So, You Weren’t Selected to Play Musikfest…

We are fewer than two weeks until Musikfest gets underway in Bethlehem on Friday, August 4. This is one of the more opinionated times of the year on our music scene; folks will take to social media to express their opinions on the matter in a polarizing manner that is second only, perhaps, to the period surrounding the Lehigh Valley Music Awards every March.

By now, I’ve seen plenty of people openly expressing their excitement to be performing at the nation’s largest free outdoor music festival, which happens to take place, for many of us, in our own backyard. I’m excited for them, too, and I look forward to seeing as many of them as possible in a couple weeks.

Then, you have plenty of acts who weren’t selected, but who graciously (and presumably) tip their caps, say “Thanks for the opportunity,” and try again next year…

…but then, there are those who weren’t selected – or who didn’t find a way into Musikfest via a showcase – who let their opinions on the matter fly. Some claim that the “system” is stacked against them or their favorite artists. “Same bands every year” claims flutter about like confetti (and are grossly untrue), as well as those of people saying that they don’t “need” to play Musikfest. Some will say that there aren’t enough local acts booked for their tastes, while others even state that this is the year they’ll finally stop going (and then, you’ll see them there with a big cob of Aw Shucks corn in each hand anyway, but that’s none of my business…).

I’ve courted controversy here on LVU before, and I’m prepared to do it again. Here’s my take on anyone who takes to social media to complain about the hand they’ve been dealt, regarding this or any festival opportunity…

How do you expect that to help you?

I know, I know… you’re entitled to your opinion. Free speech and all that. Regardless, your free speech has consequences. I ask you to consider this…

I’ve never booked anything that comes close to the sheer complexity or magnitude of Musikfest. But, as the guy who orchestrates LVU-sanctioned events — and, well, LVU-sanctioned anything — I can tell you that I’ve had to make some tough booking decisions in our young history. There’s just never a way to get everyone you want on the same bill. I can also tell you that I appreciate when people take the news well when we cannot accommodate them. Their being courteous and saying “keep us in mind for the future” speaks volumes about their professionalism, and usually ensures that we do just that.

On the flip side, if you aren’t booked for a festival, and then openly complain and/or bash the people who put it on in a public forum (year after year, in some cases), I would argue that that does more to make you look unprofessional than it does to get your point across. It does absolutely nothing to prove that you, or those you care about, deserve a festival slot over any other artist on the bill, who also deserve to be there, are plenty talented, and work just as hard. It comes across as sour grapes, and does not present you in a positive light.

My point? If you’re taking music as a serious endeavor, and crave opportunities to showcase your talents on larger stages in front of more people, there is a degree of professional decorum that cannot be ignored. Publicly calling people and organizations out on a regular basis for the decisions they’ve made ultimately isn’t going to convince them to give you a chance, and it certainly won’t do nearly as much damage to their reputations as it will do to yours. Be professional, be respectful, and be courteous to those around you. Always.

*end rant*

Now, seeing as I like to broadcast solutions, I’m going to offer what I think are helpful tips to get started in a positive direction. So, if you find yourself on the outside looking in this Musikfest season – perhaps, even unknown to the powers that be – and you would like to change that, here’s an alternative approach I would suggest:

  • Continue to work on your craft. Effort shows up in a big way through your released material and live performances, and in how those improve over time.
  • Show up one night and put your talents on display. Billy Bauer hosts a great open mic every Thursday night at SteelStacks. A lot of people who play Musikfest started there.
  • While you’re there (or at any gig), let people know who you are and what you are about. Start conversations. Making friends goes a long way in this business.
  • Pay attention to what the artists around you are doing. Praise things that you enjoy about their performances, and see if there are opportunities to collaborate.
  • Take those new relationships and build them. Be supportive. If you have a night off, show up to see your friends play. Talk the talk, and walk the walk. Be a part of a community.
  • Repeat all previous steps, again and again.
  • BONUS: There’s an open mic stage every night on the North Side of Musikfest this year. Sign up!

I was talking to a close collaborator the other night, and he summed it up perfectly: “Put it out in the universe, and it will happen.” Put positivity out there, and you’ll get it back. Put negativity out there, and… you get the idea.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!

5 thoughts on “So, You Weren’t Selected to Play Musikfest…

  1. I had the privilege of playing last year’s fest, and I can honestly say after being a performing musician for most of my life, the entire process (business side, prep, and production), was top notch. Anyone who was left off and publicly crying about it is only demonstrating that their exclusion was probably for the best of the festival. Keep up the good work everyone, and I’ll see you there as a spectator this year!

  2. I have noticed over the past few years that Musikfest books themes. Like 80’s nights, British Invasion, Indy Punk, Tribute Band, Blues etc… if you are a regular cover band (even a real good one) playing local bars, what makes you different? What “theme” can you adopt to make Musikfest and even booking agents want you! For example, a few years back I saw a band on Facebook ripping Musikfest a new one because their cover bar band didn’t get booked. I thought, man you guys have a killer female lead singer who knocks the hell out of Pat Benatar, Joan Jett etc… and much of you set (that I had scene) was the classic 80’s Femake Rock singers but they never billed themselves as that. They would have fit perfectly under the Fest tent on 80’s night. Just my observation, but take a look at what’s being booked and much of it fits into a “theme.”

  3. My group “DESIRE” has had the GREAT fortune of playing Musikfest in the LARGE Festplatz tent, for the last 3 or 4 years and set records for attendance each year. This year we were not selected, and although a disappointment, we understand that other acts deserve a shot. We always will embrace the opportunity we got to perform at such an outstanding venue. Hopefully, they will keep us in mind for next year and future years. We support MUSIKFEST and it’s venues 100% and hope someday we get to perform there again. Good luck this year and for many years to come… Bobby Hepburn “DESIRE”.

  4. After being a gigging musician for nearly 20 years I’ve learned that you have be talented, a good marketer, AND a good networker to be successful. If there is another musician or band that is equally as talented but they are more active in the local scene, they will have the attention of the people who book the big shows.
    Additionally, there is a time and a place for everything. Your style of music might not be right for the event or venue. Don’t take it personally or point fingers. Just find your audience.

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