You are only as important as the badge you have.
A press pass will not get you everywhere
I suppose The word « badge » is not quite the right choice, I am talking about passes – those much coveted pieces of plastic that get you into places where the punters can’t go. And that is the whole point of a pass. My piece of plastic means that I can go somewhere you cannot. However when you finally get those places that mere mortals cannot go you really wonder whether it was actually worth going in the first place.
In any festival for those who have passes, your importance is measured by the number of passes that you wear round your neck on your webbing neck chain, which is not actually a chain because it is made of nylon webbing. To tell the truth, until I started writing this I was never bothered about the true technical name of this neck thing. It is in fact called a
« lanyard ». So, the more passes you have dangling from the end of your lanyard, the more important you are.
Most coveted of all passes is that which gives you access backstage. This is only given to the lucky few, such as PR people, festival organisers but never journalists. Oh no, the humble press pass might get you into the media centre, the journalists bar and of course press conferences, but it will not get you backstage. For this to happen, the humble journalist must have a special « one off » backstage pass, and on his or her trip backstage, the journalist is always accompanied by a couple of minders (gorillas in Raybans) and some PR people.
And when you get backstage to interview your chosen star you actually wonder if it was all worth it.
What exactly is backstage?
Legend would have us believe that backstage is a place seething with groupies, where champagne flows in rivers, where coke is sniffed in highways and not lines. Backstage is a den of iniquity, a sinful, wicked, immoral and vice filled place where rock stars hold depraved licentious, and raucous court – and so it might have been with the Rolling Stones in the mid seventies, this though is my small-town rock festival and when I get backstage to interview Ben Harper, it is quite shocking – no raw lustful hedonism, but tea and biscuits and tired roadies snoozing away on sofas. No smoking, clean toilets, plastic plants and loads of bored musicians wandering around waiting for their sound check. All very disappointing. So, a backstage pass might get you a cup of tea and a glimpse of a star or two, but it will not get you an interview, for this you need the press pass.
Access to the stars and access to the press centre – the full empowerment of the press pass. As for the press centre or the press club, this is yet another of those places mere mortals cannot go, and like backstage, when you get there …
Well what did you expect?
The smoking ban might mean that the place is a little less « smoggy » than in previous years, but it is still full of journalists propping up the bar – although the drinks in the bar at the press centre are actually more expensive than those outside in the real world.
You might think that the media centre would be full of media types, working, slaving their way over hot laptops, hammering out raw rock and roll copy.
No, the press centre is full of pretend journalists – those who work for « webzines » or music blogs (or even national monthly English language newspapers). The real journalists (i.e. journalists from papers that people read or TV programmes that people watch and not the presenter of the weekly music programme on a regional cable TV channel watched by his close family and a handful of friends), the real journalists avoid the press club. They’ll just cruise into town for their interview, or in the case of national TV, they will use stock-footage of festivalgoers and a pre-recorded interview –
So, to the burning question – How do you get a press pass to a festival?
Well you have to be a journalist meaning that you must be registered as such, which means you have a press card. To be registered as a journalist in France, even a freelancer, you must justify to the appropriate authorities, via salary slips, invoices, and tax returns and published examples of your work, that the majority of your income is derived from journalism.
You must obviously be working for some kind of media, be it a newspaper a TV channel, a website or even a blog. Of course, for the festival organisers, your chosen media must have a decent readership or decent viewing figures to ensure that the festival gets maximum coverage.
Your face must fit. Even if you fulfil all the above criteria; if the festival organisers don’t like young they might give your press pass to someone else.
Now we come to the vicious circle.
You are not a real journalist and you want a pres pass. It took me roughly five years to crack the press pass nut. I have always done freelance writing and translating and I had always wanted to cover my local festival. As a freelance, every year you have to find a sympathetic paper or website that will cover you for an accreditation, then you have to prove to the festival organisers that you work for a serious newspaper and then you have to convince the newspaper that it is in their interest to cover the festival. So, you write around every media available to find an employer and in doing this you have to provide examples of your previously published work covering the festival. In short you lie to everyone, you cross your fingers and hope.
The powers that be at Mojo, NME and Rolling Stone had never heard of my festival and they ad never heard of me. The likes of The Times, The Guardian and the Daily Mail just didn’t reply, but I was lucky enough to latch on to a couple of obscure English language newspapers that needed some music articles to fill their unfilled columns.
It is not and exact science. It is all trial and error and it is hours of Internet research, but for all would-be RnR journalists, there is a media out there for you. Just up to you to match the right media with the right festival and above all match the mood of the media with artists on the festival programme.
To finish with passes
Any idiot can get a pass to a festival. Just stump a few hundred Euros and buy the « Pro Pass » – that pass bought by talent scouts or organisers of other festivals. A pro pass to my local festival costs just over 500 Euros. You get to see all the bands and you get access to the band PR machines. This sort of pas sis purchased by those looking for bands to put on at their own festivals or at their own concert venues.
Of course, the pass you want above all other is the Vehicle Pass – a guaranteed access and parking space for your car throughout the whole festival. Forget the Backstage or the Press Pass. On any festival, the parking passi s likes gold dust.