How to play at festivals: Advice from Tramlines, Deershed & Swn festival bookers

Blog by Louise Dodgson under Live, Music Training & Careers

In Part 2 of our blog from our visit to Sound City + last week, we recap on the tips and advice we picked up from the panel Stage Play - How to 'get on' at festivals.

Most bands and artists are keen to pay festival slots, but with so much competition around, it can be hard to know how to make your music stand out in the festival application process. Hosted by the Musician's Union and Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), the panel featured festival bookers and organisers from Tramlines, Deershed and Swn festivals, as well as Louisa from She Drew The Gun, the band that recently won the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition, who was there to offer some insight from an upcoming band's perspective.

So let's kick off with a selection of quotes from the festival organisers on the panel about what is important to them when booking bands for their events.


  • Application processes for festivals vary greatly - ranging from online application forms powered through services such as Music Glue, Gigmit or Sonicbids, submitting music via email, word of mouth, via booking agents, or even meeting festival organisers face to face. If there are guidelines on the website, respect them.


  • When it comes to applying for festivals through online platforms such as Sonicbids, Gigmit or Music Glue, you'll find that some application processes are free and others you will have to pay for. Do what feels right for you. If you don't want to pay to apply, then don't. If you feel that spending money on this would be worthwhile for your band if you did get a slot, then go for it. Weigh it up for yourselves and see what you feel comfortable with.
  • Some festival organisers just want to hear your music and a simple link to SoundCloud will do. Others want to know more to determine whether you can draw a crowd, what your experience is etc. Rather than sending waffling emails, it's often best to have all the info someone could need in one place so include a link to your website or press kit, and make sure it's all up to date so they can read your biog, see recent gigs/festival slots, watch videos and check out your social media.


  • Starting at smaller, local festivals or Fringe events can be a good route into bigger slots and better known festivals. As a local festival grows, you may be asked back for more prominent slots if they've worked well with you in the past. And organisers for other festivals may be more likely to book you when they see you have experience and have moved up the bill.


  • Louisa from She Drew The Gun said that although the band have an agent now, they still keep an eye out for festival opportunities themselves and will apply for anything they think would work well for the band.
  • Evaluate what you expect from playing a particular festival. You may or may not get paid for your performance so decide what you'd be happy with. Most festivals will do their best to look after you so ask about the rider, if your expenses can be covered, what merch opportunities there may be, whether there'll be decent sound and a professional engineer on hand. It's ok to have demands so you're not out of pocket but you also need to be realistic.


  • It's fine to play festivals purely for the experience and to gain new fans, if you're happy to do that. You will always learn from any mistakes and each slot you play is part of your persona growth and as a band. It's easier to be selective, the longer you've been gigging or playing festivals.


  • Check out the 'Fair Play for Festivals' agreement set up by the MU and AIF.. The agreement covers things such as riders, merchandise and promotion, and most of all it encourages good working relationships between festival organisers and artists. You can also read an article about the agreement written by Roanne at The Unsigned Guide on Page 15 of Bido Lito here.


Tips to Keep Your Instruments Safe at Festivals

Fair Pay For Festivals - It's OK to Ask for Fair Pay

How Can I Play at UK Music Festivals? Tips on Getting Your Band on the Bill


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