Songwriters Festivals and how to Play Em'

               MAB’S MUSICAL STUFF: 


I found out last Friday, that I was going to be included in the upcoming GATLINBURG SONGWRITER’S FESTIVAL, August 19-22 of this year. This was very nice because I had forgotten I SUBMITTED, for the Gatlinburg songwriter’s festival so it was very nice and an honor to be included. I had done the SMOKEY MOUNTAIN SONGWRITERS FESTIVAL for five years but when the founder, Cindy Montgomery died two years ago, I did not know if or when it would go on .I love the area, so am excited to get back there. 

Songwriter’s festivals are among the best opportunities to be seen by great audiences, get to know people from that area, have great venues, network with other writers, and see the hit makers up close and personal. I strongly encourage people interested in the art and craft of songwriting to attend and be a part of all of them they can. 
I’m also often asked “How do you play them?” so I thought I’d do a little simple guide on how to become involved in these great events. 

My main one is in November, THE FRANK BROWN SONGWRITERS FESTIVAL, where I have been honored to be included since 1994. It’s the main boost to my career in Nashville and I’ll be there this year. Also, The Pensacola songwriters festival, Mississippi songwriters festival, Tin Pan South, and many others. There are also many, many others I’ve never been to. Each one has their own requirements, submissions, fees, and etiquette, and all have web sites. So always check with the sources first. But here are some general thoughts: 

While showcasing great entertainment, giving the audiences a very special experience, bringing the art and craft of songwriting to people that rarely see it, It needs to be mentioned that festivals are ABOUT BRINGING MONEY AND TOURISM INTO THEIR AREAS. Their restaurants, bars, venues, hotels, air B&B, condos, and workers in those areas. 
They are usually in “DOWN SEASONS” for the area.  In Gatlinburg, there is a break between summer and the fall foliage viewers. In Gulf Shores and Perdido Key, it is a break between labor day and Snowbird season. So it is bringing dollars into an area at a down time. 

#2. DON’T SUCK. 
I know this sounds silly but you have to be someone that will attract people who are not interested in music alone. Tourists, general travelers, locals, etc. are usually going out just for the area. Most of these shows are not the BLUEBIRD “SHHHHH!” nights. They don’t always listen. You are playing for the GENERAL PUBLIC, so if you go on with your five nine minute depressing murder ballads, you might want to stay home. This is THE ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS.  No one wants to run customers off. If you want to play these, BE ON YOUR GAME, and make your game CROWD FRIENDLY. 

Like all things that have to do with music, there is a definite “pecking order” of who gets in. Limited venues, hours in the day and night, and fickle public dictate that there has to be a certain level of talent. Instead of that warding newbies off, it should UP THE LEVEL OF THEIR GAME. If you want to play with the big boys and girls, better be on your game! 
The pecking order goes something like this: 
HIT AND ESTABLISHED SONGWRITERS. These are the people with the songs or personalities that bring in the general public. Hearing someone who wrote a Garth Brooks, George Strait, Faith Hill, or Brad Paisley, is going to get you at the front of the line. Hit writers have that and are also usually VERY GOOD PERFORMERS. 
“Established writers” are ones that might not have the marquee singles, but have very good songs, are known in their industry circles, have probably had cuts or deals, and are the people everyone likes to see and hear, and that venues want entertaining their clientel’. 

These are people that play the respective areas or might be regional people that do touring throughout that region. 
They will also include local favorites who might play the venues regularly but often doing cover songs. This is a time they get to feature their originals. 

Usually publishers, labels, like to get their new artists out for some stage time. They test out new material and preview upcoming projects. Some of these are younger people just kicking off their careers. Some are the proteges of the hit and established artists. They get invited on rounds and showcase sets, but the established people. Friends of friends are people who know someone who is giving them a leg up. These can also be favorites of the venues. It’s very normal for “someone’s son, daughter, grandchild, friend or relative to get put on because their contact owns the venue. Or getting “grandfathered in” by a round for someone who has been a volunteer or supporter of the festival. 

Most festivals have an “open mic or stage” for the people who haven’t yet earned their way onto the regular shows. 
These can range from an “official stage” with times that are before or after regular shows,  to an afterhours party on a front porch or special room, or hotel room “jams” that go on quite a bit. Many of these have the hit and established writers attend, play a song, meet people, the volunteers from the festival, the established people behind the scenes, it is the way that you build RELATIONSHIPS. 

Expect to stand in line. For every slot, usually room for 75-150 people on the regular shows, there are 500-600 that submit, show up, and want to play. After Covid, expect those numbers to skyrocket. Submissions usually require a bio, link to web sites, photos, who you are. Usually, it’s good to have video on yourself, in front of audiences. 
Make sure you are EASY TO CONTACT. Remember that people viewing the submissions are viewing HUNDREDS of people. So having yourself look good in a MINUTE or less is a great idea. 

One chance to make a BAD FIRST IMPRESSION! If you have a five-minute set up to a ten-minute song, you are probably not going to be accepted. If you are boring as hell, you probably not going to be accepted. If people are fast forwarding past your product, you probably won’t be accepted. Again, DON’T SUCK. 

Everyone usually goes to these festivals once or twice, before they really even get serious about performing on them. Volunteer behind the scenes. Festivals need help to man booths, sell merchandise, sign in writers, help venues, run errands, help the writers find out what they are doing, man the hospitality rooms. This is where you meet the people you want to. You get to see the shows. You become a PART of the festival. It will earn you endless good will. 

Look, Listen and learn. Find out how the major writers think and act. Be a part of something bigger than just yourself. 
It’s THE BEST way to see “behind the curtain” of the real music industry, see and hear upcoming songs and artists, and is a great opportunity to learn how it all works and a lot of what DOESN’T WORK. 

Good luck and I’ll see you at the Festivals. 

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