April 26, 2011

Week 31: Playing Festivals

It’s A Festival!

From Backwoods Bash 2008 (I'm on the far left)
This week the line-up for Lollapalooza was announced. I thought it would be the right time to talk about festivals. If you are trying to make it in music, you have to play and play often. One of the best ways to be discovered by fans is by playing festivals.

Where else can you find thousands of people who have abandoned their daily routine in order to dedicate a weekend to listen to music? Each festival is a mini-city built on music. If you’re worth your salt, you will catch some new fans.

Now, I’m not talking, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits Music Festival, or Coachella. Those are upper tier… like the BMW of music festivals. You’re metaphorically driving a beat up van right now… and the motor runs and you’re happy. I’m talking about fringe festivals. Ones that mean a lot to that area of the world, be it the city, state, or neighborhood. Have you ever heard of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Backwoods Bash, Silverado, California’s Lightning in a Bottle, Austin, Texas’ Old Settler’s Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina’s Moogfest? You should.

Just like when you began playing gigs, you have to start small in the festival world. Don’t worry, there’s enough of them that you could actually play one every weekend… and then some. Here’s a site I found with festival listings. This is not an exhaustive list, but they’ve got a lot of them listed - http://www.metrowize.com/2011-music-festivals-guide

My advice here is also something I've experienced. I have helped bands play festivals and I am actually one of the founders of the Backwoods Bash Music and Camping Festival, which is now in it's 4th year. Very proud of where it's gone... and this Memorial Day Weekend, you can find me there. So, I can see it from both sides.

Here’s what to expect when playing one of the smaller festivals:

You’ve got 20-80 bands playing in 3-4 days. You’ve got a crew of dedicated people, who are most likely volunteers, running the band check-in and taking care of back stage. These people are likely NOT used to gig-etiquette and will likely not care too much about making sure you are treated like a star. If they are good, they’ll let you know where to find the beverages for bands and where you’re supposed to set-up.
Get there with plenty of time to check in, figure out where you’re supposed to be, and relax before going on stage. Don’t add to the chaos and don’t be a prima-donna.

No Paycheck
You’re not likely to get paid for your time. It’s OK. This is the way things work. Unless you are the big draw… and you are the one who brings 500 people to the stage, you don’t have the right to ask to get paid. The reason you play a festival is the be discovered, not make money. If you play well, and gain fans, you may make enough money on merch to pay your gas back home. If you really impress fans, you may just end up being able to catch a shower and nap at one of their places before heading back to your home.

You’re playing this festival with a bunch of other bands from other cities who play a similar style of music as you. Get out there and meet and talk with as many as possible. It’s time to set up some gigs in their town in return for getting them on the bill with you at yours. It’s all done with love and admiration for the music. If you dig them, chances are your fans will dig them… and vice versa. You have the potential to expand your fan base with every connection you make. Do it.

BYOC (Build Your Own Crowd)
If you are a band that is playing in a new area, or new to the festival circuit, you’ve got to go out there and let people know when you’re playing.. what stage, and get people to come check you out. It’s like playing a regular gig, except EVERYONE there is looking forward to music. So, what you put in by way of promotion hopefully adds to your crowd. Remember, it’s all about butts in seats (or feet in front of stage as this case may be).

Oh, there’s a party to be had. When you get a bunch of bands together it’s always going to be a great time. Beware, though. You need to make sure you act right. Don’t do anything to not be invited back… people who throw festivals talk to others who throw festivals. You want to be known as the act that slayed onstage and was awesome to hang with backstage.

If you feel you must party like 1970s Led Zeppelin, do it away from the festival. Smaller festivals are relying on good words to build a reputation. Don’t be the stereotypical band that festival naysayers are looking to use as an example.

So, festivals are great experiences. Smart bands will play a few festivals a year, and plan their actual tour around the fest. This way they can have the money from paying gigs to allow them to play festivals. This helps them find more fans which will translate into more people at the paying gigs. More people at gigs will enable you to sell more merchandise. Eventually it equals more money for the band and more popularity, which may lead to an opening slot at Lollapalooza.

It’s a wonderful musical circle. Are you dancing yet?

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.

1 comment:

Tony Barker said...

Good call about booking around festivals - I was doing it the other way around because of the pay (or lack thereof).