How an Independent Artist Got to Play the Main Stage at a Major Music Festival

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This guest post was written by indie music marketing guru Bob Baker.

I love stories like this that demonstrate what’s possible when you mix a little creative thinking with action.

Danika Holmes is an up-and-coming indie artist from Iowa. She had a desire to perform as an opening act on the main stage of the Heartland Jam Music Festival, to be held this summer in Davenport. This year’s festival will feature Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Phil Vassar, Gretchen Wilson, and more.

She made attempts to contact the festival talent buyer, but heard nothing back. At times like these, the vast majority of musicians give up and say, “Oh well, I tried. They aren’t interested.”

But not Danika. “I decided to take matters into my own hands and let the Heartland Jam know I was serious.”

Danika explains, “At around 4:00 AM on a Wednesday we launched an impromptu Facebook campaign. The idea was simple. We asked our fans to post to Heartland Jam’s Facebook page, ‘Bring Danika to the Heartland Jam!’ By 8:00 that evening nearly 100 people had posted to Heartland Jam’s page showing their support.”

The result: By 9:00 that night Danika got an email from the festival promoter that read, “Wow! Your fans have surely spoken!” The next day her band was booked as the main stage opening act for the festival!

“Talk about the power of the people!” Danika says.

Of course, the Facebook campaign alone probably didn’t secure the slot for her. Danika had a solid website filled with video clips, photos, and music samples. I’m sure that’s what sealed the deal.

But the primary lesson here is that she didn’t take silence (meaning no response from the buyer) as a final NO.

It would have been easy to think, “Well, I did what I could. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” Instead, Danika asked herself a more empowering question: “What else can I do to get their attention and prove that I am worthy of this slot?”

And asking her fans and friends to step up and help was the perfect way to do it. It demonstrated that she has a supportive fan base, which indicated that she is a serious artist worth checking out.

Are you stopping short of a more creative approach to getting what you want?

And, in what ways are you laying a solid foundation (in the form of killer song samples, music videos, cool photos, active gigging schedule, an attractive website, and more) that will let people know you are a serious music contender?

I welcome your comments!

Bob Baker is the author of “Guerrilla Music Marketing Online,” Berkleemusic’s “Music Marketing 101” course, and many other books and promotion resources for DIY artists, managers and music biz pros. You’ll find Bob’s free ezine, blog, podcast, video clips and articles at and

You can learn more about Danika Holmes at and

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  • Paul Caporino

    Very good! Don't take no response for an answer.

  • Richard (from Enation)

    Brilliant! Love it.

  • Emiliano

    I don't know… The music industry would be ideal if you'd get things done by posting 100 comments on facebook… In this case it worked, but in many cases it won't, for many reasons (organizers don't like being pushed, they don't think fans will attend, the festival line up is already closed and printed and distributed to the press… Whatever).

    • Raymundo

      Yes that’s all true and if Danika thought the way you did… You wouldn’t have just read that whole article on how she made it happen. All you gotta do is try and take risks if you’re truly an artist dedicated to your music. No questions asked! And if you fail, oh well move on to the next step at least u tried.

      • Stephanielee

        YAY Danika!!! Congratulations! Yep , In my experience nothing is written in stone, no how to’s, no ultimate “this is how’s” Y’ just never know! I dont see how a Promotor could possibly see facebook requests from a fan base as bullying, its information, whether or not someone can book an Artist is as varied and complex as the Promotors specific criteria for booking.YAY Danika!This Ol’ Girl is tickled at your ingenuity and good luck!

  • That's a superb idea. I will definitely use that in the future. Congratulations Danika

  • Guest

    The more conventional route would be to have management, a publicist, a label and good Sound Scan numbers. Glad Dakota got on the bill, but for 99.9% of us, it will take the traditional route.

  • Matt

    Word of warning: this strategy can easily backfire and lead to blacklisting – especially when dealing with radio, blogs, or other media outlets. Even a larger or more corporately run festival. For outlets like that where size and tenacity of fanbase isn't a primary concern (as it can be for for a festival) getting bombarded with something like that can go sour. No one, especially people in positions of power, want to feel manipulated or give the impression that favorable press or opportunities can be "bought" with fans. A strategy like this will certainly get you more attention and a second look, but it might not be positive, so you need to be… well.. strategic about the target.

