My breakthrough moment: Industry pros on their career turning points
Hard work, knowing the right people and a slice of good luck can all play a part in getting a proper footing on the career ladder.
In the first of new series of articles, IQ puts four industry figures in the spotlight by asking them to share the stories of their breakthrough moments…
Joe Schavion, Live Nation
The turning point for me was getting an email out of the blue from a guy called Nick Dewey who was looking for someone to join his festival booking team. It wasn’t a name I’d heard before, so I called up Laura Taylor of Everybody’s Management asking: “Who is he?” She said: “It’s Emily Eavis’s husband.” It was Nick from the festival I grew up idolising.
I remember the date very clearly, as it was 1 April, so I thought it might be a wind-up, but I went to meet Nick and began helping out on bookings for Glastonbury, which was amazing. That experience led to agents taking me more seriously and national promoters getting in touch, including Sam Bush from Global.
Sam and I instantly hit it off and worked together for a couple of years before both being offered the opportunity to join Live Nation [in 2017]. I now find myself in the room where the biggest tours in the world – Drake, Taylor Swift, Guns N’ Roses – are being discussed and I’m learning so much all the time. The infrastructure is in place around me – now I just need to become the biggest and best promoter I can be.
I remember the date very clearly, as it was 1 April, so I thought it might be a wind-up
Kim Bloem, Mojo Concerts
When I started as a booker of mostly jazz shows in 2001, there was one artist that I could not imagine ever promoting: Prince. Being a huge fan and just starting as a booker, doing so was completely out of my league, and I thought that if I did ever do it, I would then quit my job, as it would have been the highest achievement possible.
Jazz and related music then became more widely supported by the general public through the likes of Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum, Michael Bublé and John Legend. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right moment. I had picked up on these artists and suddenly I was going to promote them for bigger audiences than I was used to, and the idea of being a part of what made an artist’s career fly made me feel like I was really contributing to something; it was the first time I ordered champagne and flowers for the dressing rooms!
In 2004, Norah Jones sold out two Heineken Music Hall (HMH) shows. This was when the bosses at Mojo asked me to become a promoter and book bigger shows, which was a turning point in my career.
A year later, Jamie Cullum became the new, crazy jazz kid in town and was immensely popular, selling three HMHs, while Bublé started selling a lot of tickets and went from theatre-level to the football stadium GelreDome [41,000-cap.]. John Legend sold from HMH level to 18,000 tickets in a field, and Jason Mraz did the same, all beyond expectation. And then, in 2010, I received a call asking me to put on a show with Prince in a stadium, within two weeks – a dream come true!
But, as I had become addicted to this business, I’m still here, and celebrating every show that gets confirmed, big or small.
I was introduced to band members as I was flyering the queue myself. No doubt that made some kind of impression!
Steve Tilley, Kilimanjaro Live
I was new at Kilimanjaro in August 2008, and the enormity of the challenge to build a roster weighed heavily. I felt I had my work cut out to compete on the national level.
I saw Frightened Rabbit go first on at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in early October and knew they had a bright future! It was just a hunch but I enthusiastically told their then-agent Jess that a headline Scala [800-cap.] show would be a no-brainer. As a fan, I knew that the Midnight Organ Fight was going to clean up in the end-of-year album polls.
Jess was overjoyed to hear my suggestion, because rival promoters for the artist were not showing the same ambition. By late November, my first-ever Scala show was confirmed for the following April. Frightened Rabbit were already booked to open for Biffy Clyro at their December 2008 Brixton Academy show and I was introduced to band members as I was flyering the queue myself. No doubt that made some kind of impression!
The Scala sold out, and on the night Steve Strange turned up, as he had just taken on the band. He assured me I was still the guy to promote the band in London (and elsewhere) and a little bit more of me started to really believe I could make it as a national promoter.
When Scott Hutchison passed away last year, it was just over nine years since the Scala show. His death happened right on the eve of my huge outdoor gigs with Ed Sheeran, so I had to deal with the tragedy of a lost friend while also trying to celebrate a personal career milestone that in 2008 seemed like a world inhabited by others. Talk about mixed emotions.
2018, therefore, became my tribute to Scott, because the belief he and his band showed in me was something that gave me even more belief in myself. I wish, like many others, that I could bring him back. He was loved by so many. So, thank you, Scott (and Grant, Billy and Andy).
