Music Vice Industry Insider interview with UK Independent Promoters of the Year 2011: Gary Prosser and Ben James, who run All Night Long Promotions.
“The idea or aim is for Breakout to be a national brand that is a magnet for live talent – its like going to a fashion show to look at next seasons new stuff; we want our events to be felt like that!” (Gary Prosser)
All Night Long is an award winning live music promotion company based in North London which has been specialising in live music events and club nights since 2009. The company operates events across the UK and Europe, and recently won UK Indie Promoter of the Year 2011 at The Live Music Awards. A mainstay of the brand is their monthly ‘Breakout’ Industry Showcase at Proud Galleries in Camden, London [www.breakout-music.com]: the next of which is on February 15th 2012. Music Vice’s Ngawara Madison caught up for a drink and a chat with the company’s directors/founders; Gary Prosser [former lead vocalist of Mother Records band Ballroom] and A&R Executive, Ben James, at the famed Hawley Arms in Camden Town.
This conversation covers:
-Advice for those looking to work in Live Music Promotions;
-Advice for bands looking to score a reputed gigs;
-Advice on how to arrange a lineup for an event;
-Information on events that ‘All Night Long’ are hosting this year;
-Information on how to apply for a spot at an ‘All Night Long’ event.
-The current financial situation of employment in the European Music Industry.
-The specific benefits and deficits of a bands nationality in relation to success in the UK.
-Ben and Gary’s personal ‘picks of the bunch’ from last years showcases.
Hi Guys! Thanks for catching up and speaking to Music Vice Industry Insiders.
You host a plethora of events in the UK and further afield in Europe; one such event is an industry showcase called ‘Breakout’: what is it you look for in a band, and what can a band do to get your attention and get onto the bill for one of your shows?
Ben James: Us as promoters are slightly different to most promoters; I guess we are more ‘event producers’ in the sense that we are not booking seven nights a week. If you are a promoter looking to fill a venue on a daily basis then it comes down to the simple thing of bums and seats, or making sure you book bands who are going to bring a crowd. In those situations promoters are not necessarily looking for quality, but simply for acts that will bring a crowd and keep the place busy. Luckily we have a different situation. Our main talent night, ‘Breakout’ is once a month, at Proud Galleries [Camden, London], and for that we are looking at 7 acts – 4 bands and an acoustic stage with 3 artists. Because ‘Breakout’ is only once a month, it gives us a lot more time and a lot more quality control in our selection process. In terms of how we choose those acts? Its a mixture of gut instinct on our part – going for what we think is good enough…
How do you define what is “good enough” for your ‘Breakout’ industry showcases?
Ben James: Its opinion telling you about whats good enough! You have a network of people around you – whether it’s venue owners, studios, A&R; whatever it may be – journalists…
Gary Prosser: The idea or aim is Breakout to be a national brand that is a magnet for live talent – its like going to a fashion show to look at next seasons new stuff; we want our events to be felt like that! So we have a good relationship with the agents as well as what Ben said; and they funnel bands and artists through to us; especially breaking and emerging new talent. One of the main reasons we wanted to do Breakout was to provide a platform for new and emerging talent to actually get them in front of the industry, so we feel that the bands we are putting on are actually going to get something out of it. We need them to be at a level where they are ready to take the next step in their music careers.
I suppose as a business if you can show that by being part of one of your gigs, it actually leads to something; that buzz should bring more and more people to the nights…
Ben James: Yes we definitely want to get that reputation for the company:
A– that the acts we are putting on are ace; and,
B – that the night works really well, runs smoothly, and attracts a good crowd and is busy.
So is the crowd predominantly ‘industry people’ at these ‘Breakout’ events?
Ben James: No its an open event… We have to weigh up everything because fundamentally we still want people to come to the venue. We also want to make sure that the crowd is a mixture – so not JUST industry people, but friends and fans also. We want it to feel natural and feel like a proper gig, rather than a room full of people with their arms crossed [there are plenty of nights like that already].
Gary Prosser: The industry love it too, because they get to feel like they’re actually at a real gig and not an office or label situation. They can move around, step outside the gig, and check out the acoustic show.. We also like to encourage the acts to use it not just as an industry show but a normal gig too – because its not common for bands at that stage to have a large gig like this. Its a great first impression for them to make on punters and industry alike.
Not necessarily relating to ‘Breakout’ but just as a general question. Who is responsible for bringing the crowd to a show – the promoters or the bands?
Gary Prosser: If you’re a London based band trying to get your name out there it can be hard because there’s a lot of competition. For example if you were going up to play ‘The Charlotte’ in Leicester [now defunct venue] – no promoter can guarantee a huge crowd for a band that doesn’t have a local pull in their area! Inconsistency in the size of crowds is a normal thing in a bands during early days, but promoters with a steady stream of well attended shows are going to be more reliable [with their attendance numbers] than a smaller less established production. It is important for bands to research the venues and nights before they play them.
What advice can you give to those looking to work in the industry, doing promotion and club nights like yourselves?
