Festival procedures for musicians – from the inquiry to the performance

Booking, fee, festival wristband, etc. – everything you need to keep in mind for your gig

According to the dictionary, the definition of a festival is rather matter-of-fact: "a major cultural event [lasting several days]". But music festivals have a magic all their own: travelling and camping with friends (and everything that goes with it), soaking up lots of live music and letting yourself be swept away by the festival spirit. To ensure that visitors can enjoy these events and that everything runs smoothly, organisers work hard in the run-up to the festival. But what about the artists? Playing a festival slot is one thing. But what is the process from inquiry to departure? And what does a band need to bear in mind? After festival season is before festival season, so we spoke to singer Jesse Garon of the Sloppy Joe's. Find out now what you should watch out for and which tips will be helpful for your own gig.

Your timetable for this article:

From the inquiry to the booking – 3 ways to catch people's attention

Let's start from the very beginning. Musicians first have to somehow get considered for a festival. How does that work?

Jesse Garon, Sloppy Joe´s

"Ideally, the organiser approaches us directly for their festival. Either because he has already scanned our channels (website, social media) and music and is impressed. Or because we were recommended to him.

If the organiser is interested, that's a big advantage: then we don't have to do any (more) persuading. On top of that, we have a good negotiating position for our fee."

However, organisers approaching bands on their own initiative is the exception rather than the rule. That's why it's extremely important for bands to take care of the booking themselves.

... and get in touch with them. Preferably always in line with the musical genre of the festival. As a pop act you won't have a chance at a rap event. By the way, this also applies if you want to get your own music on the radio. Don't try directly at the really big events. They get thousands of requests, so the chance of success is slim. You have a better chance if you approach festivals that, for instance, are organised by music clubs. Or at city festivals. These festivals allocate slots more easily because they have more freedom in their planning.

... They will take care of your inquiries with the organisers and try to land gigs for you. Provide the booking agency with as much information as possible. The organisers should be able to see what they can expect from and with you. In addition to your sound, what counts most is:

  • what your audiovisual impression is
  • what your band history (performances, festival references) looks like
  • what your digital reach (social media) is
  • whether you already have a fan base (streams) on Spotify

And then you agree with the booking agency on the terms for your performance. If possible, work with booking agencies that charge no monthly fee for their work. It may be that they will not be able to book you anywhere and you would have high running costs. It is better to agree on a percentage that the agency will receive from your fee if the booking is successful.

... use music promotion to drum up publicity for you so that organisers take notice of you.

Fair booking by an agency or a person who (really) understands you and won't rip you off

Let’s stay in the world of booking for a moment. So that you have a rough idea of how a collaboration can go well.

Jesse Garon, Sloppy Joe´s

“The way we have always done it is that we have set a certain amount X as the minimum fee for a festival slot with the agency. And that the agency receives 20% of this fee for its work. Important: If you hear that you should play at a promo festival, then ask yourself: How will the performance, for which you won't be paid but will receive publicity, benefit you? Is it worth the effort if you incur additional travel and accommodation costs? I always think it's important to have an open dialogue with an agency. And to ask them, before they finalise something like this, to consult you again beforehand. Being presented with a fait accompli and then having a bad feeling about it is not okay."

Let's face it: An agency doesn't automatically have its foot in the festival door. They also go out and ask organisers. And as you can imagine, contacts and personal relationships are beneficial.

Jesse Garon, Sloppy Joe´s

We realised that the most important thing is not necessarily to have an agency, but to have a person: a person who understands what you do as a band. A person who actively listens to the music and feels like a band member. And who then represents you heart and soul and wants to open doors."

From band logo to technical rider – make it as easy as possible for the organiser

Let's assume you've got the confirmation for a festival on the table. What happens next? Sloppy Joe's sends the organiser a Google Drive link with all the information. This saves the organiser a lot of time.

This information is important:

  • your press releases

  • your photos

  • your band logo – including a release (for posters)

  • your technical rider

  • your light rider, if available and you are playing in the dark. This states how the lighting should work with your set.

From arrival to doors open – what do you take with you and how do you get to the site?

Maybe you have a band bus that you load to the top for your gig. If you are using a hire car, check with the organiser whether you can share the drum kit with another band.

In most cases there is a separate entrance for bands and artists. You can register there and get the required wristbands or passes from the organising team. They will also show you where you can park.

Stagehands will assist you with unloading and also later with the changeover on stage

Did you get completely lost with your equipment on the festival grounds? Stagehands are helpers on site who will give you a hand. They will also show you where your things will be stored until the show.

Jesse Garon, Sloppy Joe´s

“At a festival it is always a challenge to deal with the fact that there are so many bands there who have also brought their own equipment. Stagehands organise this logistically so that they can assign everything to the right acts. This is important when things get hectic before performances or when it is already dark. For example, we are assigned a tent with individual pallets where we can put our equipment. This also has the advantage that it is immediately covered and protected from rain."

Stagehands are also the people who help you during breaks. They usually set up a drum kit backstage on a roll or drum riser. They can then simply roll it onto the stage during the changeover and roll the drum kit that was previously used off the stage again. This makes the conversion phases go faster.

If you are a little more experienced, you can also bring your own roadies (guitarist/drummer friends) with you: Then someone specifically takes care of your guitar set-up or your drums.

Agreements and dialogue with organisers, technicians and the audience are important

Communication with sound engineers will not only help you in the recording studio. Even if you are playing a festival slot – make sure you talk to the crew. And it's best to let the audience know if there's a problem somewhere. Makes it transparent and understandable when something isn't going as expected. Because the audience may not know the procedures and you can ask for their understanding.

Jesse Garon, Sloppy Joe´s

“We once played at a festival where two stages were planned. We got there at noon and the organiser said that there was only one stage for all the planned bands. Everyone was just supposed to do line checks. The organiser simply left us standing there saying that we were professionals.

Then a band played right before us who had their own mixer. They actually reset everything at the FOH (Front Of House) – basically the entire mixer ̈was reset. And the technician who was supposed to mix us afterwards had to start completely from scratch. That's why our line check took around 90 minutes. The audience then became impatient and started to shout. It's often the case that an audience often blames the sound on the band - who, ultimately, can't do anything about it. As a band you then try to do your best despite the circumstances. Even if you know you might not be playing until after midnight and the return journey will be extremely late. Or you could have stayed overnight at the festival."

Even if everything doesn't always go smoothly – everyday life in the band simply thrives on excitement. We hope this look behind the scenes was helpful for you. But most of all, that you make the best of your festival performances. Prove the matter-of-fact definition in the dictionary wrong.

Sloppy Joe's live at the Ackerbrand Festival 2022



© Header graphics and images Sloppy Joe´s

You can reach the IMG STAGELINE team here: