How to get yourself booked at a festival.
Posted: 20 August 2019
Whether it’s wading through muddy fields, sleeping in a damp tent or praying that the portaloo isn’t too unbearable—there’s something about festivals we just can’t get enough of. As if getting woken up by the sound of distant riffs isn’t fun enough, some of us want to be the ones rousing the crowds with a mid-morning set. So, with the dream of playing a festival burning in every budding musician’s mind, how can you get yourself on the line-up?
Playing the 11am slot to a slightly worse for wear audience might not seem like a big deal but at every festival there are hundreds if not thousands of artists competing for this very opportunity. To stand a chance against these other acts you need to ask yourself if you’re ready to play a festival. Festival promoters want bands that can command an audience, so it’s important that you’re already gigging regularly and drawing in a steady crowd. While you’re not expected to hit the capacity of a headliner, nobody wants to book you to play an empty field.
It’s also worth remembering that festivals are a commitment. Do you have time for extra rehearsals? Are there potential clashes with study deadlines or family events?
Applying to play a festival might be competitive but it doesn’t have to be complicated. More and more festivals now list the necessary contact information on their websites and some even run competitions to win a slot on their smaller stages. Be sure to check their contact page, FAQs and submissions page for information and sign up to their social media.
Once you’ve found festivals that accept submissions, you need to narrow them down to the ones that match your musical style. Some will have quite a broad line-up like Glastonbury or Coachella, while others, like Download, stick closer to one specific genre.
Festivals can start their planning up to 18 months in advance so be prepared for early submission deadlines. Also be prepared for deadlines to change. Sometimes when the application numbers are unexpected (too high or low), closing dates can be moved. You might also want to make a note of potential performance dates, so you don’t accidently double book with another festival or gig.
Don’t give promoters an excuse to put you in the ‘no’ pile because you didn’t follow the application instructions. If there’s a webform to fill out, make sure you use that rather than emailing or messaging on social media. If they ask for an email, send it to their listed contact, don’t just spam every inbox you can find. Also make sure you provide all the content they ask for. If there’s something you don’t have, for example, a video of you playing live, this could be a sign that you’re not ready to play this particular event. You should also be wary of sending more than they’ve asked for. Sometimes it pays off and other times, you just end up annoying an already overworked promoter.
Whether it happens at the beginning of the process or when they’re making the final cut, promoters are bound to look you up online. A strong social media presence isn’t the only factor in their decision but it definitely swings the odds in your favour. And it’s not just a numbers game. Promoters will also be looking out for clear branding, interesting visuals and regular posting.
It might also be worth creating an easy to access electronic press kit so all your key information is outlined in one place. While it’s important to positively sell your band, try not to overexaggerate your achievements. Remember that if you’re successful, the images and bios you’ve submitted may be used on the festival’s website or promotional material, so don’t say anything you wouldn’t want repeated.
Submitting an application isn’t the only way to get booked. In some cases, a prior connection to a promoter might allow you book with them directly. Or you may be approached to play due to your reputation in the local area. You could also consider getting a booking agent. A good agent will have pre-existing connections that they can use to help you secure bigger festivals.
It can be frustrating to stumble across a festival that doesn’t run open applications but the way to overcome this is to be an artist that they can’t ignore. The more you gig, expand your social media and interact with the press, the more likely you are to catch a promoter’s attention.
While we all want to hear the crowd chant our name at Coachella, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss our local festivals. When looking at your application, promoters want to be wowed by your live experience and these smaller festivals are a great way to boost your live reputation. You can also use it as an opportunity to record content and try to get some press coverage.
Some local festivals run online applications, but many just require a conversation with the promoter which should be relatively simple if you’re already known in the local scene.
Before you send off your application, remember to read the terms and conditions. In the UK, ‘pay to play’ operations are trying to be phased out of the industry and as a general rule you should try to avoid any festivals that charge you to play or even apply.
If you’re lucky enough to get booked, you’ll be presented with a contract to seal the deal. Some of the key things to pay attention to are the performance date, the stage and whether travel or accommodation costs are covered. Its also worth finding out about when you can announce the news on social media and if you’ll get any passes for friends or family.
Getting booked to play a festival is only one half of the story, now you need to navigate the actual event. Check back next week for our top tips for playing at a festival.