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.

Video stream: The Future of Human Attendance (panel session, 1/3/17, London)

With the emergence of VR and live streaming, how long is it going to be before people are attending events via a headpiece, watching gigs from their front rooms and disappearing down the digital rabbit hole?

On 1st March I hosted a panel session exploring this topic at the Interchange venue in London.

The panel was represented from three different angles of consumer participation: live streaming, virtual reality and immersive event experiences.

  • Deborah Armstrong — Creator of Glastonbury’s Shangri-La and Director of Strong and Co
  • Mazdak Sanii — COO Boiler Room
  • Dave Haynes — Investment team — Seedcamp

Click the link below to watch the video from the event which was streamed live via The British Council’s Facebook page and via Supreme Factory on Youtube. We discuss early investments in VR, how AI could enable the curators of the future, and how to engage audiences through blended physical and digital experiences.

5 lessons from a day with 300 next-generation creatives

Welcome to ERIC (via @ericfestival on Instagram)

Last Sunday I attended a careers fair.

The last time I did this was in 2004. It was rubbish.

I still remember some of the things that made it such a bad experience:

  • The stuffy sports hall with overpowering strip lighting.
  • Enforced wearing of name badges (I’m 6ft 6, at least let me be a little bit incognito…)
  • Roll-up banners featuring pixelated images of ecstatic people with whiter teeth and better dress sense than me.
  • Low-grade giveaway pens inscribed with company names seemingly made out of a bunch of barely-believable 18th century surnames.
  • Application forms full of checkboxes and essay questions.


Given this haunting past experience, why would I spend my Sunday at a careers fair?

I’m 33 years old and my weekend is sacred – I have DIY to consider (and postpone), 2-drink hangovers to wallow in, and flat white coffees to drink.

And I do have a job already.

Well, this time around two main things had changed.

First, I was one of the exhibitors, and second the careers fair in question had taken a somewhat different approach to what I was used to.

ERIC is a careers fair with a difference. In fact, it’s more of a careers festival; live music, relaxed spaces for talks and interviews, bespoke stage design, and independent food and drink vendors. The founders Mae and Sam have run two events so far and already signed up over 1,500 young people from across the UK.

I was there to introduce a new venture I’m working on that connects entertainment and education.

Accompanied by my ever-supportive partner, we focused on one part of the program (‘Soundcheck’, aka the music festival in a day that’s been running with schools, colleges and the V&A Museum amongst others). We put together a stand where attendees could pitch their own dream music festival business — on one sheet of paper.

As any iterating lean startup should, we aimed to maximise learning potential whilst providing as much value to our audience as possible.

A budget of £45 built us a stand, complete with Mondrian-style design on the walls courtesy of some coloured electrical tape (probably the best interior design idea I will ever have).

Here are a few of the things we learnt.

1. Choose the right social channel

It was all about Instagram and Twitter for the attendees we met, especially when it came to connecting and communicating about career-related matters. From over 100 people who signed up to receive updates from us, only 2 suggested connecting via Facebook.

WhatsApp is obviously a big deal, but used for the close circle only. Our visitors were pretty skeptical about brands of any kind (even our fledgling project) using WhatsApp to converse with them.

Snapchat was being used through the day, but the speed and simplicity of Instagram seemed to resonate best.

Many entertainment and b2c brands are already well on top of this; more interesting is to see how other types of businesses use social channels to connect with this audience effectively.

2. Offline engagement can still win

We were a bit nervous about our low-tech, non-shiny pitch and activities.

Surely we couldn’t compete with LED screens, live bands, free food and established brands?

It didn’t seem to matter — when a theme resonates and there’s something creative and open to get stuck into, our crowd had no problem with pens, post-its and paper.

Our one bit of tech was an iPad with a Typeform signup form; most people ignored it and put their name and contact info on a piece of paper.

The Soundcheck festival wall of fame

3. Mentoring and networks are more important than ever

We chatted with a lot of people at ERIC, and unsurprisingly most of them had attended with the goal of taking steps towards finding a job.

However, the desire to build a network and find mentors and guidance burnt just as strongly. Perhaps this is particularly prevalent in the creative industries, where issues around diversity, nepotism and unpaid internships have been heavily publicised.

This does contrast a little with some research around Generation Z in the US. 66% of Gen Z say their number one concern is drowning in college debt, and 75% say there are ways of getting a good education besides going to college.

