Music festivals are one of the most sought after gigs for any musician. And as a result, they are also one of the hardest gigs to get. If I could, I would give you the magic button that you could press to land festival gigs. As it turns out, there isn’t an “easy” button. I can, however, provide you with some tips and advice that will increase your chances of landing the coveted festival gig.
The first thing you need to do is prepare the necessary tools and information before you start contacting the festivals.
Press KitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc.
If you don’t already have a press kitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc., you NEED to have one before you even bother applying for any festival. (You should really have one from the start of your career. The last thing you want to have to do is scrape one together when someone asks for it.)
In this day and age, you’re probably going to be creating an Electronic Press KitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc. (EPKA digital press kit. Often times in the form of a website or PDF.). It’s rare that a physical kit is requested over an electronic one. Inside, you’ll need to include:
- Video (You’ll want both music videos and live performances if possible. Festivals are particularly concerned with how good your live show is.)
- Contact Info
- Recordings (Both studio and live recordings if possible. Again, a festival is more concerned with your live performance than studio.)
- Gig Schedule (Festivals want to see that you are actively gigging and have developed an audience that will come to your performances.)
- Anything else that proves to them you aren’t just a garage band that thinks they will get famous by playing this one gig.
You’ll need an easy way for them to access this information as well. Most people aren’t too keen on having you send them a PDF and mp3s attached in an email. If you have a website, you can host it on there.
You have two other options as well – Sonicbids and ReverbNation. Both of them will help you set it up, host it for you, and can actually help you find more festivals to apply to. Be warned though, there have been some complaints (mostly with Sonicbids) about their EPKA digital press kit. Often times in the form of a website or PDF. submission process. The only reason I bother talking about using either is because some festivals use them exclusively for submissions (such as SXSW). You may have to use them if they are your target festivals. My suggestion is to find out if the festival requires using one of them before you spend money signing up.
If you still need help or are confused about how to create your EPKA digital press kit. Often times in the form of a website or PDF., check out our article How To Create An EPKA digital press kit. Often times in the form of a website or PDF..
Choosing The Festival
There are a lot of festivals. There are also a lot of different types of festivals. Your music may not be the right kind for every festival. So before you spend time and money applying to every festival in the world, make sure you narrow down your selections to ones that you stand a chance of being at.
Metal Is Not Edible
I’m going to go ahead and get your first restriction out of the way. If you play heavy, dark, and/or depressing music, you’ve already been axed from a large majority of festivals. Remember, a lot of festivals are street fairs, city fairs, corporate events, etc. They are generally trying to cater to a crowd full of families, kids, and people shopping at all the vendor booths. They want music that is “appropriate” for the vibe of the festival.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t ANY festivals that will book you. It just means you have to aim for ones that are open and willing to have your particular kind of music. Most of them come in the way of music festivals, not festivals that happen to have music.
Not all festivals book small acts. The larger and more famous, the less likely they are going to. But if they are a famous festival that does, there will be a lot of competition. They will always be more likely to book a small band that has developed a decent sized audience, or one that has previous festival experience, than a small band that has less than a dozen gigs under their belt.
Some festivals are themed. A renaissance faire, for example, has a very distinct theme, and they go to great lengths to ensure that the theme is preserved. Lots of them won’t allow you to play an instrument if it requires electricity. If that is the case, there’s no point in trying to land a spot if you are a trance DJ.
However, if you are a themed band, then you can probably find a festival that is looking for exactly you. That means that all of you acoustic, pirate-metal bands actually have a good chance of being part of the renaissance faire (Just in case you don’t believe me – it does exist).
As with any gig, payment is a factor you should consider. Some festivals have too much money at their disposal, others don’t have near enough. Regardless, you will find that a lot of them aren’t willing to pay the smaller bands. They will ask you to play for free and use the money to bring larger names onto the bill. It’s up to you to decide whether or not it’s worth it. If the festival can provide you a large audience, it is probably well worth it. But if you are only going to be playing to 20 people, it may not be worth it.
If you’re wondering why playing for free would ever be a bad idea, it’s because once you get on that path, it can be hard to get off. Next year, they may refuse to pay you regardless of how well you did purely because they know you are willing to do it for free. On top of that, people who organize festivals DO talk to one another. Word may spread that you are willing to play for free. Your decision should depend on what you are looking for out of the festival, and what you want from future festivals.
Contacting The Festival
Festivals know that they are like prime real estate for musicians. That means they are extremely picky about who they let on their stage.
Unlike regular venues, festivals book very far in advance. Usually they are booking anywhere from 3 months to 1 year in advance. That means you need to be aware of each festival’s submission times and submit as early as possible. It would take a miracle to land a spot just a month before most festivals start. When you start planning your festival circuit, plan for NEXT year.
Since festivals plan so far in advance, you’ll often find that a follow up of two weeks is too short. Be lenient. When you do follow up, approach them by asking if they did indeed receive your press kitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc.. Don’t start by asking if you are on the bill yet. They probably haven’t decided the lineup yet. You just want to make sure that your submission is being considered. The fact that you are following up with them shows them that you actually care about playing their festival and will probably improve your chances.
Although it’s not always an option, calling them might be a better idea for a follow up. Emails get lost in the mix. A phone call actually connects you to a person. Sometimes the fact that you are calling will result in your submission being put on the top of the pile.
Who To Contact
Every festival chooses and sorts out their lineup differently. Some of them have an in house bookerThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue., some have a committee, and others use an outside booking agentThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue.. Whatever the case, your best chance of getting the gig is by befriending whoever is in charge. For example, if you’re looking to play at your hometown’s summer festival, then you might want to sign up as a volunteer. By doing so, you’re going to begin meeting and becoming friends with the people who run the show. As a result, they’ll already think highly of you when your submission comes to their attention. As the old saying goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Of course, if it’s a booking agentThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue., volunteering might not be a viable option. There is, however, a good chance that the booking agentThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue. books more than just festivals. So if you’ve been gigging and making a name for yourself, then it couldn’t hurt to contact the bookerThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue. and ask for a venue gig first. If they won’t give you that, they probably won’t give you the festival spot. But if they do, and you rock it at the gig, then you stand a much better chance of getting the festival gig.
Keep Your Hopes Up
After you’ve done all of the above, the rest is out of your hands. Hopefully you’ll get lucky and land a couple festivals. If not, don’t let it get you down. It’s not uncommon to have to apply for a festival for 2 or 3 consecutive year before they’ll actually pull your number. Just keep applying and keeping your fingers crossed. If you’re keeping active as a gigging musician, it’s just a matter of time before you get your break.