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Applying to Perform at Festivals

Header image clonmel junction

TLDR - Top Tips on Applying to Festivals from Improvised Music Company, Paul Fahy (GIAF) and Clíona Maher (CJAF)

Having your ducks in a row first:

  • Start with festivals near you, near where you live and work and people who know you, or know your work.
  • Make sure to address the correct person (double check they are still in the job), and don’t use “Dear committee” or copy and paste emails - tailor each pitch specifically to each festival. Show that you’ve done your research.
  • For international touring: Is your line-up available? Do you have funding plans in place for travel costs, e.g. Culture Ireland? Have you performed internationally before and was it well received/are you building upon this?
  • Jazz Festivals tend to favour permanent line-ups.
  • Have your EPK, tech rider, press quotes, blurb, branding, high quality images, live video and audio-streaming in order.
  • Be able to describe your music/act in one engaging sentence. Include hyperlinks instead of lengthy pitches.
  • Have up to date and lively website and socials.
  • Why does your music suit this festival?
  • Different festivals will have different timelines, but timelines will also be different depending on the scale of the project. (anywhere from 6 months to 24 months but 12 months is a good rule of thumb)
  • A personal connection is always more powerful than a cold call so it’s good to attend events at these festivals and try to introduce yourself/network etc. Look up pictures online of Artistic Directors and programmers/bookers/curators so you know who to approach (casually). You can also send comps to festival teams so that they get to know your work - it’s a generous gesture and even if they don’t attend - it feeds into seven points of contact. Best to only send comps for your bigger shows with a decent audience (giving out more comps if you have seats to fill) and not to overdo contact frequency.

Multi-disciplinary Arts Festivals

At Jazz Connector on 20th January 2022, Ireland's jazz and improvising musicians gathered for a professional development session on :

Best Practices for Pitching Music Projects to Multi-disciplinary Arts Festivals

The Guest speakers were Clíona Maher, the Artistic Director of Clonmel Junction Arts Festival & Paul Fahy, the Artistic Director of Galway International Arts Festival. Speaker biographies and festival profiles are listed in the video description box.

An intro from Paul Fahy on Galway International Arts Festival:

  • GIAF is a multi-disciplinary festival - theatre, music,visual arts, opera, talks, street (outside of traditional venues).
  • GIAF typically takes place in the last 2 weeks of July (e.g. 17 - 30 July 2023).
  • Announcements are staggered.
  • Full programme launched early May.
  • Some flexibility for things that are new, topical, emergent, timely if majorly relevant.
  • A lot of venues were/are adapted from other spaces.
  • Has a rich tradition of working with partners in producing captivating and engaging work, which has gone on to tour the world.
  • Has Open Submission process - everything is curated, but cold applications available on website, with deadline - usually last day of year for July programming.
  • Also employs session musicians, sound designers and commissions artists to write music for plays, operas etc.
  • Not a series of mini-festivals. It’s not themed etc, but things are picked for a reason. (Some festivals do pick a theme each year)
  • Funding sources such as Galway Bursary scheme Elevate may be useful to include in your application and project budget.

An intro from Clíona Maher on Clonmel Junction Arts Festival:

  • Takes place in summer - e.g. 1-9 July 2023.
  • Programme launch in May. Box office end May/beginning June.
  • Largest arts organisation in Tipperary
  • Started with Gallowglass Theatre.
  • Festival works year round developing work with artists, and developing audiences.
  • One year, did a celebration of touring theatre. To complement this they had a programme of local music in pubs.
  • Theatre, street theatre, different music genres.
  • “Junction” refers to bringing people here.
  • Lack of arts infrastructure in Tipperary overall.
  • The festival has a role in creating spaces for arts, bringing different types of art for the public.
  • Geodesic dome - awarded funding in 2021 to build this as a festival venue. It allows for flexible programming.
  • Music is programmed both indoors and outdoors
  • Big projects are being set 18-24 months in advance (gives time to apply for funding etc.)
  • Some spaces, particular concepts, art forms are more flexible - not entirely programmed ‘Vessel projects’

Additional Notes from Clíona Maher and Paul Fahy:

  • Show that you know the festival - what it’s about, if you’ve been, the work they’ve done, where it is. Why THIS festival?
  • Be yourself (overly formal can be off-putting)
  • Don’t overload with information - tightly written that’s brief is better. Make it attractive to start a conversation!
  • Added value - offering workshops as well as gigs, local connections, anything you can use to connect to the festival. As particular as possible to the festival you’re writing to.
  • Don’t overload with information.
  • Max top 3 links. Highlights reel.
  • Max 150 words synopsis of what you do.
  • “I’m working in this style…”
  • “I’ve been inspired by this artist that you programmed.”
  • Anything that grabs the Artistic Director’s attention.
  • Threads may be less obvious for how it will fit into programming.
  • Site-specific, local-connected.
  • Festivals often have a strong sense of ‘space’
  • Transforming a physical space.
  • Can you give a sense of how space will impact the audience (e.g. if creating site-specific work)?
  • Festivals are very interested in hearing good ideas - large or small.
  • Festivals have to have a wide programme of activities, lots of things going on in different spaces.
  • Festivals can often feature cross-genre events.
  • Small ideas can be as successful - you don’t have to apply only with large projects.
  • Audiences can often be more willing to take a risk during a multi-disciplinary festival.
  • People come to a place and want to experience lots of different things.
  • Space is a very strong element - artist meeting the audience is at the centre of it.
  • Things that might not be suitable to a venue can be pitched to a festival.
  • There is room for both bigger works and smaller works in festivals.
  • Sometimes can be harder for new artists to fight for audiences.
  • Balance with finding the right programme and the way it’s presented.
  • Never be afraid to ask - things can come at exactly the right time, or spark an idea for something!
  • Development platforms can be a good place to advocate for yourself.
  • Some work they approach an artist for. More typical is from the artist approaching them: E.g. a local artist working with an Agility Award. People tend to approach with partial funding, looking to continue things. Things that are 100% funded by the festival will probably be key to their core objective.There is more openness to things that are part-funded by multiple partners/funding-bodies.

After Applying:

  • Directors are in a position to have to say “no” more than “yes”.
  • Pitches may be great, but not fit into the cohesive vision of a festival in a particular year.
  • Programmers are also disappointed with not getting certain elements in their festival programming for whatever reason.
  • The public doesn’t know what’s not in the programme (a lot of great stuff).
  • Most festivals don’t have the staff to respond to requests for feedback from everyone but if you feel that it is important to ask in occasional and specific instances (e.g. the festival had initially expressed interest in programming you) then it’s worth a shot in asking.
  • Follow-up and keep in touch! Artists are often programmed years later. It’s a long game we’re playing.

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