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20 years of Finland’s Fullsteam Agency

From humble beginnings come great things. That’s certainly how it has panned out for Finland’s Fullsteam, a group of music companies that now encompasses a record label, management services, a booking agency, event organising, and publishing.

Currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, it started out like many music industry endeavours – as a hobby for music lover Rauha Kyyrö. “I was still in high school, and I never thought it would become my profession,” she recalls. “My plan was to go and study law! But then music happened…”

Tobbe Lorentz of United Talent, one of the first agents she started to work with professionally, can certainly recall her passion. “My first memory is when Rauha turned up at my home, unannounced, and I opened the door to see this unknown kid with dreads and piercings asking to book my bands,” he says. “I believe my response was: ‘Of course you can. Now go away.’ But I booked Turbonegro with her the week after, and we’ve been working together ever since.”

Booking bands was something that, by then, Kyyrö was already adept at. She started out playing in a band but was, by her own admission, “never the best or most talented musician.” But she had smarts and determination – “I was great at getting things done,” she says.

Booking shows, promotion, logistics, and taking care of releases became her domain, and she came up with a novel way of getting her own band shows abroad.

“We did everything ourselves – book the shows, sell merch, release records, and do the PR”

“The easiest way to do that was to book shows in Finland for a Swedish or German band in exchange for getting to play with them in their home countries,” she recalls. “That’s how I first got into the business of booking shows internationally.” Her abilities earned her the nickname “Fixare” (The Fixer) – and she soon found herself dealing with agents who had got her contact details from their artists who had friends in bands she had promoted.

To do things officially and pay taxes, she started her first company Sitruunamaailma (which translates as ‘the world of lemons’) with two friends, and then things really took off. “I started promoting the first ‘bigger’ shows – those with a 900 capacity – and also my first outdoor summer festival,” she says. Bear in mind, this was all before she even left high school – “prodigious” doesn’t even come close.

Yet the financial realities of promoting and booking were somewhat harsh – in the early years, it remained very much a hobby. “I was doing all this while working in a record shop in Helsinki,” she says. Even after starting Fullsteam proper in 2002 – it began life as a record label, Fullsteam Records, and was a subsidiary of her previous company, Sitruunamaailma – her ambitions were modest.

“The idea was just to release music for great bands that couldn’t get their music out on the existing labels. And I guess it felt great to have a record label.”

Releasing music was just the start. Kyyrö soon realised there were many things she could do to help her own and friends’ bands, and so the other aspects of Fullsteam began to grow organically. “We did everything ourselves – book the shows, sell merch, release records, and do the PR. We also had a rehearsal room centre with 50 rooms, so we basically just did whatever we wanted […] for our own and our friends’ bands. It was always some kind of a 360 ̊ model, but as the business grew and things got more professional, it was necessary to have different companies for different parts of the business.”

James Rubin of WME recalls [Kyyrö] being “exceptional in problem-solving and career-building”

Kyyrö admits that it wasn’t until 2004 that she actually got paid for booking shows, when she went to work for Welldone – now Live Nation Finland – for two years. The other Fullsteam
companies continued during that time, and on leaving Welldone in 2006, she founded Fullsteam Agency. “That was the first time I started to get paid from my own company,” she says.

Those early years were characterised by a can-do work ethic and DIY spirit, traits that continue to this day and endeared Kyyrö to all those who worked with her in the beginning. Kalle Lundgren Smith of international booking agent Pitch and Smith recalls booking tours with her back in 2000, when she was still running Sitruunamaailma, and being “so impressed with her professionalism. My hardcore band was used to dealing with promoters on a very DIY level, so this was very different. We were even offered accommodation on top of the fees, which seemed like an absolute luxury to us.”

Before they met in real life, Lundgren Smith assumed she was a seasoned pro. “I was picturing someone far older in my mind. Then, when we finally met in Helsinki, it was this very young punk rock kid with long dreadlocks. We’ve been working closely together ever since.”

