Pitching Festival Submissions: How to Get Booked at Music Festivals (Part Two)

In Part Two of the ‘How to Get Booked at Music Festivals’ blog series, Marcato Musician & Marcato Festival CEO and artist manager Darren Gallop talks about planning, preparing, pitching and following up on your Festival submissions:

OK, so lets say that you have all of the tools ready to go from part one of this blog series. Now it’s time to start pitching and getting booked for those festival shows. Remember, you are a sales person now! Whether you are a DIY artist, a manager or an agent, all of these jobs are about sales. The product is the band’s live performance and the potential clients are the festivals. Here are the 8 steps to getting booked in those festival slots:

Track the Festivals you want to Book

This is where I recommend the use of a CRM or, if you are a marcatomusician.com user, you can use Marcato’s calendar, contacts manager and tasks to take charge of your festival booking mission. At the very minimum you can use an app like Address Book/Contacts on your Mac or Microsoft Outlook. In the sales world, a ‘lead’ is a potential customer or client. Your leads are festivals that you want your band to play. Here are the information fields you want to enter for each lead:

  • Festival Name
  • Festival Date
  • Submission Deadline
  • Submission links and process
  • Key contacts at the festival
  • Festival Website
  • Twitter Handle
  • Facebook URL

While you are entering this data make sure to follow the festival on Twitter and like them on Facebook. There are several sites online that have lists of festivals by genre or region. Another good way to find festivals is to look at future and past performance listings from similar artists that are where you are now or within a few career steps ahead of you. If you are a new artist you may not want to look at the agenda of platinum selling artists for ideas on where you can play.

As you are entering festival data, make sure that you create categories, tags or folders so that you can organize festivals by region, size and prioritize based on attainability. For example, if you are an artist from Chicago who has never played outside of a few of the surrounding states, you probably don’t have much of a chance at playing Bonaroo. Instead, you could categorize Bonaroo as a lead you would approach when you hit certain career objectives. As you submit to festivals in your database, learn something new about them or correspond with people from them, make sure to enter this data so that your database is up to date and includes your correspondence history with them.

Make a Festival Submission Timeline

This is really simple. In your CRM, artist management software, or calendar, enter all of the submission dates for all of the priority festivals to which you want to submit. Some festivals require you to pay to submit. You want to be careful here to make sure that if you are paying to submit that you are hitting festivals where you have a decent chance of being selected. You can certainly be less selective with festivals who do not charge submission fees as the only cost is your time, unless they request physical submissioms.

Make sure you use reminders in your calendar and set these reminders to notify you at least a week before the deadline as well as 24 hours before the deadline. Missing a deadline for an important submission is a bad feeling and when there is a lot going on it’s easy to do if you are not organized.

Rate Your Chances of Getting Booked

Evaluate your chances of success getting booked for each festival in your priority leads database. Here are some of the key things that are going to be decision factors for festivals:

  • Is the music at a calibre that is suitable for the festival?
  • Is the genre and style of the music within the scope of the festival?
  • Will the artist contribute to ticket sales?
  • Does the artist have a current recording or something on the horizon?
  • Does the artist have any buzz (i.e. articles in significant press)?
  • Are there other reputable festivals that are booking the artist or have booked the artist?

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Marcato Musician blog so that you can catch the 3rd and final part of the series where we’ll hear directly from festival directors about what they are looking for from emerging artists. The above points are guidlines but each festival will likely have some differences in terms of their programming philosophy.

Prepare Your Festival Submissions

Be careful, take your time, read everything and do as much research as you can about the submission. Provide the festival’s programming team with exactly what they are asking for. Double and triple check everything. It is amazing how often people do not include everything that is requested in the submission process. This is almost guaranteed to blow your chances of getting booked at the festival.

If you feel that the submission process does not give a lot of information about what you need to submit, it doesn’t hurt to email the festival and ask them any questions you have. DO NOT MAKE THIS A PITCH! Just ask questions about what they are looking for at their festival this year. What kind of music? What sort of content?

NOTE: Some festivals specifically ask on their submission page for artists not to email them. I would recommend not emailing these festivals as this is obviously something they are not interested in.

