When you’re not killing it

Tiga (from Tiga’s Facebook page)

This post by well-known DJ and producer Tiga popped up on my Facebook feed last weekend.

There’s a lot packed in to just a few sentences: ego, aloofness, self-deprecation, humility.

Tiga’s post got a huge response. This was likely in large part due to his sizeable fanbase as well as his eloquence, but it was also because of its rarity. You just don’t see people in the entertainment business talking this way very often.

I really respect him for sharing his off-night publicly but it made me think this kind of thing shouldn’t make such a large impact.

It should be seen as… well, normal.


None of us like to admit we were wrong, we failed, or we just didn’t perform well. This is especially uncomfortable when it’s concerning our trade, profession, or something else we hold close as part of our identity. It makes us feel vulnerable and questions our value. But we should do so more often.

Whether by coincidence, fate or the law of attraction, a series of tweets by the author James Clear got my attention the very same day as I saw Tiga’s disclosure.

The 15-tweet thread also includes:

The results of success are usually public and highly visible, but the process behind success is often private and hidden from view.

When your screen is filled examples of the strongest, richest, and smartest, it’s easy to overvalue the outcome & undervalue the process.

I believe a lot of us are guilty of this. I know I am.

However, I’d extend this message to cover the process that leads to both success and failure.

Recently I’ve been investing time into building web apps using Ruby on Rails. I’ve been following a few video tutorials to help me build ropey clones of Reddit, Pinterest and several other of your favourite websites.

Where I’ve learnt the most is by failing (i.e. my app throwing an error or some kind). I have to rewind the video, re-trace my steps a few times over, and find out what caused the error before trying to fix it.

It’s slow and painstaking but the process towards understanding failure makes me more likely to either fix it more quickly in future or avoid it completely.

A web developer known as Levels (who has a pretty sizeable cult following) recently took this a step further by documenting an entire startup build via broadcasting it on Twitch.

Maybe the process isn’t very pretty to watch in its entirety, but making an impressive outcome more transparent enables others to learn, develop and get comfortable with failing and making mistakes. We can better respect and understand the process, rather than just marvelling at or dismissing the outcome. It encourages us to appreciate the practice and sometimes even think ‘I could do that’.

I believe we’ll see transparency around the process appear more in everyday life — from the way food is produced to how laws and legislation comes to pass.

Where this transparency may have the most fascinating impact is in the creative industries.

A lot of people in this area seem to be very afraid of opening up the process rather than just showing off the (selected) results. A previous post of mine touched on this in a slightly different but connected context — hunkering down or fronting up.

By being transparent we may expose some of our tricks of the trade, but to paraphrase an old adage “it’s what you do with it that counts”.

We now have platforms taking us inside the processes to learn to play video games, code websites and even build houses.

Maybe the world’s top DJs could take us deeper inside their process: away from the selfies, hotel suites and big tracks dropping at a festival; to the filtering and preparation of the music, the practice and honing of the craft, and knowing where, how and why they may have made mistakes along the way.

Despite what may show on the surface we all have times when we’re not killing it, whether as a rookie starting out or as a seasoned professional.

Openly sharing and learning from each others’ mistakes will improve our aptitude, help us find new ways of doing things, and relieve some of the status anxiety that’s everywhere around us in an connected age when we only measure outcomes rather than valuing the process.

After all — we’re only human, right?

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.

How one club night became the turning point for my business

In February 2009 I left a promising career in advertising to build a music company.

My vision, albeit partially formed, was to offer a new way of serving exciting independent artists by simultaneously growing their prowess and profile across touring, promotion and publishing.

We’d do business in unconventional ways, use technology wherever we could, and be guided by our moral compass in an industry that has a reputation for its cut-throat nature. A sense of opportunity collided with youthful exuberance, naivety and a dash of idealism.

And so I swapped sleek studio space in the front end of Clerkenwell for a cold cluttered cupboard in the back end of Shoreditch. Reality hit pretty quickly.

  • The office was dank and uninspiring.
  • The toilets had the aura of a B-list horror movie set.
  • Our kettle was the very cheapest that Argos had in stock and needed a piece of cutlery levered under the switch in order to function.
  • The entertainment budget for a prospective client stretched to a couple of pints of average quality lager and possibly a Turkish takeaway.
  • We had no senior staff with their black book of contacts and tricks of the trade.
  • None of our team had operated in their role before and were all learning on the fly.
  • Hardly any of the main festival promoters would return our calls or emails.
  • Investors wouldn’t touch us (“you mean none of your clients have signed contracts?”).
  • The heating didn’t work, except in summer.

