Playing your first festival is a highlight of any band, but how do you go about securing your first one? Let's take a look....
1. Have a strong media presence
From the average person's perspective, it seems like social media is the driving factor in whose relevant and who's not. They aren't exactly wrong, but that's not the whole picture. If you want to get booked to play at a festival, it's incredibly helpful if you can show the organisers that you've been featured in a major publication or two. This could take the form of an album or live gig review, or perhaps an interview. The more of these you have, the better. Social media comes in by simply having a big enough presence that you could reliably draw as many people as possible to a festival that you were booked to play.
2. Sound professional
Festival organisers are more than willing to give people without much in the way of fame a chance. That's not the same thing as sounding rough and unpolished. If you want to impress the people and charge enough to give you a slot, you'll need at least one fully produced, mixed and mastered album to show off just how great you actually sound and how hard you can work to deliver a great experience - this doesn't have to be recorded in a professional studio, so long as your home studio is fit for purpose.
3. Performance Experience
Sorry, but playing the bars around your hometown isn't going to cut it here. You need to be familiar with much larger venues. There are a couple of reasons for this. First off, you can't know how to entertain a larger crowd unless you've done it a few times successfully already. Working in a larger venue also gives you a chance to get familiar with the different acoustic requirements. You won't be doing your own sound engineering at a festival, but knowing what to expect is going to help your playing sound equally good at the venue as it would in your rehearsals.
The other reason is that this shows you have enough popularity with both audiences and business owners. Festivals are a great source of entertainment, but they are a business first. Being able to demonstrate that you are reliable and have the reputation to back you up is going to help you stand out from the crowd.
Do you know the biggest reason most hopefuls get rejected by festival organisers? It's not because they suck. In fact, lots of bands and artists that get rejected are actually pretty good.
The problem is that they just aren't a good fit for the festival. Can you imagine the latest boy band headlining Oktoberfest? If your music isn't a good fit for a festival, be honest with yourself about that. There's no point in wasting your own time applying for something that will never happen - you'd be better off polishing your guitar pedals than doing this! Instead, save your energy and look for a festival that's catering to your music.
5. Have everything you need
Each festival will have its own requirements regarding submissions for consideration. Typically this will include an artist bio and a few recordings at the very least.
Make sure you read through these properly. Many bands are rejected for not following simple instructions in the early stages.
For the materials you are asked to send, make sure you're showing off your best side. This means that any recordings you send should be of the highest possible quality you can manage. Likewise, promotional photos and videos should be in high definition, and taken by a professional. Selfies from an iPhone 5? Not if you want to be taken seriously.
Your bio needs to be great too. You can find freelance writers specialising in PR and marketing quite easily, but chances are you can manage this particular task yourself. Keep it relevant. It should demonstrate who you are as a band or artist (if you're a solo performer) and highlight how you've grown throughout the time you've been performing. There's no need to mention the high school talent show you performed in, or give a list of each member's favourite foods.
6. Recognise legitimate opportunities
You'll be more likely to encounter this at other types of venues compared to festivals, but it's worth keeping in mind. Sometimes in order to get booked to play, you'll be required to sell a certain number of tickets in order to make any profit. If you've got a massive following and you know you can draw enough to make extra, it can be worth it. However, this is a pretty poor way to be treated, and you shouldn't let yourselves be taken advantage of.
Likewise try to make sure that the slots you get booked to play won't clash with a far more well known artist, otherwise you'll have to deal with depressingly low attendance.
Getting booked to play a festival is a tough game. The competition is massive, even if not all of it is particularly great. However, the more organised, determined and hardworking you are, the better your chances will be. Festivals are a remarkable way to boost your profile, so you should absolutely be pursuing any leads you find.