How To Be A Good Volunteer

So, You Want To Volunteer For A

Music Festival


It might not seem like a big deal; free labour isn’t usually turned down. However, being a good volunteer is something entirely different. After a few years of being a Volunteer Coordinator for NXNE, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Observe these guidelines if you want to be the kind of person who gets invited back the next year.


Know What You’re Applying For

Research the dates, times and location of the festival. You look pretty dumb when your application says that you’re unavailable for the entirety of festival week.  Also, know what types of jobs are involved. Don’t be applying to work in the nightly venues if you’re only available in the daytime.



Just because you think you’d be an awesome stage manager doesn’t mean it’s true.  You’re placed according to your noted experience and where you’d be of most help. Unless you’ve been with the festival since its inception, you’re not in a position to demand a certain job or venue.


Get Into the Music- To An Extent

There’s a difference between music enthusiasts and starfuckers, so contain your fangirl/boy, groupie tendencies. Don’t forget that you’re there to do a job; if the audience could run the show, you wouldn’t be hired. Similarly, extensive gushing about a band playing across town makes coordinators worry that you’ll jump ship that night.



Yes, volunteering is a great way to expand your network and open doors. That doesn’t mean you should come armed with stacks of your resumes and/or demos. Being awesome at your job will get you much further than attacking artists and industry reps. (That will just get you fired.)


Stay Connected

Coordinators are under tons of pressure to get their staff placed and confirmed, so for the love of crap, answer their calls and emails.  If you’re unreachable for long periods of time, you’ll likely be shelved.  And if you are dropping out, let them know before day of your shift! Unless you have a good reason, which brings us to:



In most cases, honesty is preferred. However, if you’re going to make up an excuse as to why you can’t volunteer anymore, be creative. Seriously, the “family emergency” is boring and overdone. Disappointing news, conveyed in humourous form certainly brightens the day. It also gives coordinators something to laugh about when they’re losing it after 3 days of barely any sleep.


Stand Out

Festival staff will remember the awesome and awful individuals amongst their hundreds of volunteers. Be known as “ the guy who was willing to work all night and hang out at Tim Hortons’ until the morning trains started running” rather than “the one who got caught making out with some chick in the basement of a venue”. Seriously, both true.


Make Friends

Don’t be afraid to be personable (to a degree) with festival staff, they like being serious and formal as much as you do. After all, it’s rock n’ roll, not accounting! You’re in a unique situation, being surrounded by so many people who share your passion. Your fellow volunteers might just become your new best friends.


About J2

What happens when you're a wordsy music aficionado who works for NXNE, CMW, HPX, Olio Music Festival, The JUNOs and Polaris Music Prize? You spend all of your free time blogging about it... Follow on Twitter if you're so inclined: @HearPlugged

Posted on June 11, 2011, in Sound Bites and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the great advice mixed with a shot of humor.

  2. Much love sent your way from the film side of NXNE- you summed it up perfectly!!!

  3. Funny thing, last month I was looking for ways to register as a volunteer for SXSW, and get noticed. Then I came across your blog post, which I found very helpful and fitting. But I have a question for you, something like SXSW is a huge festival and almost everyone and their dog is going to be applying for that. What are ways to get noticed when submitting my registration? Thanks very much for your help!


    • Hey, thanks for reading!

      When it comes to applying, you want to convey your skills and experience as succinctly as possible. We go through about 1000 applications every year and really don’t have time to sift through a novel about your music tastes, how much you loved your last concert etc etc. That being said, don’t use one-word answers either. Being withholding makes it look like you don’t have a lot to offer.

      While we want to know what you’re capable of, the applications are also a great way for us to get a read on your personality. Don’t afraid to be funny! We remember those who make us giggle (just don’t overdo it). Coming across as fun, friendly and eager to help out anywhere will get you further than if you’re super experienced but a total jerk.

      Good luck!

  4. As a previous volunteer, I can definitely attest to this. Great post!

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