How To Organise A Festival-Style DJ Event, Part 2

Last updated 10 April, 2018


DJ festival
After laying down the basics last week, this week we’ll look into all the little details of making your ‘hood festival come together.

Last week in How To Organise A Festival-Style DJ Event, Part 1, I showed you the basics by looking at an event I helped to organise recently. We covered how to put together a committee, set up a simple non-profit organisation, create a budget, organise fundraisers and find a location for free.

This week, I’ll show you how to get city permits, sell alcohol, approach sponsors for money, organise food vendors, create a buzz around the festival, and – really importantly – select your DJ line-up.

Getting a city permit

City permits are easy to acquire, but only if you understand the rules and regulations that are associated with them. As mentioned in the previous post, the best way is to put the effort in to meet someone who already sits in your neighbourhood board, and include them in your committee. These guys tend to love being involved in events, will get fired up about what you’re doing, and will want to help, advise and smooth the complicated path for you. “Playing some politics” always goes a long way.

But what are these city permits? Most cities and counties in the US (and lots of other countries too) require that you have a special event licence. These licences cover events like circuses, rodeos, carnivals, fairs, performances, dancing or amusement of any kind conducted or operating in a tent or temporary structure of any kind, on vacant land, or in a yard or area connected to any building.

Best way to get started is to contact your city hall or county office, call them and inquire who you need to talk to host a festival. In our case, everything was available in our city website (permit forms, fees, regulation, compliance). Once you have a contact, stay with that person throughout the process. Most of them are helpful.

Be prepared to speak with the fire department, transportation department or park authority representatives. Work with them carefully and be very respectful. Keep in mind, most of these folks want your event to happen. They just want to make sure all their bases are covered. They’ll advise you if the location you selected in viable or not. They might even recommend a better location. (Best locations are parks or popular streets with restaurants and bars.)

Organising bars and booze

You’ve seen beer gardens or tents in most DJ festivals, and they are important to your event. Firstly, because of course, booze and dance music are siblings. Second, it’s a huge revenue stream.

Let someone else organise the bar, and pay you a cut. It’s too much stress for you as the promoter to try and do this on your own.

If you decide to do alcohol I strongly suggest not to do it yourself (I’m talking about providing it, not drinking it…) Rather, contract a beer garden purveyor or distributor. They will be responsible for all the risk, insurance, hassles and security that goes into the beer garden, leaving you – the “organiser” – with a cheque at the end of the event. It’s a much easier way to do it than applying for a temporary alcohol permit and dealing with city regulations. For ID, we had volunteers doing checks at the entrance.

The best way to get one is to find an organiser of a previous festival event (DJ or non-DJ based) and ask who their beer garden purveyor was. Another way to find one is to ask around bars in the area you wish the host the festival.

Attracting sponsors

Sponsorship should not be the main source of income for you, but your festival might well be an ideal place for sponsors to promote products, and gain positive response from the audience, so you might as well go after them. You should not only be considering what brands to go for, but also – more importantly – the best way to creatively present them. Many brands are more than willing to sponsor great events, but they want to know that the event will be a quality one before they offer their money. So don’t shoot for the big brands just yet. Get some experience with smaller ones first.

Seek sponsor dollars from local restaurants, cafes, retailers, education outlets, and so on. We raised more than $8,000 from 15 sponsors! Many more are asking about how to get involved for our
next festival. Don’t forget to keep building your sponsor portfolio document for next year. This year we are targeting bigger names like Red Bull, Pioneer and Absolute.

It is your job to provide them with a letter that fully describes your festival and what you plan to accomplish. You also need to show how them sponsoring your DJ festival can be a benefit to them as well. Some will turn you down, and others won’t. Just keep at it!

Organising food trucks and vendors

In some festivals, you’ll see food vendors and non-food vendors (like arts and craft stuff). You should see vendors as another income producer for the festival. Let’s say each vendor pays you $200 to be in your festival and you have six of them. That’s $1200 easy money in your pocket. Of course, how many you have depends on your location, how many you can fit and so on.

Glastonbury store
The stores at the UK’s Glastonbury festival are legendary. Having food trucks and vendors on site at your festival can deliver a valuable service to your guests, and also be a source of income for you.

I recommend food trucks. Why? Because you don’t have to deal with heating, cooling, health and power requirements. This is a specialised area, so I suggest for the local organiser to speak with a couple of food trucks and understand regulations that come with them early on. They’ll be able to explain what health officials might need from you.

