Getting on the Bill: How to Play at Music Festivals 

June 27, 2019

Summer is (supposedly) here and for music lovers that means one thing: the start of festival season. You’re likely to already have tickets to your favourite festivals, but perhaps you’re picturing you and your band on that big stage too.

Festivals are a sure-fire way to gain both valuable experience, and an audience eager to hear the next big thing. Think that insider connections are the only way to get on the bill? Think again. Music-lovers are always hungry for new artists to get excited about. Anything is possible, provided you put the work in and follow these steps.

Do Your Research

The UK has one of the world’s most saturated festival circuits. You might see yourself as a live music aficionado, but we’re sure even you struggle to keep up with the newest festivals. When asked what your dream gig is, your answer may be Download, Boomtown or Latitude. But we probably don’t need to tell you that competition is stiff.

Fear not, because all of the industry’s biggest names cut their teeth on smaller festivals. The bigger crowds don’t always make for the best festival experiences. In true British style, these smaller festivals are known for being quirky and eclectic. Don’t consider these festivals as aiming low – they can give you the start you need to build a loyal fan base.

Know your Lane

If you’re going to succeed in the industry, your chosen genre has to be a true expression of your artistry. Authenticity is what it takes to build long-lasting connections with your audience. But are you concerned that your genre is a bit too niche to have appeal? While it certainly hasn’t hindered artists in the past, it can be somewhat of a double-edged sword. This is especially true if you’re trying to break into the festival circuit: if your style is too ‘universal’ you may be written off as generic or forgettable. However, if your style is too specific this can limit the number of opportunities available to you.

To say a lot of money goes into a festival is a crude understatement. The stakes are incredibly high for festival organisers to sell tickets. Therefore, when putting together a roster of artists they will always consider what will attract a crowd. Therefore, don’t be surprised if your jovial synth-pop doesn’t make it to Bloodstock alongside Rotting Christ. This in no way means that your music is bad, it just means that your band needs to find the right fit.

Start with Small Venues

You’ve got a band together, and you know you have the potential to be great. It’s commendable that you know your worth. But you must ask yourself if you’re ready to grace the main stage. Without trying to fearmonger, if you try and rush into the festival scene before you’re ready, you may risk blowing your first impression.

Nearly all the greatest musicians had a long journey towards their big break. This means they got vital experience honing their style and finding their audience. This experience will come from playing smaller venues. That support act that got the crowd going while you nipped to go grab a pint? They could be playing Glastonbury in two years time, and they’ll tell you it was worth the wait.

You also never know who’s going to be lurking behind the tall guy in the front. Promoters make a habit of going to smaller shows with hopes of finding exciting new artists. While you may already be on their radar, a decent promoter will want to see a string of solid performances before they risk putting you on the bill.

Get Social

Want to be the hottest new band? You’re probably going to have to stoke the coals yourself. We all remember back in the day when MySpace was giving us acts like Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen, and musicians began to cotton on to the potential of social media.

While MySpace may have died a death, social media remains one of the most powerful assets for getting your music out there. Now you probably already have a Facebook or Instagram profile, but are you putting in the work required to making it a well-oiled publicity machine?

Unsigned bands realise the importance of social media in getting their music out there, and posting a couple of grainy gig photos isn’t going to cut it. They provide sneak peeks into upcoming projects or a behind the scenes insight into the less-than-glamorous life of a fledgling band. All of this shows you care about forging a relationship with your fans. If you take them with you on your journey, they’ll give you the platform needed for scoring that big gig.

Submit Yourselves

Some artists are not aware of this, but festivals will usually ask you to prepare a submission before they’ll consider you for the line-up. These submissions are relatively straightforward. They’ll include a few songs, a good quality live video, some professional photos, and an artist bio. Now, if you’re taking yourself seriously as artists you should have most of these to hand already. Think of festival submissions as a digital press kit, and be thoughtful when assembling it. We’re sure the quality of your music speaks for itself, but if you want that big gig you’re going to have to tout yourselves as dedicated professionals.

Organising a festival is no simple feat – as Ja Rule learned the hard way. Deadlines for submissions will be long before the festival actually takes place. So if you’ve got your sights set on a specific festival, be sure to check the deadline for applications way in advance. We don’t want you missing out on an opportunity because you didn’t have your bits and pieces together.

Send Out Demos

This may seem like the musical equivalent of cold calling, but demos still have merit in 2019. At the very least, sending out demos gets some kind of exposure for your music. At best, it could fall on the right ears at the right time.

Now we’re not going to sugarcoat it: prepare yourself for disappointment. You could send out hundreds of demos only to have 90% of people ignore it and the other 10% reject it. However, succeeding in the music industry takes perseverance.  We guarantee you that it will be worth it once you get that once-in-a-lifetime gig.

Your demo will be one of many a festival promoter receives. As harsh as it sounds, you need to convince them you’re worth their time before they even press play. We recommend you send your demo as a private SoundCloud or Bandcamp link with a short summary of who you are, and why you think you’re a good fit for their festival. Firstly, this means you aren’t clogging their emails with bulky audio files. Secondly, a promoter will recognise your attempts to sell yourself. You never know what could tip the balance in your favour.

Want to make sure you’re festival ready? Whether you need help recording a demo or perfecting your set list, our London recording studio has an eclectic range of quality equipment and attentive staff. We make sure you have everything you need to snatch your dream gig. Contact us today to find out more.