*confetti canon not advised
Congratulations on landing a slot at a music festival! Whether this will be your first time hitting a big, outdoor stage or you’re a seasoned pro looking for ways to make the most from this opportunity, this article is for you. On Saturday, April 28th 2018, the Independent Music Business Series hosted a seminar with keynote speakers Kelly Symes and Emma Francis (Festival House, RBC Bluesfest, Ottawa CityFolk and more). I sat (alone, bravely) in the front row, took notes, asked questions, and am here to report back on how to make some music festival magic!
The Advance Process:
After getting booked a festival slot comes the advance process. This is the point when you will be paired with a stage manager who is going to supply you all the information necessary (times, dates, maps…). In exchange, you (and your band) will send back any and all information that could help them: your stage plot (no set-up is too simple), input list, parking needs, allergies, any special accommodations required, and stage props.
Why stage props? you may ask. Because as amazingly magical it would be to launch a confetti cannon during your final song, you will be the one in charge of bumbling through the crowd, raking it up after your set. Try bubble blowers or beach balls in your brand colours as an alternative.
If you are unsure of something, it doesn’t hurt to ask for clarification. A ridiculously simple way to make a fabulous first impression on your new stage manager is to send all these requirements in one clean email.
The Guest Passes:
During the advance process, you will also receive information on guest passes. Every music festival has a slightly different way – for example, RBC Bluesfest gives one guest pass per performer (so, a five piece band gets five guest passes). It is completely up to you to decide what to do with them. Kelly and Emma (and I!) would like to make a case for, just this once, not inviting your mom. Hear me out, she’s great, but she has probably been to hundreds of your shows throughout the years, and would buy your music anyway. A better use of the guest pass to make the most from this music festival opportunity would be to invite a blogger, your own video crew (though if you tell your stage manager in advance, you might not have to forfeit guest passes for them), or have a contest for fans to win tickets over social media.
Obey Radius Clauses:
One of the challenges in event planning it getting attendees to make commitments. Therefore, if you get booked for a festival slot, avoid playing another concert in the area for around 45 days before and after. Sometimes the radius clause is in the contract with a radius from 30-90 days, sometimes exercising self-control is for the greater good). The last thing you want to do is divide your audience by giving them multiple options of when to come see you play, helping them avoid committing to purchasing tickets. A good rule of thumb is to wait until after a show (or if tickets sell out) before announcing the next one.
Clash of Corporations:
The festival world runs on corporate donations. From what beer the refreshments tent sells to stage naming rights, logos are everywhere. Therefore, you’ll need to tread carefully when it comes to your own endorsement deals interfering. For example, if you have an endorsement deal with Pepsi, but one of the festival sponsors is Coca-Cola, you will be in very, very, very deep trouble if you start handing out free Pepsi bottles to the audience.
A slightly less serious misstep, but still one to avoid, is if you are playing multiple festivals in a season. While one festival will make 110% certain none of their sponsors are bitter rivals, getting booked at multiple festivals may complicate things.
For example, if you are an artsy singer-songwriter in my city of Ottawa, Canada, you might be offered a spot at the TD Jazz Festival in June, and RBC Bluesfest in July – you then make an online announcement about how excited you are to play not one, but two music festivals this summer! Can you spot the issue? TD (Toronto Dominion Bank) and RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) are both major financial institutions, and therefore are always competing for customers. In cases like this, play it safe and make two separate announcements, keeping the festivals (and their corporate sponsors) happy and more likely to share/retweet your post.
Social Media Promo:
Now, let’s talk about self-promotion. Basically, you’re expected to be as excited for this festival spot as the festival is. You can and will host a more in-depth and on brand marketing campaign for your festival spot to your fans than the festival can (with every artist they’ve booked). Be sure to use the proper festival hashtag and approved marketing materials (they will have a high-res image of their logo for your use on their website). Most emerging acts will start ramping up the promotion their festival slot a month in advance, and cross-promotion strategies between bands is highly encouraged. If you are able to sync up a new music release with the festival promotion, do it!
Rehearse your stage presence. Rehearse your banter in between songs. Invite your fans. Music festival, here you come!
The Day Of:
First things first, be on time. The backstage crew is running a tight ship, and showing up before or after your designated time clogs the gears in their well-oiled machine. Plan to capture video (this will be an amazing addition to your EPK and future festival applications).
Most importantly, remember to be respectful and professional. This is a job, albeit an awesome one.
During Your Set:
You’re likely not going to get a long soundcheck, so tune your stringed instruments before going on stage. Due to summer music festivals being outdoors with multiple stages, audience members tend to wander during sets, a few songs from this band here, and few songs at the next stage there… Don’t take it the wrong way, just make sure to introduce yourself and your band more than once to make sure they catch your name. Respect your designated time by giving yourself a few minutes of wiggle room when planning your set list and onstage banter.
Imagine what the audience sees. Create memorable moments. Thank the crowd. Make some music festival magic.
After The Applause:
Friendly reminder that you are responsible for whomever you choose to bring backstage, especially if the summer heat and adrenaline sways them to do something reckless. 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 a-okay, cornering Shawn Mendes to take a fan selfie as soon as he gets offstage is not.
Instead, hang out at the merch table and met your fans. Or better yet, go support other acts by cheering them on!
Post Festival Glory:
I sincerely hope you get to ride the high of that summer music festival performance for weeks to come. Don’t forget to write a wrap up social media post, use the video footage for social media content during slower lulls, and thank the festival. They are more than happy to use and share your high-quality media content on their socials – festivals need off season material too!
Going forward, don’t be shy to email your stage manager for a quote and/or letter of recommendation. The music industry is a small world, and it could be a wonderful stepping stone for future festival applications.
That’s all, folks! I’d like to take a moment and thank the Independent Music Business Series, Capital Rehearsal Studios, Edwards PC Creative Law and the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition for organizing this seminar. Kelly, Emma, you both rock. Now, go make some music festival magic!