How To Get Booked On A Festival
For those reading that have never heard of BreakOut West Music Festival, it’s a music industry conference, festival and awards show (Western Canadian Music Awards) that takes place once a year, moving to a new Western Canadian city each year. This year, it was in Winterpeg, I mean Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. It includes a 3-day conference portion with panels and workshops hosting speakers from around the world. I attended most of the sessions and gained some helpful information that I’m excited to share with you here. This article will specifically go into detail with points from the “Meet the Festival Bookers” panel, right from the festival bookers mouths, about how to get booked on a festival.
Industry Vs. Consumer Festival
But first, I wanted to write a note about the difference between music ‘industry’ festivals and music ‘consumer’ festivals. Industry festivals take place to celebrate local talent and provide them with learning, business and promotional opportunities curated by the festival organizers. Consumer festivals, however, take place for consumers to watch all the hottest commercial artists (depending on the festival) over one night or weekend and there generally aren’t any educational components or specific business opportunities curated by the festival organizers. The biggest difference for artists, is that you don’t get paid to play industry festivals. Instead, the festival organizers fly influential people into the city, have them speak on panels and have them watch you perform and hope that something comes out of it. With consumer festivals, you most certainly get paid, and you play in front of dozens of thousands of people. The speakers featured on today’s topic are festival bookers for both industry and consumer festivals, and you can find their bio’s at the bottom of this article. Read on to hear what they have to say…
What the Festival Buyers are looking for
- Song quality
- Performance quality (they need to see you live or live recordings)
- Live energy
- CD’s are great but they’d rather see you live
- How much press you’re getting
- Are you willing to tour
- Where are you in your career right now (they try to get a good picture)
- Social media presence and followers
- Something unique that makes you stand out from everyone else
- Versatility (depending on the festival – eg. Can you MC and do a childrens act?)
What not to do
- Leave blank spaces in your festival applications
- Get the festival buyers name wrong in the application or email “Dear Festival Booker”
- Submit applications to festivals that don’t book your genre
Is genre important?
All festival buyers interviewed said that they book MOST genres! Even the “Folk” Festivals.
How much weight is put on ‘Noteworthy’? For example: Having won a Juno Award
- Having an award helps, especially a prestigious award
- However, just because you’ve won an award, it doesn’t mean tickets will sell because of you
How do they assess if a band is going to sell the festival tickets?
- Focus on which venues you’ve played and if those sold well
- For new bands, they don’t expect you to sell tickets, the headliner will create ticket sales
- Focus less on social media followers because it can be an unrealistic depiction
- Even a good home-town buzz is great, if you’re selling out one show a month that’s great
- Bands that place value on themselves, that don’t play too often in the same town
What about artist fees?
- The industry festivals don’t pay bands (because these festivals provide business opportunites instead by flying in music industry professionals from around the world)
- As an artist, be honest about your fee and what you want to charge, the buyer will most often come back to you with a counter offer
Email writing tips!
- There’s a fine line between being a pest and being persistent
- If you’re emailing the buyer regularly, you need to be emailing for a specific reason, updating them with something they might need to know, such as what you’re now up to
- Give each email a few weeks, and be polite each time
- The festival buyers are not trying to ignore you, they just have to prioritize their emails
- Write a long subject line with specific information!
- In the email body, write a bit about your tour history and list a few venues so that they booker can go contact them
- In the body, also write your upcoming strategy and why you want to play the festival
A note on reputation
- Industry people, especially buyers, remember if you’re a dick and they’ll go out of their way to tell people about it (I’ve witnessed it)
- There is a ton of networking between festival bookers and venue bookers and they’ll refer you to each other if you’re great
- When festival bookers are looking to book you, they will go and ask the venue bookers that you’ve recently played at to find out the low down
- Keep being a nice person, and you will keep being recognized for it
- Approach festival buyers at conferences – get to know them
- Some people don’t have CD drives anymore – make it easy for them to listen to your music such as sending links to YouTube and SoundCloud
Meet the speakers:
BRAD FIRST – Music Festival Showcase Coordinator, SXSW (US) Brad has had a career in the music business that started with being a Talent Buyer/Production Manager for a 900 capacity punk/new wave/dance club in 1980. He went on to be a tour manager and audio engineer for international touring bands during the eighties and nineties. Brad also opened/owned several live music nightclubs in Austin during the late ’80’s and early 90’s as well as managing several bands during this time. General Manager/Talent Buyer for several years (2000-2003) of world renowned Antone’s nightclub in Austin TX. During the 90’s and 00’s Brad held many different positions with SXSW culminating with a full time staff position as Music Festival Showcase Coordinator for SXSW for the last 8 years.
