If, in the current state of the music industry, live performances are an artist’s bread and butter, then a music festival slot is an ornately decorated, multi-tiered cake.
Playing alongside a curation of talented acts over multiple days has its perks. For one, the organizing festival is serious about promoting themselves and garnering ticket sales, so musicians have a partner with that same goal right there. Secondly, music festivals tend to have their built-in audience, meaning that there is an opportunity to make new fan connections onsite. Third, a music festival is almost always equipped with larger stage measurements, fancier tech, and a higher name recognition than a typical downtown bar, meaning that this performance opportunity is one that would be the highlight of most emerging artists’ resumés.
This guidebook was written in the whirlwind of Ottawa CityFolk festival 2018. I am immensely grateful to the organizers, who granted me a media pass, to the wonderful volunteers onsite, whom despite their busy agendas still managed to stop and impart some of their wisdom, to the artists who overwhelmed me with their insights and helpful tips for younger, newer musicians – a place they had all been before.
“The application process is fairly simple, but there are certain things you need in your media kit in order to get looked at professionally. First, you need a solid amount of gigs under your belt. These festivals like to promote bands that aren’t going to dissolve in a year or two. They like to promote bands that have earned it and are in it for the long haul. Secondly, original music goes a long way. Festivals like to be the ones to claim they launched the next big thing, so without original music you may get overlooked. Third, video and media content. They are always looking for people who are active on promoting their own shows which brings in a larger audience for the festival or bands that already have a large following. In the end, they’re running a business and the bottom line is ticket sales.” – RAINWATER WHISKEY
“If you get offered a slot on a festival or a chance to open up for a touring act it is likely because some folks who are active in booking music in this town are aware of you.” – JON CREEDEN
In short, artists ought to take a moment to pat themselves on the back before continuing reading this book and getting prepared.
A very important thing to remember is that every music festivals is different. From large campouts that people travel from around the world to, to small community events, they all have their special features, but it’s important to know what those are to make the most of this opportunity.
“Do some research about the fest in advance to learn what to expect, try finding some reviews or articles published to get an outsider perspective. Communicate with any staff connections you have ahead of time to get as many details about soundcheck times, backline equipment, parking details, load in and load out details, payment details, artist hospitality and so on, so that you can be prepared and know what to expect the day of the show.” – MOSELY
What alt-rock band Mosely are referring to is called the Advance Process. Upon an act securing a festival slot, performers are matched up with a stage manager with whom they will be communicating prior to show day.
The stage manager is tasked with coordinating all the crucial information the band needs, while the artists are asked to relay any and all information the festival will need to prepare for them: the stage plot (no matter how simple), input list, parking needs, food allergies, and any special accommodations or accessibility-related needs. A simple way to make a positive first impression on their new stage manager is to send all these requirements in one clean email. If any of the information or directions given are unclear, one should never hesitate to ask for clarification.
“Connect with the venue and bands you’re playing with before the show. If everyone involved are pumped from the get-to, the show will be much more successful and you’ll have made a bunch of new friends!” – JOSEPHINE LEONE
Promotion Tips & Ideas
If an artist is playing a festival in their geographical area, they might see it as a challenge to convince their local fans to spend a significantly larger amount of money to go see them play than those fans would at a local venue on any Friday night of the year. Local act SLEEPY AND THE NOISE recommend looking at this gig as something bigger, suggesting artists “promo the festival, not just your own band.”
Many large music festivals have their own proper hashtag and approved marketing materials (such as high-res images of their logo) available for artists to use. Emerging acts at medium to larger festivals usually start ramping up their festival promotion a month in advance, and cross-promotion strategies between bands is highly encouraged by festival organizers.
“We recommend that emerging artists promote their festival performance heavily on all of the platforms available to them – all social media platforms, websites, email subscribers, friends, family, acquaintances, etc. It’s also a good idea to engage with the festival’s social media tagging the festival’s official handles and hopefully getting some engagement from them in return.” – LINDSAY FITZPATRICK and CATHERINE COTE (Programming Team, CityFolk)
“We usually try to book an interview or radio spot before a big show to pump it up but this time around we were thankful enough to have a lot of people message us about how excited they were for this gig so we just did the usual promo stuff – Facebook invites, personal messages to friends and influencers, a couple Facebook posts and Instagram stories leading up to the gig.” – JOSEPHINE LEONE
We were sure to be active on social media, posting videos and stories. As well, we played open mics, contacted local radio stations and asked for some air time and a quick plug, we shot a music video, updated our overall look and feel with some new band photos, and we did some mild promo around those to build even more hype. – MOSELY
“From a marketing perspective, emerging artists should be proactive about sharing quality content with the festival’s marketing contact. A high-quality media kit with press-quality photos, bio, and at least 1 video will help the festival promote the artist, and the artist can then leverage that promotion by sharing it on their own channels.” – ALLISON SHALLA (Marketing Director, Ottawa CityFolk)
When booking local acts, one of the big fears festival organizers face is dividing an audience. Precautions can manifest themselves in radius clauses as part of festival contracts, for everyone’s benefit. This means that a band would not be permitted to book another local show within a certain time before and after their festival spot, ensuring fans go see them at the festival. A good rule of thumb is for an act to wait until after a show (or until after tickets sell out) before announcing the next gig.
