Preparing to play a music festival slot? Advice from music industry experts

Blog by Institute of Contemporary Music Performance under Live

This article originally appeared on the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance blog

With the summer music calendar dominated by festivals, landing a set at one can be a huge step for fledgling acts looking to win over a new audience and increase their following.

It's certainly the case that the festival calendar has been keeping our ICMP graduates and students very busy over the summer with many playing sets at the likes of Glastonbury, Latitude, Lovebox and beyond. 

But after you’ve been booked for an event, how can an emerging artist prepare to perform and make the most from their festival experience?

To help, we asked a range of industry experts, artists, ICMP tutors and festival organisers for their advice. Check out their words of wisdom below. 

Andy Jones (AJ), FOCUS Wales:
For a showcase festival like FOCUS Wales, it gives bands the chance to play for a crowd of industry reps when they're in the early stages of their career. So it can be a career defining moment.

When you have a crowd of industry reps looking up at you on stage it can definitely add an edge to the performance, so it should go without saying that it's important for bands to have a well-rehearsed showcase set. This means the best high-impact 30 minutes that you can put together at that point, that is guaranteed to command the attention of any industry in the room.

It's worth bands taking some time to sit down, discuss and reflect honestly on their music when planning for these gigs.  It'll help identify the very best songs they have at this point. It's always an interesting exercise for band members to each write a setlist, then they can compare and discuss which songs they've agreed on. Just as importantly, it will highlight any songs that anyone in the band feels might not be quite right too. I suggest giving that a go. It might just throw up some surprises.  

James Brister (JB), Artist Manager and ICMP, Industry Liason Executive: Register your songs/performances with PRS for Music

Festivals can generate a substantial income, but if you haven’t completed a PRS form provided by the festival, or registered the performance via the self-reporting service on the PRS website, then you are missing out on potentially thousands of pounds.


Collette Williams, ICMP drums tutor and drummer in Rews: Check your equipment, make sure you have a fruitful supply of plectrums, strings, sticks, and other perishables. Pack your wellies! (Or suncream if it’s a good year…), make sure you’re well-rehearsed and always respect the stage crew/techs/sound engineer. Manners go a long way…


JB: Engage with the crowd after you’ve performed, especially on the smaller stages. This is a great chance to truly convert people into fans – just a performance alone is tough; people are there for three days, seeing many acts and generally lubricating their experience with alcohol – so don’t be afraid to get people signing up to your mailing list afterwards, or engaging on social media. Of course it’s important to impact via an amazing performance, but you have to get involved on the ground too, afterwards – especially for those early festival performances when it’s unlikely that many people will know about you! Be visible!


Richard Patterson, ICMP drum tutor: One thing to consider with festival gigs is sound on stage. With so many bands on the bill and a fast turnover, it's likely that if there is a soundcheck, there may not be time to get things perfect. On top of that, the on stage sound at an outdoor festival might be quite unfamiliar. There are no walls to bounce the sound around and volume levels can be bigger than you might have experienced before. On drums, this can lead to you compromising the way you play. For example, mashing the hi-hats because you can't hear them in your monitor mix. But of course, the front of house mix is just fine.

The opposite would be being much more timid in your playing because every time you hit the bass drum, it's so loud, it's scary. I learnt that I had to trust the sound engineer as well as trust muscle memory. Sometimes the mix can be poor but if it feels right, it is most likely to sound right too.

There will also be 50 identical cymbal bags back stage so it is a good idea to get some labels on your drum cases! 

You should really consider the transitions between their songs - now I'm not suggesting that the songs should always transition seamlessly from one to another, as that's isn't always the best approach for every act, but bands should at least consider how they want to tackle them. Things like that are so easily overlooked, and I've seen bands lose industry from their crowd because they've been too casual and taken an age between songs.

Jack Cowens, The Dub Pistols and the Landings drummer, ICMP graduate:
Preparation is key for festivals, not only in terms of the music but also your equipment. 

So get set up as early as you can so there's no rush before your set.  Make sure you have spares and back ups of any programming you’re using. 

Its also important to build good relationships with the crew as you go. These are the people that make your show run smoothly and you'll be seeing them again and again throughout the summer.


Oli Tatler, The Hub at ICMP:
You should be prepared to adapt set lists at short notice if delays or other unforeseen issues arise. 

Also make sure you are ready in advance of your changeover time, warm up your voice and instrument and try and catch any other bands performing. You should also bring sunglasses and sun cream. And, if you can, try and have fun.  

If you’re looking to take your playing and performing to the next level, and dream of playing to huge festival crowds, then let ICMP help find the right course for you. The Admissions Team are on hand to help you, call them on 020 7328 0222 or email [email protected] - places are still available to start in September 2017!


Advice on preparing for your performance at a music festival


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