Festivals: how to approach them – bookers advice
It’s no secret that festivals have become a major and thriving part of the music scene and business.
Fortunately, the full live music experience is something that just can’t be captured, bottled, or digitally copied, so music lovers and bands’ fans are always keen to attend live gigs. Festivals give people the chance to see, hear and experience multiple artistes and bands in a super-social environment, along with other ingredients of the festival experience, like market stalls, fairground rides, festival food and drinks, etc.
Festivals have become a staple of the UK Summer music scene, but can also be found throughout the year. Providers can use sites and venues that have stages and facilities that are fully weatherproof. So long as the punters don’t mind the wet weather…
For bands landing a festival slot, it’s a great opportunity to perform in front of large live audiences and a chance for them to draw in new fans and to gain exposure from the festival and the festival’s advertising and marketing. It promotes their material, and supports sales of their music. And of course, there’s money to be made from appearance fees and merchandising.
If you want to get into the festival scene, it helps to understand what goes on in the minds of the bookers. As is so often true in the business, understanding the lock makes it easier to find the right key to fit it and open the door!
We decided to talk to the bookers of two relatively new festivals that are open to having new bands on the bill. We wanted to get their perspective, advice and tips for you on how you should make an approach to them.
The festival experts
To help us understand and get a grip on all things festivals, we’re talking with Gary Paterson (Founder, Amplified festival) and Chris Sumby (Production Manager and Band Bookings, Stonedeaf festival).
Amplified is a 3-day, open air Rock, Metal and Alternative music festival held amongst the rolling Cotswold hills at Northleach, Gloucestershire. It showcases exciting up-and-coming acts alongside established chart topping bands from around the world.
Stonedeaf Productions Ltd. was formed by a group of veteran Castle Donington (now Download) festival rockers. The first Stonedeaf festival was held this year in the Newark showground, Nottingham, and the’ll be back there again on August 24th, 2019.
WB: Thanks for taking time out to talk with us. To start with, can I ask how many applications do you get for your festivals?
“In Amplified’s first year (2017) we had over 300,” begins Gary, “in 2018 just shy of a 1000 and for 2019 we expect that figure to be a lot higher.”
He goes on to add, “It has to be noted that the main constraint when organising such an event is that with 3 stages and allowing for the minimum number of ‘clashes’ between performances you’re looking at 7/8 acts a day per stage. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the ‘supply’ (i.e. applications) far outstrips the ‘demand’ (number of stages and allocated slots).”
For Stonedeaf, Chris Sumby agrees about numbers. Also about supply exceeding demand and capacity – “Hundreds – which for a 9-band one-day one-stage event is great, but also can be a headache. So many great bands and only a couple of slots to use!”
WB: Let’s talk timing. How far in advance do you book the bands? And when is the best time for a band to approach you for a slot?
“When booking bands for Amplified,” says Gary, “we’re always looking towards the next event, even before the current one has been and gone. In regards to prospective headliners, we tend to see which bands are due back in the recording studio, which acts haven’t toured for a while, etc.”
He goes on to add, “In regards to acts approaching the festival for a slot, we have an online application system which normally goes live following the current festival closing its gates, the site getting cleared and a short break to recover!”
Stonedeaf books roughly 12 months in advance. Chris agrees with Gary that effective timing is linked to the festivals’ own lifecycles: “It’s hard for a right time, but usually September is the best time, when things are dying down from the previous event and things are moving towards the next one.”
Do bear this in mind, and check out the timing cycles of the festivals at which you’re applying to perform.
WB: Thinking about how you check out and vet bands, how much does a band’s social media presence influence you in regards to booking them?
“If a band look to be active and promoting themselves with their music and doing it well, that’s massive plus,” says Chris.
Gary agrees that these days social media is an important touchstone, though it’s not the be all and end all – “In the Internet age such as it is, social media is very near the top of the list when looking at which artists to book. That isn’t to say that acts without a strong ‘following’ etc. wouldn’t be selected or offered a slot. Here at Amplified one of our main cornerstones, so to speak, is to provide a platform for new, young and exciting acts the chance to perform on a main stage at a festival.”
WB: Okay, so social media definitely matters. What’s the first thing you check out when a band applies? Facebook? Twitter? YouTube? Videos? Songs?
“YouTube,” says Chris, “to get a feel for the band live and see what they’re like to watch. They could sound great but resemble waxworks when they’re on stage!”
Gary also looks at music and performance, and like all good bookers considers whether the band will be a good match for the target audiences. “Obviously, first and foremost, the music is paramount when deciding who we’d like to see here and, indeed more importantly, who we’d like those attending to come and enjoy.”
As for the various social media platforms, he notes “I think a band that is pro-active with their social media proves their willingness to get themselves heard and noticed and that shows us that they’re serious. We would also look at Spotify monthly subscribers, YouTube views, followers, quality of videos and even their merchandise.
Gary also has some important advice about outlook and marketing, “All bands need to remember, and it’s an uncomfortable thing to say, but being in a band has to be looked on as a business. You need to market yourselves to a target audience; your releases need to produced to the highest quality; your merchandise, or brand if you like, has to be of the best quality.”
WB: What are your top tips for new bands wanting to get on a festival line-up?
“It’s quite simple really,” says Gary, “If a festival is offering a slot by way of an application process, please follow the rules. We get inundated with emails and messages to individual personal accounts etc. and it can be quite time-consuming in replying to those ‘applications’ via non-official avenues. You may not even get a reply and that in turn leads to some bands criticising the event and its organisers for their lack of response.”
This may seem self-evident, but it’s amazing how many applicants don’t consider how to use the right channels or procedures, don’t use them and instead try to make contact in intrusive ways – and that can backfire.
He warns applicants – “Too many bands write ‘War & Peace’ for a Bio! Sharp and sweet will do you more good.”
Bookers are busy people. Brevity is what’s needed here folks! Think about it from the booker’s point of view. As Gary puts it, “It’s a very big task organising an event of this nature and time is at a premium; even if the event is a year away that time soon disappears when you have to start the actual process of organising the event for the following year. There’s a lot of legal ‘red tape’ that has to be negotiated. If I personally receive a text message at 01.24am in the morning asking for a slot by a band who haven’t even had their first practice yet, don’t be offended if I don’t reply!”
WB: How do you think bands most let themselves down, and what’s a big no-no when approaching you for a festival slot?
Here, both Gary and Chris refer back to their earlier answers, stressing how much effort is involved in setting up a festival. “A lot of us connected to the festival travel the length and breadth of the UK attending many, many gigs, listening to 1000s of bands during the course of the year”, Gary reminds us. “That means communications need to be short and sweet, not time-consuming or rambling.”
Chris’ no-nos are: “Sending huge files, long bios, being pushy for an answer and also delusions of grandeur. A photo and a couple of links works more for me.”
WB: Finally, have you got any advice for bands that don’t get acepted when they approach you for a festival slot?
Gary’s big tip for dealing with this: “Just because you may not get offered a slot, that doesn’t mean you’re not good enough! We may just have reached our quota of classic rock or thrash metal bands etc. It in no way reflects on a band’s ability and if you go through the online application process you may just get your chance to come and join us here at Amplified.”
Chris echoes this advice, “Don’t be disheartened when you get knocked back. Keep plugging away!”
Resilience and perseverance count for a lot in the business.
WB: Thanks for your time and valuable advice, gents.