I was running the place, frantically trying to lay down enough track ahead of us to stop the train crashing into the side of the mountain.

Along the way we lost pitches, clients, staff, focus and VAT returns.

To quote Ben Horowitz, I was deep in the struggle.

The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place.

The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.

The Struggle is when your employees think you are lying and you think they may be right.

But despite the pain the company was alive, and despite all the setbacks were we still just about winning more than we were losing.

One Friday night in early 2011, something changed.

On face value it wasn’t much, just another date in the diary for some of the acts we represented. For me, however, it represented something far more.

One of the venues we’d worked most closely with since the very beginning of our burgeoning business had booked 17 of our artists to play across the venue on the same night.

We represented almost the entire lineup.

We’d never had anything like it happen before.

This venue had built a long-standing reputation for quality — whether it was the booming sound system, striking graphic design or talent programming that seamlessly blended big names with newcomers. It was great to have any client booked there, let alone 17 of them.

But that night it wasn’t about which of our agents had booked the acts. It wasn’t about the revenue it generated for our clients or us either (as much as we needed it at that point).

It was about the team who ran this venue recognising there was something about us and the talent we’d aimed to represent, nurture and develop, often from the very ground floor of their careers.

In my mind, this seemingly trivial milestone validated everything we’d been doing up to that point and helped pushed me on to keep going when we were deep in the struggle.

A few years later and I’d managed to make a successful exit, with our alumni moving on to hold key roles at some of the industry’s leading companies. I now think often of that tough period — what I did wrong, how I would deal with it now, and what helped me get through it at the time.


This Friday night, fabric opens its doors again after what must be the biggest struggle in its 18 year history.

Just like many others I’m very pleased to see its return.

Without it a whole cohort of creators, entrepreneurs, collectives and organisations may not have kept persevering through the struggle, or even have got started at all.

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.

The rise of the remixer


Why remixing is going to become more and more important in the future of content and creativity.

Remixing has been around for a while now, but it’s still somewhat under-appreciated both as an art form and commercial tool.

Music remixing started with the musique concrete era in 1930s France merging sounds from different sources to create new pieces of music.

The dancehall culture of Jamaica in the early 1970s was where the likes of King Tubby created stripped-down instrumental versions of reggae songs, later layering effects and vocal hooks over the top of the raw elements of the tracks.

Disco and hip hop DJs in late 70s New York took the concept of the remix to a broader audience, before the electronic pop bands of the 80s created the “extended mix” for nightclub dancefloors.

Early house music producers then began lifting out the vocals from pop and r&b songs and layering them back over their own instrumental tracks. Before long, entire pieces of music were being created purely from samples and snippets of other works.

Fast forward to the modern era and the remix has become an accepted, although at times controversial, part of popular culture — not just in music but a variety of mediums. Art, media, design and even technologies have all been remixed, re-edited and re-contextualised. If you look around, you’ll see remixes in all sorts of places.

The remix is also a proven way for creatives to launch and propel their careers, spring-boarding from a platform provided by more recognised content and creators. Profile and exposure through remixing is now a key tool in the armoury of the modern talent manager, record label exec and development studio.


In today’s rapidly evolving content business, the remix appears to be more powerful and prevalent than ever.

Kevin Kelly’s piece in the July 2016 edition of Wired magazine illustrates this through the lens of Hollywood in particular.

Cheap and universal creation tools are making it easier to create content of all kinds. The conventions around barriers to entry are fast falling away, i.e. it’s easier to watch a movie than to produce one, or to read a book than write one.

The total number of hours of content outputted from Hollywood is about 1200 each year. Over 24,000 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every hour.

Of course, the quality of all this deep-lying content online is variable, but a common theme is remixing. Lyric videos for your favourite music artist; comedic dubbing of a classic movie scene; or subtle takes on advertising that are twisted and turned by politics, medium, and cultures.

