They’re probably not as famous as Glastonbury or Roskilde, but Europe’s many showcase festivals keep the music business alive.
There are two types of music festivals. Ordinary festivals aim to please the audience. Showcase festivals aim to serve the musicians. They are the backstage of the music business, the place where creatives meet the professionals who help keep the show on the road. They are the gatekeepers of the music industry. Here, the decision is made about new artists as well as about (digital) trends in booking, marketing and more.
There are around 60 showcase festivals of various sizes across Europe. A showcase festival is one which combines public performances with music industry conferences and trade events. Their live music programmes carry both established and up-and-coming artists.
A backstage pass to the music business
For some, a gig at a showcase festival will be a ticket to success. That’s because a showcase festival audience is a mixture of regular punters and music business professionals who are there to find talent and make deals.
Bands who get booked at showcase festivals have the opportunity to create contacts with professionals from across the industry. After spending years of knocking on doors and sending messages to unresponsive executives, this is their chance to shake hands with people who are otherwise hard to reach.
For a band who has been struggling to break out of their home town or country, a showcase festival is the route to getting gigs and deals across borders. The audience often includes visiting professionals from other countries. But an even more effective method is to apply to perform at a showcase in another country. Most showcase events are open to such international exchange.
Showcases aren't the place for a debut gig. To get booked at a showcase festival, you'll already need to have some traction. Bands will need to show they're serious about pursuing a career in the music business.
It’s best to treat a visit to a showcase festival in the same way that a conventional sales or marketing team prepares to visit a trade conference. Do your research - find out who will be there, figure out who to meet, and even try to book in an appointment in advance. Be prepared - have business cards, press kits, download codes and swag ready to hand out. And follow up - if you’ve made a contact, keep them close.
If a label, booker or promoter is interested in your band, they'll have likely already listened to your music online. The showcase gig is more likely to be seen as a confirmation of your skills, and a test of the audience reaction to your live presence. It might not be the biggest audience of your career, but it could be the most important one.
Behind the scenes at showcase festivals
The trade show part of a showcase festival is usually a closed-door event. It’s a space where label reps, bookers, music managers and publicists mix and meet. They’re there to find opportunities and secure recording contracts, physical and digital distribution deals, film and television licensing deals, touring and festival spots, and even company mergers and acquisitions.
They’re also there to learn. A showcase festival often has a conference track to provide professional development for cultural workers. The keynotes, panels and workshops ensure they are informed about business trends. As technology constantly revolutionizes the music scene, professionals must keep up-to-date or risk being left behind.
The festivals themselves must also constantly innovate. Currently, most showcase events are fragmented by national borders. Each tends to focus on artists from their own country or region. Until now, there has been limited cooperation between them.
Showcase festivals create a network
That’s why eight of Europe’s best showcase festivals have now joined forces. Together with gigmit, the digital platform for artist booking, the eight festivals have launched the Innovation Network of European Showcases, or INES.
As well as benefiting the music business overall, showcase festivals are a boost to their local economies. The INES showcase festivals generate an estimated €7.3 million through tourism and hospitality, employ more than 400 people, host more than 2000 artists and welcome more than 50,000 guests.
Showcase festivals are a chance for artists and culture workers to grow and develop. INES is a chance for the festivals themselves to do the same. In the end, the biggest winners will be Europe’s many music fans, who can look forward to hearing a more diverse selection of sounds.