Is playing a festival a waste of time for an unknown band?

Categories: Ask Fan Landers

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Nanette Gonzales
Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Fan,
We're a nobody Canadian band. Does it still make sense these days to play a showcase with hundreds of other nobodies at a behemoth festival like SXSW or CMJ? It seems to us that unless you're buzzing going in it's just a waste of money (especially if you have to drive from Halifax to Texas). But say we do it anyway (and many do): What is the best way to maximize your time there? Is a festival the best or worst time to approach a booker/promoter/label rep/music supervisor?
Showcase Suckers

Dear SS,
Anytime/place where you are in direct competition with hundreds of other bands, just the law of odds is working against you. That said, people go to SXSW and CMJ, ostensibly, to discover new music and make those connections.

Is SXSW worth the 2600 mile, 40 hour drive from Halifax? Very, very unlikely. Unless you have really solid leads to pursue, and four or more showcases with bands that are hyped and have a significant fanbase. CMJ is a more manageable 14 hours (break it up with a house show in Maine!) and fewer bands; it's more of a media and industry function and less of a wasted schmooze frenzy/Spring Break for major label product managers. The ideal way to maximize your time is play on the best bills you can possibly get on, at a decent venue/spot, before 1 a.m.

The good news, for you, is that you are Canadian and you have all those Canadian music industry infrastructural perks like radio quotas and FACTOR grants or Candian Council for the Arts; while I have heard a lot of my Canadian friends bitch about them, I only know one Canadian band that hasn't gotten one. All we have here in America are the occasional kid with a trust-funded record labels. My suggestion is start where you are, work towards getting on NXNE or the Tim Horton's stage at some tertiary regional festival. According to the internet, The Halifax Pop Explosion is still going--start with that. Maybe you can be the next Jale, reignite people's fever for Nova Scotian indie rock and make the world come to you?

To address your last question: As long as the person isn't in a port-a-potty line, carrying heavy equipment or settling up with a promoter--any time is relatively "fine," as they will be expecting you and your demo 'round every corner. If they seem peeved or real busy, ask them if they have a card so you can holler at them when they are back at their desk and not barf drunk and horfing a churro at a show.

Best,
Fan

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17 comments
Bernie Shwayder
Bernie Shwayder

Any exposure is good exposure as long as you're good enough to hold them.

Peter Stimson
Peter Stimson

Straight up! No getting your name out there is a terrible thing to do westword... #idiots

Ray Koren
Ray Koren

It doesn't matter if you played at 10pm or at noon, your band's resume still has that festival's name on it and that is leverage for you to book better gigs.

Greg Hall
Greg Hall

I really don't know if I can take another dumb question from this freaking page.

Tacy Gaede
Tacy Gaede

Umm, you are a baby band. You play everywhere and don't complain. Ever. The road is how you make money.

Michael Zamora
Michael Zamora

Are you stupid?!?!? Any exposure is good exposure. Idiots

Esteban Mainzer
Esteban Mainzer

just like advertising. better reach a small audience over and over again than a large audience once.

Brendan Flynn
Brendan Flynn

pretty much how I discovered one of my favorite bands, 10 Years.

Ossama Hussein
Ossama Hussein

I first heard chevelle as a baby band, now they are friggin awesome

Bill Gould
Bill Gould

Definitely not a waste of time. it is a good time to network and make friends with other bands also a terrific opportunity to make fans who never would have heard of your band.

Selin Ponce
Selin Ponce

of course not. It's a great way for unknown bands to get known and get a following going...I love discovering new music at festivals.

Becca Reese
Becca Reese

Name recognition. Play everywhere you can when you're a baby band.

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