Journalism Tips #20: ‘Making The Most Of Your Summer Festival Coverage’

Thank you for joining us for another installment in our our ongoing Journalism Tips series. We started this column as a way to help aspiring writers get their start in music, but over the couple months we have been evolving into a place writers come to have their questions about life in the business answered. Today we are continuing that effort with a response to a question posed by multiple readers in regard to how writers can make the most of festival coverage when seemingly everyone who calls themselves press is granted access. If you have any questions about developing as a writer/blogger in music, please do not hesitate email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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Ahhh. The ever-so formidable task of mastering festival coverage. It’s not easy, running around like a chicken with your head cut off for 12-18 hours on end — making sure every must-see band has been seen, every must-shake hand has been touched and every must-interview act has been chatted with. Not only must you balance every minute of your time and energy, but you must focus that energy to make sure you are creating better content than every other writer on the scene. What does it take for you to stand out during this festival season? Here are five questions I ask myself when going into all types of festivals:

1. What story hasn’t been told before?

Every blog, ‘zine and YouTube account is going to give you the typical, “Must See” lists for festivals, and this is okay. It’s cool to give your thoughts on what the standout acts are. But why not push this idea further? Instead of the “Five Must-See Acts at the Vans Warped Tour,” why not the “Five Songs to Crowd Surf to at the Vans Warped Tour?” Centralize your ideas — make your thoughts unique and insightful. This doesn’t need to pertain to solely preview content — think about different angles for every aspect of the festival.

2. What questions haven’t been asked yet?

If you’re interviewing a band on a festival bill, odds are the act is going through an extreme press run. Don’t waste the band’s time with monotonous questions the likes of “where did you get your band name?” or “how did you all meet?” Goodness, what a waste of time. You [probably] have a smartphone…Google different interviews, visit Wikipedia, or at least read the band’s bio before stepping into the box. Dig into insightful conversation with the musician and you all might actually learn something from one another. And better yet — the artist might actually want to work with you again in the future. A good musician always knows when you’re skidding through an interview and it is a bad reflection on everyone involved. Always do your homework. Don’t be afraid to step away from even insightful and traditional interviews to have a little fun with the artists. Does the band want to talk about the best food to eat on the road? Great! Grab that opportunity and create the best damn “must eat places according to this band” piece possible.

3. What can I do to stay ahead?

Okay: you’ve done amazing preview pieces, you’ve locked in the best interviews, you’ve relentlessly prepared for those interviews and you’ve just landed at the festival. What now? Staying ahead and in your element is tough. Typically, festivals offer the best distractions possible. Food, booze, after parties and sideshows are all fantastic for fans, but you’re at this festival for generate content. Stay in communication with your publicists or tour manager. Embrace the notion of being a public figure. Live tweet sets and daily agendas, reach out to other professionals you know will be in attendance and do you best to not make an ass of yourself (it happens to everyone at least once). Do daily write-ups and reviews of what you’re experiencing at the festival to give the outside world an idea of what’s taking place.  Make the most of every second. Stay focused and make great impressions but don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the fantastic music you’re getting to cover.

4. How do I sum it all up?

Congratulations, you killed your interviews and you made it home safely. Now, time for post-festival coverage. Again – tailor to your audience and strive to be unique in your post-festival coverage. Everyone will have a photo gallery and everyone will have the “best of” lists going live. Try to step back and think about the bigger picture. What really was the best part of the festival? Embrace the entire community you were apart of, not just the music. At this point of your coverage, more than ever, it’s time to be a journalist and tell a story.

5. What about next time?

Be sure to send the required follow up message upon returning home and be timely in turning your interviews around. Never take on too many interviews or you’ll dilute your product and slow down the process. Five well-thought out interviews stand out against fifteen half-hearted interviews any day. Make sure all of the appropriate parties know you are turning your content around in a timely fashion and thank them for the opportunity. Always be humble.

Want to chat more about killer festival coverage? Tweet me @callinghomematt!

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.