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The Top 10 Tips For Bands Playing At Festivals

Festival season is in full swing and, if you’re in a band, these next few months present the opportunity of a lifetime. However, there are some key points to bear in mind if you want to grab this opportunity with both hands.

Mason Hill, an award-winning hard rock band from Scotland and Insure4Music policyholders, know this as well as anyone. Over the years, the band has performed at such festivals as Download, Steelhouse, TRNSMT and Planet Rockstock, among many others.

Craig McFetridge, the band’s drummer, gives us his top 10 tips for bands playing at festivals this summer.

tips bands festivals

Choosing a setlist

Working out which songs you play depends on who your audience is. If you’re performing at a festival you’ve not played at before, in front of a new audience, then you’ll play your ‘hits’ which will go down the best.

However, if you’re playing a headline show in your hometown, then maybe you’ll throw in a couple of newer, more obscure tracks.

Most festival setlists are pretty short – usually between half an hour and 45 minutes if you’re a lesser-known band – so you’ll most likely play your most well-known songs.

However, it varies from festival to festival – when we played Steelhouse, we were on for an hour. It really depends on the terms and conditions that you agree with your booker.

Rehearsing

Every band has different approaches to rehearsing before a festival. We usually book a club gig the night before we’re due to play at a festival, which is a great way of warming up and getting into the zone.

It’s vital not to over or under rehearse before a festival – it’s a balancing act. You can batter it for weeks and weeks to perfect your songs, but you’ll never get the same vibe as you do when you’re on stage.

That’s why I like our approach of playing a couple of smaller shows because they really help us get into the mindset of playing live before we perform at festivals.

Setting up

The bigger festivals are usually much more methodical than smaller festivals. Quite often, the bigger festivals have these things called rolling risers, which are basically stages on wheels.

This means I can set up my kit behind the curtain and a sound technician will roll my kit onto the stage once the band that’s on before us has finished.

This facility is available at a lot of major festivals and it takes a lot of the stress out of getting set up. However, if it’s not available, you need to be ready to run on stage and get set up as quickly as possible.

Usually, it’s a 15-minute changeover if you’re lucky. We’ve played festivals before where we’ve been given five minutes to set up from scratch, so speed is everything. The last thing you want to do is cut into another band’s set time!

Playing live

It sounds obvious, but just be yourselves and believe in what you’re about. That’s all you can do, and people will either take to it or they won’t. Try and be the best band of the day and leave a mark on people for the right reasons.

Playing at a festival is always a nerve-wracking experience – and should be. You don’t want to go in overconfident, because this can backfire, especially when you’re playing smaller shows.

Ironically, the smaller festivals are more nerve-wracking than the bigger ones. You can see people’s faces in the smaller venues and if you see someone yawning you start thinking ‘What have I done wrong?’! We’ve learnt not to overthink stuff like that and just keep doing what we’re doing.

Socialising with fans

If you’re able to stay behind and chat to your fans after you’ve played live, that goes a long way.

I’d like to think that we’re good at socialising with fans after gigs. We like to stay behind at the bar and chat to them whenever we can. Sometimes we’ll have a live show the next day and we’ll have a 300-mile trip to make, so it’s not always possible, but if we can talk to our fans afterwards, we will.

You meet some characters when you’re a touring band, that’s for sure! We’ve been lucky to hang out with some great people at festivals over the years, which is definitely one of the highlights of being a musician.

Networking with other musicians

You need to network with other bands at festivals, especially the other ones in your scene, because these people will often become your mates.

If there’s a band you like that’s on the same bill as you, it puts a smile on your face and you have a great time playing there.

There’s a band called Massive Wagons who we’ve become good friends with over the years, and we got to know them because they played at the same festivals as us.

Festivals not only help you make new friends within your scene; they create loads of future gigging opportunities. We became friends with a band called Stone Broken by chatting to them at festivals, and we’ve supported them several times, so networking is essential.

Protecting your equipment

Watch your gear like a hawk. Never leave it lying around unattended, because you don’t know who’s lurking nearby.

We once turned up to a festival and as soon as we got there, we were told that someone was going around stealing people’s equipment. That didn’t exactly put our minds at ease!

It’s just a matter of being cautious and having common sense, though. Festivals will usually have a safeguarded area where you can store your equipment and lock it away.

If you’re staying in a hotel and you’re unloading from a van, take as much equipment as you can into your rooms.

We mark all of our cases with Mason Hill labels and coloured tape. This helps us identify our equipment, which is helpful considering how much of it we take with us on tour.

Getting insured

Having insurance is so important, especially if you’re playing live. My advice to other bands would be, don’t leave it to chance. You’ll be wishing you had it if something happens to your equipment, or you accidentally cause injury or damage.

I know bands that have had their vans broken in to and all their gear taken, bands that have accidentally smashed their guitar – all sorts of things can happen.

Rain can be a problem for me, as a drummer. Sometimes we’ll play at festivals where we’re not completely covered, and if rain hits my drum set, it can get rusty if it’s not dried properly.

Thankfully I’ve not had any major issues with this, but I know drummers that have, and they’ve needed swift replacements for their next gig.

Amps can also get damaged easily when you’re playing festivals. If they’re omitting 12 Volts of electricity and rain gets into them, they’re going to get damaged.

When you think of how often stuff like this can happen, it proves that you need insurance if you’re playing regular gigs.

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves! Many thanks to Craig for his insights!

If, like Mason Hill, you’re playing at any festivals, you need specialist music insurance.

At Insure4Music, we provide a range of specialist cover for bands, including Public Liability (which most venues will ask you for proof of before even allowing you to play live) and Equipment Cover.

Find out how our cover can give you peace of mind by clicking on the link above, or get an instant online quote with us today!

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