Editorial: Random Thoughts about Music Festivals

Music festival essentials - notebooks and wristbands ^^
Music festival essentials – notebooks and wristbands ^^

I love music festivals. I really, really do. Of course, I love concerts too – any kind of live music really – but music festivals have a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons. But they also come with challenges, especially for those who are unfamiliar with them (or those who are covering them) and with South by Southwest (SXSW) dominating my thoughts right now – I’m heading there one week today, yay! – I thought I’d talk about why they rock (pun intended), what you should know if you’re a festival newbie and some tips for budding music writers who want to cover festivals (or music in general).

Why Music Festivals Rock

It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan or a writer, music festivals are fabulous and well worth the wristband/festival pass price for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few:

More bands – This is of course, the biggest reason. Festivals mean lots of bands, lots of shows and lots of music. You’ll probably get the chance to see some big names, some up & coming musicians and discover some cool new ones – or at least, new-to-you musicians. Shows are often in smaller venues too so you might even get a chance to rub shoulders with the bands.

More chances to see the bands – While it’s not always the case, often bands play more than one show at a music festival which means they’re around more. This means you might get two or three chances, at different venues, to see bands you like. Festivals are also an opportunity for them to network so it can be easier to connect with (and interview) them.

Networking/Meeting other fans – It doesn’t matter if you attend the festival as a fan or as a music professional of some sort, there will be chances to meet others like you. If you’re a fan, you can chat with others in the crowd in between sets (I’ve made friends that way) and if you’re a music writer, there will be lots of chances to meet other music writers… as well as industry professionals. I’m horrible at networking and even I’ve made lots of great contacts at festivals so you can too. ^^

Newbie Prep

Wear comfortable shoes – Many of the shows feature several bands so wearing comfortable shoes that you can stand (and walk) hours in is necessary. Imagine a seven or eight hour standing-only show and plan your footwear accordingly. I’m not joking.

Dress in layers – While this may seem like great advice for hiking, it’s also apt for festivals as it’s not unusual for your day to start around noon and go to 3:00 am. It doesn’t matter what city the festival is in, or if it’s indoors or outdoors, there will be a difference in temperature between afternoon and early evening… and the venue might be hot or cold. Last year at SXSW, I was wearing a tank top at one place and a jacket & scarf at another so layers are a good thing.

Hydrate – You’re going to want to drink lots of water during the day to stay hydrated.

Have a plan B – Actually, just having a plan will help, especially with bigger music festivals. And write down any of the shows – along with the addresses of the venues – you really don’t want to miss. I keep a spreadsheet (no joke) to keep track of the shows, parties, interviews and sessions I want to attend but just keeping a list will work too. But be aware, you won’t be able to see every show you want to so have a plan B.

Have a backup battery or portable charger – This is key. There is nothing more frustrating than a dead phone battery so be prepared. And it will happen, especially if you spend a lot of time on social media and/or taking photos.

Some of my press passes
Some of my press passes – apply for them, you might get it!

Tips for Budding Music Writers

I get asked about how I started writing about music and for me, the answer is simple: I just started writing about music and kept writing. But I write about a niche that didn’t have that many writers when I started which helped. However, a lot of my advice holds.

Write about music – This is the most key thing you can do. It may seem like a no-brainer but if you want to be a music writer, you need to write about music. Nowadays, you can easily start a blog and self-publish. After you get some posts under your belt, write for other publications and maybe, you’ll even get paid for it.

Go to shows – This is the second most important thing, you need to go to shows. At the start, you’ll probably have to pay for your own tickets but keep writing about the shows and if you’re any good, you’ll get enough readers to move to the next step.

Apply for press passes – Start with smaller shows but apply for anything you might want to write about, even if you don’t think you’ll get it. Ask for interviews, ask to be put on the promoter’s press contact list, stay in touch with them, promote their shows on your social media… basically build a relationship with them. And once you get the key first press pass, make sure you follow through, cover the show and send your articles to whomever gave you the press pass (and the band too if you can).

Network – Exchange business cards – and if you don’t have one, make one now, there are lots of inexpensive places like VistaPrint or Moo Cards where you can easily do so – with whoever you talk to: promoters, managers, bands, other writers, even fans you talk to. You might make friends and you might make some key contacts.

Use social media – Promote yourself and your writing of course, but also connect with others and promote shows you’re covering and musicians you like. I try to promote each and every event I cover – it’s good karma to help others, I want them to be a success and it not only builds relationships but can be helpful to connect with others. See, good karma. ^^

Take photos if you can – While it may not always be possible to own or take a good camera to a concert or festival (unless you have a press pass), if you can take photos, do so. Nothing is better at marketing your writing than a great photo. Plus, you can always connect with others via sites like Instagram and sometimes, you can sell those photos.

Cool people and conversations

More than anything else, other than the music of course, it’s the cool, fun people and neat, random conversations I’ve had at music festivals that elevate them above regular concerts. Here’s a couple of stories that illustrates some of the reasons I love them so much.

I hung out for a while at a music festival last year with the manager of one of the bands I was interviewing and in between asking me if I thought his “boys” (his word, not mine) were good-looking, we chatted about a bunch of random subjects… including tattoos. He thought they were much more prevalent in the North American music scene – whether on musicians or the behind-the-scene technicians. It actually led to an interesting discussion on the significance, or lack of it, of them and the negative connotations that some people and cultures have on tattoos. It was a fun, random conversation that has stuck with me.

I struck up a conversation with the photographer beside me at at another festival and we ended up spending most of the remainder of the festival hanging out together as we were covering the same shows. We stayed in touch and ended up sharing a hotel room the next year. It made last year’s festival so much more fun because I had someone to hang out with for the week. We met others as well and now I have a circle of music writing friends, how cool is that?!

You never know who you’ll meet so talk to people and make connections and perhaps, some new friends.

Final Thoughts

I wrote last year after SXSW that live music rocks. I’ve always believed that, despite my first concert sucking when I was 14 years old (super bad concert as they only played two songs – shortest set ever – but the excitement of the evening stuck with me). But the chance to see a wide variety of bands and musicians at in one place is priceless. You may not always like them all but it’s always fun exploring.

Of course, seeing one of my favourite bands live is always amazing but music festivals give you an opportunity to see new-to-me musicians, which is a close second in amazingness. Why? For the simple reason that every time you see a new musician or band perform, you have the chance to find a new favourite. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone to a music festival or show and had someone (or a group of someones) rock my world that I had never listened to before. Words can’t describe how much fun that is which is why I’m forever telling people that they need more music in their lives (I love recommending songs or musicians and frequently do so) and why I try to attend every show I can.

And that’s why music festivals rock – and why you should go to them if you have the chance. Each and every time I’ve gone to a music festival, I’ve come away with new music and new musicians I love.

What are your thoughts on music festivals? Which festivals do you attend?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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