Apply to play at a festival

17 August 2015

When I tell people I work at the Lake of Stars (LOS) office, I get many requests whether they can play LOS this year. First of all it is not my job to select bands, so I am not the right person. You will need to speak to the promoter. But more important is that there was a deadline on April 24th. That is 4 months ago, so trying to get on the bill for this years' festival is quite a challenge (which is a polite way to say impossible - sorry about that!).

For most festivals, you can send in an application to perform. You have to fill in a form and send it off before the deadline. The next step is to be patient and wait.... it can take a while before they come back to you, as they might have to go through a lot of applications and you might 1 out of 300. So don't go chasing after a response after 1 week, but give them time to listen and deliberate.

Choose wisely

Every form will be different, but most promoters (to find out what a promoter does, please check under Artists or under the blog The Music Business Explained) would want to know similar things to decide whether you fit the bill or not. Don't just fill in the form for any festival; make sure your music is suitable for the festival. No need to try to play Amsterdam Dance festival if you do not make electronic dance music or apply for reggae festival when you play jazz. It doesn't mind you shouldn't try, as sometimes they are open to different genres, but do good research before spending a lot of time and effort for nothing. Look at the line up from the past years and read carefully what they are looking for. They might have certain objectives or a special message that they want to emit. If they want to create awareness for a certain cause, it might be useful to include something about that in your cover letter or introduction. Don't forget, they will have a lot of choice whom to book to play at their festival, so you have to stand out. It might seem strange to fill in an application form when you have a good reputation, but if you want to be taken into consideration to play you best stick to the format they are asking for.


Read up on whether they will cover your travel expenses. Nowadays with budget cuts in Europe due to the financial crisis, a lot of festivals struggle to exist. Not many festivals can afford to pay airfare and accommodation anymore, so check whether you have to find funding for your trip. It is not easy to find funds willing to pay for plane tickets to or from Europe; it is easier (but still no walk in the park) to get money for flights within Africa. If you have to draw up a budget, include expenses for accommodation, visa, vaccinations, (travel) insurance, communication (SIM card, airtime and Wi-Fi access), food & drink, transport (within the country), bank charges and always add 10% contingency, for unexpected costs. Under 'Artists' you can download 2 example budgets. To get funded, try Art Moves Africa, Prince Claus Ticket Fund, Hivos, and Arterial Network. Embassies sometimes fund tours as well. Or perhaps you can start crowd funding, trying to raise funds online yourself.


A good online presence is a must. You can store everything a promoter want online nowadays in an online press kit (or EPK). Most promoters want to have biography, high-resolution pictures, some press clippings, access to your recorded music and evidence that you can perform live (short video). A biography is short and sweet, approximately 1 A4, and includes your back-story, genre, experience, and contact information. It is good to have hi-res pictures, a list with tour dates, press reviews & interviews that have published, music clips, videos, and it is good to add names of a couple of well-known famous artists that have inspired you and make similar music. Don't forget to add contact information on everything you send. A biography is usually send in .pdf format and should fit on 1 page. It is possible they ask for your Facebook page (they will check how many fans you have in their region) and Twitter account (again, they will check the amount of followers and how many are in their country or city). They might ask for your Soundcloud page, as that is a good place to upload your music so everyone can listen to it. And they want to see some video; short films in which you perform live. It proves that you can sing/play live, that you have stage personality and how the crowd reacts. Festival promoters get many applications and probably only have time to watch the first 10 seconds. So let these first 10 seconds be the best you have; no intro or slow start, but immediately show what you have - an audience going wild, you at your best and overall a good impression of (the highlight) of your live show.

You probably have to describe yourself and/or your music in a couple of sentences. It is recommended that you ask advice from friends; after you have written something, have your friends read it and ask them to be critical. It’s not easy to promote yourself in a limited amount of words. These words have to promote you, convince the promoter that you are someone (s)he should book and that they miss out if they let you go. It would be good to think about an artist statement. An artist statement is a simple description WHY you make your (kind of) music, what your motivation is and who inspired you to express through music. You can include how you make your music by including a short sentence or 2 about the artistic process and whether you use special techniques or instruments.

It is also an idea to describe what music means to you like in a Twitter feed, in max 140 characters. It is all about keeping it short and to the point.

Things to consider

You have to think about practical stuff like; do you need a visa to enter the country? What about travel insurance? Do you need any vaccinations? But most of all, you should consider why you want to play at this particular festival. How will it help you future career? What can you get out of it besides an extra festival to add to your list of tour dates? Is there something else you can offer? Perhaps an acoustic set on the eve before the festival starts, workshops during or after the festival, collaboration with local artists, etc. It is always good to show that you have goal, that you have not only more to offer but also how this particular festival suits your career path.

Most important is that have to get noticed. You might be a famous artist in your region or even in your country, but the festival promoters have to know that you want to play, that you are available and that you are eager to play. They will check your online presence, listen to your music and watch your (live) music video, read your biography and then decide whether you fit the bill. Do you make the kind of music they need, how do you fit in with the other artists who are performing and do you suit the goals of the festival. Most of all make sure you know when the deadline is and apply on time! For Lake of Stars, put in your diary to apply in April 2016!

Also read the article in the Nyasa Times