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13th April 2018
Written by Darren Johns for DMS
It was all peace convoys, casual nudity and endless Ozric Tentacles solos back in the not-too-distant past, but the beloved music festival has come a long way since those brazen, bohemian days...
The once-niche festival scene has now gatecrashed, Super Soakers a-blazing, into the mainstream, with attendance of festivals soaring to the point where it seems every town across the land is planning an all-out celebration of music and creative arts at some point this summer. This is great news for emerging artists who are steadily seeing burgeoning opportunities to gig to new and often-captive audiences. From boutique, circus, surf and dance festivals to the more underground anarcho, punk, hippy and indie music gatherings, one thing they all have in common is a desire to give promising new and unsigned acts/bands a helping hand and a stage to play on.
The city of Boomtown, fast becoming one of the UK's most revered independent festivals. Photo credit: boomtownfair.co.uk.
As a general rule, the early band catches the slot. Not early as in a few months before the festival, but early as in a couple months after the last one. Keep revisiting festival websites regularly until you see they're taking applications for band submissions. Sunny Cornwall's Looe Music Festival, for instance, is the last event of the summer season (21-23rd Sept 2018) and their window of booking opportunity for the next year’s fest is between November and December. Similarly, with the folk/Americana jewel-in-the-crown that is End Of The Road, which normally takes place in the first week of September. Then again, some festivals keep their submissions open much later. Truck Festival's application deadline for unsigned bands was the end of March despite taking place in mid-July. While the ever-credible 2000 Trees festival, near Cheltenham (12-14th July) are still taking band applications as we type.
If you are applying to book with music festivals online, do only what’s asked of you on the website. No more, no less. If they ask for a live YouTube vid and a link to three well-produced songs, don’t send them a Vine clip and a dozen songs recorded in your dad’s shed on your Smartphone while you were all necking Prosecco. And if they ask for a band bio of 200 words, don’t send a chapter. Follow their booking instructions to the letter. They’ll appreciate you for it.
End of the Road Festival, Larmer Gardens. Dorset/Wiltshire border.
Despite being pretty late in the day for the majority of this year’s pick for 2018 festivals, there are other options available. Certain independent stages/cafés/bars, that pitch up at festivals continue to book artists and bands right up to the month of the event. This is because they are not necessarily bound by the more strict conditions of the main music festival. For example, The Bimble Inn run their own eco-friendly stage/tent/bar at Beautiful Days (17th - 19th Aug) and other sites, and ostensibly operate as a last-chance saloon within the festival. It stays open much later than any of the other stages and can get pretty messy. The perfect environment for your shonky, avant-grime witterings.
Likewise, with Croissant Neuf who are a well-established Glastonbury Festival fixture, or the Bandstand, a stone's throw from the Pyramid Stage and conveniently booked by one of the guys that runs The Bell Inn in Bath. Get yourself a mid-week gig there and smash it hard, you may just find yourself with a couple tickets to the next party. Bottom line, find out which festivals are hosting these self-sufficient zones and find ways to badger them. Their late bookings also make them more prone to cancellations, so always make yourself available as a stand-in at the drop of a drumstick.
Glastonbury Festival - Block 9. Photo credit: glastonburyfestivals.co.uk.
Apply to competitions. All of them. It doesn't take that long. Many festivals now run online competitions to win an early slot to perform on one of their stages. They’re specifically targeted at new acts with little clout but lots of promise. Road to V, Tbreak and Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition are all prime examples of platforms for new blood to play major music festivals. If you’re successful, it could open the door to a better slot the following year and to festival appearances elsewhere. These comps often have deadlines which extend beyond the usual artist submission cut-off date for applying artists.
One example conveniently dropped into our inboxes this week. Green Man Festival are taking submissions from unsigned bands and artists to open their Mountain Stage this August. Their annual Green Man Rising competition selects 20 acts to pass too a series of judges high up in the music industry, who then select 6 acts to go through to a live final at The Lexington in London on 5th June. The festival are accepting submissions until May 4th, so get on the case and you may just get lucky. If you do, we'll be your plus one.
Green Man Festival 2017. Image credit Max Miechowski / The Independent.
Credit where it’s due, the BBC are setting up their stall at more and more UK festivals these days, pushing new and unsigned acts to the fore. All you need to do is upload a few of your (best) songs to your local/nearest BBC Introducing website then sit back and wait. If a regional DJ picks up on one or more of your tunes, you may be invited to perform a radio session. And if your songs are picked up nationally, you may be put forward for any number of festivals that feature a BBC Introducing stage.
DIY/alternative/underground festivals have a different ethos to that of the larger, sponsorship-heavy events. Generally speaking they’re more flexible and far less driven by profit. The socially conscious Common Ground festival is a good example. Their old-school band submission/application process policy goes thus: “So, if you are in a band and attend the festival, hand in a CD/7”/recording at the gate, with a note or drawing explaining why you want to play the festival and we will make your band priority consideration for inclusion at future events”. If your band has a kinship with this kind of event, you stand more of a chance of being picked regardless of any official deadline. Where possible, it may be worth by-passing the usual online channels and going direct to someone who is involved. The DIY scene is pretty close-knit so you may even know the organisers by name.
Asylums played BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury 2015. Image credit: bbc.co.uk
For future festival seasons, it’s worth trying to secure a sympathetic booking agent, The Unsigned Guide have a great list to flick through for inspiration. You don’t have to be shifting millions of units worldwide to get a booking agent. Solicit a few songs and a brief bio to every agent that looks like they could be drawn to your style (check their online roster for like-minded artists). Come festival season they can make a big difference; submissions from a reputable agent carry a lot of weight. Even if you get no replies from these agents they have now all heard your music, and chances are, some of them may recognise your potential and keep an eye on your development. It’s worth bearing in mind that, as with record labels, booking agents like to see that a band have endeavoured to build their own modest following through self-promotion and hard work. So get that portfolio of self-booked tours and self-released music under your belt as soon as you can, you don't need a manager to do it for you.
If you’re not successful in 2018, don’t worry. Try next year. Try harder. And earlier! And if you’re at any of this year’s festivals as a punter, bring some of your own CDs / vinyl / USB sticks / cassette tapes with you and thrust them into the palms of anyone who looks like they could help. Get talking with other artists and bands on the bill who may be able to recommend you to the organisers. And do some research. For instance, Beautiful Days near Honiton in Devon is hosted by The Levellers, who work closely with DMF agency in running the festival. If you have no luck via the official website, try and pass some music directly to the band members as they amble past you instead, or try your hand approaching the agency in a way that'll get you noticed.
In short: network. And don’t lose hope. There are thousands of acts/bands clamouring for the same festival slots so a lack of reply/success doesn’t equate to a lack of talent.
PS, be prepared for the Great British summertime to bite hard - invest in cases to keep your gear out of the inevitable mud.