Why music festivals should rethink their relationship with the media


Festival season is upon us, which means there are bloggers and journalists all over the world impatiently waiting to learn what – if any – events they will be covering this summer.

For those who have never attempted to cover a festival before, here’s a quick rundown of how the application process typically works, from beginning to your arrival on site:

  • Press applications open 2-3 months prior to the event and require your name, publication, traffic size, description of all planned coverage, publishing dates for planned coverage, and (sometimes) a letter of assignment
  • 2-3 weeks before the event, at most, approved members of the press receive letters of acceptance. These letters also include any artist specific coverage restrictions, as well as a photo release (when applicable) that must be signed in advance of the event.
  • Once approved, press must make good on any promise of preview content ahead of the event. This generally means a ‘must-see’ list of talent or similarly simple promotional content.  
  • In the week before the event the PR and labels for the artists performing are given your contact information. Requests for coverage consideration begin to pour in
  • Prior to arriving on site most festivals request a list of all desired interviews with talent. Submitting a list does not guarantee approval, but it does mean your publication will be considered. Some approvals may arrive in advance of the event, but decisions on other requests may not be made until you are on site.
  • Once at the event, you need to check in with the media tent and learn when the interviews you were approved for are scheduled to happen. This schedule is usually determined by the artist, meaning you have to cancel any conflicting coverage that might arise as the last minute in order to conduct your requested interview.

To be fair, a lot of this has to be last minute. It’s the nature of the beast, so to say. Artists come to festivals from all corners of the Earth for a single day and then go back to their tour, studio, personal lives, etc. Knowing when a particular artists will arrive and be available/willing to do press is something that can be hard to confirm in advance.

Coverage on site is another story altogether. Fourteen hour days spent running from stage to stage, trying to take in as much as possible while still being on time to grab photos from the first three songs of the next must-see artist’s performance. When you do have time to relax, you usually need to eat and find somewhere to charge your gear.

Once the festival is complete, all coverage is expected to be live by a certain date or a penalty may be incurred. These penalties range from not being accredited in the future (slap on the wrist), to a fine of $500 (or more).

Suffice to say, covering music festivals is a lot of work, and with each passing year it seems the demands from festivals of accredited press are growing as their interest in making coverage easy seems to wane.

This makes little sense because festivals need media, influencers, and conversation around their event more now than ever. The so-called ‘music festival bubble’ has ballooned to the point there are numerous major events happening every week all summer long across the United States. Aside from genre-specific events, most lineups are largely the same, with a handful of select headliners being relied on to secure the largest chunk of ticket sales.

The competition for consumer dollars in the festival market has never been as fierce as it is right now, and sooner or later many events are going to fold. The ones that survive will do so because of their marketing efforts, community development, and funding, all of which can be aided by great receiving – and enabling – great press.

A great way to do this, or at least to begin, would be for more festivals to consider granting publications more than a single press pass. Festivals are inviting publications to cover an event featuring dozens of artists spread across multiple stages and days on a patch of land several acres in size. Do organizers really believe it is possible for one person to adequately cover even one-fourth of this madness? One-eighth? The more publications can cover, the better, and with the right photo policy (where you credit photographers and only use images with their permission) you can capture countless moments that you would otherwise miss.

Everyone wins when festival media is empowered to do their jobs well. Solid wifi in the press area allows for on-site updates that can encourage walk up ticket sales, as well as amplified conversation over social media. A designated area to conduct interviews away from noisy stages allows for higher quality content to be produced, which in turn encourages greater engagement.

The truth is that every piece of media created because of a festival is an advertisement for that festival. It does not matter who creates the content, only what impression that content makes on consumers. A lot of this is out of the festival’s control, but there is plenty that can be done to aide members of the media in properly covering their events. To not do so would be to hinder future promotion, and that is the kind of mistake events of any size cannot afford in today’s marketplace.

James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also the host of the Inside Music podcast and a ten-year veteran of music journalism. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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.