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It’s never too early to begin thinking about getting your band booked at a summer festival. Performer recently had a few experts weigh in on the issue. Here’s what some of the industry’s finest had to say to musicians looking for info on festival booking.
TIMING AND MARKETING
Chris Sampson of Superfly Productions, the brains behind Bonnaroo, explains, “We put together a list of artists we really want on the festival, starting with the headliners. Getting those locked in helps us program the rest of the festival.” A.J. Niland, one of the founders behind Hangout Festival, says of the process, “Planning starts even before the previous year’s festival is complete.” Bonnaroo begins about 10 months out per Sampson, but it gets earlier every year for Superfly.
The booking time frame is cyclical and the opportunity is usually there if you go about it in the right way. Start by knowing your market and building a live performance history to back up your potential draw. Aaron Brown of the intimate Texas hill country gem UTOPiAfest says, “Our strategy was to book the biggest names first. You learn quickly that the other bands on the lineup are just as important (if not more) than the amount of money you’re offering.” The little guys go about it the same as the bigger productions – name recognition and marketability of the headliners helps for the rest of the talent booking as they follow the potential draw of fans.
When approaching services that require a payment from the artist to submit material, heed Brown’s advice, “Don’t waste your money submitting your hip-hop act to a folk festival.” Talent buyers advise that when using sources like Sonicbids or ReverbNation to approach it with as much information as possible about your band’s ability to perform live. Tour a lot first so you can be sure how to go about piquing their interest. Niland says, “Be sure to list relevant info about ticket sales in nearby and similar markets.” UTOPiAfest struck a deal with Sonicbids guaranteeing spots to two artists who submitted through the site. Brett Mosiman of Pipeline Productions (Wakarusa, Harvest Fest) says, “I think they have a place in the process for young acts.” Don’t shy away from these tools but diligently research the market that a festival draws and know whether or not you fit that market before you begin exhausting your efforts.
BUILDING A FANBASE
All of the talent buyers that Performer questioned require that a band has a touring history before they approach a festival for booking. They all look for a band’s ability to move tickets, and if you don’t have a history of booking venues and doing well in ticket sales, then you’re more apt to be considered a financial risk on a lineup. Sampson suggests, “Artists should focus on being the best live act they can be. Continue to grow and take care of their fans. If they do that successfully, there’s a good chance they’ll find the right festival. Bands should do their best to grow their fan base in their own market.” Mosiman says, “Building a fan base is the most important thing in landing some coveted festival spots.”
Niland suggests, “Do be assertive, do not be aggressive. Do enlist industry supporters to reach out and endorse you.” Brown says, “Prod your booking agents to reach out to festival bookers proactively. [UTOPiAfest] booked at least three or four bands who came as recommendations from proactive booking agents.” Mosiman advises, “Obviously, it’s best to have an agent, 90% of our acts do. We do spend a fair amount of effort trying to get unsigned bands on to the event, too. We do this through Waka Winter Classic.”
EXPOSURE AND COMPENSATION
When you have toured your band into the ground, when you have nailed your market, and when you are finally ready to be featured on the grand scale of a festival production it will ultimately pay off, but not always in dollars. Brown says it’s not all about the money: “Look at the overall opportunities. A festival can create great exposure and new fans. [Artists who] worked with our budget got booked.” Niland comments on artist compensation, saying, “Festivals are a great platform for exposure. Being in front of a few thousand and sometimes more is a great way to win fans. Compensation depends on slot, the general sales of the band and the festival budget. Sometimes there is some give and take in the early stages of an artist’s career on compensation for exposure; all artists on our festival are compensated.”
Mosiman agrees, “Exposure is the most valuable thing. Compensation should be a secondary consideration for the younger bands.” Bonnaroo’s Sampson says, “Festivals provide a great platform to be discovered and grow your fan base. We do our best to compensate artists based on their ability to draw in the market where the festival is taking place.”
When looking to book a festival, talent buyers agree that a band needs to first establish a touring history and prove their draw; they also mention that their planning process happens sooner and sooner each year. Don’t be discouraged and keep submitting material and booking shows all year long, and find industry allies to back you up along the way. There is no set “season” for booking, as many festivals are looking for new talent all the time. Take the professionals’ advice and you can land your band on one of their stages.
photos by Teven Hudgins (Deadmau5) and Chase Guthrie (Grace Potter and Jonahthan Tyler & The Northern Lights)