Communications at Festivals – Some Tricks of the Trade

To music lovers, the festival season may seem like a lifetime away, but organisers are very much in the thick of it; securing acts and commissioning suppliers.

While headlines are dominated by the glamour of the line-up, behind the scenes, there is a hubbub of activity by a myriad of experts and suppliers, to make sure that the show runs smoothly.

One element of this is the technology – the means to ensure organisers, stewards, and punters can communicate and receive information on site.  They need phones, broadband connectivity, CCTV, payment terminals, connected ticketing systems, interactive content – and these things need to work.

Tom McInerney, Event Director at Etherlive, highlights some of the tricks of the trade to help festival organisers get their technology organised.

  • From boutique festivals to a national event, the chances are you’ll need phone lines as part of your licence.  Be aware that it can take up to four weeks for your telecoms provider to install a line assuming they offer a temporary service.  An alternative option would be satellite connectivity, which can be deployed at a couple of days notice.
  • When you’re planning the number of phone lines you need, it’s not a disaster if you don’t get it spot on; or if you leave it until the last minute to do.  You can always opt for Voice over IP (VoIP) lines which can be easily deployed to meet demand with no extra cost whilst delivering the same quality. Many also offer free national calls.
  • Your communications technologies are all reliant on the power supply – if your power source fails, you have a problem.  So when you’re planning your power requirements for organiser areas, opt for an uninterruptable supply, or arrange a back-up generator to ensure operations continue in emergencies.
  • An increasing number of venues have existing Wi-Fi networks in place for organisers and punters. Don’t make the assumption this network will be enough to provide everyone with the right connectivity and support. Check the capacity of the network and what would happen if you need technical support.
  • It sounds obvious, but before you install Wi-fi, check that the laptops your staff have are set up to use the latest standards (802.11n is the most modern), which means they will be able to enjoy faster speeds and get better signal strength.  Don’t be afraid of using wire if you need to.  Better that, than no internet access.  Check with your technology provider that they’re bringing the correct kit for your needs.
  • In our experience, the onsite team at a festival gets bombarded with questions during the event which come up time and time again – opening times, parking details etc.  If you have a telephone exchange on site, why not set up an automated attendant system to reduce the volume of calls to your key staff.
  • Ensure you have a method of secure one to one communication which doesn’t rely on mobile phone networks (which may become too busy).  Radio networks are great for most communications on site, but what if you need to transfer private or sensitive information, like the description of a missing child, for example?  It makes sense to have a secure line dedicated to staff in case of instances like this.
    • Other examples where you may use onsite phones would include passing payment details between departments, for example takings totals. Some events may require a dedicated incoming line for local residents who wish to contact the event (perhaps a noise issue, or parking problem) and having a dedicated line in the organiser’s office can help keep residents on side with the festival.
    • Generally events will have lines for artist liaison, organiser compound, gates, hospitality, sponsors and more depending on the number of staff present. What’s nice about VoIP telephone systems is that wherever there isnetwork connectivity phones can be installed or removed in minutes. In addition hunt groups can be created or managed and automated answer systems can be arranged quickly.
    • ELT (Emergency Liaison Teams) should have dedicated BT lines whilst others may use voice over IP (VoIP) which do not require an individual BT cable to operate, costing significantly less to operate with free national calls..
  • Does your licence require keeping within noise levels at agreed locations? If so, it is possible to monitor multiple remote units from a central location – and have an audit trail of readings should they be required. A secure wireless connection is setup between the on-site network and the remote sound meter. A special network unit is installed with the sound meter at the remote location providing connectivity and power (which can include battery or uninterruptable secured mains) whilst the sound meter takes readings from the local environment. The network connection allows the sound monitors to be remotely viewed from a laptop anywhere with range of the network onsite.
  • In the same vein, CCTV can now be used for far more than surveillance – it can fulfil a much grander role in your on site security without the requirement of cabling between each camera.  For starters, the latest developments in the CCTV world include ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) which automatically logs number plates which pass by cameras; with the latest digital cameras all video is stored on a hard disc making later retrieval and viewing straightforward.  Many cameras can automatically detect and track motion and combined with infrared lights which can ‘see in the dark’.  As well as pure security aspects, deployment of cameras can assist in monitoring crowd flow, entrance traffic management and even providing a more flexible webcam option for linking into websites!
  • Audience interaction is becoming more popular especially using mobile devices which can be used to view running orders, purchase artist albums and even find tents. Consider supplying a Wi-Fi network where attendees will get the best experience.

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