It’s a visible fact that the festival world is full of corporate sponsorships. From stage naming rights, to what beer is sold at the refreshment tents, these relationships are nurtured by the festival organizers and tended to carefully. We will likely never see two business competitors sponsoring the same event.
However, when some major festivals have the sponsor’s name in the event name, things can get complicated for artists playing multiple festivals in a season. A top recommendation from the organizers is to create separate announcements for each festival, as no corporate sponsor will share or retweet a rival’s name. In the age of placing value on band authenticity and experience, some marketing savvy brands are determined to do more than simply pay for their logo on the program. Take BMO Bank of Montreal, for instance. A major sponsor for Ottawa CityFolk 2018, they opened up the lobby of their location on the festival site to host and in-house concert from a local artist.
“It just gets us great exposure too, to be like ‘hey we exist!’ but also that we support our local artists.” – KAYLEE CONTANT (Assistant Branch Manager, BMO Bank of Montreal)
KYLE IVAN, who was chosen to play the bank location went more than the extra mile for them, he practically crossed an ocean – from integrating the bank name into his song lyrics, to simply thanking them during his onstage banter, all of which was filmed for evergreen online content, making this sponsor’s impact last longer than other companies’ – meaning that the brand will be more than likely to return as a sponsor next year, increasing the value of this artist in the eyes of the music festival.
Lights, Camera, Fashion!
The first step to building any setlist is to take a look at the venue. Some music festivals will have all the artists play on outdoor stages, while others such as CityFolk had local businesses open their doors.
“I set up my sets to reflect the venues. So at the [pub], the set will be played with electric guitar and the [chocolate shop] will be a more intimate acoustic set. I am preparing my setlists in both cases to reflect the best material possible.” – ADAM FERRISS
Then comes building the performance:
“Emerging artists should put a great deal of time and energy into putting on a unique and unforgettable show. Practice as much as you can to make sure your performance is tight and that you’ve got some stage banter to fill in some time if you need it.” – LINDSAY FITZPATRICK and CATHERINE COTE (Programming Team, CityFolk)
“Festivals will have a lot to offer – many stages or venues often happening all at once – so standing out and keeping an audience entertained is tough competition. Think about your live performance and what you can do to not only sound as good as you can, but be as entertaining and engaging as possible. There are a lot of ways to do this, but you want to keep true to your band’s “brand” and consider the festival demographic. Anything from a well-placed cover, to elaborate games for the audience that somehow tie into your show. Be creative and have fun with it.” – MOSELY
Professional videos of a festival performance look very good on future EPK’s and festival applications (which more often than not ask for videos shot live), so hiring a videographer might be a worthwhile investment for the show.
With the cameras on and this being a higher stakes gig, it may also be worth planning what to wear beforehand, especially in a multi-piece band.
“While we don’t necessarily plan our wardrobe in advance, we do know that having a look and feel allows people to identify and relate to you. It helps people understand at a look what you’re about and what they can expect from a show. If you dress half-ass, people will probably expect a half-ass show. Develop your identity and own it!” – RAINWATER WHISKEY
“Treat everybody really well. Don’t snub the sound guy. And I’ve had a bunch sounds guys tell us ‘it’s so cool that you guys are chatting with us because nobody does!’ People don’t acknowledge the people who booked you, there’s tons of people around who have done certain jobs, and it’s really great if you can just acknowledge the job that they did, showing you appreciate them.” – KELSEY HAYES
“Trust me, if you remember the names of all the people that worked in your backstage – even like ‘hey Greg thank you so much for doing lighting today! Peter. I love how you moved that out of my way before I even told you. That’s really fantastic thank you so much. I know you’re just doing your job but it’s really appreciated.’ Those things make you more of a genuine human being in their eyes and less of a superstar. You have to become a human for you become a conglomerate that is Beyoncé. You have to be Sasha Fierce before you become Beyoncé. My advice is always be humble. Even if you have thousands of people n front of you, even if it’s thousands of people that you don’t know or thousands people that you do know. One day the one person will matter. Always be humble.” – SHAWNNA (Cityfolk Volunteer and Artist)
It is crucial for the performer is to arrive exactly on time. Load-ins and load-outs are difficult enough with the limited backstage space available and time pressure to change set-ups for every act gracing the same stage. If a band arrives earlier or later than their designated arrival time, it throws a cog into the backstage crew’s well-oiled machine.
