Behind the scenes at Europe’s most eco-friendly major music festival


Roskilde Festival started in the Danish town of the same name in 1971, and has grown to host over 110,000 attendees each year. As well as being one of the longest running major festival events in Europe, it also has a few other unique traits.

Anders Wahren is head of programming for the festival and gave us an insight into how to build what is Denmark’s 4th largest city.


How did you get involved in the festival?

My first year visiting Roskilde Festival was in 1996. I was 13.

I’m a local Roskilde boy born and raised, and it was pretty normal for all my friends to go to the festival from a very early age. For some of them this was before they could even walk as their parents were working at the festival, running food stalls or helping with production.

Anders Wahren

I continued going to the festival throughout the 90s and had some great experiences. In my late teens I start working as a volunteer at a local venue and when the festival needed help with some stage production in 2001 I became a stage hand. I worked my up through the production chain and started working a bit on booking in 2003.

In 2004 I got a kind of internship with the festival where I learnt how to book bands. After 3 years I went to Live Nation Denmark, mainly booking gigs for Danish acts, and also helped start Copenhell festival in 2010.

Then in late 2010 I got asked to come back to Roskilde to run the music booking team. This week is my 6th anniversary here.

How did Roskilde Festival start?

The festival started in 1971. Two high school students had heard about Woodstock and wanted to do something similar. They did the first edition with a promoter from Copenhagen, but he ripped them off and took all the cash, so things didn’t exactly start as planned.

For the second edition the Roskilde Society took over – that’s what became the Roskilde Festival Charity Society which is the non-profit organisation running the festival today.

Each year all the profits are donated to other projects before the next event is started — no money from one festival is carried into another — we start from scratch each year, just with a little more experience. Since 1972 the organisation has donated €36.2m to charitable causes.

What does the festival look like now?

The festival has grown a lot over time. It grew really quickly in the late 80s, and the peak was around 1994–96, where we had 90,000 attendees for the full week plus around 30,000 volunteers, artists and staff.
Today we sell around 80,000 full week tickets. We introduced 1-day tickets around 2010, and whilst those have been popular they’re a small proportion, around 5,000 per day.

The main festival itself is 4 days, but most festival goers are with us for a full week because so many want to come and camp for the days before the main event. This year the campsite opens on Saturday 24th June, and from Sunday to Tuesday we run two stages with around 45 Nordic artists, plus talks, arts, and sports events as well. Then from Wednesday to Saturday, the inner site opens which is where the 6 main stages are located plus our biggest arts area.

A Tribe Called Quest

This year, some of the acts we’ve already announced include Foo Fighters, Justice, Arcade Fire, Moderat, Trentemoller, A Tribe Called Quest and Bonobo. We’re announcing the rest of the lineup in early April.

How does the booking team operate and what do you look for when programming talent?

Our music booking team is 6 people including me. Four of us are full-time employees and 2 are volunteers.

We have volunteers on the team as we’ve found it helps us to have input from music fans who are very up to date with what’s new but are also outside of the wheeling and dealing that happens in the music business. It helps us to take new chances and go in new directions that you may not expect from a major music festival.

We start music programming way in advance, and it’s getting earlier and earlier — we’re already talking about some artists for 2018.

Just like most people working with new music we’ve had to take a broader scope in the last few years; watching what’s going on around us and using more digital channels. However, one of the most important things for us is still to get to see as much music live as possible, especially because we book so many acts from around the globe that aren’t so well known. We need to be sure that they can perform well, have the material to do a full live show, and can win over an audience in a live setting.

Our smallest stage is 1200 capacity and the main stage is around 60,000. It takes some experience to be able to play these stages and it’s not enough just to have millions of plays on Spotify or YouTube.

Roskilde’s Orange stage

Of course everyone has good days and bad days, but we need to be as sure as we can that whatever we book will do a great job so we can deliver to our audience what we promise: at Roskilde you can go and find the music you will come to love.

What are some of the things that make Roskilde so special?

Our approach to music booking is very important, but also the food, the full-week experience and the volunteer aspect.

We’re still very much based on volunteer work, and not just during the event itself, but all year round. For most of the volunteers it’s a hobby — instead of playing football twice a week, they’ll do Roskilde Festival twice a week.

