Festivals are praised as the perfect places for up-and-coming artists to gain the exposure they need to grow their careers. Many emerging artists wonder, however, how to get booked for a festival in the first place. Where does one even start without prior experience?
In this article, we’ll walk you through our key recommendations for getting booked for your first (or even a second or third) music festival!
Why are music festivals important for independent artists?
The origin of music festivals can be traced back to Ancient Greece. It is said that one of the earliest music festivals known was the Pythian Games at Delphi, which took place regularly between 6 BC and 4 AD and included musical performances. Then, during the medieval times, music festivals were often held as competitions rather than artist presentations.
Finally, it was in the 18th century in England that festivals started resembling the form we know today, gradually extending across borders and genres. From the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to the Pol'and'Rock Festival, to the Glastonbury Festival, there are reportedly around 1,000 music festivals taking place annually in Europe and the USA alone.
Of course, this is only a very brief summary of the history of music festivals – to cover it all, this article would have to be EXTREMELY long. After all, while history is indeed interesting, we’d rather focus on the significance of festivals for artists, particularly the independent ones.
The Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival (source: Rolling Stone)
Reaching a wider range of audiences
Unlike a solo concert of yours, which is more likely to attract your fans rather than a brand new audience, a festival is usually attended by a great spectrum of visitors coming to see their favorite artists and explore new acts, as well.
This creates a great opportunity for musicians to gain exposure and approach larger and more diverse crowds, which, as a result, may lead them to gain new fans, increase their sales, and overall boost their careers.
Your chances are even greater if you get to perform at a genre-specific festival with other performers creating music of a genre(s) similar to yours. There is a high likelihood that people already familiar with and interested in the music of others will also be keen on your music.
Enhancing the relationship with your existing fans
Performing at a festival is not only about gaining new devotees but also about nurturing the connection you have with your already existing fans. Attending a music festival is often accompanied by feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, and joy.
For many, seeing their favorite artist perform is often the highlight of the whole event, further deepening the bond between them and the artist.
Networking with music experts
This one is both a benefit of playing at a festival and one of the tips on how to increase your chances of being booked. Music fans and artists are by far not the only festival visitors. Often, there are also music publishers, promoters, distributors, marketing directors, label representatives, publicists, and many other music business professionals. This makes a music festival the perfect place to meet relevant people from the industry.
Be sure to seize the opportunity to network when you’re at a festival – even if you’re an emerging artist, currently enjoying the show in the audience. Treat festivals like clusters of chances and possibilities. You simply never know who you’ll come across and what opportunity you’ll be presented with.
This includes artists too! Are you looking for a musician to collaborate with? At a festival, you’ll definitely meet loads of them.
A great revenue-earning opportunity
The amount of money an artist is paid for their performance strongly depends on a number of factors, including the size of a festival, number of visitors, capacity, sponsors, etc. What’s for sure is that for any public performance, you’ll receive an income from performance royalties paid by the Performing Rights Organization you’re registered to.
It’s also not just the performance that is likely to generate revenue. Festivals are a great place to sell your music and merchandise to both new and existing audiences. Bear in mind that most people tend to purchase physical products at live performances, particularly records, so be sure to have an abundance of supply, including CDs or even vinyls and cassettes.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to every musician. If you're just at the beginning of your music career, it’s better to focus on your performance and music rather than your merch. Producing merchandise as an independent artist can turn out quite expensive so be sure you’re at the right stage of your career to do so.
Tips on how to get booked at a music festival
Now that you know about the advantages of playing live at a music festival, it’s time to learn about how you actually get to perform at one.
1. Target small and local festivals first
It’s not uncommon that when an artist dreams of performing at a festival, they imagine themselves on a big stage, playing for thousands of people. While this is certainly not unrealistic, it just isn’t something to fall out of the blue. Everyone has to start somewhere and it usually takes time to move from small stages to the big ones. Even the artists who’ve become massive, like U2, Taylor Swift, Drake, or Charlotte De Witte, started their careers small.
Taylor Swift performing at one of the earliest concerts of her career (source: @taylorswift13)
Therefore, if you’re just starting out, there’s not much point in targeting big international festivals. Applying to such may turn out to be fruitless and rather disappointing as the competition is fierce and the promoters will presumably select accomplished artists over the ones with little to no experience.
For this reason, we’d rather recommend aiming at smaller festivals, preferably those that are happening in your local area (same city or region) as these might like to promote local artists and bands. Remember that any live performance at this stage of your career will add to your experience. Then, the more experience you have, the more promoters will be interested in booking you, and you’ll be one step closer to achieving your dream.
