How To Get Booked at Music Festivals (Part One)

In Part One of this blog series, Marcato Musician & Marcato Festival CEO and artist manager Darren Gallop talks about how to get booked at music festivals and gain exposure in front of their large crowds of music lovers:

How to Get Booked at Music FestivalsLanding festival gigs is one of the most attainable ways to get your live show in front of larger crowds. Every artist and manager should want to know how to get booked at music festivals.

The fact is, most festival artistic directors start their planning by securing their headliners. Then they start to fill the other slots with up and coming talent, even musicians they’ve never heard of before.

These slots are fairly competitive. The larger the profile of the festival the more competition there is. It’s not uncommon to see as many as 1000 submissions for a small/medium-sized festival and upwards of 20,000 for larger international events. In both cases these submissions compete for anywhere from 20 to 400 performance slots.

It may sound discouraging but 20% to 75% of these submissions are an instant “NO! NOT A CHANCE!” You can avoid being instantly rejected by understanding WHY festival programers ignore so many applications. It’s usually because these applications or the artists submitting them:

  • are not a style or genre that the festival even programs (failure to research the events you’re applying to is a great way to NOT get booked at music festivals)
  • are not ready (if you’ve only played shows in your home town and haven’t released a professional recording you are probably not ready to hit the festival scene)
  • do not have the tools and marketing collateral to properly pitch
  • do not know how to pitch

All of these submissions are automatically and rapidly declined, sometimes even before festival staff has a chance to hear your music.

The objective of this blog series is to educate DIY artists and emerging managers and agents on the tools and processes that answer the question of how to get booked at music festivals and dramatically improve their festival booking success rate.

8 and 1/2 Tips – How to Get Booked at Music Festivals:

1. Be Awesome

If you want to get booked at music festivals, you need to stand out. This means more than just ‘don’t suck’. Your songs need to be great and your live performance has to be memorable. If you’re not there yet you may be better off spending your time writing, producing, rehearsing and gigging in small clubs for a while longer.

I often see bands that have great tunes and play them very well but lack engagement with their live show. I have witnessed Tom Jackson go through the process of producing a band’s live show and I would recommend taking the opportunity to check out his stuff if you get a chance. Remember you are 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.

2. Keep Your Bio Short and Sweet

Don’t start off with where you went to school and the life stories of each band member. What is your story? How is it relevant? What does your music sound like? Who are your key influences? What are the most relevant highlights of your career? There are professionals that can write your bio for somewhere in the $150 to $300 range. If you plan to write it yourself, here are a couple of good posts about writing a bio:

(Yes, I just Googled how to write an effective musician bio and grabbed the highest-ranking posts. It’s that easy to learn how to do just about anything these days!)

3. Have Really Good Recordings

Having a great recording is an awesome tool. You don’t need a full album or even an EP to get booked at music festivals, a few great tracks can do the job. You want to have these tracks somewhere online (like Soundcloud or Bandcamp) where they can be easily streamed and/or downloaded. If possible, you should have physical copies set aside for special situations. We’ll talk about how to use these tools in the next part of the “How to Get Booked at Music Festivals” series.

4. Make Headlines

Recognition in the press is a powerful thing. The more relevant the source the more powerful the article and the more weight it carries when trying to get booked at music festivals. A small community or college paper will not be as significant as a review in Pitchfork or Billboard. A press strategy and publicist can be one of the most important elements of your overall business and marketing plan.

5. Live Audio/Video Samples

This can be one of the most powerful tools you can ever invest in. Even if someone hears your CD and loves it, there’s no guarantee that your live performance is great.

Here is an example from a series of videos that cost me about $2,000 to produce start to finish. I built them to sell an emerging artist for opening slots on major tours and to get booked at music festivals in the Canadian market. It has been about 14 months since these videos where produced and the artist has secured many high profile performance slots (including opening for rock band Heart on a 30-day tour) which has paid for the cost of this video over and over.

I also made an additional series that represented what the artist does live with her full band:

This can be done at a cheaper rate if you have friends that can help or the time and skills to deal with some of the production yourself. The production value does not necessarily have to be this high to achieve similar goals, though if you can afford to spend on quality it doesn’t hurt.

In both of these videos I opted for a controlled environment instead of doing this at a live show because I wanted the ability to do each song a few times and ensure the best camera angles. I also had limited time to work with due to the artists touring schedule. An actual live show in a cool venue with an audience that’s really digging it is even more effective but also creates several variables that are less controllable. I have had bad experiences with other acts where we are doing a live show and then during the song that I really wanted to capture the guitar crapped out and then it kind of fell apart. (I suggest if you are going for the actual live show recording route to plan to record 2 or more evenings to ensure you get what you need.)

5 and 1/2. Be an Opportunist

When we landed the opening tour with Heart, I hired someone to come in with an HD video recorder at a show in a major venue and set up my ProTools Mbox with a feed from the board and a stereo mic pattern in the room.

This cost me $300 and has become another great sales and marketing tool:

Bottom line, having some great live content can drastically eliminate risk from the festival’s perspective and makes it easier to get booked at music festivals.

6. Look Good in Pictures

A few hundred dollars for some professional photography will go a long way to portray a professional image. Unprofessional artists rarely get booked at music festivals! Try to come up with a theme or an idea. Pick a cool location, look the part you’re playing, and look like you are all on the same team. Don’t dress like you are going to your buddy’s house to drink beer and watch football. Live shots can be great too — I recommend a bit of both.

7. Have a Solid Social Media Presence

Social media presence is key in building your music career this day and age, and helps when trying to get booked at music festivals. Many indie labels, major labels, promoters and agents go straight to your online presence. It shows them how serious you are about your success and what your fan base is like. Ariel Hyatt of Cyber PR runs a blog and newsletter, writes books, speaks at many conferences around the world and teaches courses on this topic.

8. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

If you’ve ever worked in sales you likely know something about this. If not, it’s time to learn because you work in sales now!

Your product is your band’s live performance and your customers are music festivals. Basically, you are looking for a software system (it can be web-based or desktop), or if you are old school some form of Rolodex or agenda/contact book combination. You can even use the tools you have on your Mac or PC like iCal or Outlook to create reminders and your address book to keep notes of your communication with people.

You want something to keep track of every festival you want to play, the people that you encounter that work at the festival, your conversations with these people and follow-up plans. We will go into more detail on the use of the CRM in the next part of this series.

Now Put These Tips to Work!

I hope these eight (and a half) tips to get booked at music festivals will help you think about the festival application process and take your bookings to the next level. Subscribe to the Marcato Musician blog and watch for Part Two of this blog series on how to get booked at music festivals.

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4 Responses to How To Get Booked at Music Festivals (Part One)

  • Pingback: Pitching for that Festival Slot - How to Get Booked at Music Festivals (Part Two) | Marcato Musician

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  • Posted by John Taylor on November 14th, 2012 at 2:18 am

    Im wondering what I have to do to get my band hooked up with some festivals. We have played with big known acts before. Mercey Me, Building 429, Todd Agnew, 33 Miles, Casting Crowns and so many more. We are trying to get booked on festivals again. We went through the Tom Jackson boot camp and everything. We are just trying to get noticed more. I would really like to discuss more if possible. Here is our video to give you an idea.

  • Posted by hakeem (aka) y.k on January 22nd, 2013 at 3:16 am

    i am a rap artist..out of philadelphia..i am looking to be booked on festivals,, that are available..i am currently in a master recording studio, working on a new project..i am just looking to get noticed.any information or anything needed just email me at would appreciate if we can discuss more if possible thank you..

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