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A Camden Crawler's Guide to Festival Management: Booking the Bands

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I am in the midst of some of the busiest weeks of the entire year, and write this blog post with barely enough time to write my shopping list. I blogged last week about our curators, and the process we use to select acts and artists to appear at the festival. That plunges me head-first into the real grind of festival management: booking the bands.

The Camden Crawl is an eclectic festival on every level: from the latest wunderkinds to the oldest hands, we push new talent and pay tribute to the founding acts of the alternative movement. Last year, we had Killing Joke on one stage and Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All on another. Both bands blew it up. But they're not exactly the same prospect.

That makes booking for the Crawl an odd experience. It's not as if, with the gaps between genres and ages that we embrace, you can go to one or two of the biggest booking agents and get it all sorted in one high-powered meeting. (I'm not sure it ever works like that, but corporate festival managers must have their dreams.) What faces me once our curators have had a say is a vast range of promoters, agents and managers - and a vaster rage of scheduling conflicts, competing demands, and disparate personalities.

Booking is a time-suck. I have lost count of the number of times in the last few weeks I've had to say, "Can I speak to you about this in a couple of weeks?" One of the key skills a festival manager has to learn is prioritising - and nothing is more important to the ultimate success of a festival, of course, than booking bands. You have to put in the hours... especially if you procrastinate as much as I do!

I've been around for quite a while and that gives me a few shortcuts - one of the best pieces of advice I might give to someone starting their own grassroots festival is to book people you know want to play! But of course those pesky curators often select acts I might have heard of but have certainly never met and who don't have a clue about the event at all. I know how to make the first approaches, but conversations take time - like anything, festival management is often about relationship building.

All this work results in huge satisfaction, however, once it's all done. If you've done your job right, what you have is a line-up both expansive and exciting, with something for everyone and yet a strong identity all of its own. In years past we've had everything from Madness playing on an open-top bus, to Amy Winehouse or Adele crooning in a bar, to a band like Cerebral Ballzy tearing their venue apart. Putting all this together is like constructing a 3D puzzle using only verbal instructions. But when you get it right, it just clicks.

At the moment, there are still a bunch more pieces to find. Check our website on February 21st for the first announcements - we've already got some pretty awesome ones in place.

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