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Angry punks and happy faces: industry pros talk breakthroughs

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. IQ puts some more ILMC regulars in the spotlight and asks them to share their breakthrough moments…

 


John Giddings, Solo Agency

When I was about 14 years old, a mate at school persuaded me to learn to play bass guitar, with the promise that we would pull chicks. I had to borrow a bass because I could not afford to buy one and that’s why, to this day, I play bass guitar with a right-handed guitar, upside down, because I’m left handed.

We were at a gig and we were playing ‘The Nile Song’ from Pink Floyd’s More album and this punk came up to the stage and said, “If you don’t stop playing, now, then I’m going to fucking hit you!”

That was the end of my career as a musician, but I knew I wanted to be part of the live music thing, even if I was not capable of being onstage.

In those days, we just used to listen to LPs on our own in our bedroom, but I remember going to Isle of Wight Festival and walking over the top of the hill to see 600,000 other people who liked the same music as me – it was like going on a pilgrimage. And that was that – I was hooked.

Going to Isle of Wight Festival was like going on a pilgrimage – I was hooked

Christof Huber, OpenAir St. Gallen/Yourope

When I was around 15, I knew that I wanted to work in music and organise events. I even wrote business plans about my future virtual company. After my apprenticeship, I looked around for job options, but at that time there were very few in the Swiss market and I couldn’t find a way in. I never lost that focus, but I had to work in several other jobs, including as a bookkeeper in real estate in 1992. Hell!

Out of the blue, a former work colleague called me to tell me that she was working for OpenAir St. Gallen, as the assistant for the festival director but was going to leave. As I was so persistent in telling her about my vision, she suggested I put myself forward for the job interview. This was my chance!

I went to the interview and tried to convince them that there was only one person who would be perfect to do the job. They asked me for some time as they had other candidates, but due to a timeline in my other job, I needed a quick answer. They had me complete some tests and I convinced them that I would do everything to make my dream come true. And they finally offered me the job.

I remember as I drove home that I looked at other people and felt so lucky to have achieved my dream.

I started in 1993, was able to take over the event company a few years later and work with wepromote Switzerland on a national level for many festivals and concerts.

In addition, for the past 20 years, I have been part of the European festival family of Yourope where I’ve made so many close friends.

Thank you, Lisa and Andreas, for having given me this opportunity.

I remember as I drove home that I looked at other people and felt so lucky to have achieved my dream

Fruzsina Szép, Lollapalooza Berlin

Since childhood I had always been very passionate and enthusiastic about arts and music and creating and organising things. Watching the happy faces during a festival is “my fuel“ and has kept me going for so many years in the industry, despite the gigantic workload many of us deal with day to day.

In 2008, I was offered the position of programme and artistic director for Sziget Festival in Budapest. I was 30 and I thought ‘Oh my God!’ – this coat is really not my size. My size is S/M and that coat felt XXL.

But I listened to my inner voice. I knew that if I didn’t try, I would never know if I was capable. I can always fail, I told myself, but only after trying.

I’m so extremely happy that I was wise enough to listen to my inner voice, to have the support of my family, and to believe in myself.

If Elon Musk asked me to organise the first festival on Mars, I’d be up for the job

I’m so thankful for having gained such an enormous amount of experience in those seven years working at Sziget. Without which, I could have never taken the next huge challenge and worn the even bigger coat known as Lollapalooza Berlin.

Moving the Lolla festival site four years in a row allowed me to learn so much and overcome so many challenges. I must say that I’m very thankful for these experiences because now, if Elon Musk asked me to organise the first festival on Mars, I’d be up for the job.

I’m so grateful to have been able to work in such an amazing industry, to have colleagues from whom I can learn day by day, and to be part of an international festival family with like-minded humans that are rocking their own festivals every summer.

 


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“Bluffing is an essential talent”: Tom Windish and more talk breakthroughs

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. IQ puts more ILMC regulars in the spotlight and asks them to share their breakthrough moments…

 


Ed Bicknell, Damage Management
The day after I arrived at Hull University (UK) in October 1966, they were running a freshers’ ball. As I entered the students’ union, a tannoy message was being repeated: “If anyone in the building can play drums, please come to reception.” Since I was standing right next to the receptionist, without thinking, I just said, “Yes, I can.”

It turned out the drummer for the band they’d booked was too sick to play, and they didn’t have any records to dance to. I was led off to the dressing room to meet the Victor Brox Blues Train, who coincidentally had played my hometown, Tadcaster, the previous week. I was duly introduced to the band.

