My experience as artistic director of two jazz festivals — the 29-year old Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland and the emerging, 7-year old BeanTown Jazz Festival, produced in Boston by Berklee College of Music, tends to load my snail and email boxes with inquiries from artists and bands seeking employment. But festivals are a different animal from clubdates and concert engagements. In the case of Tri-C JazzFest, the nature of our festival suggests that it is difficult at best to present artists making their first appearance in our market. Our audience can be characterized as a ‘show-me’ audience; they’ve got to have some measure of comfort with an artist or concert billing in order to plunk down their well-earned ticket dollars. Put simply, rarely will our audience buy tickets to artists they do not know. BeanTown is another matter entirely, primarily because its core event is free of charge.
Recently I was afforded an opportunity to speak with the student musicians of the Thelonious Monk Institute’s graduate studies program at Loyola University on the subject of artist readiness in terms of approaching jazz festivals for performance opportunities. Here are some of the stress points of that conversation:
Do your research
- Get the major jazz magazine annual festivals directories which list pertinent festival information and contact information.
- Investigate festival web sites: Determine who, what, when, where info, but also carefully research their booking patterns, who and what type of artists they are likely to present. Ask yourself a question: do they book and present lesser known or emerging artists? Is there a place at this festival for my kind of music? Do they present student ensembles? Do they have a significant jazz education component? (These last two points were stressed to the Monk ensemble because they are uniquely poised to work education-based jazz festivals.) Educate yourself thoroughly on what these festivals present, how/where they present (# of venues, etc.).
You must have a recent recording.
- To exemplify who you are and what you play, to use as a "calling card" to substantiate your artistry; a recording to be made available to the presenter for the targeted festival’s local radio outlet and PR/Marketing efforts, etc. NOT a demo — a commercially-available recording, even if it is only available through web or downloads.
- Communicate with festivals and presenters in a collegial manner; don’t be "pushy"; keep them abreast of your activities without pushing or being an annoyance; be in touch respectfully. Be pleasant and persistent but NOT insecure and pushy. Take the position in your mind that my music is so good that sooner or later this person is going to hire me. Be confident and savvy in your communication. Make it your point to meet & greet, but not in a pushy way — there’s a fine line you need to walk.
This is the first in an occasional series of tips towards festival readiness for artists and bands. Your response and input is welcome. I should note that in the case of Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland as a means of presenting newer artists to our community in situations that do not have ticket sales pressures we created our Debut Series of free concert performances. Drop us a line if you’re interested in how to be part of our Debut Series.