How to land a slot on a Music Festival

Posted by Daniel Hodson (Updated: Sunday, January 3, 2021)

Approximately 3 minutes reading time

Any musician with a few live performances under their belt will probably tell you playing a music festival is on their list of to-dos. It's a milestone to achieve, and it's always worth the effort. Getting on the bill to play a music festival is not easy; in fact, it takes a long time to garner the following, skills, and material needed to even be considered for a spot.

But it's not impossible. After all, with the advent of streaming platforms and wide-spread social media, getting your music to next year's stage is slowly becoming a streamlined process. You just need to prepare, and here's how!


Establish A Following

Much like any journey to success in today's world, you need to amass a wide audience for your music. Festival runners look at your social media numbers and engagement. They want to see how active both you and your fans are on your platforms. More activity means more engagement, and that means a higher turnout and a more active crowd during the show. 

A sub-heading to this point would be branding. You'll want to enlist the help of photographers and videographers to capture your live shows. You can use these as both promotion material as well as keeping your website or social media platforms updated with pictures and videos of your shows. These are great for promoting your live performances, as well as documenting what your shows are like. Festival runners will get a sense of what your crowds are like this way. 

You'll also be collecting good promo material to use when applying to festivals. More on that later!


Master Your Stage Presence

Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie... what do they all have in common? Stage presence. They know how to control a crowd. They could get them to sing the highs or vibe with the lows. That's what you need to push your live performances to the next level.

An integral part of the experience of going to a festival is watching an artist or band work a crowd. It gets you going and instills in you a feeling of belonging, like everybody is experiencing the same thing, together. You want to work towards achieving that, and what better way to practice that than in your shows? 

It's the perfect time to master your stage presence. Playing a festival is vastly different from playing smaller, more intimate shows. For one, the stage is probably outdoors, so sound travels differently; for another, you'll be playing to an audience that isn't entirely made up of your fans. You want to put on a good show, and that goes beyond the music. Evoke confidence in your performance, have fun, and let loose, show your audience how good your music makes you feel. Everybody is here to have a good time, so put on a show. Leave them with a great impression and a memorable performance!


Start Small

It's not likely you'll be put on the bill for a major festival when you're just starting. You likely haven't been around long enough to get noticed by the big leagues, and that's okay. You want to start small regardless because it's a good training ground. It's also a great way to get accustomed to playing bigger shows to more strangers.

Look into local festivals and find out if their audience and brand fit yours. In other words, play the right festivals. You wouldn't sign up to a local country music festival if you play prog rock, would you? Just because there's a festival going on, doesn't mean you should sign up for it. You want to play the shows that fit your style of music, and then some. Prog rock fits under the umbrella of rock, but if there are major funk influences in your music, you could apply to play in a funk festival. Shop around, and see what fits. You might become regulars for certain events if you play with them well and long enough!

Playing smaller festivals prepares you for bigger festivals. It shows you have experience in these events. It familiarizes you with the process; just because you're good, doesn't mean you'll get in. You need to remember to stay humble and patient if you want to make it big. There are many reasons why you probably won't be chosen (timing, talent, luck...) but hopefully, it'll humble you and help you become familiar with what it takes and what you need to get on the bill and, eventually, headline the main stage.


Submission Materials

Knowing what you need to apply to a festival will save you a lot of time and effort. Festivals request very specific things from you. Usually, it's a bio, promo photos and videos, and, of course, your music. Live performances are perfect for these submissions. Generally, you'll want to have these materials ready regardless; it's always good to have promo material ready when needed. 

Applying for a festival usually takes place during a window where artists are invited to submit their material. Keep an eye out for when festivals open up these slots for submissions. Different festivals have different time slots, so it's wise to have your materials at the ready. It also helps to plan a few shows around the festival dates. More established musicians plan tours around festivals to promote their new music and get people to their shows. It's a good way to get yourself in the mindset of playing shows on the regular.

You could also get on the bill through local or online contests. Some festivals offer the chance to play a smaller stage by winning a contest they're holding. This is why it's good to stay active on your social media. By generating content for your platforms, you're already creating submittable material while still engaging with your audience. 

Just make sure to apply within the given deadline, otherwise, you might lose out on a spot until the next year. Most festivals will not accept any overdue submissions, especially from lesser-known artists.

Daniel Hodson

Daniel Hodson is a co-founder of Music Missile, and the drummer and founder of various UK bands. His passion stems from both studying and working in the music industry for the past decade.

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