March 09, 2011
How to Successfully Book Your Band At Festivals
By Aly Constine
I’ve been on both sides of the coin, acting as the talent buyer for 2 festivals and as a booking agent focused on festivals performances for a roster of 12 nationally touring artists. There are definitely some tricks to the trade for getting your artist onto a festival lineup. Here are some recommendations that will steer you towards successful festival bookings.
If your artist is nationally known and desired, most of the information below will likely not apply. If you are reaching out to the appropriate festivals, you’ll make a call or shoot over an email and negotiations will begin if the festival has interest in your artist. Better yet, the festival talent buyer will contact you.
CREATE A PURSUASIVE EMAIL
For smaller to midsize artists, the best approach begins with putting together an email introducing your artist to the event buyer or talent committee. The message should include the artist’s website, MySpace link, hometown, and a brief yet descriptive illustration of their musical style. The email should also include a photo of the artist and a link to a live performance video with decent quality audio. Incorporating both makes the email more dynamic and gives the festival a better feel for the artist. Do not include MP3s as these large files tend to slow down transfer of the email.
Next, tailor the email to demonstrate to the buyer why you feel your artist should appeal to their event. Leverage your artist’s assets. While buyers act on musical likes and dislikes, it is most important for them to clearly understand whether your act will inspire ticket buys to the event. Provide the buyer with as many facts as possible that will help them grasp the act’s pull in the market and their national reputation. Let the buyer know if your artist has been featured in a national magazine or receives airplay in the region. If your artist has played the region in the past year, tell the buyer when and where. If the show did well, include how many tickets were sold. It is of great benefit to mention other notable festivals your artist has played in the region and nationwide.
MAILING AND SUBMITTING ONLINE SUBMISSIONS
Some festivals require that you send in a press kit or apply via Sonicbids. Before doing either, clearly assess the probability that your artist will be booked at the festival and the importance of the festival to your artist and their career. If the event does not rate high on either scale, it is not worth the required funds. A mailed submission should include a brief cover letter, bio, press photo, and CD.
SELECT APPROPRIATE FESTIVALS TO APPROACH
It is important that you reach out to festivals that are appropriate for your artist. Be realistic. If your artist has never played the region and people in the area haven’t heard of the act, it won’t benefit the festival to book your artist and therefore it won’t benefit you to submit your artist to the event. Of course, past performances in the region is no longer necessary for your artist to have a presence in the market. A strong online presence and national press can create a fanbase longing for your artist’s first show in the region.
Look at who has played the festival in past years and make sure that your artist fits into the mix. It is of primary importance to discern whether the festival books the musical genre that your artist sits in. It is also valuable to note whether acts of your artist’s size have played in the past. Talk to your artist and find out what festivals are on their wish list. Look online for festivals in the act’s home state, peruse the festival listings on Jambase, and scan other festival listings available online to put together a list of target events for your artist.
ADHERE TO SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
You will generally find contact information and submission information on the festival website. Be sure to follow any submission policies and reach out to the festival within the specified timeframe. Some festivals book more than a year out. Some won’t begin looking at submissions until December or January prior to the festival. If they don’t specify, it is often helpful to call and ask for this information and note it for future years. Typically buyers will first work on their headliners. Once these are solidified, they will begin working on midsize and finally emerging artists. Be sensitive to where your artist fits on this scale.
There is a fine line between contacting the buyer too little and too often. Make sure that you don’t contact too often, but often enough so that you inspire a response. It is often advisable to send an email first to introduce the buyer to your artist. Follow up with a call 1-2 weeks later to ensure that they received the email and are aware of your artist’s interest in playing the event. If you don’t get a response, wait about 3 weeks before contacting the buyer again. If after contacting 3-4 times you’ve gotten no response, don’t waste your time on that particular festival. It is better to focus on the ones that are responsive and to spend time reaching out to new ones that might have interest in your artist.
If you work with a roster of artists, it is advisable not to send separate emails regarding each of your acts. This might cause the buyer to ignore your emails. It is best to send one message that includes all appropriate artists.
If the buyer responds with a message saying that they will check out your artist, give them a fair amount of time to do so. Ask at this point whether there is any more information they would find helpful as they make their decision. If you have not heard back after a few weeks, follow up with a call or email to determine where they are in the decision making process. If at this point, or any point along the way, they confirm their interest, begin the negotiation process.
Generally you will throw out the first number. This is a classic strategy in negotiations. The buyer often prefers to avoid making the first move as they do not want to overpay and might not be familiar with what price is currently fair for your artist. Begin by offering an “asking price” versus a set fee. This allows room for negotiation. This price should more than cover your costs and should reflect the artist’s pull in the region. By throwing out a high number that is still fair you will be able to enter into a conversation with the buyer. This discussion enables you to obtain more information about what the buyer’s budget can handle and is the best way to mutually arrive at a fair price and secure the performance with both sides feeling satisfied. Keep in mind that no matter what price you present, the buyer will typically come in with a lower offer so as to have benefited from the negotiation process.
Beware of presenting a number that is too high so as not to scare off the buyer. The buyer might decide that the band’s draw or fame is not worth an offer near that price or that the fee is far beyond the amount that they have to spend on the slot. As a result, they might decide that negotiating is a moot point. At the same time, beware of shooting too low. You can always negotiate down but it is rare that you will secure more than the initial asking price you put forward.
FINALIZING AND GOING TO CONTRACT
Once you have agreed upon a price, be sure to obtain all of the necessary details for both the contract and to provide to your artist. Through a question and answer process between yourself and the buyer plus careful review of the offer sheet if one was provided, you should be able to obtain all of the necessary information including date of performance, venue location, website, ticket price, lodging, hospitality, ground transporation, and production details. It is standard to ask for a 50% deposit to be paid in advance of the performance. If the festival is new or new to you, it might benefit you to ask for the entire fee up front. Any deposit that is paid to your artist will help prevent you from being caught in a vulnerable situation if something goes wrong with the event. To avoid any complications, it is also advisable to include in the terms that the artist must be paid the remaining fee prior or immediately following the performance. Be sure to obtain a signed copy from the buyer.
PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE!
Once the details are finalized, promote the festival as much as possible. Include the event information on your website, Facebook page, MySpace page, and within all of your newsletters. It is your obligation to the festival to effectively and repeatedly inform your fans of the event. Keep in mind that the festival is taking on an enormous risk. It is of your benefit to help ensure that the festival is a success. Do your part to get as many of your band’s fans out to support the event. This is as always a symbiotic relationship. And finally, have fun if you are part of the team that will be attending! There is nothing quite like a festival…
Aly Constine is the talent buyer and sponsorship coordinator for the Desert Rocks Music Festival (Moab, UT) and POWELLAPALOOZA (Page, AZ). She works with Sonic Bloom, Wakarusa, and the Northwest String Summit and with artists including the Yonder Mountain String Band and Nathan Moore. When she wants to get free with words, Aly writes for the indie music blog Lux Illuminates.