The Event Professional’s Pandemic Survival Guide (with Sanity Intact)
Guest Feature: Katie Budge
Katie Budge is a live events contractor who has been working in music festivals and corporate events for 8 years, with a strong specialty in event management, production, logistics and coordination, and artist relations. One of her favorite gigs to date was serving as the Artist Relations Director for DirecTV’s 2019 Super Bowl event in Atlanta headlined by the Foo Fighters and Run The Jewels. Her favorite recurring annual gig is working in the AR team for Suwanee's Hulaween. After the last (2) years working as an independent contractor, and working part-time as a Producer for bSharp events in New Orleans, and Production Coordinator for Element Experiential in Boston - she’s been navigating this quarantine through strengthening her relationship with her work network and colleagues now more than ever.
Hey there friends. For those of you I don’t have the pleasure of knowing or working with, my name is Katie Budge. I’m a contractor in live events, and pre-pandemic I used to thrive (i.e. ~earn the medium-bucks~) working for a variety of festival & event jobs I’ve loved more than I’ve ever loved money or stability.
I’m sure my yearly schedule resonates with many of you: diving head-first into 365 days of event gigs with little to no time in between the last gig’s final load-out day, and the next gig’s travel in.
For the last 8 years, I’ve followed this career path for the thrill of meeting new colleagues, traveling to new environments, facing the challenges we almost always do, and most importantly, bringing idolized music to its die-hard fans (and alright, also to make a living).
While I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything, I’m sure like many of you, I did find my mental health was at stake in light of my schedule. As time went on, I found less and less time between our 14+ hour work days for nutrition, reflection, and exercise (outside of onsite steps and lifting black and yellow bins).
I’m not saying I’m happy quarantine lockdowns have happened - many people have lost their loved ones or endured extreme personal loss in their lives - however, I am grateful for the time it’s given me to reflect on how much our work does in fact mean to me, see how much it means to my colleagues, and for the personal growth I’ve found navigating what to do with myself during what I call the “corona-coaster” of the last eight months.
So now, without further ado; I wanted to introduce the information and experiences I’ve collected to put together what I call “The Event Professional’s Pandemic Survival Guide (with Sanity Intact)”
1) Lateral Career Moves
SO. I’m sure as many of you did - I panicked and cried (a lot) when I went through my calendar deleting gig after gig for what was originally looking like a really promising year ahead. I wanted to make a plan (as is our nature) but with these “unprecedented times” planning more than a day in advance seemed impossible.
The likelihood of event work in 2020 (nonetheless in 2021) rapidly grew slimmer and slimmer, so I immediately began to ponder my plan b, wondering what I would do if it wasn’t my current all-consuming career. I love yoga, the outdoors, and extreme sports, and have always been curious about film and TV. So, all of the careers swirling around those crossed my mind, but I also questioned my qualifications and simultaneously wanted to make sure no matter what it was, that I was doing something that helped me continue to sharpen my skills so I could re-apply them to our industry when it does return.
I got to talking with the infamous Back of House Co-founder Jessie Baren as we began brainstorming this piece, and in turn, made a list I thought all my colleagues might benefit from (if not get a kick out of). Shout out to Chris Olivieri and Spencer Lourie for helping me along the way:
POTENTIAL CAREER MOVES THAT **MIGHT** MAKE YOU FEEL LESS SHITTY ABOUT YOUR LACK OF WORK, OR LIKE A LESS SHITTY PERSON:
Film / TV
Social Media + Online Marketing
Online Retail / Merch Sales
Seasonal Hotels / Resorts + Domestic / International Destination Jobs
Fitness / Yoga / Meditation
Service-Based Non-Profit Organizations that give back to your community
Social Activism Organizations, who often need help with: Systems Development, Marketing, Business Operations, Administration, Finance, or HR
Political Campaigns / Voter Activism Organizations
Local or Remote Disaster Relief / Services
Onsite Disaster Relief (COVID Treatment, Wildfires, Tornados, Hurricanes)
Onsite COVID Screening Temp Gigs (Domestic & International)
The goal of the work may not be for the love of the music, but there are a lot of career paths that emulate the environments we work in, the core development of our business and departments, utilize the skills we have refined in our careers, and need skilled workers to help them (especially the non-profits).
As for ya girl here, I started using my time to help out a lot of the incredible BLM nonprofits in New Orleans. Which felt extremely right given I’d always wanted to be more active politically and with social activist groups, but never felt like I had the time. After a few months, I was also contacted by a yoga studio in Athens, Georgia (shout out to Five Points Yoga!) as the incredible Lindsey Hammond had recently purchased the studio, and was in need of a new Marketing Director.
While Marketing for music venues is something I’ve done in the past and have extensive experience with, I’d never considered it my favorite aspect of our industry. To be honest, I was not sure how passionate I’d feel about the new opportunity, although I knew I had the skills to develop the systems the business would need to succeed and achieve the goals Lindsey was looking for. To my pleasant surprise, I have very much enjoyed helping build what is a really genuine and sincere brand. One that is based around meditation, self-care, and truly supporting people through yoga and the community it cultivates.
So low and behold, I had some new projects pivoting into different industries, but roles that utilized the skillset I had built working live events. I am extremely fortunate to have received enough unemployment to be livable with my savings, and understand how I’m even more fortunate to have the luxury of being able to focus on projects I actually want to work on, not simply something I’m doing to make ends meet.
It’s not easy to commit to a job we don’t want, but sometimes we need to for ourselves or our family. It may be what some of you readers are experiencing right now, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s to remember that no time you’ve spent working any job right now is wasted. You’ve either earned the money you need to get by, to achieve new goals you’ve had in mind, or at the very least developed a brand new sense of gratitude for having worked in a field we’re truly passionate about, as opposed to many people in America and the rest of the world.
