How to land your first festival gig #3: Reading & Leeds

22nd Aug 2011 | 11:20

How to land your first festival gig #3: Reading & Leeds

Find out how a festival line-up is put together here!

Ever wondered how a festival line-up is put together? Us too! In an exclusive series, MusicRadar speaks to the curators, directors and bookers from three top UK music festivals to find out, as well as asking them how your band can get on their bill in 2012!

Playing your first ever festival gig is one of the most exciting experiences in a new band's budding career. Yes, you'll probably be playing a stage no bigger than your living room. Yes, you'll have no chance of getting a rider. And yes, your set will be over as soon as you've plugged in, but you will have your collective feet on a ladder that – if you're good enough – will lead you to bigger stages and bigger fees over the years.

Whether you're a dance, electronic or urban pop act; a hardcore, indie or rock band, or something so leftfield and off the wall that you defy classification, between Latitude, Reading & Leeds and Wireless, there's room for everyone.

In this three-part series, MusicRadar speaks to the bookers for each festival to discover how a mammoth festival line-up is crafted, how you can get your band on a bill, and why developing a thick skin is essential when slugging it out with tons of other potential festival newbies.

Reading & Leeds

With My Chemical Romance, Muse and The Strokes headlining this year's Reading & Leeds festivals, booker Neil Pengelly has one of the most raucous line-ups of the summer. Booking acts for the festival since 1994, Neil knows exactly what he's looking for when choosing bands for the dual location extravaganza.

Speaking to MusicRadar about putting the festival line-up together, Neil also has some sage words of advice for those of you looking to get on the various Reading & Leeds stages next year.

What is the best aspect of your job booking bands for the Reading & Leeds festival?

"The best is the weekend itself, and seeing the crowds going mad for the acts that are playing. Everything else builds up to that. There's also a big element of satisfaction in seeing bands progress from the new bands stages up the bill."

How far in advance of the festival do you begin thinking about which bands to book?

"I usually start looking at headliners about 16 months in advance and go from there. The first headliner for this year confirmed in early September 2010, after a couple of months of negotiations. Once the headliners are in place you can then start progressing down through the bill and stages."

What kind of work goes into it establishing that line-up?

"Mostly it's dealing with agents – a combination of them approaching me and me approaching them."

Do you have a dedicated team to help you choose bands, like festival scouts, or do you handle most of the work yourself?

"It's pretty much just me, although Mike Davies has great input into the Lock Up stage."

How do you research bands to play Reading & Leeds? For example, do you use social networking sites, press releases and label promos, or is it more word of mouth and going to gigs?

"It's a combination of them all really: who has an album coming out, who's touring, who everyone's talking about? As well as gigs I get to watch."

For a new band looking to play Reading & Leeds in 2012, how could they make you aware of them?

"The best way for new bands for Reading & Leeds is to go via BBC Introducing, or through the Futuresound competition in Leeds if they're from the North West. I always have a listen to things I get sent, but on the main stages there's very little space for new acts that haven't already got records out or have been picking up a bit of press."

Can bands contact you direct to discuss getting a gig at Reading & Leeds, or do you prefer working with a manager or booking agent?

"Direct contact is fine, but generally acts that are at a level to play Reading & Leeds would have a booking agent."

What are your top tips for a band looking to land a festival gig?

"Find the right festival for you. It's probably best if you start at smaller events, where you're not playing directly against massive acts. You also need to be persistent, keep playing shows and get your band's name about."


Reading & Leeds takes place on the weekend of 26-28 August 2011. For more information, check out www.readingfestival.com and www.leedsfestival.com.

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