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How to get gigs at festivals – 7 really important things to know

Read on to find out some useful tips and tricks for landing that very first gig at a festival.

a person playing a guitar

Playing at a festival has to be every music artist's dream. But how do you get there? Believing it’s possible is a good first step. If you have the talent and the drive – there’s nothing to say it won’t be you hitting the stage under bright lights and an open sky this time next year. (Or even sooner, if you get a skidaddle on.)

Read on to find out some useful tips and tricks for landing that very first gig at a festival.

How do you get to play at a festival?

To get to play at a festival you’ll need to apply directly to the festivals you’re interested in. It’s not as simple as just sending out a load of blanket emails, though. The competition is usually rife, and festival art directors will want to see that you’re passionate about performing at their festival in particular. Long story short – you’ll need to be prepared to put plenty of effort into the whole process. But if (when!) it pays off, it’ll be more than worth it. Landing a coveted slot at a festival is one of the best ways to prove your worth as a talented artist, and can grow your audience in a big way – literally overnight. 

Ready to give it a good go? Here are some crucial things to know when applying to play at a festival 👇

🎸 You should have a killer live show before you start applying for festivals

Unless it’s very, very small, a festival isn’t really the place to practice your act. Festival art directors want to book brilliant, well-polished live shows that they know will deliver a great time for their attendees. 

That’s not to say you have to be able to put on a performance worthy of the Brit Awards. But you do need to have worked on your act enough that it feels exciting, engaging, and generally great to watch.

If you’re not there yet, it’s a good idea to focus on getting as many live gigs under your belt as possible. Try out pubs and open mic nights to begin with. Then, work your way up to small music venues. You could also try hosting your own mini music festival to give yourself and other local talent a chance to perform in front of a live audience. 

a person playing a guitar on a stage

🤝 There’s no such thing as too much networking

Being active in your local music scene is one of the best ways to make yourself known. It’s all about putting yourself in the forefront of people’s minds, and hopefully staying there! Focus on networking with talent bookers, other musicians and local promoters as much as you can – both online and offline. 

If you meet someone in the industry in person, make sure you follow them on social media and drop them a message to say it was great to meet them. Try experimenting with collaborations too, whether that’s through putting on a local night with a promoter or working with another musician. The more you network with people in-the-know, the more likely a festival art director is to have heard of you by the time they get your application.

🕵️ It’s important to do plenty of research 

To make sure you’re only applying to festivals you genuinely have a chance of getting booked at, it’s important to do plenty of research before you get started.

Try looking into festivals where artists similar to you have played. Then look into the acts themselves – are they represented by an indie or major label (or even unrepresented)? Do they have a lot of good press? What’s their online presence like? Gathering this information will give you an idea of how likely it is that the festival might book you. If it looks really unlikely, you might be better off spending your time applying elsewhere. 

📸 You’ll need a brilliant press kit 

Second only to your actual music, a killer press kit will be one of the most important features of your application. If a talent booker can see that you have a slick, professional EPK (electronic press kit), they know you mean business. Plus, it provides them with all the indicators they need to determine whether you're a worthy act for their festival. You’ll want to make your EPK easily accessible from your artist website, and it should include:

  • A concise, impactful bio – highlight what makes you unique as a music artist, but keep it short and to the point.
  • Professional photos – it’s well worth investing in some professional photos to make sure you stand out as a professional music artist. 
  • Live video – make sure it’s high quality and shows you performing at your absolute best.
  • Press quotes – cherry pick quotes from any reviews you’ve had (choose ones that really give a sense of what you’re about as a performer), and link out to the full articles.
  • Social media links – make it easy for bookers to check out your socials. (Which brings us onto our next point…)

three guitars and keyboard in a room

📱 Festival art directors will check out your socials

Anyone who’s interested in booking you will take a deep dive into your socials – fact. After all, they provide the perfect window into what you’re like as an artist, and what kind of following you’ve accumulated. 

With this in mind, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a really active presence across your channels through posting lots of regular content and interacting with your followers. 

If your social media presence is lacking, spend some time building it up in the months before you start applying for festivals. It’s not an absolute must, but it could really help. If a booker can see that you’ve already got a fanbase, they’ll be more excited about the prospect of securing you for their festival. 

🏃 Festival art directors are usually very strapped for time

This is really important to keep in mind when doing your applications. Festival art directors and talent bookers are notoriously busy. So they won’t have tons of time to browse through long-winded life stories and paragraph after paragraph about why they should book you.

The takeaway? Keep everything about your applications short, to the point, and as impactful as possible. 

a person holding a glass with her arms up

👉 It’s much better to ‘show’ than ‘tell’

No matter how much confidence you have in your ability to rock a certain festival, it’s ultimately up to the booker to decide if you’re a good fit. That means they want to see for themselves. So:

  • Don’t write a load of ‘convincing’ fluff about why they should book you.
  • Do show them evidence of your success and experience – like quotes from reviews, the number of followers you have on social media, and notable venues you’ve already gigged at.
  • Don’t write reels about why your style of music is the best possible choice for that last remaining slot at their festival.
  • Do show them video content of your best live performances.
  • Don’t pester bookers with follow up emails for no reason – wait for them to get back to you.
  • Do send information of any notable big steps in your career if they happen after you’ve sent your application. For example, if you’ve landed a gig at an impressive venue in the meantime. (This could impact their decision about whether to book you or not.)

Applying to play at festivals is nerve-wracking and exciting in equal measure. Just remember – getting knockbacks doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. Even the best artists in the world will have experienced being rejected. The important thing is to keep going, to keep honing your craft and ultimately, to keep that dream alive 🔥. Your day will come. 

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