How to Make the Most of Your Music Festival Experience

Margot Edwards
August 3, 2018
Aversed performing at Chicago Open Air in 2017
Image by Jenesis Alonso Lopez

Summer music festival season is in full swing, with weekend-long events happening all over the country until mid-September. In advance of Berklee Popular Music Institute (BPMI) artists heading to Lollapalooza, Osheaga, Outside Lands, and Music Midtown, a few of the artists who have represented BPMI (and its forerunner, Heavy Rotation Records) at festivals in the past offer musicians advice on how to make the most of their festival experience—on stage and beyond. All agreed that one priority is to remember to have fun. Read on for more tips.  

Nini Fabi B.M. ‘10, Haerts

Performed at CMJ Music Marathon 2009 and SXSW 2010 as Nini & Ben

“I love playing festivals, but they're like crazy storms. Everything happens very fast. You won’t have sound check; sometimes you won’t even have time to plug in all your gear. In the end, it always magically works out, but it can get intense. I think it’s important to find a quiet place somewhere, just before you go on, to have a moment to channel the energy you want to bring to the stage and to the audience.”

Holly McGarry B.M. ‘15, Honeysuckle

Performed at CMJ Music Marathon 2015 and Lollapalooza 2016

“Even though most festivals take a cut of merch, it is always worth it to have it available. There have been times when we've thought, we're the smallest band, it probably doesn't matter if we have [merch], but come to find out we would have lost out on hundreds of dollars in sales.”

“If possible, always do a signing after your set...It adds incentive for people to buy and it's a more memorable experience for fans. You can also learn a lot from talking to people, like what songs they like best, what album artwork they respond to, where you should play next time you come to town.... These tools help you build your fan base so they become long-term fans instead of just seeing you once at a festival.”

“If you have the time walk around the grounds, people love running into artists and it's a nice way to interact/remind them of your set. It's also another opportunity to steer them toward the merch tent or your website.”

Honeysuckle performing at Lollapalooza in 2016.
Holly McGarry performing with Honeysuckle at Lollapalooza in 2016.
photo by Kyle Dean

“Know your set, make sure that you've timed it. Festivals run on a tight schedule, it's better to be two minutes under your time than over it. Keeping energy high is also key, quick transitions and limited dead air time is important, as is crowd participation if that fits with your band's style.”

“Try to get to know the names of crew members working your stage and treat them with the utmost respect. They are a huge part of how your set goes and whether or not you'll get asked back. It will only enhance your experience to be kind and learn what you can from the folks working the festival.”

“Often you are provided artist hospitality. If you have all access—great! But be on your best behavior. You never know who is backstage or hanging out in catering. The pitfalls of free alcohol in particular should be obvious but just know your limits and value the networking opportunity more than the free drinks.”

Cordelia Vizcaino B.M. ‘16, Kordelya

Performed at Osheaga 2015 as Cordelia & the Buffalo

“Be time efficient with your sound check. Part of the rehearsals with my band leading up to the performance was practicing setting up and tearing down as fast as we could, so we could make the most out of a short sound check.”  

“Socialize backstage as much as you can with fellow artists playing the festival. Shake as many hands as you can. I loved meeting the audience after performing. I would also really recommend that!”

“Be a festival-goer as well. Go see big and small artists perform. You learn so much from watching every unique performance.”

“Stay hydrated.”

Cordelia & the Buffalo performing at Osheaga in 2015.
photo by Brian Parys

Jeff Dorenfeld

Founding Managing Director of BPMI

“For me it’s all about good songs and an enticing live performance. We book the artists into some of the biggest festivals in the world and the stages can be 60-plus feet wide. Preparing for the festival is a team effort, comprised of the artist and the BPMI students. The artist needs to be able to utilize the entire stage and communicate well with the audience.”

“They don’t have to be the best players, they have to be the best performers and make their show as entertaining and exciting as possible. That’s why major artists tour with their own production, they want to enhance their music with an entertaining show. We succeed when the artist leaves the stage a better performer than when they arrived.”

Haydee Irizzary B.M. ‘17, Aversed

Performed at Chicago Open Air 2017

“There are many aspects of this opportunity that you can prepare for and many you cannot. You can prepare your body, show, and mind with the fact that you are now entertaining hundreds/thousands, but you cannot always prepare for the fatigue that will grow each day due to travel, sickness, stress, weather, extensive rehearsals, and poor sleep.”

“You’ve prepared every day of your life for these performances, but now you are challenged with the reality of living around it. It is that concept that introduces to us the true professionalism of a performing artist.”

“[At Chicago Open Air], we played on the last day of three. To maximize that opportunity, I spent the first two days walking the crowds, meeting new friends/fans, and promoting our set time. It proved to be a really wise idea and something I could recommend to all! Invest in your time there and do not be afraid to promote your performance. You’d be surprised how many people want to support you.”

Micah Welch, manager MDFK

Performed at Welcome to Rockville 2018

“Remain grateful and humble, it is an amazing opportunity to get to go to the festival and it definitely makes the whole experience so much better when you set a good intention before!”

“Be ready to put in the work. It can often be easy to go and not really be prepared for what is to come, how much time and effort you need to put into going to music festival. As a student, you are given the opportunity to perform on a huge stage at a festival, and the work you put in before and after is crucial to your next steps as an artist.”

“Trusting the process is probably the hardest part. there’s going to be a lot of times things may not necessarily make sense or you may have to make tough decisions, but BPMI is the best way to get real-world experience at Berklee for what the industry can be like. You have to hit the ground running in ways you may not have ever had to.”

Kyle Thornton, Kyle Thornton & the Company

Performed at Lollapalooza 2015

“Bands should go in looking to connect with other fans using social media and artists that are similar to them. It’s a great way to make people aware of your set time that may have never heard of you. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s all about having fun and just living in that moment!”

Kyle Thornton (left) and Henry Young of Kyle Thornton & The Company onstage at Lollapalooza
Kyle Thornton (left) and Henry Young of Kyle Thornton & The Company onstage at Lollapalooza
Audrey Harrer