How to Play at a Music Festival
Are you trying to work out how to play at a music festival this year? Festivals across the country are looking to book music acts now. Read on for our top tips on how to make festival organisers book you.
Festivals are a great way for you to showcase your talent to a wider audience. As you become a more established act, you’ll want to start playing to bigger crowds, that’s where festivals come in. With some research, preparation and a few tricks up your sleeve, you can secure those summer bookings.
UK music festivals come in all sizes from a glorified buzz word for a local village fete to expansive infrastructure the size of a City, they all mark an opportunity to get you and your music heard. Research the festivals that you want to play at and find out if you can apply. However, before you do, invest a lot of time into your live show and gigging before getting your press kit ready.
How to play at a music festival
UK music festivals are amongst the best across the whole world. If you want to know how to play at a music festival then follow these steps and apply to perform on festival stages
- Play as many venues as possible
- Research how festivals book artists
- Play at small and local festivals
- Promote yourself on social media
- Work on your press kit
- Network with acts that play at music festivals
- Apply to play
When do UK music festival applications open
Festivals are planned up to 18 months in advance. This starts with securing headline acts and filling the rest of the schedule to provide all-day entertainment. These filler slots are given to festival regulars with a smaller following and to new, upcoming acts.
The slots are competitive and with many now being advertised on social media. It’s common for over 1000 acts to apply to smaller festivals and larger events have upwards of 2000 applicants. Festival slots can range from 15 to 500 so you have to be well-prepared to get your application considered.
With lower slots being filled last, think about looking for these opportunities at showcase festivals, such as Brighton’s Great Escape and Liverpool’s Sound City. Around the new year, festivals will release their headliners and main line ups. It’s around this time that they are looking to complete the remaining slots on their stages.
UK music festival submissions
It’s very important to know your market and how you position yourself in the industry. Large festivals may cover a variety of genres, but smaller ones tend to be more niche. Different genres will have different expectations from their artists before booking them.
EDM DJs and artists have a great choice of festivals that you would love to play at, including Creamfields, South West Four and MADE. Keep working your way up through bigger clubs and events. You should be able to raise your profile enough as you go to get on these festivals.
Bands should be expected to look at rock, metal and indie festivals. These can include Truck, End of the Road and Download. It helps if you have a track record of touring, an established fanbase and live session videos to help you with your application.
If you are a hip-hop artist then there are some great festivals within this genre that you should be aware of, such as Wireless, Lovebox and Field Day. You might be able to get slots here after collaborating with other artists that have played these festivals. At the very least, they will have some advice that could help you.
Apply to perform at UK music festivals
Put yourself in the festival planner’s shoes. If you’re receiving 200 emails every day from people eager to play at your event, are you going to open every one of them and check out every bio and link? It would probably take you longer than the time you have to plan the entire weekend.
With 20-75% of submissions are rejected instantly it’s important to spend some time researching the basics, having a professional press kit and thinking of a way to stand out.
Some of the reasons your application will get immediately rejected are:
- Applying for a festival which doesn’t feature your genre of music. If you’re an Abba tribute artist there’s no point asking Download festival to consider giving you a slot.
- You haven’t played a festival before and can’t demonstrate that you have a following. How do you get booked for a festival if you need prior festival experience? Frustrating of course but if you have the right tools in your kit you can convince anyone to book you. Read on!
- Not sending the information they request. If you don’t have it, get it!
- Your pitch is weak. Read up on how to pitch to a booker so you can grab their attention from the get-go.
UK music festival booking agents
For the bigger festivals, many artists get booked on through live agencies that have connections with key promoters in the festival circuit. Promoters will often try and fill their slots through these agents rather than deal with hundreds of independent artists.
This is because big promoters can’t really be open to independent artists. They would have to do their research on the act and, as well as sort out the contractual agreements. This is so much more work than they are capable of doing alongside running the festival so respected booking agents come in with their roster, make the pitch and sort out the little details.
Some of the biggest booking agencies include 13 Artists and Coda. If you look at their roster, then you will see their acts dotted around over festival billings across the world. A booking agent can be a game changer and get you playing in front of thousands over a single summer.