Mike Diva’s Donald Trump video is an interesting example of the latter. This was sent to me via What’s App by a friend, and with two motions of my index finger I was watching a unique piece of art, entertainment and subversive political commentary that would never have come from a traditional content creation studio. And it was without doubt a remix.

Kelly references the economist Paul Romer who says that real sustainable economic growth doesn’t stem from new resources, but from existing ones that are rearranged to make them more valuable.

The opposite may be the case if these existing resources are not re-arranged in improved, evolved or transformative ways. There are clear legal and ethical issues here — what constitutes a version of something that adds additional value, what is just a copy, and who claims ownership (and revenues) on what? There’s no hard and fast answer, but there’s little doubt that valuable creations of today will evolve into something different tomorrow.

A service that is already proving pretty valuable is Musical.ly. For those who don’t know, Musica.ly is a social network with a powerful tool to make music-infused videos to share on the platform, save or share between friends. Users are effectively creating their own remixes on the fly. And it’s big; the app has gone from around 500 downloads a day in April 2015 to 80m registered users today.

We’ll see the remixer continue to rise in importance in the coming years; hackers, writers, visual artists, musicians and others are going to be behind some of the most compelling and valuable creations we’ll engage with. And to be a renowned ‘remixee’, one of the creators whose works have been remixed the most, will be of greater prestige than ever

Three of the main challenges I see for those in the business of content (and entertainment particularly) are:

  • Sourcing new remixer talent from divergent fields
  • Finding the right ways to distribute remixed creations to audiences
  • Ensuring these new creations deliver real value

And as for this article? It’s a remix too…

10 years later: mind the gaps in the live music sector

This summer marks my 10th anniversary living in London. A lot’s happened in the past decade, but it’s not hard for me to remember some of the highlights of my first year in the big city.

I was living in South London, and whilst I worked in Soho I found myself gravitating to East London and the Shoreditch district in particular.

One of the best spots was Hearn Street arches and the adjacent car park, where the likes of mulletover would put on some of the best European deep house and techno around.

Hearn Street car park

The building next door to these part-time party venues would later be home to my first startup’s first office. In that scrappy-looking block were old-school Cockney furriers (led by a chap we knew only as John The Mink), a dance school, designers and a whole bunch of other eclectic and unlikely tenants.

Incidentally, less than 5 years after we moved out, the entire block has been flattened to make way for 40+ storeys of chrome and glass, presumably for the City to creep further into the Shoreditch district. John The Mink is nowhere to be seen.


The place I remember most fondly from that first summer was in the Tea Building on the corner of Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green Road. Back then there was no Boxpark, no overground train station, and definitely no Pret. Sitting within the Tea Building was the simply named T Bar.

Time for Tea

It had a simple concept; plenty of space, minimal lighting and decor, a well-stocked bar, Funktion One soundsystem, and some of the world’s best house, techno and disco DJs, 3 or 4 evenings a week from 7pm. For free.

Sure, it had its downsides; drinks were on the pricey side (although the fact it got slated for £5 for wine and £8 for cocktails shows how expensive London has become); there were a fair few of the less endearing Shoreditch stereotypes in there when bigger names were booked to play; and the place got pretty hot when it was full.

But when you’re getting to hear the likes of Michael Mayer, Audion, Loco Dice and James Jones play on a great soundsystem with no door charge, no advance tickets, just after work on a Thursday (or even Monday) evening…

T Bar also put a bunch of relatively unknown but excellent DJs in the driving seat for the full Friday and Saturday nights; Boris Horel & Greg Sonata’s Foreign Muck party was one of my favourites.

Unfortunately, it was all over in 2008, and despite a short-lived return to a venue nearby, T Bar is now something of the past. The venue is now a pizza restaurant.


10 Years Later…

Remembering my experiences around East London during this period, and at T Bar in particular, really brings home the current situation in the city with the lack of suitable space and the possible opportunities to reach new, underserved and broader audiences.

Space & Opportunity

Like many inner city areas and scenes, things are cyclical in their nature and places comes and go, but Shoreditch had many more music venues when I was first exploring the area than are operating there now. The physical spaces available for music & broader culture feel like they’re being hoovered up by other sectors more quickly than ever.

Alan Miller, the chairman of the Nighttime Industries Association, posted this piece on The Guardian earlier this week.