I found myself fresh out of uni sharing the stage with then-MD of Live Nation, Stuart Galbraith
Claire O’Neill, A Greener Festival
After studying music industry management at BCUC (interspersed with psychedelic adventures of cosmic exploration in the woods and across mainland Europe) in 2005, I decided my dissertation title would be Should UK Music Festivals Implement Environmentally Friendly Practices?. The reasoning: there was a staggering disparity between how major festivals were being operated, and what was both possible and necessary for the industry to be greener.
There was no way the ‘big boys’ were going to be swayed to change business as usual by rave-culture, revolution rhetoric alone. I needed a strategy! This strategy was to show that paying audiences wanted greener festivals, and to give clear examples of how this was possible.
Regardless of the content and the intent, dissertations are destined to gather dust in a draw for eternity. Or so I thought. Luckily for me, my intellectual property and contract law lecturer, Ben Challis, kindly read my dissertation, as I sought his sagely critique from his years of work with Glastonbury Festival, Yourope and the live music industry in general. It was thanks to Ben that our dear friend and my classmate, Luke Westbury, turned the findings of the dissertation into a website: Agreenerfestival.com. Festivals started calling.
Ben also suggested to ILMC (I think ILMC 18 or 19) that I should present my research. I found myself fresh out of uni giving my first presentation and panel discussion with a packed room of ILMC delegates, sharing the stage with then-MD of Live Nation, Stuart Galbraith, and someone from the aviation industry who provides private jets for artists, with Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn in the front row. It was a baptism of fire for which I am very grateful.
Twelve or so years later, and A Greener Festival has assessed and certified circa 500 festivals worldwide including heavyweights like Glastonbury and Roskilde Festival, organised the Green Events & Innovations Conference (now in its 11th year) alongside ILMC, and trained over 100 sustainability managers and assessors from 15+ countries.
The Crystal Ball: Predictions for 2019
IQ: Panellists, what do you anticipate being next year’s greatest challenges, both for you and for the wider industry?
Emma Bownes, vice-president of programming, AEG Europe: I think most of the industry is concerned about the impact of Brexit on the music industry – will it lead to restrictions on travel for British acts?
The government have to make sure that musicians, particularly smaller ones, can continue to tour the EU easily without the need for visas – and similarly for European artists – while they develop as artists and build their fan-bases and careers.
Beverley Whitrick, strategic director, Music Venue Trust: So much attention is being focused on Brexit that it makes it even more difficult to advance with the changes needed to protect the grassroots of the music industry. Not surprisingly, enormous and necessary energy is being spent trying to safeguard international touring and ensuring that the UK continues to be a leader in music.
Trying to reconcile what is needed at home with these global concerns poses the greatest challenge for 2019.
Stephan Thanscheidt, managing director, FKP Scorpio: A challenge faced by both the touring and festival sectors is the rising costs in all areas, such as personnel, production, administrative expenses and, especially, artist fees. Of course, ticket prices cannot – and should not – be scaled limitlessly, so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate these expenses.
Okan Tombulca, managing director, eps: I think our biggest challenge will be the same as for the rest of the industry: labour. Europe-wide, there is a huge problem with the availability of staff – security, stagehands, event co-ordinators – as well as equipment.
“Europe-wide, there is a huge problem with the availability of staff”
Kim Bloem, vice-head promoter, Mojo Concerts: The biggest issue over the last two years is the lack of personnel and materials for the number of events taking place from May to September. The number of shows, festivals and special events is rapidly increasing in this period, and therefore building crew, technicians, riggers, security personnel, etc., get exhausted because they’re working crazy hours.
We need to make sure live music remains a safe working place for everybody, but getting the number of people needed is very challenging.
Okan Tombulca: I think 2019 will be the biggest year in 20 years in terms of the number of events going on.
Jules de Lattre, senior agent, United Talent Agency: The issue of ticket pricing, both on the primary and secondary markets. Although significant progress was made in 2018, how to combat illicit secondary-ticketing practices will continue to be an issue we deal with on a daily basis.
As the secondary market becomes more regulated but not fully eradicated, will a more widely used and accepted model of dynamic pricing on the primary market emerge?
IQ: How about the biggest opportunities?