“Are you any good?” they asked. “Yes, okay, I think. By the way, I know you lot. You played my local hall last week. How much are you going to pay me?”  After much haggling, we settled on £5. My first deal.

Once that had been sorted, I thought I should confess. “I didn’t actually go to your gig last week, I just saw the posters up around town. What songs do you play?” They were highly amused and, thankfully for me, it was the classic soul of the time – stuff I’d played hundreds of times.

So, I did the gig: two 45-minute sets, no screw-ups. Big hugs, £5 pocketed, off to the bar.  Malcolm Haigh, the university’s social secretary, asked if I wanted to be on the entertainment committee and join his jazz group (of which he was the sole member).

After much haggling, we settled on £5. My first deal

And then a tall, sun-tanned girl appeared. “Hi. I really enjoyed your playing. My name’s Trudy.” After a couple of lager and limes she invited me back to her student house “for coffee.”

Just as we were leaving, a flashgun went off in my face and a greasy-haired bloke jumped out. “I’m from Torchlight, the student union magazine. We’re going to put you on the front cover next week. What’s your name? What course are you on? Were you nervous? How did you know the songs?”

So, first night at uni and I’d played in a band, made five quid, got onto the entertainment committee, joined a group, ended up on the cover of the student union magazine and had a cup of Nescafé. With powdered milk.

In October 1967, I took over as social secretary, and after a stunning gig by the Who in May the following year, decided on a career in showbiz, which, as it turned out, worked out okay.

In life you need a bit of luck. And in music, bluffing (read: fibbing) is an essential “talent.”

In music, bluffing – fibbing – is an essential ‘talent’

Tom Windish, Paradigm Talent Agency
In 1999, I started getting into electronic music. Prior to that I exclusively worked as an agent for rock and jazz bands. One of my favourite artists was named μ-Ziq (pronounced “music”). There was another agent in North America who represented all of the “IDM” [“intelligent dance music”] musicians of that era. μ-Ziq didn’t have an agent and I pushed and pushed the label and manager to choose me, but they went with the guy who had all the electronic artists.

I went to see μ-Ziq perform at the first Coachella. About three months later I got a call from his label, Astralwerks. They asked if I still wanted to book a tour for μ-Ziq: the other agent simply “forgot” to book the tour he was supposed to book around Coachella. I said, “absolutely”, and got to work.

Within a few weeks, I had put together a tour everyone was happy with, including a routing with reasonable distances between shows, reliable promoters, contracts, etc. This was how I’d done business since I started, but in dance/electronic music it was more rare than the norm. The tour sold out every show and everyone was happy.

A month later, I got a call from Ninja Tune asking me if I wanted to book their tenth anniversary tour featuring Coldcut, the label founders. A few months after that, I got a call from Steve Beckett at Warp Records asking if I wanted to book a tour for Autechre.

From there, my electronic roster grew and grew. It led to signing Diplo, then a Ninja Tune artist; also Aphex Twin, St Germain, M83 and many more. Electronic music has been a big part of my roster since then.

The other agent simply ‘forgot’ to book the tour he was supposed to book around Coachella

Debbie McWilliams, Scottish Event Campus
My career-defining breakthrough moment was in 2012 when the master plan for the SSE Hydro was approved. I joined the SEC in 1989, as assistant to the operations director, and quickly became part of the team who established the venue box office. As a music fan, it was a dream opportunity, and my aspirations were simply to learn everything about this fantastic business from the ground up.

Soon, our box office had become one of the most respected ticketing operations in the UK, and I learned from some of the best people in the industry. We understood what our clients required and put them first always.

From that point on, it was straight in at the deep end as the SEC grew [and] the plans for the Hydro were approved. Ticketing events for the new arena was a huge part of the project, as the level of business almost doubled overnight. Putting events on sale for a venue yet to be built proved the ultimate challenge. But we had a wealth of experience to draw from – making right things that had not worked for us in the past. All this was achieved while still having to deliver, day to day, on events for other parts of the campus.

Experience was crucial as the window of time for the delivery of the Hydro was very short. I spent many long hours poring over the manifest and attending meetings with architects. This was all happening when the arena was under early construction, but I realised at the time this would be a key component to its success. It gave me a great platform to showcase my abilities, as well as an opportunity to learn and develop new skills.

When Rod Stewart performed the inaugural concert at the arena, I felt a real sense of personal pride

When Rod Stewart performed the inaugural concert at the arena on 30 September 2013, I felt a real sense of personal pride. It was a very emotional and rewarding experience. As the 13,000-capacity audience took their seats with ease, there was an undeniable sense of achievement.

