The Local Festival Dilemma, Should you play or not?

A promoter contacts your band offering a chance to play a local festival they’re putting on. They state there’s going to be a bunch of awesome bands including some national acts, there will be a ton of people there, vendors, and all sorts of awesome activities. Sounds pretty good on paper right? But is it really?

There’s been a lot of back and fourth debate from both bands and promoters. On one side bands don’t want to play these festivals because they’re often “pay-to-play” and there’s too many bands. On the other side promoters say this “helps the scene” and “helps with draw”. Either way both points could be valid.

As stated before in my article “Why bands need to stop paying to play” as I’m typically against the whole idea. Financially the ROI (Return on Investment) from it is close to nothing or mostly loss of income. I’d rather spend vital band money elsewhere such as advertising or merchandise because money is hard to come by as a musician.

An editorial was posted on Toilet Ov Hell titled “HEY, PROMOTERS, STOP DOING THIS BULLSH**” which has sparked a frenzy between bands and promoters that goes into the perils of these kind of shows. You can read the article here. The article goes on to state some pretty valid points in regard to it being a “logistical nightmare” and that bands opening the show are playing little to no one.

Being in a band, I have been in these situations. I have played these shows and had to sell tickets for them, so I actually have first-hand experience. Some positive, some negative. In this article I’ll be diving into why I’m for and against the “local festival” trend.

Why I’m Against playing a Local Festival:

They’re too long

When you have 10 bands on a show with constant volume hitting people’s ear drums, it actually causes ear fatigue. With ear fatigue no matter who the headliner is, the crowd gets tired faster. Ear fatigue can cause such symptoms as:

  • Headaches
  • Sensory overload
  • Tiredness

Ear fatigue is a good example of why most people leave early. However due to the lengths of the shows the crowds are often:

  • Starved, because all they’ve been ingesting is beer and snacks.
  • Don’t want to be at a venue till 1:30am watching bands.
  • They show up later because they don’t want to sit through so many bands.

When you think about it, it doesn’t actually end up helping the scene when no one wants to stick around.

It can be a Logistical Nightmare

Guitar Pedals

Toilet Ov Hell said it best it’s a “logistical nightmare”. These shows usually never run on time. The main reason is because the promoter is running the whole show. If you’re going to have this many bands on a show not only do you need a promoter, sound person, and door person but you need a stage manager and stage hands. Staff to make sure bands are getting on stage, playing their allotted set time, and getting on quick so the other band can get their equipment set up.

Most local festivals these roles don’t exist, so each band goes 5-10 minutes or more over. If you do the math even if every band is 5 mins over for a 10 band show you’re talking an extra 50 minutes tacked on to the show. This can also affect the headliner if the venue has to close at a specific time, so their set is often cut short.

Playing To No-One:

Like everything there is a beginning and an end which means someone has to open and close this fest. For the band that does, that means starting real early or playing real late. When playing early, there’s the good possibility you’re playing to no one especially when the festival begins at 11:30am. Bands that open more than likely be playing to just their friends or people that already know them.

When it comes to playing late or maybe even being a headliner to this local festival. Even if you have a large draw, when the time comes for your set and you’re playing at midnight, due exhaustion from the fans they may leave before you begin to play.

The Yin and the Yang

With the negatives, come positives. There are instances where playing festivals like this are a good idea. Especially when you’re looking to network or expose yourself to potential new fans. Here’s some reasons why I’m for playing local festivals.

Why I’m For Playing:


With tons of bands involved in a local festival comes an opportunity to network. Networking is key in the music industry when it comes to booking shows, getting advice on where to go for merchandise, and most of all to make new friends. Some of my very good friends have been met by playing these local festivals.

Playing to a large crowd

On the other hand, for the optimistic view there is the possibility of playing to a large crowd. Depending on your time slot, you could be in a position where you’re playing to a lot of new faces. If you’re playing in the middle of the festival which tends to be the most coveted spot on a show, you’re bound to reach a new audience.

Sell more merchandise

With people comes the opportunity to sell more merchandise. If you put on an awesome performance and people really like what they heard, make sure to have that merchandise ready! However, with more people and more bands comes more competition. Make sure you have some great merchandise as well as affordable stuff to give away such as stickers, pins, or download cards. Other great affordable merchandise ideas include patches and koozies as they yield high profit margins when sold for a low cost.

In conclusion

Either way, the choice is up to you. Playing live is one of the greatest advantages of being a musician. The ability to entertain people live and jump around on stage playing something you created. Without risk comes reward, sometimes these festivals are awesome. Sometimes, you’re in a camp ground playing to five people while everyone else is in their tents drinking.

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