For a lot of musicians, learning how to book festival gigs is the ultimate goal. Not only are festival gigs fun to play, they also present an incredible networking opportunity and a chance to reach a much bigger audience and grow your fanbase. To help you book the festivals on your dream list, we’re enlisting the help of a New Artist Model member who has successfully booked his band for multiple festival gigs.
We first interviewed Justin back in 2016, after his band, Cali Conscious, had completed an extremely successful social media campaign, attracting over 10K new Instagram followers and 1,200 email subscribers in just one year. Despite the band’s significant growth, they’ve stayed true to their mission of spreading messages of love, peace, and environmental activism using their music and their community involvement. Considering their current Instagram following of 20.5K and over 100,000 streams on Spotify, their message must have resonated with people.
Over the past few years the band has been busy playing gigs all across California, recording and releasing their 2019 album titled “Avocado”, signing a 2 year contract with Disneyland, and performing at festivals such as the Vans Warped Tour and Lucidity Fest. This weekend, Cali Conscious will be playing at One Love Cali Reggae Festival, an event they’ve dreamed about being a part of since it first began 5 years ago. We asked Justin to share what he’s learned from his experiences pursuing and playing music festivals as a member of an indie band:
NAM: “You told me you were trying to book the One Love Cali Reggae Festival since it started 5 years ago. What were the first steps you took after deciding you wanted to play at the festival and has your strategy changed?”
Justin: “I had a friend who worked for an alcohol company that sponsored the event and he knew the booking agent. I had my friend introduce me to the booking agent to begin our relationship. Over the years, I went early and helped my friend setup the booth at the festival so I could talk with the people running it. I emailed the booking agent a few months after the festival, letting him know we were interested in performing at the festival and sending him our EP, and I also purchased VIP tickets to the festival for 4 years in a row and went to network and support them. In the end, I got backstage and got to talk with the promoters and the managers of the bands.
I supported the festival for years and now in turn, they are supporting us as artists by promoting our name on the flyer and having us get some street cred by being associated with the festival in the local reggae scene. It’s an honor to perform on the lineup with so many amazing musicians that we look up to.”
“How far in advance do you typically begin contacting festival directors?”
“A few weeks after the festival ends… and then send some follow up emails. I think they usually book about 6-8 months in advance.”
Learning how to book festival gigs is something that takes a lot of time and dedication, but it can be done! If you need more tips for selling merch at your gigs, click to download this free ebook:
“How do you choose which festivals you’d like to play at?”
“We see what festivals other bands in our genre that have a little bigger fan base than us play so we know which lineups we should be aiming for.”
“What advice would you give to indie bands and artists who want to book their first festival?”
“Submit to any opportunity that your band would be a good fit at. Know that the pay isn’t going to be what you hoped for, that the experience is what you are after, and getting your foot in the door. Have merch and CD’s ready to sell. This is a marketing opportunity. Make flyers to pass out to people.
Once you get into the festival get there early and stay late. Network and connect with all of the managers and bands and see if you can get anything else going… ask questions about how the bands run merch, ask to go on a tour with other bands, and try to link up on future events. Try to create value. Maybe you have a local venue in town that you could get their bands in… give them a reason to want to work with you. Show them you have a local draw. When you do get into the festival, get people to your show!”
“What is your favorite memory from the festivals you have played at so far and from the festivals you have attended?”
“Playing the last Van’s Warped Tour was pretty iconic for me. Sublime played the first one and we played the last one. Also, we performed at Lucidity Festival after years of applying. It is very satisfying getting into a festival as it makes you feel validated as an artist. It’s like you belong in the secret club.
Just know that usually being in the crowd with the music lovers is still the best place to be. It’s great to connect with managers and other bands on the “other side” and there have been plenty of VIP/Backstage areas that I have snuck into at festivals in order to network. Just have confidence and walk right in with a group of other band members that are headed to the backstage. If you get caught, then try again next time. Take risks. You only live once and have the present moment to make things happen. Be Brave.
Traveling with the band is a fun time. Getting out in the van, meeting new people who discover your music and vibe with it. Camping under the stars and having jams along the way. Writing new songs about the experiences. That’s what it’s all about. Network, make connections and have a good time. Spread your music to as many people as you can.”
Justin also shared the playlist he created prior to the One Love Cali Reggae Festival, which he says led to a spike in their Spotify streams and followers. He recommends making a festival playlist on Spotify and using it for promotion, especially in the week leading up to the festival.
Interview by Madeleine Schlosser