We brought a local food truck to feed the satisfied masses. We also had T-shirts and posters for sale and gave shirts for free to our volunteers, with our brand logo.

Creating the buzz

Get your promoter / marketing and graphic design people together on this. We modelled a logo of a mysterious white square. We made stickers and got them up all over town. For five months people were asking: “What’s the white square all about?”

We focused on using social media to the maximum (mainly Twitter and Facebook) along with media outreach to the local community newspapers. It costed $70 for three days on the paper. We also targeted local music blogs (some of whom generously donated advertising space). Word of mouth got the word out across DC. We also hung flyers around town and made a one-minute youtube teaser video about local DJs playing in the city.

Make it simple yet intriguing.

Choosing your DJ line-up

Ask DJs and bands to play for free to help get the festival off the ground. We began as labour of love, not a for-profit. Where we are, Washington DC, there’s has a rich music landscape to choose from. We had more than 100 submissions from DJs who live and work here. Be very specific with the DJs about what is expected in terms of set length, when and where they show up, and with what gear. After selecting our 15 DJs, we standardised the gear to 2 CDJs, 1 DJM 900 mixer, Traktor S4 and a laptop.

DJ booth
Have a set ‘tech spec’ for the DJ booth and make sure all your DJs understand it. It’ll save endless DJ switchovers between incompatible gear.

Each DJ had to save his playlist on flash drive already analysed by Traktor or Rekordbox for CDJs. They just plugged their flash drives to the laptop and hit import. That’s it. We didn’t want the hassle of unplugging wires, gear and the probability of music interruption.

Ask the DJs to promote the event. Be in clear and constant communication. Your stage manager will need their mobile phone numbers in case of emergency.

You will also need the bands (if you decide to book bands, that is, and I recommend getting at least one live performance) to check in one hour ahead of their slot time so you know that they’re there and can be located.

Have you DJs check in once they arrive. Put clocks in the booth so that each act knows precisely when their time is up. Overlaps can hurt subsequent DJs, so strict adherence to set times is essential.

What really helped make this happen in our ‘hood was keeping it local. With every act having a local angle, it brought a greater sense of pride of community. We were all in this together. We designed a show that had a lot of DJs and a lot of EDM genres, gender and ethnic variety, but we kept the sets short (30 to 45 minutes at most) so that we could fit in more acts and attract a broader crowd. We did have two stages so that we could alternate between acts quickly. While one DJ was playing, the next DJ was setting up.

Festival details you won’t want to forget

  • Keep it free and charge next year – We held the festival in a big open field where people could come and sit, stand, or dance, and it was free for all to attend. Because of this we had every age group at the event and a wide diversity of attendees
  • Confirm your support services – Make sure to set up a meeting with health, fire marshal, police and fire departments prior to your event. We scheduled this meeting about a month out to go over any changes and to have a chance to discuss areas of concern from previous, similar events. At this meeting, you will confirm police and emergency services for the festival, and work out things like when the vendors need be set for inspections from the health department
  • Portable restrooms – Remember your contract with a company for portable restrooms? Try to build into your current bid specifications of these types of events for a better cost of delivery and setup. Find out upfront any additional service charge for an extra cleaning due to heavy usage or special events during the year. Have the bid include cost per unit for extra cleaning. Finally, don’t forget about having handicapped-accessible units
  • Have loads of trash cans – The more there are, the more likely they will be used
  • Signpost it well – How easy is it to get to the festival? Put up signs on major roads, coming from all directions. Check and make sure they are out for the entire festival
  • Have security covered – Large sums of money and no police is a chance for problems. At the entrances, you will want to have information books, cash boxes, maps, flashlights, trash cans and walkie-talkies or phones for emergencies
  • Put out a press release on the public area closing – Send a letter to neighbourhood groups who use the area (baseball leagues, etc.) and be sure to reserve any facility on the department calendar so no one can book parties or outings!


This has been a necessarily intensive run-through of what’s involved in hosting a festival, but I hope you get a sense of what fun it can be, and what can be in it for you (and what you’re letting yourself in for…).

For community, a sense of belonging, the chance to DJ to your local community, and the chance to make a difference where you live on your local music scene, hosting a festival can be a great idea.

Mohamed Kamal is a DJ/producer turned entrepreneur from Washington DC, and founder of Audyolab.

Here’s the link to the first part of this series: How To Organise A Festival-Style DJ Event, Part 1

Has this mini-series inspired you to try and throw your own DJ-based festival and become involved your community’s cultural development? Have you got any good or bad experiences of doing this? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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