Backstage pass to major music festivals

 8 July 2019

Summer is here and once again we have been giving our National Skills Academy leadership members exclusive access side stage to see what is involved in putting on a major music festival. We spoke to Programme Director Rob West to find out more about the project.

Students have the chance to observe back stage and witness the change over between acts.
Students have the chance to observe back stage and witness the change over between acts.

Creative & Cultural Skills has been offering unique access at major arenas and festivals around the UK, through our National Skills Academy (NSA) network, for nearly ten years. Organised through long standing industry supporters such as Live Nation and Festival Republic, these have been largely led by well-known tour and production manager Steve Cheney, who has been our key music industry liaison representative throughout this time.

Rob West, Creative & Cultural Skills’ Programme Director, manages the industry insights offered through the NSA. “Technical and craft are areas that need more skilled workers coming through, but if you never see what goes into the making of something, why would you be interested in pursuing a career in it?” said Rob.

“Many people never get the chance to see what goes on behind the scenes of a major live event and that's why we set up our arena and festival visits. We want to open up the creative world and raise awareness of backstage and offstage careers.”

What happens back stage? 

A visit to a festival begins with a talk from Steve Cheney who offers students an overview of his experience and the festival they are at. He takes them around the site pointing out key elements in producing the event, such as the festival office, artist liaison, and even the tour buses.

Rob explained, “A typical tour will take students front of house where they can meet and see the sound operators who explain show control consoles, speaker systems and answer any questions students and staff may have.”

I have worked in live sound for several years, and I have always been curious about how things operate on a larger scale

“Then they are taken backstage, usually at the main stage, where again they meet key staff such as the stage manager and get to see and hear about the various job roles involved in setting up the live event. They stay side stage from where they get to observe the first band to come on and witness how the change over to the next band takes place. Following a final question and answer session with Steve they are then let loose into the festival itself to experience the event in the knowledge that they now know what is going on in those sectioned off areas.”

Students who attend the visits find that it is a unique opportunity to witness a large-scale operation and get a feel for the roles that are needed to make it happen. One student from Solent University said “This visit to the London O2 to learn about staging, rigging and tour management was thoroughly eye-opening. I have worked in live sound for several years, and I have always been curious about how things operate on a larger scale"

Expertise from the industry 

The chance to hear directly from Steve is particularly valuable for students who are just starting their career in live events. Having managed the main stage at festivals like Glastonbury, Latitude, Big Chill and Leeds, he has a wealth of experience and insider knowledge. According to Rob “Steve is very well known in the music industry, so students can often find themselves meeting individuals who come up to say 'hello' and get roped into explaining their role at the festival.”

It was incredible to see all the technical stuff and the backstage work that's behind such a massive live event

Students from the University of Essex visited Wireless festival last year. One said, “It was incredible to see all the technical stuff and the backstage work that's behind such a massive live event. Steve was an amazing guide and all the engineers who took the time to talk to us and answer our questions were really, really nice. It was a unique opportunity and we had great fun.”

So far this year we have taken students from our National Skills Academy Leadership Colleges network to Download, Community and Wireless Festivals, with students from Suffolk New College and Morely College joining us for visits to Latitude in July. We will also be at Leeds for a weekend camping visit with students from another NSA Leadership member, Gateshead College. This rare chance to see backstage can help students to have a greater understanding of the jobs on offer in the creative industries and widen their future perspective. 

A lasting impact 

Rob told us about the impact that the visits have made on past attendees. “In June this year, whilst at Community Festival in Finsbury Park, London we came across three workers who had all come from colleges associated with the NSA. Former students at Amersham, Havering, and Stoke-on-Trent were seen now in paid employment, and they told us that our industry insight programme was what had set them off on their career path.”

Music industry talks and tours are included as part of the National Skills Academy membership, but we are also able to offer these to non-member FE and HE institutions for a fee.

Find out more about becoming a member of the National Skills Academy. Follow us on Twitter to find out more about each of our festival visits.


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