During the festival we have 30,000 volunteers on site, and many of them work for the festival but also participate just as any ticket buying guest would do. The mix of the many of the audience also being representative of the festival creates a special vibe, as well as the event’s history of course.

The volunteers work across all aspects of the event, and many of them will be also be connected with us through clubs and societies like the local soccer team. It’s always been a big part of Roskilde to have a close engagement with our local culture.

We are serving more and more organic food, and we’re aiming for at least 90% organic food this year. For some years now, the leftovers from the food stalls go towards creating good, healthy meals for homeless people — we’ve donated nearly 35,000 meals over the past few years.


Being a camping festival is important — people come and live in a temporary city for a week which is unlike anything they would experience in their normal lives. We try to keep food and drink prices low so it’s accessible for young people to stay for the week. Usually after a couple of days, even before the main festival starts, people have made new friends and get into the Roskilde vibe. This is why we think a lot of acts tell us that playing Roskilde is a special experience; the audience are living together for a week — they’re not going home every night before coming back the following day; they really get into the Roskilde state of mind.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face delivering an event of this size each year?

Creating what is Denmark’s 4th largest city is complicated, and there are some facilities we have to build, but we try to work with the local council to do some long term development on the grounds so we have plug-and-play solutions for things like drains, water supply and power so we don’t have to run everything from generators. We are moving towards a festival that is carbon-neutral, where all waste is a resource, and we have a 100% fossil-free energy supply.

A big challenge is being an outdoors event in Northern Europe — we’ve seen bad weather strike several other events in Europe in the past few years and cause a lot of problems. We’ve been lucky recently but have still worked hard on the drainage and other weather protection measures.


Another big challenge is trash. People bring a lot of stuff and they don’t necessarily expect to bring it all back; cheap tents, raincoats, boots, things like that. We spend a lot of time and money collecting and sorting the trash. It’s not legal for us to just take stuff that’s been left behind so we have to try to make it easy for people to donate things that are still useful, and then we can give them to the homeless, refugees or other people in need.

Which new technologies have you been introducing?

We’re going cashless this year. This is something several festivals in Eastern & Southern Europe have had for a few years. The main difference is that for them it’s a transition from primarily cash payments at their festivals to card/chip/wristband, whereas in Scandinavia we’ve been moving towards going cashless not just in festivals but in society more generally. We hope this means it’ll be an easy transition as so many people are used to card transactions.

Technology in many forms is becoming a more important thing for us to think about and our main focus is how technology help us to give our guests the best possible experience.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to start out in the live music industry?

Go out and do it. Pretty much everyone I know started out on a DIY level, working in a venue or a bar, or volunteering at a festival. You can go to universities now to learn about the industry— that’s very helpful but in the end it’s a network business so you need to get out there; get phone numbers, know faces and learn the business from different angles. It’s hard to sit down at a desk and say ‘ok here’s how we book a festival’ — you’re dealing with 100s of people and you need to take different approaches with many of them so the best way to go is to dive in and see where it takes you.

What does the future look like both for Roskilde and festivals more broadly?

There are so many new festivals now, I wonder if we are getting towards saturation point.

You can see from the way people are programming, some are focused on booking safer headliners that can be confirmed way in advance. This risks making these events seem a bit dated by Summer because everything is booked before Christmas so it’s half a year where no one can bring in any of the new talent. We try to avoid this, but to a degree we have to follow the market to secure the headliners we want in advance so it’s a tough balance.

The digitalisation of the business means things are happening extremely fast and acts are now blowing up extremely fast, so festivals being locked in on their lineups already seems a bit in contrast to that. We’ll see how it plays out.

It’s worth noting that a lot of the new festivals are being run by big companies promoting several events. Some try to take their original concept and take it on tour and some look to adapt to different markets.

We also have the split between the city and camping festivals. Not many of the new ones are camping events. Maybe that’s because less people want to camp — we don’t see that at Roskilde but maybe it’s a different audience now being catered to.

Either way, I think the growth in the types of festivals happening mean it’s more important than ever for managers and agents to pick the right events for their bands to play.

Depression in the music industry: Here’s one thing no one is talking about

Image: Ted Ed

In the last couple of years many of us have started to become more aware of our mental wellbeing. Meditation apps have millions of users; travel providers offer relaxation holiday retreats; schools, workplaces and even prisons are introducing programs to help develop mindfulness.

