Unlocking Opportunities: How to Get Booked for Music Shows and Festivals, Featuring SXSW Insights

For many artists, booking a big music festival like SXSW or Bonnaroo is the dream. That dream begins with booking shows.

Getting an opening slot at a local hotspot may seem miles removed from the main stage at Reading or Leeds, but it's closer than you think. Let's show you how to get booked for shows and music festivals more consistently and help you turn those headlining dreams into realities.

It's showtime:

Submit a Strong Application

The process of booking shows starts with applying yourself – literally.

Many music festivals and summits hinge on an application process. South By does. Brighton’s The Great Escape, which TuneCore partner Sentric Music sponsors, also does. (The Performing Rights Organization PRS Music keeps an ever-updating list of festivals you can apply to – scope it here.)

That goes double for music venues, which often feature submission links on their web page. When in doubt, Google “apply to play,” plus the venue of your choice.

None of this matters, though, if your application doesn’t stand out from the pack’s – and the two ways to do that are to target the right festivals for your music and craft a polished press kit.

Let’s break both down in detail.

Target the Right Festivals for Your Music

Promoters’ time is valuable. Most are sifting through hundreds of electronic press at any given moment, especially if they’re booking more prominent festivals. They want to find the ideal bands and artists for their show. The best thing you can do for them – and you – is research and target festivals that align with your musical genre and style.

Here’s how:

Examine previous lineups – Are there artists on previous festival bills that sound like you? How many? If the answers are “yes” and “a lot,” this festival should be at the top of your submission list.

Find niche festivals – The UK’s Bloodstuck is dedicated to heavy metal. Supernova Ska Fest brings the 2-tone vibes every September in Hampton, Virginia. Chances are there’s a festival centered around your sound, too.

Location, Location, Location – Some festivals try to book homegrown talent (like Raleigh, North Carolina’s Hopscotch Fest). Check to see if there are any near you.

The best part? These three pillars apply to booking one-off shows as well. Do you know which groups play which venues and if those venues favor specific genres plus their passion for staging local acts? You’ll be working smarter, not harder.

Craft a Polished Press Kit

An electronic press kit – or EPK – is an essential tool for any musician, especially if you’re trying to book gigs.

EPKs are often a promoter’s first impression of you. That means a great EPK captures you or your group’s essence, links to your most-streamed tracks, and has a snappy bio at the bare minimum. We’re partial to this example from ReelCrafter, which utilizes vibrant colors and embedded Soundcloud links to sell the featured artist quickly and clearly.

Engage on Social Media

There’s one other place a promoter might head before they open your EPK: your social media channels.

We’ve written about why social media matters for musicians (plus how to use yours to make more money), especially during a festival application process. Multiple festivals occur every weekend between March and September. Many of them are competing with each other for higher attendance numbers and more robust social media engagement. Bands with a dedicated fan base catalyze both.

So leverage the fanbase you have while applying to festivals! This is an opportunity to create a creative hashtag or a sharp IG post and encourage followers to share it. Self-promotion is a muscle. The festival application period is an ideal time to flex or build it.

Network with Industry Professionals

You may not be able to network with industry professionals when applying for big festivals, but it’s a necessary component of booking local shows.

There are some solid online guides to venue promoters (the UK has the Unsigned Guide, for example), but engaging with it is the best way to break through your local music scene. Make a list of the venues you attend or believe your music is an ideal fit. Go to some shows there. Ask the bands playing how they secured the gig – was it through a manager? Do they know the venue’s booker directly? Make sure to follow whomever you talk to on social media so you can stay in touch and thank them for their help.

This work isn’t glamorous. It may even seem thuddingly obvious. But if you’d be willing to offer helpful information to an artist or group trying to make it (and we’re guessing you would), chances are others are willing to do the same.

Networking is how you know where to focus your gig-booking energies. Go all in on it.

Have a Performance Ready

The most crucial part of getting booked for gigs is also apparent – you need a tight live show.

If you're trying to play a big mainstage before a room with under 50-capacity, that isn't just ambition. It's trying to punch way above your weight class. Make sure you feel comfortable performing live before you apply to more prominent festivals. In addition, it may be an ideal time to record a live performance video for your social media channels. If promoters can glimpse your live show, they're likelier to put you on stage for the masses.

Be Part of the SXSW Music Festival!

It might be too late for you to play this year's SXSW, but there is still time to participate.

If you're in the area, there are tons of free concerts ranging from the always infamous Fader Fort to Rolling Stone's Future of Music series (which you can RSVP for at this link). Keep up to date on "the whispers" by checking ATXGossip.com: FLOODfest, for example, just confirmed Chromeo, Hinds, and Irish rap sensation Kneecap as some of its headlining acts. Meanwhile, Paste Magazine offers flash tattoos and sets by buzzy bands like Friko and Bad Hats.

There's also a swath of free music industry mixers and marketing events. If you can get to Austin (and have your EPK and social media on lock, as we mentioned), these are fantastic opportunities to connect with professionals who can help you land on promoter's radars.

RSVP ATX keeps a running list of these, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention a few favorites. Reddit (yes, that Reddit) will be in Austin and offer hands-on demonstrations of boosting your profile within their community. "Network and Nails" combines free gel manicures or pedicures with an opportunity to talk shop with like-minded artists.

Can't make it this year? Follow along online. Your research for submitting to SXSW next year begins now! And remember: SXSW is the kick-off of festival season, not the end of it.

If you have FOMO of any sort, there's time to take actionable steps and begin your journey to music festival glory

Start Distributing Your Music with TuneCore

You’re ready to clean up your EPK and attend local shows to make connections. You know how to research festivals and venues that will be amenable to the music you’re already making.

But if you want to book music festival gigs, your music must be available online.

We can help with that. Let’s sell your music online, help promoters find you, and get you or your group on more stages in front of fans who adore or are about to.