I am still amazed about the fact that so many people in important positions really don’t understand how a showcase festival works? By now people that work in the industry should be aware of how it works. I even lecture on Universities for new students about this subject. I guess the problem will be solved with the new milleliums. Still, for me, it is an annoying issue.
So here it is - Showcase Festivals for Dummies.
Let’s start with a simple explanation of the difference between a festival and a showcase festival. A festival contains artists that will sell tickets to an audience. For the festival, the mandate is to book major acts as cheaply as possible to sell as many tickets as possible to an audience. Of course, this is not easy as it sounds. Choosing an artist is depending on if they are on tour, what price range, and what the rest of the tour and it is no easy task. Just calling up the Rolling Stones and try to book them is not going to happen. Here it’s important which contact name you have on your roster and a network to get to the right artists.
A showcase festival is a place where you contact people from the industry to showcase new artists that are on their way up. Most of the time you showcase artists to build a team around the artist. These projects are not really finished. Because we are talking to new artists. Several showcases are closed for the audience and just by invitation to people from the industry. Over the years though showcase festivals have noticed that is good for the people to see the reaction from a real audience and so many now are open for the public to watch the acts, but you need an additional pass to get into the conference part.
Most showcase festivals have a conference part (I actually don’t know anyone that doesn’t have it). Here you network with different people in the music industry. You can say it’s where you start to expand your team and prepare them for what they would see later in the evening. You are getting people in front of the stage for the artist you work for. If you are invited as an expert, you are there to see if there is anything you want to work with in the future.
Of course, when the artist is unknown, they are so unknown that even the music industry themselves are new to the names you really can’t sell tickets on the artist names like you do at a normal festival. Still, there is a big fanbase of people that like to discover new music, see an act first. I would love to have seen the Ramones first gig on CBGB’s or any of the Kiss early gigs. A showcase festival gives you that opportunity. Still, you don’t buy the ticket for an artist's name. You buy the ticket because the bookers know what is coming out next and take a chance that they bring you something you like. You should buy a ticket do for the conference part if you are an industry professional, it’s here you get to develop your business. Many times, it’s more crucial with the conference speaker’s names than it is with the artist's names. The speakers also tell you at what level the showcase festival is. If you just see old dudes that actually can claim that they were there on any of the Ramones or Kiss early gigs you know that the showcase festival is probably too old for itself. If I just contain weird tech people you just know they are not that connected. If the majority of people have beards, play the flute, and are seeking out money from government programs you know it’s not professional. Usually, it is the balance of new companies and experienced people that you are after to make it a valuable experience.
So what is a showcase then? A showcase is when a music company sets up a show with their acts. This can be a record label, publisher, booking agency, or even an export office. Usually, though the artists are on the same company and they want to invite their already existing network to see their roster. Some showcase festivals allow companies to do showcases inside their showcase festival. Some companies just do their own showcase outside the festival during the festival. There are also showcases falsely calling themselves showcase festivals that are run by an organization.
The difference here is that a real showcase festival has an open application system for anyone to apply to play. If the selection is closed or the choice of the artist is just from a special list, it’s not a showcase festival no matter how many acts they say they have.
I hope this little guide made some knowledge into the mysteries of showcase festivals.
Editor’s Note: Peter Åstedt has been working in the music industry for over 30 years. He has started record labels, distribution systems, and publishing companies. Peter also runs several major showcase festivals and is an advisor for INES and co-founder of MusicHelp/Discover Sensation. He has worked with the Top Ten most streamed songs and had music on both the Olympics and Super Bowl. Peter has currently taken up the seat of Station Manager of Cashbox Radio, working with MD, PD and station owner, Sandy Graham. As well he recently worked as the European Consultant for Heal the Earth – An Earth Day Celebration. His latest venture is a new Showcase Festival in Sweden, Future Echoes scheduled for September 16-18, 2021.