Awareness has led to talking about mental health more openly, particularly in the workplace. An increasingly open dialogue should be welcomed in the music industry as much as anywhere.

Over the past year a number of new initiatives and media pieces have helped increase awareness of mental health issues for musicians.

Most recently, in late July The Guardian newspaper interviewed several big-name dance acts about the challenges of their touring lifestyle.

A mainstream media platform giving space to this is certainly a positive thing, but strangely and somewhat sadly the majority of the 300+ comments below the line ignored the main issue being highlighted and instead focused on arguing the merits of electronic musicians as real artists.

There are two omissions from the article that would make for a more balanced and compelling argument, and by extension lessen audience focus on whether decks or drums are more legit.

The first is to feature viewpoints from a more diverse range of artists, and the second is to broaden the conversation to those working across all areas of the industry.


As with music, media is becoming a headliners’ market and the big names are what get media platforms the clicks they crave, but The Guardian not featuring the opinions of those in other areas of the scene feels like a sorely missed opportunity.

Steve Aoki. Photograph: Ross Gilmore

The touring schedules of the likes of Above & Beyond and Steve Aoki are no doubt heavy and intense, but the majority of artists travel in a less salubrious manner. For every DJ with a tour manager, private jet and a reservation at a Michelin star restaurant, there are hundreds more flying solo on Easyjet or Ryanair every weekend and making do with a hotel room club sandwich.

Viewing things through the eyes of these artists may improve getting the message across because their situation is far more relatable. Most of us have probably felt some pang of desperation while fighting fatigue waiting for a delayed flight home from a barren airport.


More broadly, it’s to be applauded that as well as artist support there are now mental wellbeing initiatives for fans with the likes of Calm Zones being rolled out.

However, no one seems to be talking about depression amongst those working in the industry away from the artist side. It’s a growing issue and one that should have a public platform; not just for the dance music scene but the music industry as a whole.

The issues surrounding those working as executives and service providers in the music industry differ from those affecting artists, but I would argue they are no less dangerous.

The risk of depression can loom largest for the service providers operating at the front line, representing the creative and mercurial; their roles can include strategist, hustler, debt collector, confidant, investor, therapist and a whole lot more. Sometimes they are part of a larger organisation, but often these are individuals or collectives trying to operate and grow a company as well as deliver for their clients.

All this in an industry that is highly competitive, mainly unregulated, rarely measured on meritocracy, often insular, and struggling to find solutions against wave after wave of disruption.

The perceived wisdom for moments of uncertainty and anxiety seems to be to either front up aggressively or hunker down and ignore.

Neither of these positions are effective in the long-term, and many in the industry suffer from status anxiety, if not something more serious.

‘Status Anxiety’ by Alain de Botton.

There are such a range of evolving skills, strengths and sensitivities needed by the modern music industry executive that even the very best are going to stumble from time to time, let alone the rest of us.


I wrote about the need for music industry mentors in this piece.

Alongside mentors, I suggest three more actions to help combat depression in the music business:

  • Professional coaching: How do you deal with a client who has depression? An artist having a manager is one thing; having a manager who is trained to deal with these issues is quite another. Knowing how a publishing contract works isn’t going to help when your client is threatening to self-harm in a hotel room on the other side of the world. There’s a great opportunity for quality executive coaches to help those in the music business.
  • Round tables and music mindfulness: A few conference panels have talked about depression, but they don’t feel like the best forum for such personal matters. Smaller, private groups where mindfulness and open discussion are encouraged would be a good step.
  • Artist awareness: A lot of the pressure for those working in the business comes from their clients. They may not mean it or even be aware of it, but why not find ways to increase artist awareness of the pressures their teams have to deal with on a day to day basis, in a way that builds genuine collaboration and empathy?

Depression is a real issue.

It’s positive that the importance of mental health for artists is being recognised.

It’s also crucially important not to forget all the tour managers, agents, managers, promoters, PRs and others who are taking care of business away from the spotlight.


thanks to Jacinta O’Shea-Ramdeholl for reading drafts of this article.

Where’s the mentoring in the music industry?


Career fuel, career angst and passing the torch

this article originally appeared in edition 3 of The Manifesto, a publication for the modern music business.