Ben James: You need to find which area you want to work in. These days its a little bit more of a spread and you might need to do two or three things to get by financially; but principally its about focusing on what you want to do. Honestly – the CV thing doesn’t really count for a lot! It’s a lot more about knocking on doors, and a lot more about having your shit together basically; in terms of knowing what you’re talking about, and in feeling like you’re bringing something to the party. In terms of starting out as a promoter specifically? Its impressing someone enough for [the venue owner] to let you try out a night really.
How do you feel about London’s music scene these days – are the punters going to the same venues or are they following the bands to wherever they play? Is it the chicken or the egg in that sense?
Ben James: There are venues I’ve been to historically for years which I don’t go to anymore; mainly because they are just booking bands to fill the place. That style of booking doesn’t make it necessarily an attractive thing to me. Fair enough they are running their business in their own way but it doesn’t always make for quality.
Gary Prosser: Consistency is important for club nights. Promoters need to understand the reality of “you lose momentum – you have one shit show and the buzz can leave”. We do and that is why we work so hard at each event we do, to ensure continued success. You see a lot of nights fall by the wayside. You see a lot of promoters get desperate. In a general sense, talking about who’s expected to bring a crowd? A lot still rely on the acts to bring the punters – its the classic pay to play mentality both here and in the U.S…
Ben James: A lot of people are writing blogs who can do a night on the back of it now, such as Ollie Russian. Things are changing with the internet age but the reputed success of a music industry night still comes down to simple things. It comes down to if someone has a good song, a good band, a good act that people want to see. A lot of people working in the business do a LOT more than they used to in order to make money. We do like four or five different things each…
Do you stick to one main style of music for your events or do you switch it up? What acts are you always keeping an ear out for, in terms of spotting the latest hot talent?
Gary Prosser: We took heat off a lot of guitar bands initially and were predominantly focused on guitar bands when we started out . Its a thing of sticking to what you know. Then Ben started bringing in stuff like Maverick Sabre and some urban acts.
It wasn’t what I was classically associated with, but if we feel that [the artist] is relevant and current then that works [for ‘Breakout’]. There is quite a bit of room in the UK for mixing genres. Its becoming more normal to hear a mix of styles over the course of a night at a live venue.
How should bands go about organising their support acts for shows and tours? Is it advisable to mix the sounds up or stick to similar sounds when organising a line up?
Ben James: If you are a headline band and you are choosing a support act for a gig you’re promoting, a lot of it comes down to that thing of playing it safe. The bands you are usually going to choose are going to be things you like, or things you that are similar to your style. That way you can generally be confident that your fanbase will respond well to the lineup of acts..
Ngawara: Hopefully not as good as you though? Got to keep the hierarchy there! [laughs]
Ben James: [laughs] Yeah not as loud, turn the switch down a bit!! But [jokes aside], fundamentally they’ve usually got the same vibe as the headliners. Sometimes not though – sometimes a band will go crazy and put something totally different on! There is a heritage of that approach though – you put on something safe that you know and that goes with the theme of the night.
Something I have noticed since I have been over here in the UK is the total dominance of British bands over other European groups… it seems as though English bands achieve greater success in Europe than European bands do [in the UK]…
Gary Prosser: I think we do [England] have the cream of the crop. From all the European acts coming from Germany and Italy etc; I don’t see a massive amount of quality…
Ben James: Its a history thing. A heritage thing of you know you have to be good in this country to get to a certain level. Everyone picks up an instrument here for good or bad. There’s a lot of rubbish about as well as good! If you’re from Denmark for example – and I have a lot of friends there – there’s a lot of people playing music there but not a strong history of Danish bands being successful in the UK. I knew a band that were very good, but at the time they didn’t think they could get out of their own country because there wasn’t an act doing well outside of their country. The issue is with ambition. If you look around you and people are doing well you’ll think “I can do this”, but if no one in your vicinity ever made it in [music] then you’ll just think, “Why would I try and beat the system?”.
Gary Prosser: There’s very little interest from the UK going out to Europe, as opposed to coming in. Its not a doubled edged mirror.
Ben James: Its an acceptance thing! We are spread across the world and them not so much. We have enough shit to get through before we start looking outside of our own pool of talent! However I have tried [introducing International acts] with ‘Breakout’ before. I’ve put a French band on… its tricky because you know you’re not going to get as many people, but they do deserve to be there because of the talent. If the quality is good its nice to help out where you can… We are not averse to hosting International acts if the talent is there.