Depending on how the festival accepts submissions, you should receive some form of confirmation that they have received your submission. If you do not receive a confirmation message, you might want to send a friendly email asking if they can confirm receipt of your submission. Being prepared and submitting well before the deadline is a good way to ensure that you’re still considered in the off chance your original submission isn’t received.

Show ‘em the Love

Assuming that you have your social pages set up and active, it doesn’t hurt to show some love to the festivals where you want to get booked. For example, you can tweet “Just submitted to @marcatofestival. Fingers crossed we’ll see you June 15th weekend at http://bit.ly/zDypba“. You can even tweet before you submit, for example: “Looking for help to decide which track to include on our submission to @marcatofestival“. You may even get some feedback from the festival. This twitter activity shows the festival that you are active with your social media, and are likely going to promote the event to your fan-base if you get the slot.

Leverage your Relationships and Contacts

Once you have your list of priority festivals, walk through the list with your team to see if you have anyone in your network that can help you get noticed. Maybe someone you work with knows someone in the festival and can fire off a recommendation to their contact there. Ask a few of the closer folks in your extended network. Maybe there is a sound guy that mixes you from time to time that also works at this festival and wouldn’t mind dropping a CD and or a recommendation to a decision maker. Having someone who can grab the attention of the festival team can draw some additional consideration to your band. When there are 2000 submissions, a solid recommendation from someone they know and trust can have a huge affect.

Follow-up Without Being a Pest

If the festival asks specifically to not email them, don’t. However, if they don’t specify, it doesn’t hurt to email them to let them know of something relevant that is going on in your career. Maybe your song is charting on college radio in their town, or you were recently nominated for some awards or invited to play some other festivals. You can also use twitter as a means to get this information into their hands.

I do not recommend emailing persistently asking them if they have decided yet. This will probably draw attention to your submission, but not the kind of attention you want. I have done this in my early days and have gotten the “please stop emailing us” response. You don’t want to drive people to that point. It does not help them like you.

Networking and Showcasing

There are many regional, national and international music industry conferences and festivals all over the world that provide opportunities for showcasing artists to get in front of festival buyers. I highly recommend taking advantage of these opportunities. You’ll probably want to make a list of these in your CRM or Address Book under the tag or category Showcase Events.

Remember, your festival performance career takes years to develop. Each festival you land increases your chances to be booked by more festivals. So, although Bonaroo is not in the year 1 plan, if you persistently keep building your career and playing more and more festivals you may get there by year 3 or 4. Keep building your profile, improving your music and growing your network and following the above steps and you are guaranteed to see improvements.

Darren Gallop is an artist and manager who has built artist management web app Marcato Musician to help artists and managers organize their careers and keep track of projects like getting booked at music festivals. Learn more and try Marcato Musician free for 30 days at marcatomusician.com

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4 Responses to Pitching Festival Submissions: How to Get Booked at Music Festivals (Part Two)

  • We are looking to get booked but not sure the process. We have a new album and have played a stadium show for 30000 people already. Just looking for some guidance.
    Thx for your earliest reply


  • @andrew, Where are you in terms of the items I have addressed in part 1 and part 2 of this blog post. I pretty much walked through the resources and approach here in the post. I am not sure I can provide much guidance without knowing your specific predicament. If you can provide more details I may be able to help.


  • I really appreciate you taking the time to provided needed guidance in booking festivals for an artists, however, I have observed that it is extremely difficult to book black indiie artist. I took the time to look up many of the known and well known festivals to view the lineup, With the exception of SXSW and rappers why is it so very difficult to book black indie artist who have their own band to perform live at festivals? Do we need more diversity among the gatekeepers?

  • Darren- always great to have the checklist to make sure you are on-point with your pitching and follow-up. Thanks for taking the time to create the checklist. I find the best thing about festivals as an indie artist and an audience member is being introduced to new music and artists. I have become a fan of other indie artist because they tear up the stage at a festival and sometimes the opposite for a headliner. Festivals- level the playing field and all performers need to be on point.
    Here’s to a great 2014 of festivals!
    Devlin Miles

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