Consulting - Festival Booking 101

Where to Start?

Booking a festival (especially an inaugural one) can be a daunting task. There is no starting point for a first time festival. There is no background to draw from. There is no past success to learn from. So… where do you start?

The Client

Who is the client and what do they project as a mandate? What are their goals?

The Audience

Once you have your goals set, who is the best audience to meet those goals? Defining your audience in relation to meeting your clients goals is the key to unlocking the genre(s) of music you will want to book.

The Venue

Where is the festival being held? Do a walk through. Envision the bands, the audience and the energy you are creating. How many bands, what times and how many spaces do you have?

If you cannot put yourself in the shoes of the audience - you cannot know who to put on the stage.

If you cannot put yourself in the shoes of the audience - you cannot know who to put on the stage.

The Budget

This is a very dictatorial piece of the puzzle. Here is where you balance the festival in size and level of acts.

There are two equations that do not make sense:

  1. A huge stage and not enough budget for the size of acts to fill it.

  2. Huge acts without enough production budget to build the proper stage.

And DO NOT forget marketing. There is not enough stress put on the fact that having it all, the bands and the stage, does not mean anything without the word getting out and tickets being sold.

The Booking Process

Headline Acts

Once you have decided upon your budget, it is time to secure your headline acts. Start at the top and work your way down. Securing headline acts can take time, patience and a few negotiations. Start early and do not confirm opening acts until your headliners are secure.

If you know who you want, you can head to the booking agency and directly submit an offer. If you have a budget and a genre in mind, you can inquire with the booking agencies for acts in the range you are looking for. Keep in mind, you are wanting the best act for the least amount and the booking agency is looking for the best act for the most amount. The fee you end up paying for that act lies somewhere in between.

Leave room in your budget for negotiation and ask for a range.


My budget for a Saturday night is $50K - 70% to the headline act - which means you have a starting point of $35K.

Your budget may have to include: The performance fee, travel, accommodations, rider… make sure you know all of the expenses of bringing that artist in before you make an offer. An offer is a binding agreement and acceptance means you are bound by the terms you set forth.

And… don’t forget the radius clause. You don’t want an artist accepting your offer and then playing a show down the street for less two days before your festival. :(

I would start by asking for acts in the genre I want in the range of 30 - 40K and see what is offered.

Once you have a list - do some research. This is not a festival for you - but for you to curate for the goals of your client. Be sure that your judgement is not being clouded by your own tastes. Research the bands and match up their audience to the audience of your client.

Present your reasoning for sending an offer to your client and ensure you have approval before sending an offer in.

Two pieces of advice:

Make sure you and your client are on the same page… and…

Do not book opening acts until your headliner is secured.

Opening Acts

This can be a little easier, but also a little tricky. Getting quality acts to open is a fine art. These are acts who are quality who may not have the recognition yet that they deserve. Recognition means that they are not going to be prominently staring you in the face. You will have to research, barter, offer, sell the spot, and convince these acts who are on the cusp of being successful that your festival is a positive addition to their touring plan.

Where do you find these acts?

Check out the many music conferences around the world and their schedule of “Official Showcases” and private room presenters. There are hundreds of acts out there… wanting to be a part of festivals and to garner opening performances for headline acts who will expose them to larger audiences.

Another way to seek out opening acts are through the provincial music associations. The people who are organizing music for the province have their ear to the ground on the talent in their region.

A fun way to find talent is to go to the conferences and to other festivals that reflect the same vision. There is no better way to decide on the quality of an act than to see it live.

After the Festival

Show Reports

Make sure that you are taking what is called a “sentiment analysis” of the festival. Especially if this is an annual event. Each performance in each venue is an important piece of the overall success of the festival.

An onsite person takes a snapshot of the show and the report should include:

  1. Attendance - capacity of the room vs. number in attendance.

  2. Audience reaction - golf clap or raucous applause and an encore?

  3. Sentiment - walk through the crowd and be listening for comments.

  4. Exit interview - ask as people are leaving - did you enjoy the show? The quick response is the best judgement. The level of enthusiasm in the response (even in positive ones) can be a telltale sign if you have hit the mark.

  5. Recommendation - would you bring the artist back and why or why not.

The Northern Lights Festival

Recently, I was asked to curate a festival for the Fort Nelson Events Society in Fort Nelson, BC.

The line up is being announced over the next two weeks - some have been released already… and more to come this Friday.

This festival is an inaugural event and the goal is to bring together the community, which is the city of Fort Nelson and the First Nations community, the surrounding areas and to draw an international audience to the town who are interested in adventure, history, culture and wellness. The focus of the music is Canadian talent.

I hope you enjoy the line up! Click here to visit the festival website.