As Elizabeth Segran recently wrote in Fast Company magazine;

“Millennials are the most collaborative generation, launching applications like Facebook and sharing everything with everybody, but Gen Z are a very independent and competitive generation, having been taught by their parents that there are definitely winners and losers in life. Millennials, on the other hand, were told that if you work together, everybody can be a winner.”

We believe that although Gen Z have a heightened sense of independence, there’s a need for them to connect with their peers as well as skills and opportunities. The creation of new types of networks and access to mentors are going to be a key part of this happening.

4. Tribes, but not as we know them

In the Fast Company report mentioned above, Generation Z is considered much more neutral and fluid when it comes to just about everything — clothing, style, conversation, even bathroom choice.

The fluidity of Gen Z tribes echoes an article from Spotify’s product team about how they get new ideas to market using Squads, Chapters and Guilds. These groups are still tribes, but not in the traditional sense. Members are able to shift between groups depending on what they’re interested in, rather than only operating in the traditional tribes designed by the business.

This is going to become a growing trend and more businesses will need to think about how they can operate in similar ways, as their future workforce will expect it.

5. Listening for value

ERIC took place on a cold Sunday morning, but 10 minutes after the doors opened, the place was packed.

Something else that struck us other than punctuality was how open attendees were, and how they wanted to listen and learn as much as they possible could.

However, they also were mindful about risk and value.

16–19 year olds are saving money far earlier than older generations, and one of their top 3 goals is safeguarding money for the years to come.

They want to pay only for what they use, and are increasingly pragmatic about getting value from the money they spend.

By spending a lot of time listening and asking us questions, we could see they were focused on assessing the risk and value of what we were presenting.

The people who are able to ask the best quality questions are also likely to be the ones to learn the most. The skill of asking the right questions is one we feel is going to be of growing importance in the future.

At the end of the day, we ended up with over 40 festival pitches. Some of the ideas included a festival for people who feel excluded by current political policies, crowd-sourced food vendors, and stages themed by human emotions.

Next up for us;

If you want to know more about what we’re up to or want to get involved, visit or contact me via

7 lessons from the story of CAA

CAA’s founding team in the mid 1970s

A few months ago, James Andrew Miller released his new book telling the tale of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of Hollywood’s most renowned and powerful companies.

Coming in at 707 pages, it’s a pretty hefty read. There are definitely a few flaws and some sections feel like a slog, but the snappy talking heads style works well and plenty of juicy anecdotes can be found.

If you don’t want to work your way through the whole thing, here are seven key lessons from the company’s 40 year history.

1. Think Long

One of the best passages in the book describes how CAA founder Ron Meyer began working with Sylvester Stallone. It’s a great example of the benefits of forgoing the short term gain for the longer term opportunity.

At the time, Stallone was on the cusp of becoming one of the biggest movie stars in the world but didn’t have an agent, only management.

The management company were very wary of their client being wooed by a talent agency and strongly advised him to keep Meyer at bay as they felt he’d just be looking for cash, even when he hadn’t earned it.

Whilst not (yet) his agent, Meyer had been informally advising Stallone on script matters around ‘Rambo: First Blood’, and upon a deal being closed for Stallone to star in the film for $5m, the star decided to test his would-be representative.

Knowing that the then-fledgling CAA was in need of cash, Stallone called Meyer to offer him 10% of his fee as a commission. Without Meyer being aware, Stallone had one of his management team listen in on the call so they could both gauge the reaction.

Meyer declined, feeling he hadn’t done enough to earn the $500k, and that he wished Stallone the best of luck and hoped they’d work together down the road.

With his manager red-faced, Stallone knew he had his man and signed with Meyer and CAA, knowing the long game would always be front of mind.

2. Get in the centre of the action

There are many examples of this throughout the book, and a few cases that veer into nepotism territory, but either way the chances of success increase hugely if you’re in the middle of the industry you want to be in.

In the late 80s a young writer moved to LA to study at UCLA and write movie scripts. Via a friend who knew someone at CAA, the writer got a meeting with a CAA agent and one of these scripts (which had been left in a bin for the previous 6 weeks) piqued the agent’s interest.

Within a few days it had sold to Warner Brothers for $250,000 and became one of the biggest hits of the decade — Lethal Weapon. The writer, Shane Black, went on to write some of the biggest action and adventure movies of the last 20 years.