As a general rule of festival etiquette, the backstage area is considered a private place for performers to get in the zone. Giving a quick thumbs up to the next band about to go on is considered acceptable, cornering the headliner to take a fan selfie as soon as they get offstage is not.
“If you have experienced artists, when they’re doing their sound check and their rehearsal you know they don’t want to have people in the audience because that’s their time to work out their kinks and they don’t want to be focusing on anybody in the audience. That’s what happened today with Tedeschi Trucks Band.Because you had the volunteers who were going all fanboy-fangirl, the manager came out. Because they were cheering. What they actually say is ‘I want nobody on the ground during my sound check – which is virtually impossible because there’s always volunteers doing stuff even even during the day right here.” BRUCE (Crew, CityFolk)
DO’S AND DON’T’S OF GUEST PASSES
Do remember performers are responsible for their specials guests. Therefore, you ought to use your best judgement if deciding to bring a friend who might do something embarrassing.
Don’t invite your mom (just this once). She may be your #1 fan, but she has probably been to hundreds of your shows throughout the years, and would buy your music anyway. If you have limited guest passes, try to make them really count.
Do invite a blogger in exchange for an exclusive feature/interview or your own video crew (though if you tell your stage manager in advance, you may not have to forfeit guest passes for them).
Always be professional. You never know who you are going to connect with. Use the opportunity to network with anyone and everyone. – RAINWATER WHISKEY
“A festival is like any other show, it’s a chance to play to some existing fans and to hopefully get a chance at winning over some new ones. Play well and drink plenty of water.” – JON CREEDEN
“Always bring your A-Game. It doesn’t matter the size of the crowd. Take every opportunity to make new fans. A smaller crowd actually provides more opportunity to connect with people one -on-one, which can lead to more solid connections.” – RAINWATER WHISKEY
With tight timelines, it is rare for a performer to get a lengthy soundcheck (so it is recommended all stringed instruments be tuned beforehand). Many music festival setups have multiple stages with more than one act playing at once, meaning audience members are more likely to be wanderers than at an indoor typical concert.
“Performance-wise, we tried to think of ways to make our performance more interesting. Like, positions we take on stages during certain sections of the songs – or extending, changing some of the songs to make them more of a “live” version. Not sure if there is a strategy, but the stage performance is always in flux – it can always be improved – so I guess our strategy is to always leave our performance open for change – Even if it happens AT the show; in the moment, read your audience and roll with the punches.” – MOSELY
“Do whatever is natural to you, stage presence wise.” – SPENCER SCHARF
DREW, a concert photographer, offers his advice to performing acts wanting that will exceed their expectations. “Just watching what’s in front of you, giving opportunities where the mic’s not between you and the photographers. The drummer’s always behind the performers so make sure that all the artists have the ability to see the photographers. The main artist tends to stand in front of a couple of background performers. So it prevents getting an easy shot of a full band.”
“I made sure to have an excellent set prepared with the band. This was followed by interacting with everyone in the audience after the show one on one to create personal connections and possibly grow the fanbase. Have an excellent set and attitude also sends good signs back to organizers about choosing you and considering you to come back. Making connections, fans, and being friendly is how I made the most of the opportunity!” – KYLE IVAN
“Try and be present and soak up the atmosphere (especially at such a stellar festival as City Folk). There are always nerves but I find the audience always provide you a very big “social safety net.” Being such music fans, they are there for you. Also, hang out as much as you can – you will meet a lot of great people from the musicians and the crew to the volunteers. The down time is as important as the performance. Enjoy!” – BARNEY BENTALL
“Go to as many shows as you can, it’s not only one of the best ways to network, it’s also a great place to draw inspiration from. Even if the music isn’t what you prefer listening to, you can always take something away – a cool riff, stage design, banter ideas…” – JOSEPHINE LEONE
“Take this opportunity to connect with other artists. Make the best of it and give it your all.” – KRISTINE ST-PIERRE
If video footage was taken for social media, artists should never hesitate to reshape it during slower lulls. Good music and happy memories do not expire. The festival is usually more than happy to use and share their artists’ high-quality media content on their socials – they need off-season material too! Sending a personal thank you to the organizers, stage manager and crew really makes an artist stand out in the eyes of a festival booking locally.
Located at Lansdowne Park, CityFolk (formerly known as the Ottawa Folk Festival) is a multi-day celebration of music, dance, and community featuring an eclectic mix of musical performances on various stages. The BSOMA KidZone offers special children’s and family performances on Saturday & Sunday. Aberdeen Pavilion offers a wide variety of musical acts, artisan and craft vendors, and much more. Another CityFolk initiative, Marvest, is a free event as part of CityFolk offering over 70 free performances throughout businesses in the Glebe BIA. We are family-friendly, community-focused, culturally diverse and committed to eco-friendly initiatives.u