Jules de Lattre: As music consumption on ISPs explodes, there will be increasing opportunities for fans to fully connect with artists in the live space.
Mark Yovich, president, Ticketmaster International: There are more opportunities than ever before to empower artists to connect with their fans and harness their live experience. Whether that’s through digital tickets or facial recognition, we are continuing to innovate in a wide range of products that are changing the landscape of the live business.
“Hopefully, 2019 will see further action to ensure that live music is accessible to the widest possible audience”
Emma Bownes: This year saw a great deal of progress made in terms of restricting the ability of professional ticket resellers to acquire and resell large amounts of tickets with a huge mark-up. The British government introduced new legislation to ban resellers from using bots to purchase tickets in bulk, secondary ticketing sites Get Me In! and Seatwave are closing down, and the O2 and the SSE Arena, Wembley, both introduced a digital ticketing system featuring a dynamically changing barcode system that ensures tickets cannot be copied or shared on secondary sites.
Hopefully, 2019 will see further action to ensure that live music is accessible to the widest possible audience.
IQ: Can you identify any key market trends you expect to see emerging next year?
Stephan Thanscheidt: Concentration of power. Next to the continuously evolving activities of FKP Scorpio in Germany and abroad, as well as the strategic partnership with AEG, the live sector of [FKP majority owner] CTS Eventim is growing further due to purchases in Italy and Spain. The same can, of course, be observed at Live Nation and other international companies.
Beverley Whitrick: More grassroots music venues will close unless people who claim to be supportive actually start demonstrating that support through their actions.
Stephan Thanscheidt: Another observation is the formation of investors and investment groups who don’t have a background as a promoter buying up festivals all over Europe.
“Apart from music and comedy, we see the market for speaking events growing”
Mark Yovich: One word: mobile. We’ve been saying it for years, but 2018 saw a huge spike in the percentage of mobile traffic and, more importantly, mobile ticket sales. We think mobile-first with everything we do, from how fans discover events through to digital methods of entry.
Beverley Whitrick: Local activism and campaigns to support music will grow. Both artists and audiences are getting more vocal about the value of live music to communities, local economies, and health and wellbeing.
Emma Bownes: Alongside the music programming you’d expect to see at both venues, we’re seeing a lot of shows coming through the O2 and The SSE Arena, Wembley, that are aimed at more of a family audience: Hugh Jackman, Cirque du Soleil, NBA, Harlem Globetrotters, Strictly Come Dancing, WWE…
We’re also hosting Superstars of Gymnastics at the O2 – a major new showcase of the sport, featuring Simone Biles and Max Whitlock.
Kim Bloem: My colleague Gideon Karting promoted a show with K-pop band BTS this year, which was huge, so that is definitely something that we expect to see emerging in the market in the next few years.
Also, apart from music and comedy – the latter of which is a genre that sees massive audience interest – we see the market for speaking events growing. This year, Barack Obama did a couple of events, and I hope we can have his wife Michelle come to the Netherlands at some point. We can hopefully embrace this kind of role model and learn from them how we can all contribute to a better world.
“I’d like to see much better communication between all sectors of our industry”
IQ: What are you most looking forward to in 2019?
Mark Yovich: The Sunday night at Reading Festival for Foo Fighters. Their London Stadium gig was amazing and I can’t wait to see them again.
Emma Bownes: Sheffield Wednesday turning things around and making it to the play-offs.
Jules de Lattre: We have a very exciting summer of major international festivals planned for Christine and the Queens in 2019. Considering how strong and unique her live show is, I expect the summer will have a significant impact on this campaign. I’m excited for festivalgoers to see and experience this incredible show.
Mark Yovich: Muse and Fleetwood Mac are some other great stadium shows I’m looking forward to, as well as Billie Eilish at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in early 2019.
Beverley Whitrick: Continuing to meet amazing people whose passion for music makes the work we do worthwhile.
IQ: Finally, what, if anything, could the industry do better together in 2019?
Okan Tombulca: In Germany, we have a twice-yearly meeting of all festival promoters and service companies, to share information about health and safety and develop one set of rules for the whole country. I’d like to see much better communication between all sectors of our industry, to share knowledge, help each other and work better together.
“Anyone in the business should do whatever they can to provide support to those in need”
Kim Bloem: Be a bit nicer to each other, work more closely together, and try to reduce the amount of paperwork and covering our own asses all the time. If we work hard and well, we should be able to trust each other’s judgment.