These agents will not appreciate being harassed to come to your shows and sign you. The best way for you to get their attention is to be unique and exceptional at what you do. Their agents will always be looking for the next great act so keep working hard, network and they will find you when you’re ready.
How to play at music festivals UK
#1 Play as many venues as possible
Work on your performance and be polished before you consider submitting an application to a festival. This might mean acknowledging you’re not quite ready yet. There is nothing wrong with this but is difficult when you want to get out there and show the world what you can do.
Work on your stage presence, festival promoters want to know that you can entertain a crowd and keep them engaged in your performance. As well as building up your following with gigs, attend open mic nights where you can ask for constructive criticism from your peers.
Talk to your audience between tracks, tell funny anecdotes about the song, wear something outrageous, jump around – do whatever it takes to make your performance entertaining and you’ll be an appealing act to get booked at UK music festivals.
#2 Research how festivals book artists
Before you start sending emails to everyone you’ve ever heard of in the music festival industry, do your research! Find out which festivals you want to play at and read their websites carefully to find out how and when to apply. Compile a spreadsheet or database with details such as event dates, artist submission dates and email addresses.
Also, check whether there’s a fee and consider whether you have a realistic chance of getting booked before parting with your money. You then have a list you can visit each year without having to trawl through the sites again. Put them in your calendar and set an alarm to get your application submitted in time.
Use online resources to find out the booking contacts are. Check their social media and see if you have mutual friends. If so, ask to be introduced! A personal recommendation goes far and even if it’s just a mention of your name it might give you an advantage when applying. If they run other events you can get to go and check them out.
#3 Play at small and local festivals
This is the best place to start so if you have little or no experience playing at other festivals it’s going to be a hard task getting the larger national events to consider your application.
Smaller events in your area are more likely to book local talent, so you’ve got a higher chance of getting booked. Most smaller festivals will only book local artists, the Kineton Music Festival in Warwickshire being one of them, this gives artists a great opportunity to build a bigger following so check out what’s going on in the towns around you.
A person needs to hear your name numerous times maybe as much as 100 times before they see you as a credible artist! Smaller festivals allow you to create a buzz so work on getting everyone in your local area wanting to see you, become the name on everyone’s lips. In turn, this leads to increased press coverage, more photos and video footage to add to your press kit.
Check out The Festival Calendar to find the 2019 festivals you can apply for.
#4 Promote yourself on social media
This should be obvious but building your social media following will be a huge asset in festival applications. The people who make the decisions will be looking at your following to determine whether people will come to see you. There will often be a few other acts playing at the same time so you need to show that you have a big enough following to draw a crowd.
Some festivals will have competitions where fans vote for a band to play. You have a much better chance of getting to play if you are consistent and engage with your followers. You’ll be competing with many other acts and whoever has the largest and most engaged following will be the most likely play.
#5 Work on your press kit
Keep your Electronic press kit (EPK) up to date with photos, press releases and working links of your performances. Get professional head and performance shots taken along with having a good quality video of live performances. Upload tracks to sites like Soundcloud and Bandcamp so that they are easily accessible from a link in your EPK.
Your website and social media platforms should be in harmony with each other in order to present a professional image. Social media presence is paramount to building your music career and helps when trying to get booked anywhere as it’s often the first place an agent will check you out on. If you don’t have many followers look at investing in ways you can increase the numbers.
If you need photos or other material for your EPK and don’t have the budget to hire a professional, then consider putting a shout out on social media. You might be surprised at how many people will be happy to help you out for free in return for putting their logo on the photos or a credit slide at the end of a promo video.
You’re applying to play live at their festival, so send them your live videos. Show them exactly what they can expect if they decide to book you for their festival.
Again, keep the email approach easy on the receiver’s eye, hyperlinking the sentence with your video link helps to keep it tidy.
#6 Network with acts that play at music festivals
Networking in the music industry is incredibly valuable. Playing lots of gigs will help you meet other artists that may be playing festivals this year. Talk to them and find out what they did to get booked. They will probably have a lot of great advice to help you out and might even have some small festival recommendations.
