A Conversation with Zak Pashak, Sled Island Music and Arts Festival
The curtain has closed on Summer 2012 but musicians all across the country still have summer on their mind. That’s Summer 2013. While several seasons still have to pass before thoughts turn to next Summer for the general public, musicians are planning now for next year’s festival scene.
While bands are dreaming big of filling festival slots at the likes of Bonnaroo, Coachella, Summerfest or SXSW, hundreds of other music festivals are looking for bands like yours to perform. Playing a music festival is a big opportunity for a band and has potential to expose your music to new listeners and future fans. If have ever played a festival, you know that getting a festival gig is highly competitive. Remember how important first impressions are for your band. While your gig at the festival may only be a 90 minute (or less) performance, the festival usually spends the better part (if not all) of the year preparing for the next year’s event. Festival organizers are serious about their jobs and expect the same from you.
Coming up over the next few months, we will be looking at different festivals and examining what it takes to secure a coveted festival time slot. Kicking off the series, we are taking a look at Sled Island, the annual music and arts festival in Calgary. The 2012 edition of the festival had a huge lineup that included Feist, The Hold Steady, Archers of Loaf, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Plant, Thurston Moore and many more! Check out the festival by visiting their website by clicking here.
Zak Pashak founded the festival in 2007. Recently we chatted with him about his involvement with the festival, what they are looking for in new bands, as well as general advice for bands on getting booked at music festivals.
BandLink (BL): What’s your official title?
Zak Pashak (ZP): Officially I am the founder, a board member, and the artistic director.
BL: Describe your responsibilities with the festival.
ZP: I used to do a lot of the work for the festival, but a couple years ago I moved to anew city and since then have been doing my best to remove myself from most things.
Right now I help with gentle guidance on operations as much as possible. I work with our booker, and I work with the guest curators and book their bands. I also book some of the bands that fill in the gaps once we get closer to completing the schedule.
BL: What’s your process in booking bands for the festival? Small bands first? More well known bands first? etc.
ZP: The process for me was always pretty flexible. I found flexibility made it possible for me to make things work- to some degree I had to just let it happen and connect things where I could and make sure certain things were done. When you try to overly control the festival it breaks up a bit.
BL: How many band submissions do you get in the booking process and how many do you ultimately book?
ZP: I think we get just under 1000 a year these days. Ultimately there are anywhere between 250-350 bands that play depending on how many venues we are working with. About 150 come from the submissions and we approach and book the rest.
BL: What makes an unknown’s band press kit stand out to you?
ZP: I don’t review the press kits anymore, we have a panel of different people in the community who do review everything together. They listen as a group and decide on who should be booked. We try to get people from all kinds of different backgrounds who love music to sit on the panel. It’s all about the music- they don’t accept traditional press kits with stickers and paper and CDs (all that wasteful crap that we just throw away). We just work with electronic press kits- and usually the extra stuff other than just the music makes bands look desperate or silly. The best thing for us is something nice and clean with some clear info and at least a few great recordings.
BL: What’s an immediate turn off for you with a band applying to play?
ZP: A band with some cheesy, horribly written, way too wordy bio about how they formed. Many bands do this- like they think they are Metallica and people are going to care how they met each other.
BL: Have you run across bands who simply won’t take no for an answer?
ZP: Yes. I used to book a lot of bands and work with a lot of other bookers. I would remember these bands, and not in a way that did them any favours. It’s a small world, and the small group of friends you might make, or the week of attention you might get for attacking a booker or acting like sociopaths is not worth it. I’ve noticed this in music- the bigger the band and the better they are doing usually directly translates to how nice they are. You can almost tell who from the smaller bands is going to do well because they stand out by how nice they are.
It amazing to see that these not very good, not very known bands are often the ones who act like a bunch of J-Los. And then the bigger bands are always nice and easy and never complain as long as you’ve lived up to your side of the deal (ie- made sure the sound was good, etc).
BL: What advice do you have for bands as they begin the process of submitting their material to festivals all across North America for next summer?
ZP: Don’t do the old school paper and plastic press kits (unless you’re dealing doing a casino tour, or trying to appeal to a very old booker). They are wasteful and have nothing to do with your music. Everyone can make a CD now- there is nothing impressive about having or sending a CD. Try to make a good recording and try to have excellent songs. Make it clear and hopefully something that gives the listener an idea what you sound like live. Describe your live show briefly (without overstating how awesome it is- just describe it). It’s about the steak- not the sizzle. Bookers get nothing but sizzle from way too many people. We like steak.