Jules de Lattre: Conversations about mental health are becoming more commonplace and I hope will continue to do so. Anyone in the business should look around them and do whatever they can to provide reliable health and wellness support to those in need.
Gender diversity and equality in the music industry as a whole – from the presence of female-fronted acts at festivals to gender pay gaps and fairer access to leadership roles in the music industry – will also remain a major talking point in the year to come.
Mark Yovich: Accessibility is a huge issue in our industry and we’re working closely with Attitude is Everything on their Ticketing Without Barriers campaign to make sure more is being done.
There seems to be some great momentum, and now is the time for us all to come together to find solutions to ensure equal access to live entertainment.
Stephan Thanscheidt: We need to stand united against political and societal injustice.
Music is being used by groups who are against democratic values and human rights – so why shouldn’t we do the same for freedom and peace?
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I won’t be pleading for world peace like in the Miss World contests, but please read my plea for more group hugging below: a topic that was a highlight, for me at least, of The Booking Ring panel I took part in at ILMC 28, in which we discussed the current state of the business.
Being a woman in a business consisting mainly of men, though fortunately progressing towards a more balanced group, I’d like to share my thoughts on the preservation of a healthy and growing business.
A quick sidestep on the tricky subject of gender: adding women to the mix is very healthy, in my opinion. It diverts from the male obsession with he who laughs loudest, and brings every business down to in-depth discussions, different perspectives and more respect for differences.
Our business is a group effort between the stakeholders in the food chain (artist, manager, agent and promoter). It is a people’s business and I’d like to think we are all part of building artists’ careers. Or is that being too sentimental and romantic? But don’t we all love hearing the wonderful stories from long ago? I’d say so, since the busiest panels at gatherings such as ILMC, Eurosonic, IFF etc are the Q&As with the major agents and promoters recalling extremely funny situations, stories of lucky signings and bloopers. Or for instance, at the last ILMC Breakfast Meeting where Ed Bicknell interviewed Marc Geiger about his career that had involved both huge successes and quite terrible losses, along with his new ideas on developing and creating the most efficient business, changing to territorial booking, etc. Climbing up, falling down. We revel in those stories. And when we come out of those sessions we’re all inspired, wanting to achieve the same or similar, experiencing what they have experienced, well, preferably just the ‘ups’, of course.
In the end, it all comes down to one thing: creating the opportunity for both artists and fans to have a brilliant 75-90-minute experience. Making sure everything falls into place. And, a minor detail, making a living for everybody in the food-chain.
“Whether we like global deals or not, whether we like territorial booking or not, we will always be looking for new ways to change the business into a better and hopefully more profitable one for all”
With this food-chain being what it is, I think the only way to achieve the above, is by working more closely together, and making it a team effort, as you should within your own company.
During The Booking Ring, one of the questions I asked while we were preparing was “Why do agents think of their artists (or managers) as being their only client?” Agents on the panel thought this to be a fair question; needless to say, without promoters there is a lot less business. We put the guarantees on the table for everything including artist fee and commissions.
So needing each other as we do, let’s show a good example in being more loyal and respectful. Let’s try to do a better job by informing ourselves better and sharing this information. I want to hear from the source why I am still waiting for a confirmation, so I can anticipate. Information is crucial for everybody, and when working in teams information can often get lost. Having information is really not always the same as having power, or being more in control, that’s definitely overrated. We can all be a lot more efficient in sharing information instead of creating a bureaucratic business model of moving pieces around without exactly knowing why that is a good thing. By sharing we can understand why we do the things we do, maybe even contribute with a great idea, and more easily shoulder the disappointment when a decision is made to our disadvantage.
Whether we like global deals or not, whether we like territorial booking or not, we will always be looking for new ways to change the business into a better and hopefully more profitable one for all. Still, artists don’t like to be seen as cash cows (some do like the money though!), or to be just a small part of a big machine. They want to be special, and looked after in a personal way. There’s that ‘people’ business again.
Though the business has become more about quick money and less loyalty, we can turn that around by doing all of the above and group hugging more! So, the next time you need a favour, call me and I’ll do you the favour because it’s you, and because it’s ‘we’, and not your CEO calling mine and being a bully about how much business has been done.
And then we hug…