One of my favourite articles from the past eighteen months is a piece in the consistently excellent Fast Company magazine by Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO of advertising agency Ogilvy One. Entitled ‘Here’s what you really need to get right about work’, Fetherstonhaugh shares his views on career trajectories and says that most people only think about the immediate next step, not a pathway.

Simply put, the article suggests careers can be split in 3 chapters of roughly 15 years apiece, with a different strategy needed for each.

The chapters are;

  • Taking on Career Fuel (Transportable Skills, Meaningful Experiences, and Enduring Relationships)
  • Pouring Gasoline on your strengths (finding your sweet spot, and setting high ambitions);
  • Passing the Torch (mentoring and staying fresh).

There’s also an introductory section around ‘Career Math(s)’ which emphasises the need to think of careers as marathons rather than sprints, and the need to ‘fuel up’ right from the off.

The world of advertising isn’t always the most nurturing of places for career development but this piece really hit the spot with me, and I’ve referred back to it numerous times. The ideas in these three chapters are simple and effective and also actionable. Rather like the best advertising in fact.

However, one thing that he proposes that I’d challenge is that the passing the torch should only happen in chapter three (i.e. after fifty years of age). The vantage point may be higher then, but I believe it can and should happen much earlier. One industry that would benefit enormously from more torch passing, mentoring and knowledge sharing of all kinds and at all stages is the music business.


Same as it ever was? Or worse?

So what happens if nothing changes? In an industry shifting and writhing as much as music is, I’d suggest that some or all of these things are likely to happen if development of executive talent stalls:

  • executive talent goes elsewhere
  • executive talent doesn’t fulfil their potential
  • artistic talent doesn’t thrive to their potential
  • deals within the industry decline
  • there is a ripple effect to wider creative industries

These are pretty dire consequences, but they are imminently possible if the business talent within music doesn’t thrive and help create a supportive and connected ecosystem.

The best way I can think of to prevent these consequences is through effective mentoring and the building of a virtuous circle where the next generation are guided by those that came before them.


Mentor mumbo jumbo

One definition of a mentor is this:

‘Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger, but have a certain area of expertise.’

The first rule of mentorship is to understand why you want one, and that probably means taking a step back and properly thinking about what you really want. This thought process will help you identify who the right mentors may be.

Be respectful of a mentor’s time. Their time is often their most valuable resource and should be respected as such — it’s something all of us only have a finite amount of, after all. Ironically, if you keep to time when meeting with a mentor and know when to bring the meeting to an end, they’re more likely to give you extra time.

When I’ve sought out mentors, I’ve learned to ask clear, tightly formed questions. It took me a while to learn this but I noticed the results I got improved dramatically.

If you’re emailing them be specific about why you’re getting in touch, why you think they may be a good fit for what you’re looking to achieve, then ask no more than three well-formed questions. Only expect a call or in-person meeting as a bonus if they have the time. This gives the mentor a chance to politely pass on one or all of your methods of request with neither party feeling aggrieved or uncomfortable.

A mentor relationship can come in many different forms. It could be conversations once a week in-person or once a year via email; someone you met once ten years ago, or the person you haven’t yet.

Make the preparatory steps first, and as the saying goes ‘when the student is ready the teacher will appear’.

Mentoring myths

Let me dispel a few mentoring myths:

  • they have to be from your industry / area of expertise
  • they’re considerably older than you
  • you have one mentor, not many.

Myth 1 is sometimes the opposite of where a mentor should come from. This example from a friend sums it up:

“A few years ago I decided to reach out to my old thesis supervisor at University. We hadn’t talked really since I graduated. I remembered that he always pushed my analytical thinking and made me want to be better. So I just casually started the conversation. Since that time we meet whenever we are in the same city. we email every three months. And I always ask his opinion when I need that sort of critical eye.”

Regarding myth 2, mentorship is not necessarily about age or decades of experience. It’s important to put ego and fear to one side, and to be mindful.

I’ve been recently been getting advice from someone too young to get my cultural references but their guidance in a couple of specific areas I’m working in has been extremely valuable.

And as for the third myth, whilst having a huge number of people to call on occasionally for sage advice somewhat defeats the point, I have found that getting a broad number of ideas and perspectives both clarifies things and also brings up new questions to ask.

