How Do Bands Get Booked for Music Festivals?

Festivals - long a favorite summer pastime in Europe - have now taken firm hold among US music fans as the places to see new music. Naturally, that leaves even more bands asking how to get on the bill. Getting booked to play a music festival is extremely competitive, so taking the right approach is the only way to get a foot in the door. Now, I'm not going to kid you and say it's going to be easy - if it was, well, everyone would be doing it - but you can get yourself on stage in front of festival crowds. Get your band booked for a music festival with these tips.

1
Be Ready For It

I know, I know - you're ready! But, are you REALLY? This isn't an affront to your music - in fact, at this point, we're really not talking about how good your music is at all. We're talking about - are you ready for the unique demands of playing a music festival?

If you aren't so experienced yet on the live circuit, then you're probably not. Playing a festival is a different beast than playing your local club, so promoters usually look for bands who have a proven track record of commanding a crowd and putting on a solid show. Remember, you're competing with a lot more when you're playing to a massive crowd of people outdoors than you are when you play for your friends at your favorite bar, so you need to have your stage presence on lock - something that only comes with practice. 

You'll have the best chances of succeeding at getting booked - and slaying your set - if you do the groundwork of building your stage show first. 

2
Know Your Targets

No, you don't want to play just any old music festival that will have you. That's akin to sending your music to every promoter, label, agent, and so on in town, regardless of the kind of music they work with. Instead, narrow your search and settle on a few target festivals that you would like to play.

Of course, the festivals in question should welcome your genre of music, but make sure they tick other boxes, too. For instance, are there stages suited to bands of your audience size? Would you be able to travel to the festival if your expenses weren't covered by your booking fee or as part of your deal? If you don't have an agent, does the festival welcome submissions directly from musicians? Don't waste energy chasing festivals that aren't a good fit for you, even if the happen to be festivals you enjoy as a music fan. Get in where you fit in, and you'll get booked much easier. 

3
Set a Calendar

Believe it or not, one of the biggest obstacles musicians always face when applying for festivals or other events is simply getting the application, so to speak, in on time. Do not apply to things late. Do not miss deadlines. Create a calendar of submission deadlines to all of the festivals you want to play so the opportunity doesn't pass you by. 

No, if you missed the deadline, you can't apply anywhere. Well, you might technically be able to find a way to do so, but don't expect it to get you booked. 

4
Prepare Your Submission Materials

Every festival will have its own submission requirements, but be prepared to need an artist bio and some music, at the very least. It is also a good idea to have a video of you performing ready to be viewed and to have some professional press photos ready to go. You will also need some decent quality recordings to show off your sounds in the best possible light.

When it comes to submitting your music, bio, and so on - submit exactly what is requested - no more and no less. No, sending three songs when two were asked for is not better. No, your bio shouldn't book lengthened. If they're not giving you an opportunity to tell how many shows you've played, don't cram the information in there. Their formula is in place for a reason, and deviating from it is a good way to ensure your music doesn't get listened to at all.  

Need help writing you bio? Find out how to write a band bio.

5
Get Your Social Media Ready

You know, I hate the notion of promoters looking at how many social media followers a musician has as an indication of whether or not to book them so much that I hate to suggest you care. However - that DOES happen and you DO have to care.

And, to be fair, there IS a point there. Having a large number of social media followers isn't the same thing as having a large number of bums in seats, but it does say something about you as a musician. It means you engage your fans and that you're committed enough to promote yourself, which hints that you'll work hard to promote your show and give your fans a good set.

So, with that said, before your apply for a music festival, get your social media numbers up as much as you can and most importantly, get active on your pages. If your last post was two years ago, get a flurry of activity going before you apply.  

6
Don't Be Afraid to Start Small

Does your town have a festival that hosts live music? Sometimes, the best festival to start your festival career at is right in your backyard. Now, sure, it may not be Glastonbury or Bonnaroo, but that's OK. What it is is a chance to put a festival appearance on your resume and get used to that style of playing live. The more you can make a name for yourself, the more interested festival promoters will be about adding you to the bill. 

7
More Dos and Dont's For Getting Booked at Festivals

  •  DO look out for special booking opportunities, like contests in which the prize is an appearance at the festival
  • DON'T pay to play a festival. Ever. Never ever ever. This includes festivals that want you to buy tickets to resell to fans yourself. Nope, no way, no how. PLEASE.
  • DO keep the faith. It's competitive out there! That doesn't mean that you don't belong on the stage. Keep gigging and making music as you keep working on getting a festival slot. Every show, every song, every new fan is a step closer to your goal.

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