How to make your first festival a success
Posted: 27 August 2019
You’ve landed a spot on the newcomer stage, that’s the hard part over with, right? Not quite. Now you need to put on a killer show and prove that you were the right choice. Even to experienced giggers, playing a festival can be a shock to the system. So how can you prepare and make it a memorable experience?
Unlike a local show, a festival will ask for your tech information in advance and probably in more detail. Time to get familiar with two terms: stage plan and input list. A stage plan (or plot) is a visual representation of how you position yourself on stage, the gear you use and how it’s set up. The input list details all your outputs from sound equipment through to vocals. You can use the tech spec to confirm what equipment you’re travelling with, your mic/DI preferences and any specifics about your mixes. Once you’ve provided this information, try not to change it unless you really have to.
If you’ve been gigging for a while, you’ve probably curated the perfect set but don’t be afraid to switch things up for a festival. Instead of just playing back to back guitar solos or power ballads, try to bring a little bit of light and shade. Maybe there’s an acoustic number that you’ve been working on or a cover song that your fans always go crazy for.
Remember to rehearse in full so you can practice the changeovers between songs. Every second that you spend talking or retuning, you risk your audience wandering off to another stage. However, remember to introduce who you are and what songs you’re playing so new fans can find you on social media later.
If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to register for royalties so you can make the most out of your festival appearance. As well as streaming and digital downloads, you can also earn royalties from live performances. Don’t worry if you’re not represented by a manager or record label, there’s plenty of advice online from organisations like PRS, BMI or ICON Collective.
In all the excitement, it’s easy to forget about packing the essentials. Be sure stock up on drumsticks, guitar strings, plectrums and other breakables. Prepare for extreme weather with wellies, spare clothes and sunscreen—sunburn isn’t very rock n’ roll.
Don’t worry if your soundcheck is short—or if you don’t get one at all—trust the fact that the techs know what they’re doing. It’s their job to get your levels right in a short space of time and that’s part of the reason why they ask for an input list in advance. You sound may feel different to you on stage, especially as you’re in a big outdoor space, but the audience won’t be aware of any of that.
We all see photos of bands at festivals and wish we were there, so don’t waste an opportunity to get some great footage. Make sure you use the festival’s hashtags and handles and tag any bands that you interact with. If possible, get someone in your team to take photos and videos from side-stage or the photo-pit.
Know when to put your phone away—don’t keep people waiting because you’re too busy taking selfies. Remember to respect the privacy of other artists and be wary of posting anything that could be harmful to your reputation. Drunk tweets are often hilarious, but they can sometimes get you into trouble.
If you only remember one thing about playing festivals, it’s that the rules do apply to you. As frustrating as it can be to see headliners turn up late or bark orders at staff, newcomers don’t have the luxury of just doing what they want. Production staff usually work multiple events in the festival period so be the band that they’re excited to have back. Turn up on time, get on and off stage promptly and be polite.
If you’re lucky enough to get access to a VIP or artist area this can be a great space to connect with other musicians. You’ve earned the right to be there so don’t be afraid to say hello to your favourite band or exchange contacts with artists you want to collaborate with. Although you might not have any interviews planned, introduce yourself to the press and invite them to watch your set. It’s also worth looking out for label reps and managers.
As fun as the VIP area can be, don’t forget to get out and mingle with the other festival goers. It’s a great chance gain new fans and people will love the fact that you’re so down to earth and approachable.
Festivals are all about having fun. They might be a little unpredictable and things might not go exactly to plan but remember that you wouldn’t have this opportunity if you weren’t ready for it. Play a standout set, enjoy some great live music and make it an unforgettable experience.