If you’re looking for mentors, they can come from almost anywhere — it’s more about being curious and discovering people who you find interesting and do work you admire.


My experiences then and now

Running my own company several years ago I looked for mentors, but coming into the business as a relative outsider I found it extremely difficult to identify these people. I was seeking a fellow entrepreneurial soul who had climbed up the ladder a few rungs further than me but my requests for advice were generally met with indifference or a tenacious PA who spurned my advances.

Through a bit of serendipity and looking in alternative places I struck up relationships with a couple of mentors outside the music business, but having an industry expert’s view to complement those other perspectives would have benefited me enormously.

In the middle of 2015 I made the decision to leave my role as a booking agent to explore my interests in other industries. As I sensed a career crossroads approaching I embarked on something of a discovery mission to help ascertain where my path would lead. The voyage of discovery comprised mainly of seeking out people in divergent fields to ask for advice and find out more about their career paths, challenges and forecasts on what’s going to happen next in their line of work.

Looking back on the approaches I made and notes I took from the meetings I had, there are a few ham-fisted early attempts (later remedied by the framing I mention earlier), plus some wildly differing opinions, a few bits of feedback that were cast-iron in their consistency, and several new doors opened.

Most importantly, my brain had to work harder — reaching out to someone smarter, more worldly, more experienced than you means going out of your comfort zone. This was pretty scary at first but has without doubt made me more open, confident and also mindful as a result.


Where the music industry is lacking

Running a small industry networking event and talking to lots of peers earlier this year, there was a strong sense that the music industry is lacking in the following key areas around mentoring and knowledge sharing;

  • influence from complementary and divergent industries
  • transparency, clarity and insight from those in a position of influence on what it takes to become a success (‘hard work’ is the party line, surely there is something a little more to it?)
  • knowledge gaps and also assets; an overly aggressive stance, or putting up the defences to avoid the perceived threat
  • support to those who are nearing the middle or end of the ‘Career Fuel’ stage (i.e. late twenties to mid thirties)

This is emphasised by a recent ‘brain drain’ among executives that has been highlighted in prominent industry publications. It seems this drain is most prevalent among people in their late twenties to mid thirties. To me it feels like the career equivalent of teen angst — fleeting success and trying to make your mark on the world colliding head-on with new pressures and growing frustration.

Being in the middle like this is hard — some of the reasons I’ve heard for people either stepping out or getting close to it include simple burn out, frustration with monetisation, frustration with major label ways of working, artist and executive demands increasing alongside an insular viewpoint, and negativity breeding negativity in the industry.

All the more reason for mentors to provide guidance through this difficult adolescent chapter in a career.


Where can the music industry can take note from other areas, and who’s doing it well?

I’ve been interested in technology since my teens, and having kept a keen eye on it throughout my time in both advertising and the music business, it’s only relatively recently I have pushed myself headlong into the world of startups.

Yes, startups are the hip thing right now, so there’s bound to be a buzz of activity around them, but upon getting more involved I was still surprised at just how many events there are each week in London devoted to both the wider startup scene and many smaller niches. Most of these events are free, many have prominent speakers sharing a few secrets, and the majority of attendees are happy to pass on useful information and make introductions. The openness and lack of fear around hoarding ideas and information is refreshing. As the saying goes, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.

Meanwhile in the hospitality industry, a new venture has started called Journee. It’s a collaboration space in the heart of Manhattan, offering a professional setting for a meeting, a place to study for a sommelier’s exam, or simply somewhere to connect with new friends and colleagues.

People may argue the music industry is consolidating more tightly than hospitality and doesn’t have the scale of tech, so why would we share important information, or be able to set up a collaboration space? I’d suggest that this is even more of a reason that things need to change.


Torch passing

I’d urge you to think about torch passing whatever stage of your career you are in. If you’re at entry level you can help a school/college student understand the paths available to them; if you’re in your late 20s/early 3os there’s ample opportunity to mentor interns and junior executives; if your age is around the forty mark there are a large number of thirtysomethings who could use your advice.

Why? It empowers the mentee, makes the industry more robust, and it’s good for your soul. In particular I’d recommend that perhaps you make a recommendation between two individuals whom you feel should meet with this idea in mind.

One of the reasons I left the music industry was the lack of mentorship and knowledge sharing; it shouldn’t be the reason for other people to do the same.

