Festivals, like fish and chips and the weather, are ingrained in UK culture. With over a thousand every calendar year on these shores alone, you'd think it'd be relatively easy to chance your way onto a line-up, right? Sadly not. If you're an undiscovered musician without any previous experience in approaching bookers, sending out an email or responding to an ad can be little more than a shot in the dark.
Nevertheless, the insatiable appetite for large-scale live music offers a wealth of opportunity for emerging acts. 8-piece outfit Backbeat Soundsystem know this better than most, throwing down their signature upbeat dub-reggae goodness to twenty-plus festival crowds year after year. Backbeat’s vocalist, Dean Forrest, joins us to share seven valuable tips on getting booked for those coveted festival slots.
First off, Dean 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 following.
The earlier you make your move, the better - a point 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.
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 – so make sure your live sets have an abundance of energy to make your act stands out.
Pirate Studios is very active on the UK's gig and festival circuits, holding regular competitions for community acts to perform across its events - and we are just one of many. Interestingly enough, Dean mentions that Backbeat Soundsystem earned their first-ever festival slot through a similar kind of opportunity.
"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. If you think you're good enough, there's no reason not to enter these things."
Festivals are a world away from your usual 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 four 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.
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 to 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."
There's a huge variety of festivals across the UK and Europe, each with their own identity, musical ethos and specific requirements of the acts they book. It's time to get into the mindset of the booker and what they are interested in - once you do that, you'll know what you need to do to make yourself a strong booking candidate.
Here's a few aspects that buyers will judge any potential acts on:
- Quality of recorded material
- Live performance quality
- Stage presence
- Uniqueness of Identity
- Press coverage
- Versatility of style
- Social media following
Which leads us nicely onto the final point...
Whether you're glued to a screen, wiped your hands clean or somewhere in between, your social media profile(s) will often be the first port of call for potential bookers. You already know what they say about first impressions, so make sure yours counts.
Your follower numbers will inevitably be scrutinised, but pay close attention to the quality of your content as well as the quantity. If you are not engaging with your fans or haven't posted for months on end, that will give the impression you are uncommitted to the cause, you don't care, you haven't rehearsed or recorded at all recently, you certainly aren't ready for live performance... you get the idea!