Festivals and You: Getting Booked

For those who don’t know, I book a small festival (usually around 14-15 bands over three days) here in Madison, WI called Reverence. Basically it’s a reason to get together with a few hundred pals, get drunk, and party for a few days.  It’s a music festival, Caustic-style.

Having booked Reverence for seven years as well as having BEEN booked at several national and international festivals I figured I’d share some pointers to help the odds in your favor if you’d like to be booked as well.  Nothing is set in stone, but I still think it’s practical advice.

And also remember that most of us who book festivals base it purely on what feels right.  There’s a lot of great acts out there so sometimes you just go with a gut feeling on who would work well together and make for the best overall experience.  Sucks, but it’s the truth.

1) BE A KNOWN ACT

Yes, I know this is a bit of a catch-22– how can you become “known” if you can’t get on high exposure bills like festivals unless…you’re known.  Well, there’s lots of ways, but mostly it comes down to networking and getting your name out there.  When I was booked for the first Los Angeles Industrial Festival in 2005 Caustic wasn’t nearly as (barely) known as it is today, but the organizers had heard my first EP I Am On Fire and I was able to talk them into booking Caustic and Endif (since we shared live members, meaning…each other).   Also doing what you can to get people to check out your music on social networking sites and your homepage (which is NOT your Myspace/Vampirefreaks page), but remember to do it within reason.  Invasive spamming just pisses people off.

2) HAVE SOMETHING NEW OUT

This is sometimes a big deciding factor for me, as I know if a band has something new out, whether a CD or an online EP, that you’ve a) Got new stuff to play since the possible last time coming through, and b) Something to sell to (new?) fans.  While selling isn’t the main point of any festival, it means that the crowd will get to see the latest and greatest from the artists there, and (hopefully) not just the same set

from whatever last show you played.  It also means I’m supporting a deserving artist trying to break even on a new release.

3) A GOOD WORD GOES A LONG WAY

Say there’s a fest in some part of the world and you want an “in”.  Don’t know the promoter but know some of the bands who have played?  Tell them to put in a good word.  Sometimes the recommendation of a mutual acquaintance or friend can mean getting on the promoter’s radar enough to at least be considered.

4) BE CHEAP

Festivals, for most bands, aren’t moneymakers on the front end.  I’ve always tried to cover as many expenses for the bands playing as possible, but I know personally I’ve paid out of pocket for more festivals I’ve played than I haven’t.  It’s always important to remember that festivals are an incredible place to meet and see bands you may not know, are a huge party, and great exposure overall.  Does this mean you should have to pay for everything yourself?  No, not necessarily.  Hopefully you’ll at least get food, admission to the fest, and some booze out of it, but don’t be a hard-ass negotiator and try and get three plane tickets, hotel, and massages for the whole band when you’re still hocking something with the word “DEMO” on it at shows.

Be reasonable and pay your dues.

5) BE PATIENT AND DON’T GET BITTER

Yes, I know you think you’re ready.  You’ve opened for some mid-level bands at Ricky’s Cock Shack and got a remix from Assemblage 23 on your first CDr single.  Awesome- you’re starting to live the dream.  You’ve also put your name in, sent a CD and promo photo, and offered to play for free at that fest that everyone who’s “huge” is playing, and it hasn’t happened.  Hell, they didn’t even email you back! 

Guess what?  Welcome to the club.  *I* don’t get emails back from a lot of the fests I’ve eventually played or still haven’t, and I can’t even get a mild bit of interest shown from any of those massive Euro fests I’d love to perform at (if only to see the confused looks from the German crowds).  Just because you’re up-and-coming (whether only in your eyes or not) doesn’t mean you’ll get a break right off the bat.  It’s okay.  Use that time to get better and give the promoter a reason to book you next time around.  Being a dick or flooding their in-box with “DIDJA GET MAH DEMOS?!?!?” isn’t going to help at all.  Luckily I haven’t ever had to deal with anyone that overzealous, but I know plenty of horror stories of those who have.

6) KICK ASS LIVE

This is a major complaint people have about live electronic shows– they suck.  Being known as a fun live act in any aspect of the word “fun” can help you gather a reputation as an act to see, and that word spreads quickly amongst promoters and bands.  We’ve ALL sat through sets that make you want to gore your eyes out in boredom.  Don’t be that.  It helps you get booked a LOT.

So there you are, sparky.  6 ways to help hedge your bets and help get you into festivals. 

And no, you can’t play mine;)

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One response to “Festivals and You: Getting Booked

  1. This of course applies pretty much to just a certain kind of festival. A genre-specific festival, like Revrence, Kinetik, Infest, etc.

    My experience with multi-genre festivals is that they tend to be a lot more formal with the submission process. So if you wanna get booked at one of those, add
    7) HAVE A SOLID PRESS KIT
    This usually includes a one-sheet about your band, a photo, and a demo CD. Don’t try to be too clever with your one-sheet – 95% of the time it comes across douche-y. Say who you are, what you do, what you’re like, and include some one-line reviews. With the picture, be professional, and try not to look like a bunch of douchehats.

    8) FOLLOW UP ON SUBMISSIONS
    A polite email or phone call asking “did you receive my submission” or if they say “no thanks” saying “Thank you for your time” goes a long way. It’s like a job interview.

    9) FOLLOW THE RULES
    Some fests make you submit through Sonicbids. Others have specific requirements. Some will say “no dance/DJ acts” or “no bluegrass” or whatever. Don’t send a package to a fest that’s asked for electronic submissions only, because you think it’ll get you noticed. Don’t apply if you’re a DJ and the fest says “no DJs.” And don’t think you can find some clever way to avoid paying the $5 submission fee if they have one.

    10) JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE A GENRE HEAVYWEIGHT DOESN’T MEAN ANYONE WILL KNOW WHO YOU ARE ELSEWHERE
    Don’t expect that a reputation as the #1 Progressive FutureCore-lectro act in the world is going to have any bearing on whether you get accepted to “Rockin’ Rockford 2010” or “Lake Delton Days” or whatever. If you’re looking to expand your audience to out-genre areas, you’re starting in the same boat as a zillion high school indie-rock bands trying the same thing. Put together a strong kit and do whatcha gotta do, and don’t pull any ‘tude, because it won’t help. If it means you only get booked as a day band at the Rock Stage and not as headliner at the Marcus Amphiteatre, suck it up and accept it, and don’t whine about it. You have no leverage here, unless you can guarantee 30,000 attendees.

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