Let’s pay it forward and build for a stronger, more connected community of tomorrow.


Thanks to Michelle Sullivan, editor at The Manifesto, and Jacinta O’Shea-Ramdeholl for their feedback on the drafts of this article.

What have artist managers, football coaches and startup studios got in common?



Two things that are ingrained in many countries’ cultures are football and music. To an extent they go hand in hand — both blend art, commerce, fashion and entertainment, and have huge numbers of passionate fans.

In both businesses (and they are businesses, like it or not), there’s often one person in a quarterback position who is more likely to get fired than get the limelight, and arguably has a thankless task no matter how much success the wider team accrue. That’s right — the manager.

In music, I see a manager as CEO of an artist’s business. The artist themselves is the visionary founder, and the majority of artists are best off following that visionary creative path rather than moving into a CEO role (although they should never take their eye completely off the business side…that’s a very dangerous position to be in).


A football manager may not be the CEO of the club, nor the players’ individual businesses (that’ll more likely be the agents), but just like the artist manager they have a close connection to talent, and this article in the Financial Times really resonated with me. It’s definitely pertinent for talent managers, but the advice here can be translated to almost any other area of business where star talent is a key to success.

What the artist manager and the football manager do when it comes to identifying and developing talent can also be compared to the technology industry’s recent wave of startup studios.


The Startup Studio

I came across the startup studio concept fairly early on during the journey towards setting up my new company Rozel. It’s very well summed up in this post by the guys over at Makeshift.

Note: It’s also worth checking out their product Attending — I’ve used it a few times now and it’s a very useful tool for all sorts of event planning. (I’m not on the payroll, by the way)

In the Nesta session that Makeshift were part of, they identified the following attributes that were part of a startup studio. Taking each one of these in turn, I see strong correlations with how talent managers develop their rosters:

1. focused on building multiple products / startups simultaneously

a talent manager will often have several clients on a roster, and to a growing degree more than one of these clients will be active at any one time and need servicing accordingly.

2. generally own the majority of all the things they work on from an equity perspective

the area of music rights isn’t getting much clearer (companies like Kobalt notwithstanding) but most likely that at an early stage, the talent and the manager will be the only two people due income or owning IP.

3. generally have full time staff working on design, dev and marketing

consolidation at the top end of the music industry as well as a shift towards direct-to-fan models and the rise of the attention economy has seen management companies have a need to build teams to take care of their clients’ growing design and marketing needs. Whether the majority will be in-house remains to be seen, but having a retained team of some sort is likely to continue as the lines blur further.

4. attempting to make their process additive — i.e — more value from each thing as you do it

generally, an engaged fan base for a musician are tribal. if what’s being added is of good quality and fans want is, the value derived from each fan should increase.

5. “lab” is frequently used to describe a startup studio because they conjure up a “digital workshop” more so than an agency or accelerator. They’re a place to tinker away on different ideas and build multiple things at once.

whilst talent managers may not consider what they do a ‘lab’, the nature of their setup is much more akin to this to an agency model (whether booking, marketing, etc) where projects and clients are rotated at a much more rapid rate.


Managers as Startup Studios

Taking the idea of a manager being CEO of an artist’s business one step further along, it could be said that early-stage artists can themselves be considered as startups. This is because they usually;

  • are high risk
  • have a very small chance of breakout success
  • have no product-market fit defined
  • need to make something people really want if they are to succeed
  • are able to grow rapidly

The manager’s role as the startup studio is to develop a number of these startups at one time, with the hope that one or two will become big hits (i.e. a ‘Unicorn’ in startup parlance), and maybe a few others become solid ongoing businesses, whilst the rest will unfortunately face the inevitability of not reaching the heights that the founders set out to achieve at the beginning (i.e. in effect they will fail).

Furthermore, managers, just like founders and startup studios, are now more often called upon to make their own investments of capital.

In the technology world, a lot of startup studios are being backed by an exited entrepreneur, or in the case of music it may be a talent manager with a big breakout artist on their CV. I see a future where these studios increase in popularity, but without as many big names above the door (simply because there are proportionally not enough of these available, especially in a music market where the big breakout successes are growing in scale but dropping in frequency).