According to Miller, the number of nightclubs in the UK has plummeted from 3,144 to 1,733 in the last decade. The article and the comments that follow it both point to the stark differences in culture and approach in European cities like Amsterdam and Berlin vs London.

It’s concerning that cultural venues are being pushed out of areas like Shoreditch, and actually out of wider boroughs as well (well-respected Dalston venue Dance Tunnel is closing in August due to licensing regulations)

Dance Tunnel, situated underneath Voodoo Ray’s pizza shop

As a step to help prevent more of these closures, the Night Time Industries Association are currently running a year-long campaign called Night Life Matters, more info here.


A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a document released by the Mayor of London’s office, entitled ‘London’s Grassroots Music Venues Rescue Plan

The document has been around for 6 months as far as I can see, and no one I’ve spoken with has heard of it before.

It feels like a good step for the Mayor’s office to be taking, but the level of wider public awareness and distribution around this and what it stands for seem to be sorely lacking.

Music venues and particularly nightclubs often get unfairly siloed as havens of crime and something almost unsightly in a 21st century city landscape.

With music becoming part of a wider bundle of content that makes up consumers’ wider leisure and entertainment activities, it feels like it’s well overdue to lose some of that stigma.

London could do this by learning from Amsterdam and Berlin’s approaches (the idea of a night mayor would be a good start), consider innovating on the conventional models, and embrace night life as both a key component and driver of how people choose to spend their valuable leisure time.

A space such as Amsterdam’s De School (from the creators of the legendary Trouw club) feels like a great blueprint for what the next generation of multi-use music, arts and work spaces will look like.


Money on the Table

Relating to the challenges that night time venues are facing, I’ve been thinking about the amount of money being left on the table by the music industry and also how better serving other markets and audiences may help solve some of stigma challenges I mention.

We all know music consumption and revenue streams have shifted immensely in the last few years, and I won’t dwell on the reasons for that, it’s been done to death. The only thing I’ll say on it is that the industry needs to shift its focus from complaining about Spotify…

Despite all these changes, there seems to be a lack of innovation and change in the live sector as to how events can be delivered.

Such are the effects of time, I am no longer 22 years old as I was in 2006. I’ve grown up (for better and for worse), and I prefer channelling my leisure time into early mornings, breakfasts with friends, reading…and watching an entire season of The Walking Dead in one sitting.


Going out to catch electronic artists play shows at 4am doesn’t really fit my lifestyle any more. To be honest, it never really did…hence my love for T Bar.

So why is the convention to put on shows (electronic music in particular) on at times when you surely can’t reach the optimal number of fans?

The concept that most attendees want to drink and do drugs (and thus more likely to want to go out all night?) holds weight to an extent, but I don’t think it’s a solid enough argument, particularly with the ongoing blurring of the lines between different genres.

Simply, within significant portions of the live music sector there is an excess demand that is underserved.

In addition to VR experiences (the subject of a future article), this could be addressed in a couple of ways;

  1. Change/extend/duplicate performance times
  2. Better serve demand through improved / more tailored experiences


3 simple examples come to mind that I’ve experienced recently.

  1. Filling time-based demand

An electronic artist played a London show on a cold winter Saturday night, stage time around 3am.

I had plans for Sunday morning and didn’t want to get home at 6/7am, so I didn’t buy a ticket and thus didn’t go. I don’t see how anyone wins in this situation.

The artist could have played either an unannounced or very tightly segmented show earlier in the night.

Or to help mend the stigma I mention above (and broaden revenue streams), why not package food and drink together more closely?

Brilliant Corners is a great little venue in Dalston where you can eat some great food, have a few drinks, and hear underrated gems of DJs like Jonny Rock (who incidentally also played at T Bar a lot) play records on a superb sound system. Yeah it’s not Fabric, but the model is sound.

https://soundcloud.com/jonnyrock/its-just-brilliant-brilliant-corners-part-2-on-15-april-2016

For further reading on this subject, Cortney Harding explores related matters here, and this recent Guardian article explores a seemingly growing trend around young people shunning the traditional clubbing experience in favour of other activities.


2. Service level and transparency

A disabled friend had tickets to a show at a large London venue last week; when checking ticket collection options and the stage time of the headliner (my friend’s disability means she can’t stand or sit in one place for more than an hour or so, and didn’t want to miss the main event), the venue didn’t answer their phone, and it took 20 minutes of searching for me to find out who the promoter was.

