Association of Independent festivals comes to Sheffield

AIF, the Association for Independent festivals which represents independent music festivals from all over the UK, is coming to Sheffield to host their first AIF seminar outside of London.

The non-profit trade association was co-founded by Radio One DJ and Bestival founder Rob da Bank, who said that they want to make a statement about not being a London-centric, insular organisation.

“There are now 47 members in AIF and most of them aren’t based in London.  We have meetings in London because that is what people do I suppose, it is a central place to meet up and selfishly it is handy for me.

“But we are very conscious that the festival scene is bigger outside of London than anywhere else and we want to be fair and square, because every time we meet there are people coming from all over the country and they are making that trip so it is sort of pay back time I suppose.”

Marketing and promotion

This Wednesday AIF will begin their two-day seminar on marketing and promotion at the Showroom and Workstation in Sheffield. The seminars will focus on the latest technologies and innovations for marketing as well as funding avenues and resources.

There will also be a Festival Social on Wednesday evening, presented by Sheffield festival Tramlines and in association with local independent promoters Semi Detached.


Festibelly Festival

Kate Hewett from Tramlines said that they have really benefited from becoming members of AIF:

“It’s been really useful to be able to draw on the knowledge and experience of other independent festival organisers. None of the team who started Tramlines came from a festival background, so when we started a lot of our decisions were made purely on our own instincts.

“It has been really galvanising to become part of a community that truly understands all the issues we face and can offer support and advice.”

Claire O’Neill, general manager of AIF, said that the seminars are open to anyone who feels they would benefit from an insight into the latest technologies available within events both outdoors and indoors.

“Experts from the festival marketing field will be discussing the way social media and other technologies can be used for effectively communicating with audiences on a really low budget. We will also be looking at how to get funding for your artistic ideas, with case studies such as when Lee Denny succeeded in raising £50k in 28 days for LeeFest.”

Independents get together

AIF began when Rob da Bank and his manager Ben Turner of Graphite Media, decided that there had been one too many thefts from festival goers’ tents at Bestival. They resolved that they wanted to share their experiences with other independent festival organisers who were in the same situation and being targeted by the same sort of people.

In August 2008 sixteen festivals had their first meeting where they formed AIF, which operates as an autonomous division of AIM (Association of Independent Music) and currently supports and represents 47 festivals from across the UK.

Claire said that AIF offers the chance for independent festival organisers to get together in one room, meet each other and find out what their collective issues are and what they want to start tackling as a group.

“Since that time we have worked on a whole host of initiatives and consultations where the independent festivals have now got a voice amongst the larger, corporate owned festivals.

“When we get together to have the members meetings it is brilliant to hear all of the amazing experiences everyone has, whether they have been running for fifteen years or five. It is also a great place to hear all of the latest gossip that is on the scene as well, so it is really good fun.”

Independent equals passion

Claire, who is also the co-founder of A Greener Festival, said that what she loves about independents is the individuality:

“Independents breed more of a creative and inspiring environment, individuals are able to nurture local, individualistic events which make for a richer tapestry within the industry. Independent festivals encourage diversity rather than a more homogenised, monopolistic industry.”

End of the Road

End of the Road Festival

AIF believes that an independent festival is one that is motivated by passion rather than money. Claire said that they use this criteria for choosing their members:

“We ask whether the business being run is based upon a passion for a certain scene or style of music, where individuals are taking risks such as their own mortgages to get the festival going. Or is it purely run on behalf of shareholders who have no interest in the actual festival itself and it is purely a business for making money and maximising profits?

“That is not to say independents shouldn’t be seeking to make money, but you can see on a case by case basis which are operating purely for profit for shareholders or whether the business has been started by people with a passion, who want to create something that has a positive influence aside from just making money.”

Rob da Bank agrees that passion is the secret behind independent festivals:

“Independents are run by people that spend their whole year slaving away for other people to have a good time at the end of it, but festivals that are run by huge corporations normally have one goal and that is to make money. I wouldn’t say that is true about all big festivals but a lot of big corporate owned ones are like that.

“I think what is important with AIF is that we all put on festivals we are very passionate about and they are not really to make money. When everyone talks about it, it’s crazy the amount of work we put in and often for very little return. I am not complaining about it, but that is what makes it a very good festival at the end of the day, because everything is ploughed back into it.”

Claire talks to Sheffield Unchained about her favourite type of festival:

Adding value to local economy and community

Rob said that independent festivals bring in millions of pounds to the local economy:

“Some of them might be small but the amount of people that come into the regions and towns means a lot of money is spent in the area, so they are really important for the local community as well.”

Claire agrees that independents create a huge amount of economic value with in the areas that they operate.

AIF has carried out research which shows that independent festivals also attract an audience from overseas, whilst retaining people in the UK who would rather go to a festival than go to a traditional holiday abroad.

However Claire is also sympathetic towards major festivals:

“To be fair to the major festivals, they do also have real benefit for the local economies where they operate as well, they also attract people from overseas and retain people who would have otherwise gone abroad.

“So it is not only the independents who do that, and not only the independents who can operate in a social and environmentally sound way. It is just that often they are more likely to and more of them do. But there are really great examples of corporate festivals who do this as well.”

Claire O'Neill as Mary Poppins at the 2013 Olympics opening ceremony

Claire O’Neill as Mary Poppins at the 2013 Olympics opening ceremony, Photograph by Reuben Mosley

Enjoy what you are doing

Claire, who is also a circus performer, said she is really looking forward to the networking opportunities at the seminars:

“All of the speakers and a lot of the delegates will be staying locally in Sheffield and after the seminars on Wednesday we’ll be having a meal at the Wick at Both Ends before we go to the festival social.

“One of the most beneficial aspects is the opportunity to meet with people from the same industry, who have the same ideas and form partnerships and relationships and also to just enjoy the whole process of what it is you are doing.”

Air Circus - Claire O'Neill & Matt

Aircraft Circus – Claire O’Neill & Matt

Claire is also looking forward to meeting Jo Wingate, director of Sensoria, who will be speaking at the seminars about her experience of having set up Sensoria and the benefits of diversity and independence. Jo thinks it is natural that Sheffield was chosen to host the seminars:

“Sheffield is a city known for great music, great festivals and for having a true independent spirit, so it seems the natural choice to me. There is always a lot of interesting stuff going on and The Showroom is also a very good venue, only a stone’s throw from the station, so I suspect it was a no brainer.

“Last year was widely reported as a super tough year for festivals nationally, yet Sheffield festivals, including Sensoria, managed not just to survive but thrive. I suspect come the end of this year many will have done pretty well again too. We have plenty to shout about regarding our calendar of events, it really is excellent.”

If you would like to attend the AIF seminars go to:

Rob da Bank talks to Sheffield Unchained about how to start an independent festival:

Claire talks to Sheffield Unchained about how to get into the festival industry:

There are 5 comments

Add yours
  1. John Murmur

    do you mean you took the photograph? or rigged everyone up? or both? good work either way. miss u bro!

Comments are closed.