  • Bruce

    This is great, and totally inspiring. Thanks for paving the way Danika!

  • Bob Baker

    When you read this success story example, don't just focus on the Facebook comments aspect of it. That's just one tactic of many available to you.

    The key thing to take away here is the idea that you may have other options when a door doesn't automatically open for you. Use your creativity — along with all the other work you've done to attract fans, post killer song samples and videos, etc — to get people's attention and demonstrate you have value.

  • PVP

    I have to agree with the comment from Matt. This strategy can easily backfire and lead to blacklisting… and with good reason. Think of how chaotic it would be if all bands did this. Festival promoters make their decisions on the basis of a variety of factors (whether right or wrong). I like that Danika used her strong fan base to get noticed, but I think with this approach the implicit message to the buyer is, “all these people will hate you if you don’t hire this particular band.” That’s not fair to the festival. The fans don’t necessarily know all the details of the situation and neither does the artist for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Danika got noticed and got her slot and I think it’s great that her fans are so supportive of her, but I have to caution against a wide application of this approach.

  • Glem40

    great there danika ! go and get them ! i hate it when i have go to this stage and that calls and calls all over just to get a lousy gig there. even i called and called the people at the world arena and pikes peak center and got a finger at my face for locals ! gee i wouldnt ! even step into world arena booking and biggie talent scouts out of state takes over when the little singer gets shit ! ughh

  • kosha dillz

    the fact is if youre dope youre dope. campagins work only if you are the real deal

  • Brett

    I can certainly say that my independent band of 11 years, with quite a few websites of videos, mp3s and pictures, plus a healthy fan base have tried this strategy on a few occasions and failed miserably. Festivals in Australia don't support local independent artists, regardless of talent, quality content on the internet or the amount of fans you have. If you're not already signed to a record label and being played regularly on a major radio station, they don't want to know about you. And Facebook campaigns have indeed resulted in us being blacklisted from several festivals. So proudly we continue to march underground and entertain the shadow people who come out of the woodwork to hear us 🙂

  • Yeah RIght

    What also helps from not only keeping you blacklisted, but actually snagging a main stage slot by way of spamming a festival website is to make damn sure you’re hot looking (and a girl). Let’s retry this same experiment with an exceptionally talented but overweight/ugly male independent artist who’s in their mid 30s and see what happens. I think the results would be quite different. And when I say “I think” what I mean to say is that “I know”.

  • Joepriceblues

    I am glad a fellow Iowan was able to get this gig. But like so many things once it is posted on something like CDBaby, everyone does it and pretty soon promoters are sick of it. Last week I received 5 requests from bands wanting me to send money for their CD’s. How much do our fans and promoters take before they just say F you.

  • Joepriceblues

    Most of the Festivals contact a promotional person, booking agent or label and book through them. That’s the way it goes. Festivals are hard to get into and there is no magic bullet.

  • Much thanks Bob and CD baby for sharing this story!

  • Reznap

    Most times, it is better to regret having done something than to regret having done nothing. Use creativity and keep plugging. Results can come in unexpected ways. I recently bought a pair of trousers from in San Francisco. I had a problem with the website order and called them. They were very nice on the phone. So, when I got my email receipt, I sent them back an mp3 of an Olla De Gringos song. Betabrand turned around and said they wanted to use it for one of their promotional videos. Everybody in the band got paid with a pair of Disco Pants, and thousands of people were turned on to The Most Obscure Legend Of Paddy McGann.

  • Love that she stepped up and made it happen! Great story – thanks for sharing Bob!

  • What Danika did was think outside the box,It also took courage.Never asssume something
    won't work,this is the hallmark of success.A loyal fan base is a wonderful thing to have.
    Curt Cobain wrote to record companies,to get a record deal,and finally broke through.

    If you think following all the rules,hoping someone will recognize you,will give you your
    big break,then your dreaming.Many of the acts you see today are pretty outrageous,
    and have done bold things to get noticed. The ones that become successful don't take no
    for an answer.Danika didn't commit a crime,she took the initiative.

    Judging by her photo,I'm sure she has a great stage presence as well. This is how you
    go from bar to star,I wish her continued success.

    I think of the time tested saying, "Fortune favors the bold!"

  • Jeb H.