Many others express similar sentiments, and it’s a testament to Kyyrö and the company she’s built that so many peers remain friends and colleagues 20 years later. James Rubin of WME, who began working with her 15 years ago through Bad Taste, a Swedish management company and promoter, recalls her being “exceptional in problem-solving and career-building. She always helped with any issues my clients had.”

Paulina Ahokas, managing director of Tampere Hall, remembers being so impressed by Kyyrö’s dogged determination that she badgered colleagues at Music Export Finland to bring her along on an export mission to Japan.

“All of the Fullsteam companies work together on some level, but we don’t work in the ‘traditional’ 360 ̊ way”

“Rauha was spot-on at every single panel discussion in Tokyo,” says Ahokas. “After the panels, I asked if she needed some help with meetings. She did not. She had a list of names and addresses, a map of Tokyo, and a bicycle – she cycled to the meetings she had sourced herself. I’d been to Japan at least three times, yet knew only half of the companies on her list. I told everyone at Music Export Finland that we would be hearing a lot more from this rasta-haired dynamo, and damn, I was right.”

And it’s not just in a professional capacity that Kyyrö won people overtaking the “work hard, play hard” mantra to heart, she’s had plenty of fun, too. “I first met Rauha at a showcase festival in Canada,” says Julia Gudzent, co-founder of Misc Berlin, an agency for cultural change. “We immediately got along really well, and together with Mikko Niemelä from Ruisrock and Nina Howden from Silver Circle Distillery, we founded a synchronised swimming group in the hotel pool. We had the time of our lives and all became best friends right away.”

Since 2006, Fullsteam has continued to grow organically, a slow and steady rise governed by one clear principle – serve the artist. Today, Fullsteam Agency – “by far the biggest company [in the group],” says Kyyrö – serves as a booking agency and event organiser, booking domestic performers into every venue in Finland and bringing international artists to the country (to date, Fullsteam has promoted over 2,000 international acts).

They also organise Seinäjoki’s Provinssi Festival and Helsinki’s own Sideways Festival. On top of this, they represent around 100 Finnish performers, both popular acts and rising talent, and Fullsteam group now includes management, publishing, and record label interests. But while the businesses are deeply integrated, Fullsteam is not your typical 360 ̊ company.

“All of the Fullsteam companies work together on some level, but we don’t work in the ‘traditional’ 360 ̊ way,” says Kyyrö. “We hope to work with all the music companies in Finland, so we do not push for 360 ̊ deals. They only make sense if it makes sense for the artist and everyone else involved, and to be honest, in most cases it actually doesn’t work that well to have ‘all your eggs in one basket’. But when it does work, it can be really fantastic – we have good examples of that.”

Fullsteam Agency is now co-owned by European promoter giant FKP Scorpio, following a merger in 2014

Fullsteam group’s smaller companies remain 100% owned by Kyyrö, and she’s involved in various other businesses, albeit in smaller roles. But Fullsteam Agency is now co-owned by European promoter giant FKP Scorpio, following a merger in 2014.

The deal, says Kyyrö, “Helped us to really enter the festival market and to become more professional in many different ways.” But it wasn’t driven by finances or a desire to wield more clout. “I just really liked the people at FKP Scorpio: simple as that,” she says. “I thought they would support our team in our ambitions to grow but also let us be who we are and work the way we do. They are good, kind people – I appreciate that a lot.”

That added professionalism has manifested itself in various ways. Fullsteam has, says Kyyrö, become a better employer and partner for artists and clients. Her colleagues agree. “The best part of working as a promoter at Fullsteam is probably the creative freedom that you have; we’re not tied to one or two or even three genres but work with everything that we believe has value – be it money or something else,” comments staffer Artemi Remes.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not the case with every big agency in the world. And for me, that’s really the greatest thing as it makes every workday and every concert special. Never a dull day!” Remes says it’s difficult to pick just one highlight from more than 1,000 shows he has promoted over the past 16 years. “But pressed, I’d probably choose the Ennio Morricone concert in Helsinki in 2016. That exceeded all levels of specialness and is one that I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life.”