Do you think perhaps the lack of chart success for European bands in the UK has something to do with a ‘loss of translation’ between the two sides? I mean, almost everyone speaks English these days so it must be easier for British artists to translate abroad…
Ben James: Well, yeah.. it’s funny because with the French Export Office they’ll have an idea of what they want to push and it’ll be very different to a British Artistic Vision. Every country is behind their artists it’s just whether people are up for it. There’s a snobbery which has existed in England for a long time because we have an abundance of our own acts and we feel as though we don’t need another country’s artists. Its indicative in the setup; you have an Iceland music export office; a Dutch; Spanish; French.. but its your ‘DTI’ (Department of Trade and Industry) – there’s no English Export Office because there is no need for it! The government don’t back the Music Industry here in that way. They figure: “The industry’s survived for long enough without our help so why get involved now!” Ironically…
Gary Prosser: In the UK you have to find your way, and that nurtures talent I think. The business support for the emerging British artist doesn’t exist anymore. You don’t get that developmental support. Ironically when I was playing in my band when I was younger [Ballroom, Mother Records] I got a developmental deal with them, and they paid for my singing lessons and for us to rehearse and stuff… It was a pretty amazing thing and without that I never would have come to London, and I wouldn’t be here now; but we don’t have that setup here anymore..
Which acts were the biggest ‘Breakouts’ for you guys last year?
Gary Prosser: One act – Vintage Trouble – were handed to us on a plate! They are managed by Doc McGee who is ‘THE’ manager! We have a really good contact with Phyllis Belezos at ITB and she has put a lot of good stuff our way. It was there first show in London and Doc McGee put his name behind it; and they came along and absolutely filled the room! The night was just bloody magic and it worked! That was the start really. Following that we got a lot of interest from Jools Holland for example – about two or three weeks after our shows he seems to have at least one of our bands on his show. We do feel – its good theres a lot of ego in that for us – we keep seeing our acts go on and up.
Vintage Trouble on Jools Holland:
Gary Prosser: Best act for me? I think the Jezebels. We are doing a magazine feature for Music Week and Jezebels are one of the bands that will be highlighted in that…
Ben James: The “biggest act” was Ed [Sheeran] but he was already a rising star at that point.
How about artists that used your event as an absolute springboard?
Ben James: There was one show we hosted that featured an act everyone in the business was out for – a girl called Rae Morris and it was rammed just for her! She played acoustically and by the end of the night she got a record deal, got a publishing deal, and ‘Hey Presto!”. From that point of view its great to see someone who you put on first, go on to something as result of your involvement. So yeah, Ed [Sheeran] was prob the biggest name and Rae was prob the smallest at the time; but Rae is the one who got the most benefit from [involvement with our company]. She signed on to Atlantic and got publishing through Universal. It was one of the biggest deals of last year! I think shes got a good shot this year…
Gary Prosser: Lucy Rose may break this year. We got a good batch of it. There’s an element of luck. But I love seeing them come through. Ben has a great nose for the acts.
What separates the amateurs from the professionals, in terms of the bands that rise above the rest and achieve fame and fortune?
Gary Prosser: You can tell when a band are taking it seriously. They treat it like a full time job and rehearse like 40 hours a week, they proactively go out and source managers and agents and they instill and inspire that belief in the act. One thing that really pisses me off is, particularly in provincial areas like Camden, where the scene is swallowed up in itself,; you get a band who get out of bed at 5 o clock in the afternoon, do like one hours rehearsal and then walk in the pub with their leather jackets just to say “I’m in a band”.
Do you have any stories you can relate, as to times when events haven’t gone to plan but you’ve picked yourselves up from it and moved on? I think sometimes its good for promoters who are just starting out, to realise that everyone – even the most professional – has dips and moments that don’t go perfectly to plan. Its all about getting back up and taking it in your stride…
Gary: We did this night on the 23rd of Decemeber at the Monarch it was dead. It was the first Al Night Long night. We got Babysham on board to sponsor it and there wasn’t enough people there to get it started! But we never let it get us down and then we started dong more events, and then Fridays once a month at Proud… and it just went from there. We started doing more and more. Now we have Breakout and LUV Camden and there’ll surely be more as time progresses.
Ngawara: And its looks like there’s no looking back now!
Do you have a plan of attack for 2012?
Gary Prosser: Yes we do. This year we have started doing an event called L.U.V. Camden in the Camden market area near the Lock. We wanted to license the area for live music because Camden has such a great heritage. Dingwalls in its day had the likes of Blondie and all sorts of great artists play; so hopefully we will be starting that up again in the near future. Providing music for free – that’s our thing!
Ben James: Camden’s about the experience. The testimonials we have got off the back of our shows in the [area] have been brilliant. Makes it all worth the effort and time put in.
Gary Prosser: We are music curators for the ILMC [International Live Music Conference]; doing an event for the Dutch Export Office; Great Escape [Festival in Brighton, England]; and also looking to do an event with ‘Live Connection’, which is Live Nations ‘Breaking and Emerging Talent’ wing… We will hosting ‘Breakout’ stages at some of the summer festivals but we want to be quite selective. We want ones that will fit with the real meaning of ‘Breakout’. Ther’es a place for that brand I think, especially at ’boutiquey’ festivals like Secret Garden Festival.
© Ngawara Madison, Music Vice
The next Breakout concert presented by All Night Long and Music Week is coming up this Wednesday, 15 February at Proud Galleries, Camden Town, London from 7.30pm-1.30am.
Internet link: All Night Long
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