    This is one success story among many for Danika. I know the story behind her upcoming performance at the Hard Rock Cafe in Prague (Praha). 75 emails were sent out initially to many different venues requesting performance slots. Only the Hard Rock Cafe in Prague answered. They said No.

    Specifically, the response roughly said ‘Thanks for your offer but no. We are doing shows just Wednesday and Thursday.’

    Carefully critique this two line response and the “No” refers to the date requested – NOT to performing at the venue.

    A response was sent back to them clarifying a date on the tour that would work for them, and the ‘No’ turned into a ‘Yes’.

    Simple? No. 75 emails = 1 No = 1 Yes.

    What’s it take to make a tour happen? 25 dates @ 75 emails = 1875 emails + followups + creative ways of turning no into yes. Not to mention contracts, scheduling, and… did I mention that those emails were sent in English & 10 other languages native to those Countries? *Thanks Google translate*

    Bob Baker is a beast at marketing… the question really is ‘do you have the beast within you?’ It’s not luck, it is hard work. Bob will tell you what to do, he will not do it for you! 🙂

    Best of “luck” to everyone!

  • Anonymous

    The nusic of course needs to speak for itself. And I agree that taking silence or no for an answer is never the best route. You not only have to write and perform great music, but you have to believe in you music and when you truly do, the passion you feel as an artist really shines through and many more door open up for you. Facebook may not be the best example in doing this for lots of different reasons but keeping a positive attitude and outlook on your career and focusing on your goals (achievable goals)

  • Hey Danika, no problem at all. Thanks for the story!

  • On the flip-side, though, extra-musical concerns (attractiveness, fashion, health, the brand-name of musical instruments, tiny Stonehenges being lowered onto the stage, etc.) have always played a part in the public's perception of an artist. If Danika does invest time in her own health and beauty (for its own intrinsic benefit and as a component of musical performances), kudos to her!

    It seems like a double-standard to hold a woman's attractiveness against her when most of the men on that same festival stage were probably… fit, fashionable, young, handsome, etc. (I realize your "hot looking" comment does account for men as well, before you included the parenthetical).

    If one of those guys used the same method as Danika to convince festival planners to book them, we might think positively, neutrally, or negatively about the method itself, but I don't think our first assumption would be that the festival slot was awarded because the dude was hot. We'd probably assume the bookers found merit either in the guy's music or in the engagement of his fanbase, or some combination of both. I'm sure the same was true in Danika's case; festival planners weren't simply blinded by her looks.

    It's an old cliche, but one that is true– music is a male-dominated industry, still. And sometimes I think that allows "us guys" to take some things for granted, and then hold those same things against the outliers, folks in the minority, or exceptions to the rule.

    Now, all that being said, I think the deeper frustration that underlies your hypothetical example/experiement is one worth exploring, and one that I can relate to: what are talented musicians to make of a world that judges a sonic artform based on what it LOOKS like?

    Clearly there is no one correct path. Some people fight against it with some success; others embrace the currents and go with the flow (adopting some of the fashion/beauty concerns for the sake of their career).

    But given the fact that MOST musicians don't "make it" anyways (in the sense of achieving a sustainable career with a wide audience, some radio play, a few popular videos, etc.)– we might as well discover what makes us happy, what makes us unhappy, and what parts of the bullshit we can simply live with, and be as true to ourselves as possible.

    • I guess a simpler way of saying all of this is: we generally don't hold a man's good looks against him if he's successful.

  • Anonymous

    It's also good thinking from the festival organizers: they get a group of devoted fans to show early in the day (for a concert) and likely stay. We all know how crappy audiences can be for those 12 pm gigs that open all day fests. But like somebody already mentioned, be careful and use common sense – don't spam.

  • Not sure if I'd use this approach either, but I might. Thinking for a second, I'm not sure if I'd be too concerned with blacklisting. I mean, basically, most of the festivals represent an impenetrable wall to most acts anyway. So you get blacklisted. Are you that much worse off than when they don't respond?

    • Good point. Just use this technique sparingly and with respect for folks' inboxes.

  • Devon

    Having worked in festivals for years, this is a very bad idea. There's nothing more infuriating for a festival than a blindsiding fan campaign that fills up your email inbox. The point of a festival is to be about something larger than just one artist, and this strategy runs completely against that ethos. This is a sure way NOT to get booked at plenty of festivals.

  • Katie Pearlman

    thank you Christopher!