Summing up the employee experience at Fullsteam, fellow promoter Aino-Maria Paasivirta says, “The great part of working at Fullsteam is that I get to work with so many different kinds of artists – I promote everything from small club shows to arenas and festivals and many different genres, which keeps the job interesting.” Asked to share her career highlights, to date, Paasivirta states, “Nick Cave’s sold-out shows on the Conversations tour was definitely an amazing experience.”

“We have a team that’s capable of anything”

She adds, “I’m very much looking forward to the business finally opening again and the festival summer 2022 and I’m, of course, especially looking forward to Provinssi. Our last editions have been great, and I’m very proud to be in the booking team. Everyone knows working with music is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle, and I can’t imagine a better community to do it with than Fullsteam.”

It hasn’t always been plain sailing, however, and Kyyrö admits to having struggled with “how competitive and mean this business can be sometimes.” Yet she has remained optimistic and never lost her passion. “I’ve always loved being part of this community and feel that I am actually really good at this thing they call the music business.”

Modestly, she feels the company has only recently properly “arrived” and achieved lasting success. “The first time I felt that wasn’t until the end of 2019, after we’d promoted three historic events in Finland within a year – Ed Sheeran in Helsinki in July 2019, Rammstein in Tampere in August 2019, and Cheek in Lahti in August 2018. We’d also succeeded in bringing Provinssi Festival back to the top. None of those things were on my bucket list, they just happened when the time was right – or when we were ready for it.”

That’s a view shared by Fullsteam Agency managing director Tuomo Tähtinen, who believes that the platform the company has built means the best is yet to come. “Fullsteam has already come incredibly far, yet there’s still so much potential,” Tähtinen tells IQ. “We have a team that’s capable of anything. And we all know that success shouldn’t be pursued at any cost, but we need to build for the future sustainably and with respect to everyone around us.”

Recently, Fullsteam’s formal successes have been numerous. They are now Finland’s biggest, most important concert promoter and booking agency, for both alternative music and global superstars. Fullsteam Records has won Independent Label of the Year a total of six times and remains a champion and supporter of new, exciting, and unique Finnish music. And, perhaps most impressively of all, Fullsteam scooped a total of seven awards at 2019’s Music & Media Industry Awards Gala, including Booking Agency of the Year, Concert of the Year, and numerous accolades for individual staff.

“I’ve always loved being part of this community and feel that I am actually really good at music business.”

So, what’s the secret, then? What has made Fullsteam such a successful company and given them – and Kyyrö – two decades of growth, excellence, and a stellar reputation? The accolades are numerous. “They are music fans first and foremost,” says Geoff Meall of Paradigm Talent Agency. “The first correspondence is always about them wanting to work with the band or act because they like them. In a world of expanding corporatisation, I’ll always have time for companies like Fullsteam.”

Kalle Lundgren Smith agrees. “Fullsteam has a very loyal and strong team. It’s like a nice big family of true music lovers with an open and welcoming mindset. I think Rauha’s single-mindedness and creative mind – combined with her amazing staff – brought them this far.”

Tobbe Lorentz says that it’s “hard work, a great team, having their finger on the pulse, and good timing,” that’s made them so successful; Julia Gudzent agrees. “What makes Fullsteam and Rauha so special is that they do their work with complete passion, but unlike a lot of other people in the industry, they also take care of themselves and don’t forget to live and celebrate their wins. And that makes them so much better at their job.”

James Rubin says their “dedication to personal attention, being artist-friendly, and sheer excellence in everything they do has been nothing short of exceptional,” while Xenia Grigat of Danish promoter Smash!Bang!Pow! adds that there’s a “special DNA that defines Fullsteam, and it seems like a workplace that is inclusive and sees the full potential in the team. That’s inspiring, and attracts talented staff and artists.”

For Paulina Ahokas, one of the many who’ve worked with Kyyrö since the very beginning, there are three main reasons behind Fullsteam’s continued rise. “Every single person in the company has the same attitude, the need and desire to excel. Every person is willing to work harder than anyone else. And every single person in the company knows how to party! I have no idea if this is the recruitment strategy, but I know it has worked.”

