After an incredibly hectic year for musicians in 2020, the storm clouds are beginning to clear, and hope is shining through. As music festivals have begun their return all around the United States, many provide incredible opportunities for up-and-coming artists to showcase their sound and talent. Naturally, some festivals only operate on an invite-basis, while others aren’t going ahead this year at all. Regardless, it’s important to prepare yourself and plan for the future. This is why we’ve created a how-to guide on what you should do before applying to play at a music festival, things to consider when finding music festivals to play at, and even some of the best American music festivals to apply to in the upcoming year.
We understand the idea of playing at a music festival can be terrifying or feel unrealistic. But, 2020 taught us that life is unpredictable and can surprise us at any given moment, so you’ve got nothing to lose by giving it a shot. Right?
RESEARCH THE FESTIVAL YOU’RE APPLYING TO
It’s easy to get “application-happy” and feel like you should start applying to any and every festival out there. Instead, focus on just a handful and think carefully about which ones would be best for you. Complete some research on each one and read over its history to help narrow your choices down. Every single festival is unique and stands for different things, so it’s crucial to make sure your ideals line up before you commit to any kind of performance there.
START APPLYING EARLY
After you’ve decided which festivals are right for you, be sure to take note of their application deadline. No two dates are the same, and each festival runs on its own individual timeline. There’s nothing worse than missing the opportunity of a lifetime solely because of a missed date!
Also, some applications are email-based or require you to contact the booking agent directly. Showing interest early on can help them remember your name and take note of your determination. Even sending one or two follow-up emails can be helpful as well, but don’t overload them! We don’t want you to start your festival career by annoying the booking agent.
READ EACH APPLICATION CAREFULLY
You’ve heard it all your life from teachers and instructors, but we can’t stress how important it is to read the details carefully! This is your chance to make an impression, so there’s no room for silly errors. Be sure to provide all the information the application requires you to, and even then some.
Also, double-check that you fit the initial requirements of the festival. Whether it be your following size or genre style, some shows may want specific types of artists to play. And while it can be easy to shoot your shot to the biggest festivals in the game, sometimes wasting a booking agent’s time can give you or your band a bad look. Missing details of the application is another poor way to start off your experience with festivals.
Considering the “little things” and the more logistical side of the festival is just as important as preparing for the performance itself. Make sure you consider everything and anything. Can everyone on my team make the dates of this festival? Do I have the appropriate equipment? Can I afford any outgoing costs? These can include transportation fees, as well as accommodation; don’t assume that the festival will provide you with a place to stay!
If flying, especially from a different country, check any visa and passport requirements. Also, be sure the airline and area you are traveling to have no issues with bringing on certain kinds of heavy equipment.
Unique to this year alone, COVID-19 has made traveling a bit wonky. Research ahead on whether or not a vaccination record will be required to board any kind of transportation.
MAKE SURE YOUR BIO AND SOCIALS SHINE
This is a crucial time to get your social presence up to date and looking good. If you need help, there are great how-to articles online that can assist you with what looks good from the eyes of a fan. If a booking agent can see that you are actively engaging with fans and posting content, you may have a higher chance of making the cut. More promotion from you equals more ticket sales for them.
Also, make sure you have your best, most unique bio ready to present. An EPK, or Electronic Press Kit is crucial as well. This includes a digital press kit filled with your music, promotional material, and any other key information. In the simplest terms, it’s a professional music CV that presents writers, promoters, or any business, with an understanding of who you are as an artist, as well as why they should invest time and money into you.
If your EPK is lacking slightly, there’s a lot of ways you can try and make it shine a little! Start by submitting your music to playlists and journalists. Any kind of feature experience will show booking agents that you’re worth looking at.
BE PREPARED FOR PLAYING LIVE
If this is your first time playing a festival, it’s important to understand that the performance environment is an entirely new ballgame. You may be saying, “I’ve played live gigs before, I got this”. Well, festival stages and production setups are often very different from a live gig at your local bar, so make sure you come prepared.
Start by practicing the right way. This means not only going over the music together, but actually performing. Pretend to engage in banter with the audience or even work on your dance moves while you’re playing. Festival performances require you to put on your biggest and best show, so you better make sure to pull out all your stops.
UPCOMING US FESTIVALS ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS
Now that you’re well-versed in the art of festival booking and performance, it’s time to get the ball rolling! The following list provides info on events that are still accepting submissions for the 2021 season, as well as some to be on the lookout for in 2022. Just remember that things are constantly changing in the live-music world, so constantly check websites for their most up-to-date info. And as always, good luck, and happy festival season!
- Elements Music and Arts Festival — September 3rd — 6th
Taking place in Lakewood, Pennsylvania, this electronic music festival has gained a reputation as being one of America’s biggest hidden gems. Past performers include DJs such as Disclosure, Chris Lake, Seth Troxler, and Big Gigantic. If you think you’ve got what it takes to DJ this incredible talent summit, be sure to apply because it might just be your next big break.
- Same Same But Different — September 9th — 11th
Same Same But Different Festival is a multi-genre music and arts festival in Perris, California. Named “Best Emerging Music Festival in the US” by USA TODAY, its eccentric lineup features nothing but music that you can groove to. Think your music is unique and genre-defying? Then this festival is the perfect place for you.
- Treefort Music Festival — September 22nd — 26th
Treefort Music Fest is a five-day indie rock festival, taking place across numerous venues in downtown Boise, Idaho. This festival is particularly known for featuring hundreds of independent, less-known artists, making it the perfect festival to apply for in the upcoming year.
Email to apply: firstname.lastname@example.org
- AFROPUNK BROOKLYN / AFROPUNK ATLANTA
AFROPUNK Brooklyn started in 2005 and was born out of Afro-Punk, a documentary that explores black punk artists within a white punk subculture across America. The festival was created as a safe community and has grown into a global movement celebrating the art, music, and identity of black culture. The festival has since expanded to include locations in Atlanta, Paris, London, and Johannesburg. As the lineup aims to feature new and unknown artists, particularly those of color, be sure to give each location a shot.
While many festivals have already closed for the 2021 season, it’s never too early to start planning for next year. To help you lookout for the right ones, be sure to check out https://www.sonicbids.com/find-gigs/ for the latest gig and festival opportunities.
Contributor: Sarah Kloboves