Upon calling them, no one in their office knew if they were even promoting the gig, and there was no information on the artist’s website other than the venue name and opening time.

I can’t see why the service here is so opaque — this one fan loved the superb artist she got to see but the rest of the experience left a lot to be desired.

Will she go back? I’m not sure.

A couple of ways of improving this area include new ways of dealing with customer service (chat-bots for simple enquiries?), and more visibility of who is promoting shows and what they stand for; promoters can also be excellent curators after all.


3. Baby boomers

Despite marketers focusing intensely on Generation Z & Millennials (don’t get me started on this…), I feel lines are being blurred between demographics and their behaviours, and herein lies opportunity.

An example of this opportunity is Field Day’s extension to 2 days. Through smart programming they now attract a broader range of customers without diluting their core values.

Parquet Courts — playing this year’s Field Day festival in London. Dad and I will be in attendance.

A case in point is that my parents will be going to the festival with my brother and I on the Sunday.

This group (in my parents’ case aged 63 and 62, living an hour or so from a major city) hold around 70% of the population’s disposable income, are becoming more adventurous in the experiences they want to have, and are willing to pay for quality. Coachella’s new event Desert Trip is a signifier of this.

For a number of practical reasons my Dad is very unlikely to see bands on a midweek evening in London, but he will happily pay for a quality festival experience with a range of both new, established and heritage artists. He’s become a fan of several artists from last year’s event and has spent money on their music since.

The balance in appealing to a range of markets like this is not easy (and certainly not suitable not for all promoters and events — not everyone wants to hang out with their parents of course), but in any case there are underserved audiences that the music industry could surely do better to serve.

The baby boomers with 25–35 year old children is an interesting segment to explore here.



I love London and part of what makes it so special is its diverse range of culture and creativity.

Music should be a key part of that.

I just hope that the spaces and places sustain, and that the industry does a better job of serving its audiences and communicating its value so an even broader range of people can enjoy great live music experiences.

None of this is easy and the answers are not simple, but just because the live sector is one of the industry’s strongest areas it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for doing things better.

Ways to Win in Electronic Music

Working with various artists, labels and collectives in the last few years, as well as trying to keep an eye on what’s going on in the music industry as a whole, I’ve noticed a number of traits that have tended to lead to success.

There’s certainly no magic formula for succeeding (if there was, things would get boring pretty quickly, even if in our more rapacious moments we may believe otherwise), but I’ve had a go at distilling down four elements that can certainly help get there.

Some artists are in the position where they have two or three of these, and a few maybe even have all four. I’d say if you’ve got at least two of them you’re in a pretty good position.

Of course, these elements aren’t permanent; they can shift, slip, expand and contract on an almost constant basis.

In this post I’ve outlined these elements, with a couple of artists who I think are good examples. I’ve put this together with electronic music in mind, I’d be interesting to hear whether you feel this applies (and to what degree) in other genres.

And I’ve left out the Fifth Element (or rather the First) as its value is too large to be dissected here — great music. That kinda goes without saying ☺


The Four Elements

1. The Tribe

2. The Niche

3. The Hit

4. The Star


1. Be part of a dominant tribe

Many things in life revolve around the concept of a tribe.

This great book by Seth Godin covers the subject far better than I ever could — in it he says that, broadly speaking, a tribe is ;

any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.

I’d say electronic music is no different.

You could call it brand (and there a lots of examples of brand and marketing being an element of success — in fact, that could be the subject of another series of blog posts on its own…), but more from a purist’s point of view I think the idea of a tribe ties in better with where all this came from in the first place.

It’s also not as easy to sum it up in the types of (buzz)words that brands tend to associate themselves with, but people want to be part of something, something that connects them. It sounds corny but music is one of the best ways of bringing people together.


If an artist is part of a tribe who have dedicated followers, that association alone can put position them in a place where they wouldn’t otherwise be.

How to create, lead and bring in new members to the tribe is something for another post (I‘ll be writing about that some time in the near future).

There are a bunch of tribes out there in electronic music, one good example of where a tribe has become successful and created a halo effect around itself is the German deep house collective Diynamic, led by DJ and producer Solomun.


