Nominations are open for this year's New Bosses, IQ's annual spotlight on ten of the most promising young people working in live music
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Continuing a series of interviews with IQ's 2018 New Bosses, Mike Jones is the co-founder of fast-growing, multi-faceted UK promoter the MJR Group
By IQ on 18 Oct 2018
The New Bosses 2018 – the latest edition of IQ’s annual list of future live business leaders – received a rapturous industry response following its publication in IQ 78, with friends and colleagues of the winning ten agents, promoters and other rising stars rushing to congratulate the class of 2018.
In putting together the list, 2018’s New Bosses gave IQ lengthy interviews spotlighting their careers so far, as well as insights into their working methods and tips for those hoping to follow in their footsteps. While these were (owing to the limitations of a print magazine) edited heavily, they’ll be reproduced in full online and on IQ Index over the coming weeks.
Next up is 29-year-old Mike Jones, co-founder/promoter at the UK’s the MJR Group. Jones has been promoting shows since the age of 12 – primarily, he says, because his friends’ bands were terrible and nobody else would book them. Aged 14, he began promoting American and European touring acts and then ran TJ’s venue in his home town of Newport, before setting up a chain of live venues with the Intertain Group, which led to establishing MJR with fellow promoter, Rich Buck. (Read the previous interview, with ICM Partners’ Kevin Jergenson, here.)
What are you working on at the moment?
A complete mixed bag, same as always. We’ve just started to announce the outdoor Summer Series at Domain Park in Sydney, the first announce being a huge motown, disco and soul bill headlined by the Jacksons, with Kool and the Gang, Sister Sledge and lots more.
Elsewhere, we’ve got the 50 Cent UK and European tour coming up in a few weeks, which is doing fantastic business, along with some new venues opening in Birmingham, back in the UK, which I’m very excited about. As we get a bit closer to the end of the calendar year we’ll also have a variety of multi-continent and multi-year projects go live too.
Who was your industry mentor?
John Sicolo, who owned TJ’s, was a big part of my life. He unfortunately passed away a few years ago, but he’s the person who gave me my first real chance and made me believe in myself. So, aged 16, I took on the diary for a really legendary space with lots of history but lots of challenges too – there were no resources or staff, so if you wanted something done you did it yourself.
John wasn’t a promoter by any means, but I learnt a lot being around him and in the venue so often. I later found out that if you ran the diary in that venue you were also the toilet cleaner, the security and the barrel changer at the same time, so that helped to keep me grounded and instilled a hard work ethic in me, too.
As a New Boss, how would you improve the way the business is done?
I’d like to see us have a more open attitude to young, talented people who want to start a career in the industry. We should want the very brightest and best working with us, and that applies to the people working behind the scenes as much as the people up on the stage. If we aren’t willing to give them a chance they’ll just end up in finance or, worse still, politics.
If you had to choose one highlight from your career so far, what would it be?
Sia at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland was quite special – that was our first major stadium show, and it felt like a of a turning point of sorts. The fact that Auckland is the furthest possible city from where we started is strangely ironic, too. Outside of that, working with Steel Panther has been an absolute blast – we’ve all become friends and most important of all they’re a band I can share haircare tips with too. There aren’t many of those around anymore.
Where is the most exciting place your work has taken you?
All the usual spots – the Middle East is great fun, as is Australia, where I particularly love Melbourne. It’s a terrible cliché but the real excitement is about what’s going to come next, though: the world’s a small place and we plan on developing our business throughout most of it.
“If we aren’t willing to give young people a chance they’ll just end up in finance – or, worse still, politics”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt while at MJR?
To take really good care of your team, and to empower them to get out there and try things. If they do make a mistake, that’s fine – it’s part of the learning process, and problem-solving is an important skill in this line of work, to put it mildly. It’s very easy to get caught up with conversations on new bookings and all of that exciting stuff, but day to day there’s a large group of people putting their absolute trust and faith in you, and you need to show the same back to them, too.
What advice would you give anyone who wants to get into the live music business?
Decide early on what specific sector of the industry you’d like to work in, and concentrate solely on doing your absolute best in that role. If there’s not an opening with an existing company then get out and make your own. Be prepared to work harder than anyone else, and be prepared to make sacrifices in your personal life, too.
A lot of young people coming through try to be all-rounders, which will get you up to a point – but really we’re an industry of specialists and the sooner you figure out what you’re going to specialise in, the better.
MJR is a very ambitious company. Are there any sectors of territories you’re targeting to help with company growth?
We’re moving into live comedy in a big way now. Some of our existing comedy acts are already doing 10,000 tickets in London, but it’s a genre that we’ll be doing a lot more with in the future.
We’re also doing more and more live touring projects with IPs in the worlds of movies, TV, video games, podcasts, etc., too. Geographically we already have shows on sale in most parts of the world, but, again, that’ll increase quite dramatically going into 2019 and beyond. Eastern Europe, Asia, and South Africa in particular are going to become really important for us. We won’t expand for the sake of it, but if something comes in and makes sense then we’ll commit and make it happen.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
Spend time with my beautiful children, Rafael and Santiago, who I love very much and drive me to do my absolute best in life.
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