“And every single person in the company knows how to party!”

And the view internally, from new partner FKP Scorpio, is just as effusive. CEO Stephan Thanscheidt credits their “friendship, loyalty, creativity, attitude, professionality, and a great taste in arts and music,” qualities he says you feel at every single Fullsteam show or event. “Their team, in combination with their family values, is hard to beat. They have an extraordinary spirit; creative and professional entrepreneurship; a great social and political attitude; and good relations with loads of talented artists.”

Certainly, their legacy seems assured. They’ve brought a lot of live music to Finland that the country might not have been able to enjoy otherwise, from the likes of Disco Ensemble, early emo bands, many Nordic artists, and numerous international superstars. They have blazed a trail for diversity and inclusivity and redefined what a group of music companies – both working together and in separate fields – can achieve on behalf of their artists.

Ultimately, that might be the single biggest factor behind Fullsteam’s success – it really is all about the music and the people who make it happen. One anecdote in particular, from Julia Gudzent, encapsulates this attitude perfectly. “I went to the Finnish music awards show once, and Fullsteam won all the prizes. Rauha took her whole team up on stage because she knew that it was not only her prize, but the whole team that won it. That impressed me so much because I’d never seen this kind of leadership before. I’ve not met a lot of people in the industry who do their job with so much modesty, kindness, and team spirit.”

What then of the future? What focus, hopes, and dreams does Kyyrö have for Fullsteam for the years ahead? “I really would like us to be the best place to work at and best partner for the people we work with,” she says. “If we succeed in that we will always be successful. We have truly amazing people working for Fullsteam and close to us, and I truly hope they will stick around, keep up with the shit in the business and shape the company and the music industry to become a better and more inclusive place for everyone.”

So we’ll be back here in another 20 years, with Fullsteam continuing to go from strength to strength? “I am sure we’ll continue to have many victories, but there are also challenging times ahead of us. I think that at the end of the day, a business like ours is just a bunch of people working together, and I hope there is room for life to happen and for people to grow and pursue their dreams at Fullsteam.”


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LGBTIQ+ List 2021: Remembering this year’s queer pioneers

This year, IQ Magazine launched the LGBTIQ+ List 2021 – the first annual celebration of queer professionals who make an immense impact in the international live music business.

The landmark list was the jewel in the crown of IQs first-ever Pride edition, which was published on Monday (28 June) and followed our Loud and Proud agency-curated playlist.

The 20 individuals comprising the LGBTIQ+ List 2021, as nominated by our readers and verified by our esteemed steering committee, are individuals that have gone above and beyond to wave the flag for an industry that we can all be proud of.

The inaugural cohort comprised agents, promoters, COOs, CEOs, event producers, wellness specialists, tour managers and more, all of whom identify as LGBTIQ+ and, in the face of adversity, have made enormous contributions to their respective sectors.

“IQ received an unbelievable amount of heartwarming testimonials”

In no particular order, the LGBTIQ+ List 2021 is:

Steven Braines, co-founder, He.She.They (UK). Full profile here.
Sean Hill, director of tour marketing, UTA (UK). Full profile here.
Zoe Williamson, agent, UTA (US). Full profile here.
Will Larnach-Jones, managing director/head of bookings, Iceland Airwaves (IE). Full profile here.
Raven Twigg, promoter assistant, Metropolis Music/founder, Women Connect (UK). Full profile here.
Nadu Placca, global event & experience architect, The Zoo XYZ (UK). Full profile here.
Maxie Gedge, Keychange project manager, PRS Foundation (UK). Full profile here.
Mark Fletcher, CEO, Manchester Pride (UK). Full profile here.
Maddie Arnold, associate promoter, Live Nation (UK). Full profile here.
Lauren Kirkpatrick, promoter assistant, DF Concerts (UK). Full profile here.
Laura Nagtegaal, guitar technician and tour manager, MsGyver (NL). Full profile here.
Joanne Croxford, wellness + diversity specialist/ live touring/ tour assistant (UK)
James Murphy, chief operating officer North America, See Tickets (US). Full profile here.
Guy Howes, music partnerships executive, CAA (UK). Full profile here.
Doug Smith, SVP field operations UK & Ireland, Ticketmaster (UK). Full profile here.
Chris Ibbs, agent, CAA (UK). Full profile here.
Leigh Millhauser, coordinator, Wasserman Music (US). Full profile here.
Austin Sarich, director of touring, Live Nation (US). Full profile here.
Daniel Brown, event producer/programmer, Birmingham Pride (UK). Full profile here.
Rauha Kyyrö, head promoter, Fullsteam Agency (FI). Full profile here.

