Festivals festivals festivals. We do love them so dearly here in the UK, don’t we? So much so that we held an eye-watering number festivals in the 2016 calendar year – over a thousand. With such a huge volume of festivals taking place on a yearly basis, you’d think it’d be relatively easy to chance your way onto a lineup in a Somerset field, right? But the reality is that it can often feel like a shot in the dark for musicians who have no previous experience in making that step.
Aside from the rather obvious statement that festival-fever is in full swing of late, it’s also the case that festivals can offer a wealth of opportunity for emerging acts. Dean of Backbeat Soundsystem, a band that averages upwards of 20 festival performances a year to throw down their signature take on upbeat dub-reggae goodness, points out that festivals are generally attended by “a load of people that have never heard you before”. This opens up an invaluable chance for acts to further their reach and, with some good fortune, increase their followings.
Check out Backbeat Soundsystem’s now legendary Pirate Live session:
Dean continues on to give us five valuable tips on getting booked for those coveted festival slots:
Get in touch with festival bookers early. The earlier, the better.
The first point Dean mentions is one that’s all too often overlooked. “Get in there early. Festivals can start booking up for next summer from now onwards. You have to think about it quite far in advance to have any chance.” It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of spending autumn and winter twiddling your thumbs, and come the spring sunshine begin to start thinking about festivals. If you’re serious about playing one, make that initial contact as soon as you can.
Breathe some emotion into your live sets.
The importance of this point cannot be stressed enough by Dean. “Your live presence is the most crucial factor. You can have the best songs in the world, but if there’s no emotion – it amounts to nothing in a live sense… the energy you bring to a live show, as well as being tight and well-rehearsed is a massive part of it for sure.” It takes an awful lot to impress festival bookers nowadays, and making sure your live sets have an abundance of energy is a surefire way to make your act stand out.
Enter competitions; what have you got to lose?
When the Pirate Stage voyages to a festival, we tend to hold competitions for our users to get in on the action with a slot. Interestingly enough, Dean mentions that Backbeat Soundsystem earned their first ever festival slot through a similar kind of arrangement. “Our first festival slot was at Sunrise festival in 2009. We won a competition put on by Chai Wallahs to perform on their stage – that’s how we got our foot in the door there. If you think you’re good enough, there’s no reason not to enter these things.”
Learn to craft your set into a journey.
Festivals are a different beast to your run-of-the-mill club or bar gig. You’re competing against a whole host of other acts on a variety of different stages at the same time for an audience’s attention. As such, Dean highlights how important it is to craft your sets to your advantage. “It’s important to craft your set as a whole, rather than just playing one song after another. Write your setlist so that you’ve got connections between tracks. For instance, you could do the first 4 songs back to back and then have a little break to interact with the crowd. It gives you a bit more structure, and adds to your professionalism.” If you can impress bookers with a seamless, flowing set – they’ll surely be more likely to book you.
Ensure you have a video recording of your live shows.
Dean suggests that getting your hands on a decent quality recording of one of your performances can be an excellent way of gaining an edge with festival bookers. “Having some kind of live video recording is another important aspect. Bookers are able see for themselves that you can actually play live – that’s why it was so good to do the Pirate Live session with you guys.”