Remember to make a good impression as a person and as a performing artist. If you can stand out as an amazing artist and a great person then these artists could open some doors for you. You never know if they have management or an agent in the crowd that will be watching you so be on your best behaviour.
#7 Apply to play
If you’re fortunate enough in being able to meet a festival booker in person be prepared with a business card and a way to make an impression. If you don’t have the luxury of a personal introduction you will have to submit your application via the formal route. Bear in mind that UK music festival organisers receive hundreds, if not thousands, of requests for slots.
Send your press kit with some information about gigs you’ve played, who you’ve worked with and any awards you’ve won. Tell them what’s in it for them if they book you – remember that they want to sell tickets so will be thinking in terms of benefits.
Keep it brief, it’s not a job application. Don’t include irrelevant information, your bio should be concise and include information such as:
- Your story as an artist
- How it’s relevant to the festival circuit
- What your music sounds like
- Who your key influences are
- What the most relevant highlights of your career are
UK music festivals 2019 – 25 of the best
The UK plays host to some of the best music festivals. We’ve put together a great list of 25 independent and major UK music festivals that are taking place in 2019.
- Creamfields Festival |22 – 25 August 2019 | Daresbury, Cheshire
- Bestival | 26 – 29 July 2019 | Lulworth Estate, Dorset
- Latitude Festival | 18 – 21 July 2019 | Henham Park, Suffolk
- Glastonbury Festival | 26 – 30 June 2019 | Worthy Farm, Somerset
- Wireless Festival | 5 – 7 July 2019 | Finsbury Park, London
- The Great Escape | 9 – 11 May 2019 | Brighton & Hove, East Sussex
- Boomtown Fair | 7 – 12 August 2019 | Winchester, Hampshire
- Lovebox Festival | 12 – 13 July 2019 | Gunnersbury Park, London
- All Points East | 24 – 26 May & 31 May – 2 June 2019 | Victoria Park, London
- Field Day Festival | 7 – 9 June | Meridian Water, London
- End of the Road Festival | 29 August – 1 September | Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire
- Liverpool Sound City | 3-5 May 2019 | Baltic Triangle, Liverpool
- Truck Festival | 26 – 29 July 2019 | Hill Farm, Oxfordshire
- Download Festival | 14 – 16 June 2019 | Donnington, Leicestershire
- Parklife | 8 – 9 June 2019 | Heaton Park, Manchester
- We Are FSTVL | 24 – 26 May 2019 | Damyns Hall, London
- 2000 Trees Festival | 11 – 13 July 2019 | Upcote Farm, Cheltenham
- Live At Leeds | 4 May 2019 | Leeds
- Camden Rocks Festival | 2019 | 1 – 2 June | Camden, London
- BBC Radio 1s Big Weekend | 2019 | 25 – 26 May | Stewart Park, Middlesborough
- South West Four | 24 – 25 August 2019 | Clapham Common, London
- British Summer Time Festival | 12 – 14 June 2019 | Hyde Park, London
- Boardmasters Festival | 7 – 11 August 2019 | Fistral Beach, Cornwall
- Isle of Wight Festival | 13 – 16 June 2019 | Isle of Wight
- Reading and Leeds Festivals | 23 – 25 August 2019 | Reading and Leeds
Some festivals have attained legendary status over the last fifty years and the industry is currently booming. 1969’s Woodstock is still talked about today and events such as Glastonbury, Burning Man and Coachella are on the bucket list of thousands.
Millennials consider it a right of passage to go to at least one major festival in their lifetimes with others making it a ritual every summer holiday throughout their college years. Local festivals are eagerly anticipated because they are opportunities for the whole community to get together and sit in the sunshine.
With social media now playing a huge part in selling the festival experience. Sponsorship deals provide huge funding because events are attracting larger crowds every year. Getting onto a festival stage is one of the most attainable ways to get your live show in front of larger crowds so keep building your audience to make it happen.
Let us know what festivals you want to play at, if you have played any festivals and how you got booked for it.