What I’m also saying is, it’s not impossible to find a temporary job pivot that provides you an enriching experience, it just may not be easy or immediate, especially given the fluctuating closures of cities and job opportunities each and every day. A good place to start is just to truly ask yourself what your hobbies and interests are, and try to branch out from there. As we millennials say, you should probably just google it.
If you didn’t find any of the career suggestions above jumping out at you, here’s some other good places to start your search ◡̈ LinkedIn is also always an excellent source to start with. Be sure to check out the FREE live event I'm hosting alongside Back of House and LinkedIn next week!
2) Staying Current With COVID-Compliant Event Development
SO. Now we’ll switch gears back to the main reason we’re all connected and reading this; live music and events. Things have certainly progressed since March (shout-out to the USA for the highest number of COVID cases this month, we’re #1!) where we’re feeling much more hopeful for the future of live events. As I’m sure many of you have, I’ve felt inundated with the amount of conflicting news, nonetheless news sources, during the duration of the pandemic. This is why I was beyond thankful when Jessie and the Back of House team began their publication. Having a weekly update from a news source I trusted, AND one that is focused on our industry, gave me the first sliver of hope I’d had regarding our careers in a really long time. From drive-ins, to live stream concerts, to relief fund roll-outs from corporate giants, we are seeing innovative traction. It may not be perfect, and it may not be the green light to work again, but it’s something.
One of the most interesting stories that jumped out at me was regarding the “vertical concert” thrown in Ukraine. The band, O.Torvald, performed on a rooftop facing a hotel tower with balconies where the fans watched on. To me, this was one of the simplest potential solutions to a temporary concert fix while COVID is still rampant. It’s a pre-structured site and there’s effortless guest separation through hotel balcony viewing, all wrapped up in what also serves as a VIP experience.
Needless to say, I was cautiously optimistic when I was approached by the Revibe team to do something similar here in the states. “Revibe Wellness Retreat” took place in Myrtle Beach, SC over Halloween weekend this year. I had the opportunity to manage the merchandise team in a brand new system of contactless artist & event merch sales.
Now I will readily admit this, because while embarrassing, I think many of you would have done the same; when I heard that first PA begin to soundcheck, overwhelmingly grateful tears streamed down my face (now here’s the kicker: they were soundchecking Kygo. So yes, I was crying to Kygo). We were back, and while we weren’t through the storm yet, this was an opportunity to try and bring back events in a safe capacity. And with a combination of hard work, lots of luck, and guests who were COVID-compliant, the event was a success. Good times were had, music was played, and there were almost no medical calls onsite for a primarily EDM event (which as many of you know is unheard of). Most important of all, there have been no reports now, weeks later, of anyone testing positive for COVID-19.
Does this mean the “vertical concert” formula is perfect? No. Does that mean we should start gathering in masses and throw caution to the wind? No. But it does mean that there are innovative ways that events CAN be successful in these bleak-ass times, even without a vaccine. And that through many of these new approaches to live music, we’re finding simultaneous ways to keep live music lovers safe while also providing them with a VIP guest experience that may endure even when a vaccine is found.
3) Relying On Your Network Is More Important Now Than Ever
SO. If you’ve made it to this point, you’ve heard me prattle on for at least 5-7 minutes now depending on how fast you read. My ~uplifting sentiments~ and personal experiences are hopefully all engaging enough to read, but what does this mean for you? How will YOU survive and hopefully thrive (#thirtyflirtyandthriving)?
I don’t have all the answers, but what I do believe to be capital T True is this; the most important thing for any of us (in events, touring, or artist management) is to connect with our colleagues, now more than ever. It’s no secret that in our world, a respected music professional’s word of recommendation is the strongest tool you can have to further your career. A majority of the work we get is word of mouth, so we know your network was important then. Now your network is your connection to legitimate current events in the music and event industry.
We also know, in the past, it was not always easy to get industry folks to share their tricks, information, and experience. Some will, but it’s more common than not for successful live music professionals to be wary of sharing their methods, for fear of being replaced or usurped. A beautiful silver lining of this pandemic is that the atmosphere has changed. Where engineers were first reluctant to share and teach their highly valued skills, we then had FREE lighting consoles and software lessons available for Grand Ma2s (THANK YOU ACT Academy!). Where Tour and Production Managers may not have had the time to share their experiences, now Tour Mgmt 101 and The Production Academy have had huge success. Where music industry moguls were divided, now they’ve come together to create relief funds for their workers, and sponsor daily zoom calls to share training tools from some of our career’s leading legends.
Just like finding gigs in our world, there’s no primary source where jobs are listed and you can just apply (well, except Bob.net or LinkedIn) - but by staying connected with those you work with and using tools like BOH to stay updated with the latest news in our world, you can keep up with what’s developing in the music industry in real-time. And as you do connect (or-reconnect) with your colleagues, you may find yourself referred for a lateral-career-move-job-opportunity from your old touring buddy, or hopefully, find work navigating COVD-Compliant concerts from a corporate events colleague you haven’t seen in years. These examples are partially hypothetical, partially from personal experience, so it may not happen the same way for you. BUT, the real takeaway you can implement in your own life is that there is nothing to lose from reaching out to your colleagues and nourishing your work relationships either as friends or for potential support. You miss all the shots you don’t take, so go for it kids.
Wrapping it allllllllll up.
I know there’s more information here than you probably ever cared to hear from me, but like a shitty follow-up email - I appreciate you “circling back” to make it to this conclusion. I hope this guide helps you at least laugh a little, if not realize you’re not alone and there is hope for our industry. I hope you all have the best holidays you can and I cannot wait to see you all on the road again ◡̈
xx - Budgey