Without being in the middle of an industry, that kind of rapid breakthrough is far more difficult.

Marc Andreessen also talks about this in his Guide to Career Planning

Once you have picked an industry, get right to the center of it as fast as you possibly can.
Your target is the core of change and opportunity — figure out where the action is and head there, and do not delay your progress for extraneous opportunities, no matter how lucrative they might be.

3. Know the numbers; data can make deals

Kevin Huvane and his quartet of fellow ‘Young Turks’ rapidly rose to take over the running of the agency in 1995. However, whilst they were very capable agents, they realised running the business was a completely different proposition and that the numbers were key.

Huvane admitted to having never looked at a spreadsheet before. The realisation of how much the company was spending on fruit was the wakeup call that he needed to get a proper handle on the numbers if he was going to be able to lead the agency.

A deal where data modelling helped persuade the doubters and make its principals rich was for the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito film ‘Twins’.

Sandy Climan (aka ‘The Briefcase’) and his team modelled out how the deal could take shape, persuaded the studio to run with it, and also convinced the stars to give up their usual advance fees in exchange for a big chunk of the back end. The result was the biggest pay day Arnie & Danny had ever had.

As a footnote, several sources quotes on the book allude that one of the reasons CAA founder Michael Ovitz’s AMG venture crashed after he departed the agency may have been because he didn’t have a strong enough handle on the numbers, particularly in the TV business.

4. Client service should go beyond the direct field of expertise

Throughout the book, Michael Ovitz gets a pretty rough ride from a range of people (seemingly justifiably on more than one occasion), but one of the things he excelled at was knowing when and how to go above and beyond the expected level of service.

Ovitz understood that client service goes past core expertise; an example of his all-seeing eye being very much in the interest of his clients was that he made a point of knowing all the best physicians, schools, architects and other service providers across LA.

Calculating it may have been, but connecting his clients with these people was all part of the service. By getting them what they needed when they needed it, the perception of him being at the very centre of their universe only increased. Very quickly he became the man who could make things happen.

5. Put together packages

CAA arguably built their entire business around packages. The concept certainly isn’t new, but they were the company to make it their calling card and turn it into a huge operation.

In the case of the Dustin Hoffman movie Tootsie, all the casting was done within the CAA office rather than at a casting agency office or studio. CAA agents outside the deal were able to easily get wind of a casting opportunity for their clients, while agents outside the building had a hard time getting anyone in. Michael Ovitz pushed for Sydney Pollack, another client, to direct despite the animosity between the two men, and then shoehorned Bill Murray into the cast at the last minute.

The agency were able to position themselves as a purveyor of through-the-line talent, able to put together directors, producers, lead roles and small supports all under one roof.

The package CAA put together for Jurassic Park in 1992 included a piece of the action on any by-products created off the back of the movie. The movie itself did very well, but Jurassic Park was a real winner because of the sheer breadth of the franchise spin-off package. CAA got paid every step of the way.

6. Know when you’re a principal and when you’re not

Michael Ovitz was the trailblazer who shocked Hollywood in the 80s and 90s by expanding into investment banking and advertising. Quoted from a recent article on arch rivals WME’s entry into other sectors, Ovitz says;

“I had a slogan I used: ‘No conflict, no interest.’ We were constantly getting the back of our hand slapped with a ruler and told, ‘Hey, you can’t be a principal. You can’t produce commercials.’ But we did. We got around it. I don’t believe that today’s environment is hostile to that. Creating jobs is all anyone cares about.”

Conversely, CAA’s long-time head of music Tom Ross recalls an incident when he was in rehab for weight loss and met a famous rock star. Ross knew his job wasn’t to be the principal, it was to be their representative and by default be at least one step back in the shadows.

Tom Ross: “I was there a month, and one day I ran into Steven Tyler, who was there for drug rehab and sexual addiction. They arranged for us to spend an afternoon together and Steven said to me ‘Man, I don’t know if I can do this. I just can’t imagine going to a gig and not getting laid or not getting a few blow jobs.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Try being an agent for a few years. You get used to it.’”

Agent Paula Wagner realised that the role of the agent was to be the representative of the principal, not the principal themselves. She left CAA to become a principal — in this case Tom Cruise’s movie production partner.