“I never imagined I’d be so thrilled to see my inbox soar into triple digits – that is until we opened nominations for the LGBTIQ+ List 2021,” says IQ staff writer Lisa Henderson, who guest-edited the Pride issue. “We received an unbelievable amount of heartwarming testimonials from across the business but, thanks to the help of our revered steering committee, we’ve ended up with 20 exemplary individuals who continually prove that diversity is the industry’s greatest strength.”

Subscribers can read the entire Pride edition (issue 101) of IQ Magazine now.

Click here to subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:

 


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The LGBTIQ+ List 2021: Rauha Kyyrö, Fullsteam Agency

The LGBTIQ+ List 2021 – IQ’s first annual celebration of queer professionals who make an immense impact in the international live music business – was published in the inaugural Pride edition (issue 101) this month.

The 20 individuals comprising the LGBTIQ+ List 2021, as nominated by our readers and verified by our esteemed steering committee, have gone above and beyond to wave the flag for an industry that we can all be proud of.

To get to know this year’s queer pioneers a little better, IQ asked each individual to share their challenges, triumphs, advice and more. Each day this month, we’ll publish a new interview with an individual on the LGBTIQ+ List 2021. Catch up on the previous interview with Daniel Brown, event producer/programmer at Birmingham Pride, UK here.

 


Rauha Kyyrö
she/her/hers
Head promoter, Fullsteam Agency
Finland
[email protected]

Tell us about a personal triumph in your career.
I definitely can’t take the credit for any of the production work required to make it happen, but in 2018 we built a 60-metre stage and a 30-truck production for the most popular Finnish artist, Cheek, on top of a lido located basically in a deep pit at the bottom of a ski-jumping stadium, and let’s just say that it was not uncomplicated. But the artist got what he wanted, and we sold out 60,000 tickets.

What advice could you give for young queer professionals?
When you notice a problem in your workplace, whether it is racism, discrimination or inequality of any kind, cis/heteronormativity, assumed monogamy, or anything that you are not comfortable with, speak up and ask for change. And if they don’t want to listen to you, start your own company – or come work for us!

“Hearing ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ these days makes me almost as sick as ‘Dear Sirs’…”

Tell us about a professional challenge you often come across as a queer person.
I think people often have challenges with what they don’t understand. For example, they might judge you for your life choices and therefore not treat you with respect or give you what you deserve even if what you are doing has nothing to do with your work. When someone takes the risk to be open about their gender identity, sexuality or number of partners, etc., in an environment with so many fucked-up norms, it is usually not a phase.

What one thing could the industry do to be more inclusive?
To start with, we could easily stop using binary and cisnormative language in all our communication. Hearing ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ these days makes me almost as sick as ‘Dear Sirs’. And what’s the deal with binary toilets still around at festivals and venues? Just make all the toilets unisex, that’s the easiest thing you can do to be more inclusive to trans people, and it helps with queues too!

“Make all the toilets unisex, that’s the easiest thing you can do to be more inclusive to trans people, and it helps with queues too!”

A cause you support.
Questioning norms.

What does the near future of the industry look like?
Busy.

How could the industry build back better, post-pandemic?
In my experience, people in the live music industry have been nicer, more understanding and more patient during the pandemic. Let’s keep that up. Nobody should have to be intimidated because of a gig.

 


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