2. Search for festivals that are suitable for you
While the size of a festival you apply to is not much of a concern in the early days, its style and theme definitely are. Predictably, if you’re a soul musician, you will not be booked to play at an EDM festival, and vice versa. It’s therefore essential that you do your research and apply only to festivals that are suitable for you and your artistry (genre, music style, etc.).
Additionally, be sure you know who you’re sending your application to and try to search the number of slots still available at the festivals. The ultimate idea behind this is to invest time in opportunities that are likely to yield some positive results. Also, by not paying attention to details, you might show promoters that you’re not taking stuff seriously.
Remember that words travel fast (especially within a town or a small region) and the last thing you want in the early stages of your career is to have a poor reputation among local festival promoters.
3. Create a successful electronic press kit (EPK)
Having an elaborate EPK is essential to secure a festival slot. Consider an EPK as your portfolio, showcasing your work, achievements, and experience, and providing important details about you as a musician. A good press kit includes:
Information about your accomplishments,
Website (if available),
Tour history or an upcoming tour schedule (if available),
A selection of press releases (if you have some),
Social media links,
Contact details, and, most importantly,
Your music (links to music streaming platforms)
You may also want to add some testimonials, and analytics, including your streaming data, or various social media numbers (metrics like followers, likes, views, comments, etc.)
Bear in mind that it’s not only about the information you provide but also about the way you provide it. Your EPK should be visually appealing, easily digestible, and memorable (created with the aim to stand out).
The idea behind a press kit is all about presenting yourself in a way that gives promoters the perfect sense of who you are and why you’re the right act to perform at their festival. For promoters, it’s crucial to know that their performers are culturally relevant, have a stable fan base (of people who are likely to come to their festival), and match the beat and vibe of the festival.
Looking for a tool to create your ultimate EPK or a straight-out web page? Try out our iMusician’s Artist Page. It’s like a website but without the hassle of building it from scratch. With your Artist Page, you can:
Showcase your releases in one place,
Share previews of unreleased music and your latest videos,
Promote your tour and upcoming gigs,
Showcase your achievements in the press section,
So what are you waiting for? Create your Artist Page for free today.
Create your ultimate online presence
4. Master your social media marketing
There is probably no article or guide helping musicians succeed that wouldn’t mention something about social media. While it may get repetitive, it’s important to continuously highlight the power that social media has to stir things up and get you to the places you want to go.
In the past few years, there has been an abundance of artists who have started their music careers by building engaging platforms on their social media (particularly TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube).
Usually, they get together with other artists to cover some well-known classics (e.g. Crazy by Gnarls Barkley or Dream On by Aerosmith), write a song and then perform it for someone in their cars, or hop on some current social media to promote their new or upcoming tracks as much as possible. And from time to time, just like in the case of the singer Mae Stephens, their song just blows up.
Of course, no one says you need to follow the same patterns and create the same type of content as others. If there’s something else that works for you and you feel may resonate with your audience, just go for it! If you’re unsure, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting. This is something quite exciting about social media as you never know what the next hot trend will be.
Ultimately, what matters is that you make your music available and put effort into establishing a consistent online presence and building a community that will be excited about you. They will be able to follow your journey, watch you create, and, in the best-case scenario, jump at the first opportunity to see you perform live.
Lastly: should you hire a booking agent?
Certain sources may recommend hiring a booking agent as they are someone who has plenty of connections within the music business and can make use of these connections on behalf of the musician. They can negotiate great deals for artists, book live shows for them (including festivals), and create opportunities that would be difficult to come across without their help.
As dreamy as this sounds, getting a booking agent in real life can be quite difficult, especially in the early days of your career. Not to mention that it is also quite expensive and hiring one at times when you really need to make money, rather than spend it, may not make a lot of sense.
We would therefore suggest waiting to look for a booking agent until your career is somewhat established. In the meantime, we certainly hope that our previous tips will help you make your dream come true and play at festivals.
Would you like to learn more about a booking agent? Check out our guide about how to book a tour as an independent artist.
As you can see, securing a festival gig is not particularly easy. In fact, a number of factors play a role in whether you get considered for a place in a line-up or not.
It’s not just that! Sometimes things just don’t work, even if you were seemingly the right person to perform at a festival. It’s therefore important to be prepared for the possibility of getting rejected. We don’t think that saying it’s not the end of the world will really help but we do want you to know that there’s nothing wrong with rejections.
In order to have ups, you need to experience downs as well. That’s, unfortunately, how life works. So if you ever get rejected, try to not give it the power to discourage you from something you love and dream of doing. We are certain that your time will come eventually so don’t lose faith!
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