Booking a music festival gig is one of the most effective ways to grow your fanbase and grab the attention of industry tastemakers. Earning a coveted slot on a festival lineup is a key indicator that you’re not only an extremely talented musician, but that you’re also serious about putting in the work to take your music career to the next level.
Most festival artistic directors start their planning by securing their headliners. Then they start to fill the other slots with up and coming talent, including musicians they’ve never heard of before.
Getting into music festivals isn’t just about having a great sound and some good luck. You’ll need to find the best festivals for your band, put together a killer application, and follow the submission process correctly. Here’s a look at what to do to get your band booked at festivals.
1. Perfect your live show
Playing a music festival is a great way to gain exposure. Because of this, there’s a lot of competition for festival slots that are open to independent bands. To stand a chance of getting a spot, your live show must be memorable. To get your show where it needs to be, play live shows regularly to improve your chops and stage presence.
When you apply to a festival, you’re not just selling your music or yourself — it’s really your live show that festival promoters are interested in. Having a killer live show is a great way to get booked at music festivals.
Along with this, focus on networking with local promoters, talent buyers, and fellow musicians while you gain experience playing shows and growing your local fanbase. The music industry is small, especially if you’re active in your local scene. If you consistently put yourself out there as a professional act with a great live show, word will get around, and you’ll have a better chance of being selected when you apply to festivals.
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2. Target the right festivals for your music
Playing your show live will help inform your next steps when it comes to applying to music festivals. With a bit of perspective, you’ll be better able to hone in on the festivals that might be a good fit for your band.
While it may seem like applying to every festival that’s accepting submissions will increase your chances of getting booked, being selective is a much better approach. Value the promoter’s time; be realistic about whether your music is suitable and if your band is ready for a festival draw.
Start your research several months in advance, and target festivals that are likely to book your genre of music. Find out where bands similar to yours have performed, and search festival directories for opportunities.
Once you find a few festivals that seem promising, do some digging on the indie acts that have been selected in the last couple of years. Are they based in the same area as the festival with a solid local draw? How strong is their social media presence? Have they gotten press mentions? Are they represented by an indie or major label, or are they completely DIY?
Try to identify any trends among previously selected bands for your target festivals, and see how your band stacks up in comparison to help determine if it makes sense to submit an application.
Use a spreadsheet or artist management software to stay organized and track progress on your target festival submissions. For each festival you’re interested in, include information such as:
- Festival name
- Festival date
- Festival location
- Festival website
- Submission URL/contact info
- Submission deadline
- Submission fee (note that some festivals increase the fee as the deadline approaches)
- Accepted/rejected notification date
- Submitted [yes/no]
- Accepted [yes/no]
- Additional notes
Whether or not you are accepted, this information will help you keep track of your submissions. In the years to come you can circle back to this spreadsheet and try again.
Finally, add all of the important deadlines to your calendar and set reminders so that you don’t miss out on any opportunities.
3. Create a killer press kit
Getting into a music festival as an independent artist is not an easy feat. Once you have a solid list of target festivals, you’ll want to make sure your application stands out. Having great music is a given, but promoters also pay close attention to certain elements to determine which acts are ready for a festival stage.
Create a press kit for your band to highlight these important elements that will help you book a music festival slot. A professional-looking, well-maintained EPK right on your artist website signals to festival promoters that you have your act together and that you’re serious about your music career.
Your press kit should include:
A great bio
Write a musician bio that is concise, attention-grabbing, and highlights what makes you impressive and unique. Your bio here should be short and sweet, hitting on relevant points such as other festivals or shows you’ve played. If it’s been awhile since you’ve played out live, include live streamed performances with numbers to show your draw.
No matter how good your music is, festival bookers won’t take you seriously if you don’t present your band in a professional way. High-quality photos are a must to pull together your online presence in your press kit.
In addition to standard press photos, include a few live shots that convey your onstage energy and look. It’ll help promoters envision you on their festival stage, while also showcasing your performance experience.
High-quality live video
What better way to prove to a festival that you can put on a mind-blowing show than by including a live performance video in your application? Even if it’s footage from a small venue in your hometown, use a clip that captures your ability to command a crowd and shows that you can really nail your songs live.
That’s what will set you apart and translate to a successful festival performance. Just make sure it’s well-filmed and has good quality audio.
Press and reviews
Interviews or reviews of your live show will lend a sense of authority to your music, and may help you book that music festival spot. To keep your press kit concise, use a quote from each review that brings across a sense of your performance chops, then include a link to the full article.
Social and streaming links
A promoter or booker will often check out your presence on social media, or your activity on streaming services. These numbers can indicate that you’re an artist willing to put in the work to build up a solid fanbase, and might sway the way you’re perceived for a festival slot.
A stage plot and contact information can also be added directly to your EPK so that everything relevant is contained in one place.
4. Prepare your festival application
Once your basic application materials and digital press kit are ready, refer back to the spreadsheet you created to find out what each festival’s requirements are for the submission process.
Note whether a festival requires an application via a custom form, or by email directly. Find out whether they require a submission fee or supplementary materials. Each festival may require different materials, word counts, links, or number of videos.
Familiarize yourself with each target festival’s specifications in advance so that you can budget your time and resources accordingly, and avoid any delays when the deadline comes around. If you don’t submit properly, your application may be rejected without a look.
If a website link is required on an application, be sure to send your prepared press kit url to promoters, so they’ll have all the information they need organized on one page.
5. Submit and follow up
After you submit your application, the best thing you can do is sit back and wait to find out if you were selected. Do not pester an artistic director with emails asking if you’ve been booked, especially if they specified in the submission process to not contact them about it – it’s a sure way to get blacklisted.
The one exception might be if something significant happens in your career after you’ve submitted the festival application. This could include booking another major festival gig, a high-profile review or interview, or securing an opening slot for a well-known artist. Then, you could send a follow-up email to the festival letting them know. Also, make sure to update your press kit accordingly.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get booked at a music festival after submitting your first few applications. These kinds of gigs are highly sought after and are very competitive. Ask to be kept informed of other opportunities. Just because you didn't secure the gig this year, doesn’t mean you won’t in the future, especially if you continue to show that you’re an up and coming artist with great music and a growing fanbase.
Focus on perfecting your live show, building your network in person and online, and play showcases, fairs, and other small venues while you work your way towards securing a festival spot. If you’re persistent and put in the effort year after year, it will pay off toward getting you a music festival slot.
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