CAITLIN THOMPSON – Artistic/Executive Director, Bella Coola Music Festival (CAN) Caitlin Thompson is the Artistic/Executive Director for the Bella Coola Music Festival, located in the remote Bella Coola Valley on the Central Coast of BC. The Festival is in its 15th year, and is well-known for its unique setting and diverse blend of talent. Run almost exclusively by volunteers and staying true to their mandate to bring world-class artists to this isolated community, the Bella Coola Music Festival defies all the odds by putting on an impressive show year after year. You can visit their website for more info at www.bellacoolamusic.org
DAVID SILBAUGH – Talent Buyer & Production Supervisor, Summerfest (US) David is best known as a Talent Buyer and Production Supervisor for Summerfest, in addition to producing and curating the highly regarded Emerging Artists Series for the festival. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee, WI, Summerfest is billed as “The World’s Largest Music Festival”, running 11 days on 11 stages with over 850 bands/artists. He is also a Business Development Consultant for Clearwing Productions and a partner in entertainment consulting firm Pursuit Live. David and his two partners at Pursuit Live produce the Yellow Phone Music Conference which has just come off of its 4th successful year. Other career involvement over the last several years has included A&R Consultant for Banshee Music under the GMR Marketing umbrella, and Entertainment Relations Consultant with Gibson Musical Instruments. An active member of The Recording Academy (The GRAMMY organization), he has served on the Board Of Governors and as Secretary and Vice President of the Chicago/Midwest Chapter. He currently serves on the advisory boards for The Les Paul Experience and IMFCON (International Music Festival Conference).
JULIEN DESAULNIER – Producteur Artistique/Artistic Director, Festival du Voyageur (CAN) Julien Desaulniers is the Artistic Producer for le Festival du Voyageur, Western Canada’s largest winter festival. More than 100,000 participants take part during the 10-day festival celebrating the Franco-Manitoban culture and heritage and the joie de vivre of the fur trade era in heart of the Canadian prairies. The festival takes place in 10 venues and features over 125 artists ranging in musical genres from traditional styles to contemporary pop, rock and hip hop.
LUCY ROITER – Talent Booker/Artist Manager, Mama & Company (UK) Lucy Roiter is Head of Talent for Wilderness Festival (www.wildernessfestival.com) at Mama and Company. Artists to have played Wilderness include Burt Bacharach, Metronomy, Sam Smith, London Grammar, Jessie Ware, Empire of The Sun, Rodriguez and many more. Lucy is one of the key bookers for Lovebox Festival (www.loveboxfestival.com) and Somersault Festival (www.somersaultfestival.com). In addition to booking acts for major festivals, Lucy heads up Showcase Artist Management. She manages We Were Evergreen (Island Records/ Because) who have just released their debut album ‘Towards’ and this summer completed a 30-date, sold-out UK and European tour as well as playing Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds and many more festivals as well as being brand ambassadors for Topshop, Rayban, ASOS and Adidas. Lucy also promotes artists on tour in the UK.
MORGAN HAMILL – Artistic Coordinator, Winnipeg Folk Festival (CAN) Morgan Hamill has been working in the arts and music scene for over 15 years. An Arts Management graduate she has worked in music and film in a variety of roles from fundraising to marketing and publicity, programming and concert production to community outreach. For the past 13 years she has worked as the Artistic Coordinator at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. The WFF is one of North America’s premier outdoor music events, featuring over 75 acts from around the globe and operates year-round, presenting concerts and educational programs, as well as the July Festival. In addition to assisting with programming the summer event, she works year-round on event production, booking their Folk Exchange venue, and managing the organizations Community education and mentoring programs. She has been a jury member for CARAS, Manitoba Film & Music, Music PEI and Factor and currently sits on the board for Manitoba Music.