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5 Tips for a Successful Showcase Festival

  • 02 September 2014, Tuesday
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musician singing and playing guitar on stage

by Gideon Gottfried

As you may know, tomorrow marks the start of Berlin Music Week, which iMusician is sponsoring. If you have the time, we would be very happy to welcome you at our stall! In the meantime, enjoy this blog post on how you can boost your exposure by playing at a showcase festival!From by:Larm in Oslo, Norway, to Eurosonic Noorderslag in Groningen, Holland. From The Great Escape in Brighton, England, to Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, Germany. There are combinations of showcase festivals and music conferences taking place everywhere. What is unique about these events: The live music comes from newcomer bands from all over the world, rather than from established acts you’d expect at regular festivals. For up and coming bands a gig at a showcase festival can mean the start of a career, provided that they do it right.

berlin music week

There has been a boom of showcase festivals and affiliated music conferences over the past years, says Detlef Schwarte, one of the main organizers of Reeperbahn Festival, which takes place from the 17th to the 20th of September this year: „One can clearly see, that many of these events – talent festivals and conferences – have sprung up since around 2005. This phenomenon has to do with the transformation of the music industry in the digital age: as the recorded music sector lost significance, industry events driven by live music naturally became more important.“

Not only has live become more important for the industry as a whole, but also for the individual artist. Many newcomers today no longer reckon to earn a living by actually selling music. Instead they are focussing on the live business. But how do you land Gigs, if no one knows you yet? Showcase festivals can offer a solution, as long as artists do their homework.

1. Get a picture of the showcase festival first

Peter Smidt is the creative director of Eurosonic Noorderslag, the oldest showcase festival in Europe. He advises all artists to first get a picture of the event they want to play at: „It is smart to first go to the event, see what it's like, what kind of people visit it, how it functions etc. Then you'll have one year to prepare a performance. Make sure to target the right people way in advance of your actual performance. Doing a showcase, in my opinion, is part of a larger plan, and you should prepare it very well.“

2. Develop a strategy

A gig at a showcase festival is only part of a puzzle, confirms Detlef Schwarte, who prefers the term talent festival: „A lot of bands want to play a show at Reeperbahn Festival, hoping that something will happen out of it. Managers, too, sometimes think, that they simply need to get a slot for their band at our event, and that the rest will just unfold. But that is not the way this works. A gig at a showcase festival can never be more that part of a larger strategy that includes a tour, media activities and so on, to elevate the artist. There are around 400 acts playing at Reeperbahn Festival, and you have to make sure, that you stay in the minds of the right people. If the package is right, a talent festival can turn out to be very effective. If all of that is missing, it hardly ever makes sense to get involved – to just play a show and head back home afterwards.“

3. Find the right timing

There are bands that are being handed from showcase festival to showcase festival, without ever signing a record deal. Others accomplish this feat after their first show. „I think it is a pity, when a band plays at Eurosonic too early, without being able to take the next step“, says Peter Smidt. Artists playing at Eurosonic have the chance to be selected for the European Talent Exchange Program (ETEP), an initiative by Eurosonic Noorderslag, 81 European festivals and 25 European public radio broadcasters. „Artists selected for our ETEP program get festival bookings and requests by radio stations. You have to have the business setup to follow up on this. So we're always discussing with artists beforehand, whether this is the right moment to do the show. Timing is very important in this business“, explains Smidt.

4. Speak to the people on-site

Most showcase festivals are accompanied by a music conference, where industry professionals learn the latest about the business in panels, keynotes or workshops, and where there is plenty of networking opportunity. According to Peter Smidt, acts that are playing at a showcase festival should also visit the conference part. „It makes sense to meet the people and establish personal contact. It is also important for the business professionals to get to talk with artists.“ After all, both sides need each other.

Whether the whole business part is of any interest to the artist, also depends on how organised the artist actually is. According to Detlef Schwarte, taking part in the conference particularly makes sense for up and coming bands, who usually aren’t surrounded by a large team. He also says: „As an artist, it’s always good to know about the business and not just the music. But it is also completely justified for an artist, to solely focus on the creative process, and not care about media, labels and direct-2-fan. It is exhausting enough to play a show, without having to visit the conference beforehand.“.

5. Make good music

Any career plan will fail, if the music isn’t good. Success over the long term is reserved for talented musicians only. „Showcases and TV performances are good, but wouldn't have happened and wouldn't work without the music in place“, explains Moddi. The singer/songwriter from Norway taught himself, how to play the guitar and the accordion. He sings in English and Norwegian. He says, the biggest challenge is to handle all one‘s commitments and still find the time to produce good music. Only if you actually produce good music does it make sense to focus on building an artist‘s career. And only then will sticking to the points mentioned above yield a result. Moddi is the perfect example: „I have met my band, my booking agents, my promotional team and my former management through music conference showcases“, he explains. „For an unconnected newcomer such a performance can be a golden opportunity, but I also have the impression that playing the larger conferences without a team already in place usually won't take you anywhere.“

According to Moddi, it doesn’t make sense, to spend 4000 Euros on a trip to SXSW in Texas, because you’ll just drown in all the noise. „Similarly, headlining a regional conference after your third album might be a step down. It's all about timing.“ Moddi, by the way, is one of the artists to always visit the conference part of any showcase festival: „All musicians benefit from understanding the larger structures of what they're doing. Also, I get a lot of ideas on how to work on promotion, distribution and organization from the conferences. For a notoriously backwards musician (I'm a folk singer stuck in the 70s) it's useful to know what's going on out there.“

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