Trying to become the principal when not it’s the part you were originally supposed to play can be dangerous territory — although in recent times the boundaries have become far more fluid.

It’s going to be interested to see the progress of WME’s moves into new spaces.

7. The power of 3

A group known as the Young Turks made moves to take over the running of CAA in the mid 90s. There were 5 in the group, but 3 of them stood out as the leaders and are still at the top of the company to this day.

There’s a lot to be said for the power of a tribe, and also for the power of a trinity. In the Young Turks’ case the trio at the centre started a tribe that was able to change the culture of the business and quickly build a power base.

They did it through the combination of Byran Lourd’s charm, Richard Lovett’s ego and relentless nature, plus Kevin Huvane simply being a great agent. A trio with this blend of skills is not an uncommon sight at successful companies, particularly those in the creative industries.

And with the Young Turks having been together for over 20 years, CAA co-founder Bill Haber’s words also ring true;

“In any business on earth — I always say to people — nobody will leave you for the money, and nobody will leave you over titles. People will only leave if they have no loyalty to you.”

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.

Could you take a bite out of your own business?

Becoming the cannibal

Sketch 3. Image: Cult of Mac

Earlier this week an article by Marc Hemeon of Design Inc. popped up on my feed.

It’s a quick guide to putting together a logo in 5 minutes, without hiring a designer.

Design Inc. is a marketplace for hiring high quality designers.

Does this sound a little counter-intuitive?

The comments below the line range from gratitude and excitement to bemusement to admonishment.

As you may guess, the latter mainly comes from people in the design community.

This very handy piece of content marketing is great for entrepreneurs wanting to get add some design credibility to an early-stage idea, but when it comes to creating and developing a true brand identity it takes much more than 5 minutes and a blog post. Hemeon makes this clear in the first two paragraphs but it appears it didn’t land with some of the outraged.

I don’t believe that guides like this are damaging to the design industry, but the article did get me thinking about the concept of cannibalising parts of your own business.

I take the view that this does two things;
– Empowers others to do something they couldn’t before, and better understand the expertise of the professional practitioner
– Pushes the professional practitioners to develop their offering and expertise

Cannibalisation is connected to disruptive innovation, described by Clay Christensen as follows:

As companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ needs evolve, most organizations eventually end up producing products or services that are actually too sophisticated, too expensive, and too complicated for many customers in their market.

Companies pursue these “sustaining innovations” at the higher tiers of their markets because this is what has historically helped them succeed: by charging the highest prices to their most demanding and sophisticated customers at the top of the market, companies will achieve the greatest profitability.

However, by doing so, companies unwittingly open the door to “disruptive innovations” at the bottom of the market. An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers at the bottom of a market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.

Characteristics of disruptive businesses, at least in their initial stages, can include: lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products and services that may not appear as attractive as existing solutions when compared against traditional performance metrics. Because these lower tiers of the market offer lower gross margins, they are unattractive to other firms moving upward in the market, creating space at the bottom of the market for new disruptive competitors to emerge.

An example of this is Sketch disrupting Photoshop in the design software market. Marc Hemeon’s article adds a taste of cannibalisation — he’s inviting disruption to come and eat a bit of his own business.

Cannibalising your own business often means you should find ways you can be better.

Design as a practice is very unlikely to be eaten whole by technology and open source methodologies. However, quick-step guides like Hemeon’s indicate that designers should continue to take the harder route to avoid commoditisation.

They should be considered a true partner and advisor as well as a maker, being in the position to deliver holistic and creative solutions to their clients’ business challenges.

Sometimes we have to cannibalise parts of our own business to become better and be more valuable to our clients and customers.

Could you cannibalise a part of your own business to become better in the long term?

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.

Observations from the airport

4 simple innovation ideas for Europe’s emerging airports

Luton Airport train station (image via Wikipedia)

A good entry point for exploring startup ideas is to look at what people are complaining about. Social networks are often a good place to begin.

Whilst it’s worth bearing in mind that social media can amplify opinions to such a degree that distortion kicks in, platforms such as Twitter are particularly fertile grounds for discovering gripes.

At the time of writing it’s the busiest time of the year for European travel, and despite post-Brexit currency woes the UK’s airports are still full with sun-seeking families, exuberant stag & hen parties, stoic business travelers and black t-shirted DJs.