Now, the Hydro is consistently ranked in the top-ten busiest venues worldwide. Its success, while deserved, has surpassed everyone’s expectations.

Reflecting on my own personal journey, progressing from being a young office administrator to director of live entertainment, is a real accomplishment.

Of course, there have been lots of other highlights, but I truly think that any individual success stories are often hugely supported by a strong, motivated team, which I am very lucky to have here at the Scottish Event Campus.

 


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More breakthrough moments: Industry pros’ 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.

IQ Magazine puts some more ILMC regulars in the spotlight and asks them to share their breakthrough moments…

 


Steve Strange, X-ray Touring
I’d been involved with Ash for a couple of years, but I remember going to the Astoria for the first time with them and standing on the balcony with their manager, Stephen ‘Tav’ Taverner, and having a pint as we cheered them on.

The band were still at school when I first got involved – in fact, we had to build them and plan all their releases around the school holidays, so tours and promos would take place in the Easter break and summer holidays.

But Ash was the first act that I properly helped to break, so standing in the Astoria, in a venue where I’d been so many times myself as a fan at other acts’ shows, was something really special indeed.

Twenty-six years later, my roster has grown, and Tav also manages the likes of Alt-J, Kodaline and Wolf Alice. We both still represent Ash, who we’re really close with – Tim and Mark occasionally stay with me when they’re in town from New York.

Standing in the Astoria, in a venue where I’d been so many times myself as a fan at other acts’ shows, was something really special indeed

Marie Lindqvist, Stockholm Live
I started my career in the tourism industry working in marketing for some of the major tour operators, such as TUI, and for a group of amusement parks. In 2006, I was recruited for the role of marketing director at Ericsson Globe, the 14,000-seat multi-venue in Stockholm. I had never imagined I would end up in sports and music, so this was a whole new world to me, even though there are similar challenges and opportunities – and arenas and events are certainly an important part of the tourism industry.

AEG took over the operation of the arena from the city in 2008, and all of a sudden I was part of a leading global entertainment company – such a fantastic opportunity! I learned so much and I got to meet so many experienced and smart people from the different areas of our businesses across the globe.

After a few years, I was recruited back to the travel industry, but in 2014 I got a message from Richard Krezwick, who was overseeing all the European arenas for AEG, asking if I would like to have a coffee next time he was in Stockholm. Whilst sitting in the sun overlooking the Royal Palace, he asked me if I wanted to come back to AEG and take over as general manager for Ericsson Globe and the new Tele2 Arena, which had opened in 2013. I was thrilled and nervous about the big job but excited to be back at AEG and in the entertainment industry. Since then we have also taken over the operation of Friends Arena and now operate a group of five arenas and stadiums in Sweden. We do about 320 events with three million ticket buyers annually.

It was not where I thought I was heading in my 20s, but I am so happy to be a part of this amazing industry where the worlds of music, sports, real estate, sponsorship, tourism, food and beverage and much more meet in an exciting mix.

Everything I have today is all down to John Sherry giving me back that £200 and convincing me to become an agent

Carl Leighton-Pope, The Leighton Pope Organisation
In 1977, the band I was managing, Sassafras, split up and everyone was broke. I was 25 years old and married with four kids, living in Cardiff, but I owed an agent in London £200 and I couldn’t bear the thought of being in debt, so I caught the train to the capital to give the late John Sherry his money.

When I was in his office, he asked me what I was going to do next, but at that time I didn’t have a clue – I just knew I needed to earn some money to feed my family. He thought about it for a few minutes, then handed me the £200 back and urged me to become an agent, offering me a job for £40 a week, starting the following Monday.

So I travelled back to Wales to give my wife, Pamela, the good/bad news from my trip. She was delighted that we still had the £200, but when I told her about my new job, she said, “But darling, we don’t live in London; we live in Cardiff.” Her mother had a one-bedroom flat in Notting Hill and was kind enough to let me sleep on her sofa during the week, then I’d travel back to Cardiff on a Friday evening with my £40.

Pretty quickly, though, I signed the Motors, then Dire Straits, Simple Minds and Patti Smith, and before I knew it, all the other agencies were asking me to come and work for them.

But everything I have today is all down to John Sherry giving me back that £200 and convincing me to become an agent – I could never repay him for the faith he showed in me and I’m forever grateful.

 


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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.

 


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