole city’s creative community to get behind and drive it forward together."

Duly inspired, Clash invited John to give our readers a quick guide to setting up their own festival.

I was incredibly flattered to be asked to write this piece for Clash, not least because I have imposter syndrome big time and I’m utterly convinced that the festival just happens accidentally every year...

Probably because of point one on my list of things you need to know to run your own festival…

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A shit load of awesome people...
This is probably the most important one. Handmade wouldn’t have even begun to be a festival in year one, let along four years in if we didn’t know some incredible people. From the people that front the money to the runners and stewards we always have plenty of great people helping us out. Your city... Knowing what your city is in to and what they’d appreciate you putting on is a good place to start I guess. All the bookers for Handmade have been promoting shows or running venues in the city for a really long time, so I think we’ve got that one down.

That ambition isn’t everything (although it helps)...
You should probably learn to put on some shows first before you take a run at a festival. Once you’ve tackled that, try putting on an all-dayer… then maybe a weekender at one venue. Once we’d figured out all of those things (over about a decade) we had a bash at our first festival. Learning how you scale something like that up from a gig is half the battle I think.

Who your friends in local businesses are...
Our festival can only exist through favours and the support of the community. Through putting on shows for years we’ve made friends in a lot of important places – bars, printers, other venues, PA hire companies. Being able to call in favours when you need them is invaluable – especially when you’re working at the kind of grassroots level that we are.

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Maths...
Learning how to manage the budget is vital. Good maths is knowing not to spend more money than you can foresee coming in and forgetting about that can be disastrous. One of my biggest downfalls is knowing when to say no to a band I love because we just can’t afford them that year, but fortunately, there are other people on the team who are very good at that. Hi Matt!

Your Limits...
If you’re not sure you can handle something, maybe you need to grow a little slower? We’ve taken our time, taking little baby steps to make sure we’re on top of everything each year, but you also see a tonne of festivals try to grow way bigger only to fall be the wayside. Knowing the limits of both your abilities and what the market as a whole can support is pretty vital.

How to improvise...
Something you never imagined happening always happens. Figuring out how to deal with a band not showing up on time or a power cut in one of your venues is par for the course over a festival weekend. Of course, it helps to have people who are great at dealing with those sorts of things on your team too – and fortunately for us we do.

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Handmade Festival runs between April 20th - 31st - ticket link.

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