The summer season opens up a new world of possibility and opportunity, with open air venues across the continent limbering up in June before a few months of intense activity until they wind down in late September.

Destinations that were until very recently almost completely unknown have become summer hotspots, their airports funnelling thousands of expectant revellers from across Europe and beyond. For UK citizens, many of these emerging destinations are served by budget airlines operating from airports in cities’ outer orbits.

Browsing Facebook last week, a number of status updates from various DJs appeared in my feed. What grabbed my attention above the usual photo mix of festival crowds, gratuitous selfies and late-night phone footage was the ire directed at one particular UK airport; Luton.

This wasn’t surprising — I traveled to Lisbon from Luton recently and the experience was less than pleasant. There were the slow and laborious transfers from train station to terminal; a lack of signposting for everything from taxis and buses to car rental and check-in; and the brutalist, unwelcoming main terminal building with very little character and few places to sit.

In fairness, building works were underway when I visited. Here’s hoping improvements will be made, but there are nonetheless many areas for improvement, and thus opportunity.

Here are a few simple airport innovation ideas for incumbent operators, audacious startups or even frustrated DJs.

Pre-pay restaurants

After a couple hours of travel to the airport following an early start, sustenance is a priority. It’s also a serious revenue stream for airports and its concession restaurants.

The service at the restaurant we visited was passable — it was Saturday morning and brunch business was booming, so naturally the staff were going to be a little stretched. The main frustration came from a short-notice gate call combined with delays on being brought the bill, paying, and departing. The upshot was a rushed meal, leftover food, a rush to the gate, and a poor experience.

Why not select and pay for your pre-flight meal on the way to the airport? A simple app with payment gateway, the day’s menu, and option to eat-in or takeaway would remove a lot of friction for customers and staff alike.

Independent, healthy food options

Green juice and vegan food is no longer the preserve of hippies and hipsters. People are more discerning than ever about what they eat, where it comes from, and how it affects their health.

Most airports still offer a restaurant range that veers from junk food to gastropub, with the healthier options tending to be provided by international chains who are often part-owned by said junk food purveyors.

Grain Store have recently opened at Gatwick — this felt like a breath of fresh air but it’s not enough. Could airports tap into the pop-up trend run so successfully by the likes of Street Feast — enabling independent traders to sell good quality, healthy food?

End to end rental car bookings

BMW’s DriveNow initiative is a good innovation in this field in larger cities, and there are of course the likes of Uber, Lyft and Hailo operating in the private driver market. However, for a lot of more remote summer destinations a self-drive hire car is a must. The big players do a reasonable job but the process still seems to be unnecessarily manual, frustrating and slow.

An end to end mobile solution to book a hire car at the airport would remove a lot of headaches, especially for a tired young family arriving off a delayed evening flight to be greeted by a huge queue for car pickup at the understaffed Hertz, Europecar or Avis stand.

Silvercar are doing this well in the US with their fleet of Audi A4’s— a European equivalent could make a big impact.


Let’s be honest, air travel isn’t the most environmentally-friendly way of getting around. It’s therefore bordering on the ridiculous that many airports and their partners are still providing cups that are not recyclable, nor anywhere near enough recycling bins. It may not offset the damage done from the runways, but there’s no excuse for allowing this much unnecessary waste.

Airports should be embracing green initiatives more than anyone — there are plenty of cost-effective solutions to serve drinks to customers in a sustainable way. FrugalPac is one.

Air travel is one of the true phenomenons of the modern age. It feels strange that many airports may be getting left behind in the service stakes, with the destination becoming increasingly more enjoyable than the journey.

Do you know about startups already covering these areas? Or airports doing a great job of customer service? Let me know in the comments below.

Overwhelmed by startups? There’s a spreadsheet for that

Clippy in the house with Jeff and Bill. He probably didn’t help Excel’s net promoter score. Image via The Atlantic.

In 2011, The prominent Silicon Valley investor and inventor of the Netscape internet browser Marc Andreessen said that ‘software is eating the world’.

Over the past five years, this quote has appeared with increased frequency across the technology media landscape and beyond. From nervous CEOs at startup-threatened incumbent businesses, to the founders of disruptive SaaS ventures and intrigued industry observers, the exponential growth in software to solve all sorts of consumer and business problems does not look likely to slow any time in the near future.

Andreessen’s assertion is one I would certainly agree with.

