Summer is coming, and in addition to minivans packed with kids on the way to Disneyland, the smell of singed arm hair from a million backyard BBQs, and the taste of ice-cold High Life after mowing the lawn, festival season is rapidly approaching. Every year, over one hundred million Americans attend a festival of some kind. From music festivals like Lollapalooza and Bumbershoot to local Renaissance faires or wine festivals, these large scale events are a way for people to connect directly with artists and interests they love.
Navigating the mass of festivals and the way to get booked for them can be a little intense. GigSalad’s own Kory Urban, bassist for indie band Museum Mouth, offered up some tips from his personal touring and festival experience. We’ve put them together with a few more to help you figure out where to focus your energy and get the bookings started!
Why Gig at Festivals?
While you may deeply love performing or providing your services, you also love to get paid. Festivals are a fantastic way to create a stable revenue stream throughout the summer months. Performing at a festival offers the unique opportunity to bring in revenue while raising awareness of your act or service. It’s a rare occasion to get paid to advertise to a new audience.
One of the genuinely great unintended outcomes of working festivals is networking with other entertainers and performers as well as clients. The community of relationships you can make when working with other acts is critical for support, encouragement, and sharpening your craft or talent. You can also create connections outside of your categories of entertainment that you can later leverage for combo acts or service options.
The point of a festival is to bring together performers and entertainers that attract a core group of fans while introducing acts within that style or genre. Fans, sometimes from around the world, gather to connect with their favorites and discover new ones. Playing festivals allows a special level of connection directly with the attendees. Walk through the crowds, explore the festival campgrounds, and meet the folks who pay your bills.
How to Get These Gigs
Research the festival scene. Know what venues work for your act. If you’re a singer/songwriter known for light folk, then perhaps Ozzfest is not for you. Some festivals, like Knoxville’s Big Ears, are known for genre-bending, non-conventional booking, and eclectic offerings. Festivals are all about self-expression, so find the best outlet for your talents and style.
Think local. The chances are high that there is a festival of some kind within driving distance of you. A quick online search will let you know what’s happening in your area. Local festivals are the perfect way to mobilize your fans and get performance reviews and references quickly. Also, you lower your overhead expenses by saving on travel and lodging.
Apply to as many festivals as you can get to during the summer months. Most festivals use either a contact page on their website or a booking company. Make sure to register early with a quality application and press kit. The rule here is: “Apply early; Apply often.”
Have a quality video of a live performance. Show off your face-painting balloon twisting skills in real-time. Let the festival see and hear the electric connection you have with your fans. Video is easier than you think, and it’s a fantastic way to bring your act to life. Here are some helpful tips for creating video content.
*Update! We got some great additional tips from Cheri Rubin, Festival Producer and Band Manager for Franny & the Jets. Here’s what you should know:
- Lineups are confirmed well in advance of summer festivals; Many are completed by December.
- It’s important to make it easy for festival planners to view your live performance videos.
- Forming and maintaining relationships is crucial for anyone looking to get a festival gig. Submitting applications and videos is the first step, but you also need to put time into nurturing actual relationships.
Think outside your usual bookings. Consider a way to adapt your act or talent for a local festival. If you’re a face painter, learn some Celtic knots or runish patterns for a Renaissance faire. String quartets can develop a list of discreet covers to add to the background for a wine festival. Stilt walkers and hoop dancers can be walking advertisers for the festival or its vendors. Don’t limit yourself to only looking for the opportunities that make sense. Push yourself to create the gigs!
Museum Mouth’s bassist, Kory Urban, offered a stellar tip. Look for ways to play outside the festival. If you’re not booked for the festival, find house shows and day parties that meet surrounding the event to establish a local presence. This allows you to demonstrate to festival bookers that you possess a local fan base and can draw a crowd. If you are booked, make sure and avoid playing any extra shows in the area during the festival. It’s just not cool and may prevent you from getting invited back.
Offer info on booking throughout the year. This is not just a single performance, but a business opportunity for you as well. If the festival allows, give each customer something to walk away with in case they want to book you for their event. Make sure to have plenty of business cards, get social media follows, and marketing giveaways. Offer discount rates or promotions for clients who meet you through the festival.
Get your gear right. Festival clothing is often a hallmark of each venue’s distinction. Popular summer music festivals like Coachella are known for its fashion influence. Other historic period or fan festivals, such as an Old West or Medieval festival expect full and accurate costuming. Don’t underestimate the importance of looking the part. It helps you connect with the attendees and adds credibility to your act or performance.
Festivals are some of the most fun performers and entertainers get to have. You can travel the country, connect with new friends and clients, and build that fanbase. If you pay attention to a few simple tips, you’ll be a festival regular in no time!