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Getting the Most Out of Music Festivals

Advice for musicians on how to apply for and get the most out of music festivals.

Last updated: 12 July 2021

At Liverpool’s Sound City in 2016, the MU co-hosted a panel with the AIF called ‘Getting On at Festivals’ to allow delegates to hear first-hand about current opportunities, application procedures and the benefits of using festivals to grow a fanbase. Check out some of the key themes and what the panellists had to say.

“There has to be a natural filter”

Oliver Jones of the Deershed Festival explained how even small festivals receive far more applications than there are gigs, and it’s impossible to give them all detailed attention. Musicians who stand out from the crowd have a much better chance of getting a gig. Depending on the festival, that might mean having an agent, personalising your application or getting to know the organisers personally.

Benefits of playing at smaller scale festivals or fringes

“If you can get on at a small festival you can get opportunities to grow with the festival” said Louisa Roach, songwriter and lead singer of She Drew the Gun. Playing at smaller scale festivals or fringes can be a good way for emerging artists to build a relationship with promoters, and secure more prestigious slots as their audience and reputation grow. Sarah Nulty of the Tramlines Festival in Sheffield said that they watch bands playing on the fringe and book them for the main festival when they reach a certain level.

Problem of paid platforms

“Platforms like Sonic Bids can be a divisive issue” said Kelly Wood, the MU’s Live Performance Official. Festivals will sometimes use platforms that musicians have to pay to use to help them manage and reduce the number of applications. Some MU members are vehemently opposed to this, but others have reported that their applications are receiving greater consideration and they’re securing more gigs as a result.

“If you don’t have an agent, make sure all the details are agreed in advance”

John Rostron of Cardiff’s Swn Festival said artists making their own festival applications should think like agents and make sure all aspects of the gig are considered. Things like the date, time and fees are obvious, but don’t forget about riders, merchandise, access and parking arrangements.

Centralise your portfolio

“You need one click to do everything” said Paul Reed of the AIF.  If there isn’t an established application method, make sure that a booker can easily find out about you and, most importantly, hear your music in one place. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on your own website but, if you’re directing them to a Facebook or Bandcamp page, make sure the information is up to date and it’s easy to stream your tracks. Don’t risk getting overlooked by making it hard for them to access.

“Merchandise can make a big difference”

Oliver Jones pointed out that some festivals attract people who don’t normally go to gigs, for example young parents. This demographic tends to be a little older and has more disposable income than some younger audiences, so having quality merchandise for sale on the day can make a big difference to the viability of the gig for the musicians.

No process is the same

“There’s no formula” said John Rostron.  Festivals are not all the same and bookers’ preferences and application procedures can vary dramatically. It’s vital that artists do their research, understand the ethos of the festivals they’re applying for and tailor individual applications accordingly. If your music is good enough, a few carefully-chosen and personalised applications are likely to deliver better results than simply sending out dozens of generic ones.

Fair Play for music festivals 

The MU has been working with the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) to develop a Fair Play for Festivals agreement for emerging artists playing at the AIF’s 55 member festivals. 

This code of conduct covers aspects such as riders, merchandise and promotion, and encourages good working relationships between festival organisers and artists.

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