The main challenge for a relativity fledgling manager/entrepreneur wanting to continue develop their ‘studio’ offering is therefore one of capital. In technology, this typically means angel investors or VCs.

But what about the music industry?

I’ll be looking at a few ideas around this, and also what a future music industry accelerator/incubator could look like, in part 2… coming very soon 😉

Getting down to business in South America

Travelling on a train from London Fields to Liverpool Street last week, I came across this article via Pitchfork’s Twitter feed, focused on English band Arctic Monkeys and their success in South America.

http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/848-how-class-videos-and-goth-aesthetics-made-arctic-monkeys-huge-in-south-america/

I got 2 paragraphs down and emailed the link and a note to a friend.

One paragraph more and I followed up to the same email with two more notes.

Another two paragraphs, another note. I decided to read the rest before brain-dumping any more ideas to my friend who already suffers from inbox overload (and the train had arrived at my stop).

This article really resonated with me and I found myself generating ideas with more fervour than anything else I’ve read recently, so I thought I’d write a few words around why that may have happened, and some of the ideas I had.


Happy accidents

Some of the people who knew me in my time as a music agent will be aware that I ended up (half by design, half by accident) booking tours in a really broad range of territories.

In 2014 I booked shows in about 65 countries; I’m sure there are a bunch of agents that do more than that, but relative to my experience and size of roster it was still pretty high.

There were a number of reasons I ended up working this way. Two of the main ones that were more by design than happy accidents were;

  1. I felt there was growth in developing areas within a consolidating industry, and that there was a need to diversify a client and customer base in line with that
  2. If I could help develop a live career for an artist that was strong and stable across many different countries I felt they would experience more longevity and be more immune to the trends, cycles and fads that inevitably come and go (now more than ever)

Most people often actively avoided this way of working, and with good logical reason; higher risk of failure, more unknowns, customers you haven’t worked with before, challenges with currencies and exchange rates, difficult logistical hurdles, things being lost in translation/time difference between teams, etc.

(Sounds kinda like working at a startup, no?)

Despite all these challenges (some more clear and present than others) I still dived in, and one of the most challenging yet also rewarding territories I did business in was South America.


From Angel Falls to Patagonia, plus Bebeto’s baby

Like a lot of people, I love to travel, and have been intrigued by South America in particular for years. The landscapes, the food, the people, the music… and the football.

I think my interest first came about through watching the 1994 World Cup — Maradona in overdrive, the tragedy of a Colombian defender who was murdered for scoring an own goal, Bebeto and the ‘baby’ celebration, and Jorge Campos’ dayglo goalie kit. Growing up in suburban England, these guys were like something from another world.

Jorge Campos keeping it real

South America was also one of the reasons I started learning Spanish (I’m still pretty rickety but can keep it together in most everyday conversations), and I got to make a visit a few years ago which was a genuine life-changing experience.

One of the things that was really stark whilst on that trip is that there are a ton of parallels between music and football, and in South America I think the two are as closely linked as almost anywhere in the world.

Now I’ve got my minor football digression out of the way, it’s time to go back to the Pitchfork article.


Ways of working

There are a bunch of learnings from the Pitchfork piece which I think are worth expanding on a little bit with regard to breaking the market.

Leverage partnerships, think laterally

  • There are a lot of products and services that may not be well known in an artist’s home country but are huge elsewhere. Think about combining medium and message, like the actress in the Arctic Monkeys’ music video (see below)
  • For example, services like Uber are becoming very popular in Mexico (yes, they are in most places — but it’s worth looking at what’s nascent in the region and thinking about strategic partnerships that can increase reach and visibility far more than a targeted Facebook post can)

Don’t ignore or shun cultural differences, embrace them

  • Arctic Monkeys used a very well known telenovela actress in a recent music video — this kind of leverage can be huge.
    Local star + band seen as aspirational to their fans + high growth video delivery platform = Crash Bandicoot.

Another obscure 90’s reference…

Street cred and star quality

  • Jason Borge of the University of Texas says; “[Brazilian] middle class kids, young people and intellectuals, mostly white, establish street cred through their embrace of foreign popular culture,” Borge explains. “It allows them to perform or display a rejection of the status quo, particularly if they’re embracing rebellious-seeming celebrities like James Dean or Elvis or Mick Jagger.”

