With the verdant splendor of spring comes music festival season, a time when fans flock to the foot of stages in parks, fields and city streets to cheer their favorite act or, perhaps, discover a new one. For unsigned indie acts looking to play in front of crowds larger than a coffee shop or a night club, getting booked at music festivals is a prime feather in the cap towards building a bigger fan base.
The key to success on the festival circuit is to start local.
Any band or solo act, no matter how talented, is likely not going to be playing Bonnaroo or Coachella the first go-round. Be realistic with your expectations. Imagine concentric circles around your hometown on a map. With due diligence, these ever-expanding circles are the places you will soon be shading in with festival gigs.
For starters, the website JamBase has a Festival Guide where users can search for music festivals close to home. Begin with a search within a 200-mile radius of your zip code and go through the results until you find a festival that suits your genre. Recent searches turned up a variety of results for most locales, ranging from blues and bluegrass festivals in nearby towns, to multi-genre festivals. Another site worth checking out during your research is Music Festival Junkies.
Before contacting any festival about playing, make sure you have an EPK (electronic press kit) complete with music samples. Sonicbids is one of the more popular options artists use to create an EPK. For the independent artist, an account with a company like Sonicbids is a must, especially when trying to land music festival gigs. Many festivals only take submissions from unsigned acts through Sonicbids. Sonicbids has a category dedicated solely to music festivals on its Find Gigs page that could make that monthly membership fee worthwhile.
Most of the larger city festivals drawing big name acts usually have a local or emerging artist’s stage. If you’ve garnered any kind of attention in local newspapers, magazines or music blogs, getting a festival slot in your hometown shouldn’t be too hard. The best way to impress a talent booker for a music festival is to show that you work at the business side of the music, as well as the music itself. Make sure your website is up-to-date — especially with high-res photos and upcoming gigs — and that your social networking pages are active. This is most likely where the booking agent will look first, before listening, to consider your act.
Also, be prepared to play for free. Remember, the goal is to get in front of a bigger crowd. Many festivals pay little to no money to unknown acts, but they do provide an incredible opportunity for exposure. Up-and-coming acts need to take advantage of these exposure opportunities. More importantly, don’t forget to bring merch to sell to all the new fans you will gain by playing your festival gig.
Tip: music festivals only book once a year, so they tend to fill out their schedule sooner rather than later, especially with lesser-known acts. Begin the booking process early. If it’s a spring or summer festival, get in touch during fall, not winter.