On a personal level, the number of software solutions I have on my mini super-computer (aka my iPhone) is in the dozens. Within our business, we regularly receive requests for product management expertise to help develop and release bespoke specialist software for our client’s businesses, and are just about to kick-off a substantial project in this realm.

Additionally, we have been approached by clients and prospects both within our sectors of interest and also from further afield for advice, introductions and installations relating to the seemingly endless ocean of software options that are now available for businesses.

In fact, what was initially a tertiary service offering has become central to many of our engagements. Clients are looking for guidance on procurement, installation, user on-boarding, and also the longer term sustainability of technology solutions across almost every aspect of their operations.

Where previously there may have been a single or low double digit number of enterprise software packages available to solve a particular problem (or many problems at once), there are now tens or even hundreds or options on the market — from the narrowest niche to the fullest of stacks.

This presents a number of challenges for a consultancy advising clients on software procurement. We have to be on top of everything to compatibility, pricing and feature sets, through to the provider’s track record, chances of sustainability and product roadmap.

Additionally, the breadth of business areas that software can help automate means our role has broadened from the obvious areas of accounting, productivity and sales pipelines through to insurance, employee happiness, office supplies and hiring of partners, to name just a few.

This is a particular challenge for consultancies working primarily with SMEs, as we do. When working with a larger corporation, the remit for assistance and advice on software procurement is likely to be narrowed to a department or business function by either the client, the consultancy or both, thus focusing the requirement into a more discrete area. However, for the consultancy advising smaller independent clients, a wider lens is needed.

Curation platforms like Product Hunt are very useful tools in our armoury, but understandably they have often have limitations on the depth of information they provide about each service.

One tool we revisit again and again reminds us of, somewhat ironically, a guidance point from Paul Graham and others around coming up with ideas for startups.

One of the first things to find out when looking to launch a new startup is what prospective customers’ existing solutions are.

More than one founder in history has come a cropper because they didn’t realise their customers’ existing solution was good enough, and that the new offering was not better enough to make users switch.

Examples of existing solutions range from a SaaS tool with a few miles on the clock, to a pen and paper, a bricks and mortar shop, and, of course, a spreadsheet.

Visicalc, released in 1979

The computer spreadsheet has been around since 1979, and for many decades before that in non-digital forms. The package that launched the spreadsheet into the homes of millions was Microsoft’s Excel, first released in 1985.

(NB: Interestingly, despite the rise of various alternatives in recent years, alongside machinations that Microsoft is somewhat old hat, ‘Excel’ is still ubiqituous both as a software package and as an interchangeable term with ‘spreadsheet’. The question is whether it will go the way of the Walkman, and to a lesser extent Hoover.)

Fast-forward 30+ years and the spreadsheet is still a first port of call for us when ascertaining how to best solve our clients’ challenges. We’re as passionate as anyone about novel and nimble new software startups but often find that a spreadsheet can at least help model and point us towards the right solution, if not be the solution itself.

Although several of our more creatively-led clients can have a fairly strong aversion to spreadsheets, we work hard on developing and customising options that can be genuinely impactful to their business without unnecessarily dulling their creativity or increasing the time they spend on data-led tasks.

Our weapon of choice is Google Sheets, and the range of increasingly powerful add-ons that are being released on a daily basis (and yes, these add-ons are almost mini startups in their own right). These add-ons combined with the powerful built-in functionality of spreadsheet packages, portability, ease of sharing, and the ongoing overlap with technology resources such as StackOverflow make the spreadsheet a key part of the modern consultant’s toolkit.

Zapier’s Add-Ons directory is full of useful new functionality for Google Sheets

Often we will first test a hypothesis or a feature within a spreadsheet — this can be thought of as a very rough MVP to ensure we’re building something the clients wants.

The final solution may well end up being a software solution from a 3rd party vendor, but the spreadsheet has often proved invaluable and we have several of robust grid-driven solutions currently running live to make our clients more productive, efficient, and profitable. Some of these are deliberately built for the short-term, some are mid-term and some have been effectively solving problems for much longer — it all depends on the client’s needs.

So the next time you hear that ‘there’s a startup for that’, there’s may just be a spreadsheet solution too.

If you want to discuss a challenge you have around software procurement, operations, commercial strategy, growth or talent development, head over to

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 For those who don’t know, 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…