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Futures Forum: Closing the Generation Gap

The differences between the generations on the professional side of the business were explored during ILMC's Futures Forum

By Gordon Masson on 07 Mar 2023


The fascinating differences between the generations on the professional side of the business were explored during ILMC’s Futures Forum.

The OK, Boomer: Closing the Generation Gap, Part II session was chaired by Debbie McWilliams, from the Scottish Event Campus, and leaned on the experiences of CAA agents Maria May and Bilge Morden, and promoters Raye Cosbert (Metropolis Music) and Peter Thomsen (Kilimanjaro Live).

While May and Cosbert harked back to a time when their generation helped make the rules and by definition had to be entrepreneurial, Morden noted that millennials and Gen Z staff desire more feedback from their elders, hoping to be guided through their careers, rather than being allowed to follow the wrong path and waste any time.

“The review we get once a year doesn’t really work for millennials – it’s very important to keep them motivated and engaged, otherwise they are likely to move on,” warned Morden. “Millennials will leave a job for less pay, if it has more purpose.”

But underlining just how much busier today’s live music environment can be, Morden disclosed, “We have the Helter Skelter [agency] roster framed on the office wall, and that entire roster is probably smaller than the roster that many agents personally have today.”

“Women in live did not really exist back in the day – and that was the same with colour, people with disabilities… The change has all been positive”

May acknowledged that the commitment to invest in people’s success has brought about significant changes in the business. “We need to create an environment where we can retain staff,” she said. “We spend so long investing in them that you want to keep them and develop them into future bosses.”

However, sounding a note of caution for younger people who want to climb the ladder quickly, May admitted, “It took me about ten years to become a really good agent – and I wasn’t firing on all cylinders until I was six or seven years in. But those years allowed me to make mistakes and learn from that, so it was good that it took a moment.”

Thomsen, who started at Kilimanjaro as an intern, told Futures Forum delegates, “The internship was super-helpful, but very much [because] I figured out how to make it work for me: I sat next to ticketing and learned about that; I asked marketing if they needed help… so, I got to know how the company worked, and when they were hiring promoter reps, I told them that’s what I wanted to do, and they fortunately gave me the break.”

Thomsen also applauded Kilimanjaro for the way it emboldens staff to be creative. “It’s about making sure everyone feels that they contribute, and their ideas can be heard. There’s a lot of intelligence and creativity at all levels of employee,” said Thomsen.

Cosbert pointed out that it has been the younger generation that has driven change when it comes to concerns like gender balance, equality and diversity. “Women in live did not really exist back in the day – and that was the same with colour, people with disabilities,” said Cosbert. “It’s the younger generation that have made my generation embrace that a lot
more. The change has all been positive – being more inclusive. People did not consider it years ago.”

“WhatsApp does not work for me. I urge my team to pick up the phone because you can solve multiple things quickly, rather than send multiple emails”

Such concepts, said Cosbert, are also changing the way companies conduct themselves strategically. “Rather than think what’s the best for your company, the change is that you need to think what is best for your people,” he stated.

May agreed, “We need young people to come into the business and work with us: it’s the job of senior management to adapt and make that happen… People are choosing to work at different places based on how the [employers] treat their workers.” Indeed, May urged young delegates at Futures Forum to “Ask questions in interviews – what is your gender split? What is your diversity policy?”

While CAA colleague Morden admitted to liking the office environment, he observed that many younger people do not feel the need to be in an office to get the job done. May opined, “If we’re together three days a week, we can see where things are going wrong and can help each other.”

On communications, she added, “WhatsApp does not work for me. I urge my team to pick up the phone because you can solve multiple things quickly, rather than send multiple emails.”

On the related subject of the work/life balance, each guest spoke about music being a vocation, meaning those working in live music often view that balance in a different way. Thomsen summed this up by saying, “Our work and personal life intertwine and it depends how people handle that from person to person. If I only think about and care about music, that does not make me the most productive person.”

“My advice to younger folk is if in doubt, ask. There’s always someone who will have an experienced view that you can use”

Addressing mental health and the work/life balance, May, concurred it can be a tricky tightrope. “When I was in my 20s, in the 1990s, it was a bit of a blur, so I’ve realised I need to take breaks – a week here, three days there. But even then, I’m still on my phone quite a lot. I’m trying to reach that place where I do have balance – but I love what I do, so I think I do have balance.”

While Cosbert and May urged others to use their ears, rather than rely too heavily on data, the latter conceded that technology had undoubtedly made their lives easier. “Leading a department that churns out thousands of contracts, tech has obviously made that easier,” she said. However, she countered, “Sometimes it turns me off when people are spouting data rather than talking about a track and how it makes them feel.”

That struck a chord with Cosbert. “The younger generations have access to immediate information that I did not have coming up through the industry,” he said. “But there’s so much information coming in now, it’s about putting filters in place… [In turn] I have to pass on my knowledge correctly to help them grow. My advice to younger folk is if in doubt, ask. There’s always someone who will have an experienced view that you can use.”

While the session’s panellists highlighted a slate of differences between the ways that each generation operates, Cosbert concluded, “Our priorities and pathways and goals are pretty much aligned. The live business is a people business. We get paid for doing something we love, but we often tend to forget how it can affect you when you are engrossed in it, and how it can burn you out.”

 


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