I wrote about star quality in another article, doesn’t matter whether it’s a muddy field in England or an sports arena in Rio…

Watch out for streaming, and not just on the big players’ services

  • Smart phone ownership is growing enormously in the region (there’s still growth in Europe/North America but the curve here is much steeper), and streaming services are going hand in hand with that. There are a handful of services that are either native or lesser-known in Europe/North America that have serious traction in South America. Also watch out for video, streaming music services don’t necessarily just mean audio.

<plug> One of the companies I work with, F#, are experts in the digital music landscape and how it all fits together. If you want to know more about all this stuff, ask us, we do workshops 🙂 </plug>

Never forget how passionate the fans are, especially the core

  • Another football parallel; musicians can have their own section of Ultra fans, and in South America the people are enormously passionate. I know of several artists who have been playing shows in the region for nearly 20 years and the fanbase shows no sign of dilution, boredom or losing their fervour — I can testify that stuff like this that’s mentioned in the article really does happen, and you don’t need to be an arena band for it to be you. Cultivate and connect with the fans in an authentic way and they will stick with you, just like they stick with Boca Juniors, River Plate…or Crystal Palace.

For example;

Before Murphy’s final tour date, in Lima, Peru, a fan posted the arrival time for Murphy’s plane to his Facebook page. Upon his arrival, 100 to 150 screaming fans were waiting for him, the kind of scene one expects to hear described when One Direction touch down anywhere in the world.

The example above is actually a good marketing tactic that artist teams should look at — pop-up gig in the Arrivals hall? If you want to look at the sharing economy model, airports have a ton of excess floor capacity that could be filled…

a summer’s morning in Cordoba, Argentina with Nick Warren on the decks

Booking an artist in South America is (generally) no different than anywhere else in the world

  • The agent mentioned in the article states that all the money needs to be paid at least a week in advance. I’d times that by 4 and say a month ahead (at the minimum). Otherwise though, it isn’t that much different to elsewhere around the globe — just make sure common sense prevails.

Present brand and creativity in a way that appeals to the market

  • I’m not sure if Arctic Monkeys deliberately stylised themselves around this campaign to appeal to the specific audience in South America, but I see a lot of artists who don’t adjust their messaging to suit the market. Sure, sticking to what you’re about creatively is core, but there’s a spectrum and nudging towards one end of that for a particular market can pay dividends.
    A lot of the most successful electronic artists actually do a really good job of this through their social media and the design and targeting around the content they produce.

I’d like to see more clever marketing ideas in this vein — as a basic example, a couple of years ago emojis became particularly big in Singapore so the SingTel telecoms company ran a campaign where fans could enter MMS-based competitions by guessing a movie title only through a couple of emoji clues. This also ties into looking at the main media channels in a market and leveraging them.

SingTel’s ‘Movie Emoji’ campaign

Have that key person on the ground

This is important. There are unfortunately some unscrupulous people out there, and having a trusted and reliable partner protects against many potential pitfalls, some of which are easy to forget about because they just don’t happen all that much in developed nations.

Finding that partner can be difficult, but a good booking agent will likely know a few — and one with the right connections is worth their weight in gold.
The right agent (and also the right point person in the territory) will understand the nuances between competing promoters, the politics where multi-national brands are looking to enter markets to the chagrin of the incumbents, are likely have a cross-agency map of who’s reliable and who’s not, and should have a good feel of where there are rafts of non value-adding middlemen in a process.

Most importantly, a reliable and trustworthy host can really make an artist’s tour; the benefits of local knowledge and a warm welcome is never to be underestimated.


I’m by no means a master of doing business in South America, but I’ve worked with quite a lot of people there and have seen just how amazing it can be when tours are executed well.

I think that every modern music business person should seek to gain an understanding of the market there; the mechanisms, the fans, the business, and the wider cultural touch points that make it one of the most exciting places in the world.

Things are going global, but at the same time they’re also going more local — to succeed a strong understanding of both is needed.

And if you needed any more motivation, just think about the authentic Peruvian Ceviche, Brazilian Feijoada, Venezuelan & Colombian arepas, and the unbeatable Argentinian parrilla that’s waiting for you… hopefully I’ll see you there sometime.

Buen Suerte!


What do you think? Let me know on Twitter (@howardgray) or in the comments below…