2. Own a niche

In an industry where there are three major labels who seem to have a stranglehold on the mainstream, it would be safe to assume that a niche is not a good place to be. The likes of Bob Lefsetz have written about this on numerous occasions, and the excellent book ‘Blockbusters’ by Anita Elberse also looks at the head vs the tail and why the Long Tail concept may be a red herring.

For the most part, I agree — things are generally moving towards being a headliners’ business, but I feel that it can be a different story if you can own a niche and a lot of people overlook the value in this.

By ‘own’ I’m not talking about the $$$/£££/€€€ (although it often goes hand in hand), but more about being a figurehead — the person or one of the people who is instantly associated with a certain genre/sub-genre/movement.

I think people underestimate the fan bases, businesses and longevity of artists in particular niches — sometimes they go onto have either fleeting or longer term crossover success, but a lot don’t and can still maintain long and successful careers.

photo: Resident Advisor

A good example in electronic music is Chris Liebing. He’s been around a long time; honing his craft, playing challenging underground music, never really crossing over, and certainly never having breakout mainstream chart success. However he seems to be as popular as he’s ever been, with an ardent fan base and a packed worldwide gig diary. I’d also recommend his Resident Advisor exchange — an insightful look into his history as a music fan and DJ.

When I think about heavier, underground, full-tilt techno — he’s one of the first names that springs to mind. He’s a figurehead, so much so that for me his name is almost an adjective for a particular sound.


3. Have a hit (or a few)

This one is more obvious, but a hit track can change everything for an artist almost overnight.

The explosion in popularity of house music (particularly in the UK) over the last couple of years has included numerous top 10 national and international chart hits for artists that were otherwise relatively unknown and underground up until that point where the sound tipped into the mainstream.

The traction an artist can suddenly get from a hit track seems to be as strong as it’s ever been, especially in the live arena (but certainly in other areas such as sync). Festivals need to be able to sell many thousands of tickets and booking an act with national radio support, high chart placings and Shazam virality is going to get the attention of customers who may not be familiar with only niche and underground names.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, it’s a headliners’ market right now and the rewards for being one can be significant, especially when compared to a middle that is often squeezed.

The other side to this coin is that when there’s only 1 or 2 hits and the next release doesn’t connect, things can get much tougher. One of the harshest examples of this is when an artist is perceived to have departed the scene that they came from (aka ‘selling out’) and are unable to find a place in the underground again. The risk of this is arguably getting greater as the speed of turnover on all fronts increases, so it’s about good management and positioning to ensure an artist protects against the downside when they start to crossover.


The examples of artists who have had a number of hits and risen from underground to overground are pretty numerous and obvious; a few from the last year or so include Sigma, Gorgon City, Breach and of course Disclosure. (always good to see a ‘Howard’ representing…)


4. Star quality (or an unforgettable impact)

One of the first festivals a close friend went to was The Big Chill festival (in 2007 I think — feels like aeons ago now). On his slightly dishevelled return after 3 days in the wild, we went to the pub for a catchup.

The first thing he told me was about a DJ who played the previous afternoon. This particular act was playing a set of big bass-heavy music, which was just starting to become popular in the UK at the time. More notable though was that he was pulling the needle off the record currently playing, rewinding tracks at seemingly random times, letting tracks finish without having the next cued up, and various other faux pas — possibly due to a degree of intoxication.

The crowd went nuts, and DJ was a guy called Skream.


Whilst inebriation may not necessarily equal star quality, it’s worth remembering why people admire rock stars (and arguably DJs too).

It’s not just their musical ability, it’s that they’re larger than life and ignore the rules; they operate in a way that regular people can’t, don’t or won’t.

Whilst a purist would say it’s all about the music, particularly in a live event setting people want to be entertained and to feel a connection with the performing artist. A slightly bored bloke looking at his laptop doesn’t always hit the spot here. Skrillex stage-diving or Steve Aoki riding a dinghy across a crowd more likely does (whatever you may think about that…).

I think a good example of someone who has a big personality and projects it well is Eats Everything


So if you can be part of a tribe with a global band of ardent followers, own a particular niche or movement, notch up some hits, and happen to possess that elusive star quality and buckets of charisma, you’ll probably do ok.

Easy, right?


Got an opinion? Let me know on Twitter (@howardgray).

You can also subscribe to my email list, or join the Stems series of events for more thoughts about the music industry, business, and technology.