This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Stephanie Van Spronsen, promoter, Live Nation UK.
The coolest employee within Live Nation’s global galaxy may well be London-based Stephanie Van Spronsen who has done much in shaping the metal and rock genres for the mainstream in the UK.
Scrappy, more creatively curious than just being a rock and metal specialist, this heavily-tattooed, newly-minted Live Nation promoter is an astute judge of both the musical merits and star power of a field of pivotal British acts–some of which she has worked with for over a decade.
Van Spronsen, who recently became a member of the Download Festival booking team, joined Live Nation UK in 2017 as a promoter’s assistant.
Promoted to associate promoter last August, she has worked on UK tours of J. Cole, Zara Larsson, Architects, Parkway Drive, and Pvris. She was also pivotal in the launch of the WWE NXT UK wrestling live shows in the UK last year.
Prior to joining Live Nation Van Spronsen, from 2011 to 2017, was a radio and TV plugger at The Noise Cartel, working as part of its PR team on campaigns for Alice Cooper, Rammstein, A Day To Remember, Steel Panther, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, and Papa Roach, as well as overseeing client activities at such festivals as Sonisphere, Bloodstock, and Hellfest.
Van Spronsen moved to London in 2008 and went on to attain a B.A. in Popular Music Performance, and an M.A. in Music Management and Artist Development at the University of West London.
She kick-started her music career at the Visible Noise label working with such acts as Bring Me The Horizon and Bullet For My Valentine.
Then came a two-year stint at Baroness Artist Management as a tour manager and driver as well as independently promoting small capacity shows in London; and a short stint at Hart Media as promotions assistant seeking regional airplay and live interviews for clients.
Live Nation has a considerable UK footprint with a portfolio that includes the Reading, Leeds, Isle of Wight, Download, and Camp Bestival festivals. Do you feel part of a company on the move?
I am so happy to be part of a company that is growing like this. I always felt, even at independent places, that I wanted to push myself so much more, and I feel that I am in a company now where I have that support to do that. It’s just so great. But also as well, within my department, it is so supportive. They each have been so supportive of me being a promoter that I still feel a really close bond with all of my colleagues even though it is a large company, a corporate company as some people like to think. But I’m just really happy to be part of such an incredible organization that has really helped me grow in such a short space of time.
What is the difference at Live Nation UK between being an associate promoter to now being a full-time promoter?
An associate producer was just kind of bridging the gap between me being an assistant, and me becoming a promoter. I was promoting shows, and I was taking the lead on a lot of things. People could get used to the fact that I was taking the lead before they gave me the official title, and let me loose to do my own shows. So it was just sort of bridging the gap and letting everybody know that I just wasn’t an assistant anymore. It was nice to have that bridge, and get that recognition, and start building on it officially early on before I became a promoter.
You have a background in media relations, band management, and as a tour manager. Each is a full force 24/7 job, especially being a tour manager on the road with bands. What’s different for you?
Yeah, but I’m 24/7 live now, and I am just kind of used to it. I’m here 24/7, and it doesn’t matter where I am. I’m always on call. I don’t think that I would have it any other way. I don’t think I could do a 9 to 5 anymore because it is kind of boring. I like having something that drives me outside of those hours and still have the ability to switch off.
You’ve run off and joined the circus, have you?.
That’s basically it isn’t it? I don’t think my mum understands what I do, but people are now interested in what I do. “You want to go and see that band? I can arrange that for you.” And now everybody in my family is starting to realize that I didn’t run away and join the circus, but I ran away and joined a pretty decent company, and I am making a pretty good career for myself. But it’s taken a long time to convince anyone that’s the case.
More so than in North America, the UK has a tiered job system. By the time you reach an executive position, as you now have, you have had experience from bottom to top within the structure.
I think it just helps you understand the system better if you work, and you go through the motions, so when you get to the more senior position you understand the whole company; understand how the whole company works, and how everything works, and your name has been around as well, and people are more familiar with you.
As young as you are, you seem to have learned that your business is about relationships.
It is, and I’m not old. I’m aware that I’m not old, but I just feel that I have had quite a bit of time in the music industry, and quite a few late nights. I am probably the most sociable unsocial person. If I can stay at home that would be really nice, but I am very aware that relationships are a big part (of the job), and I still manage to have these great relationships with people by going to gigs, and going out to dinner or out for a couple of drinks. I’m not a heavy partier, and I never have been. I’m not one of these people out on the tour bus at 2 A.M. or God knows what time in the morning. My bedtime is 11 P.M. max. I’m not a party animal, but I still can get the relationship side of it (the job) done. A lot of people think that you have to go to everything, and be out really late, do all of that stuff, and be part of a clique. I don’t think that is necessarily true.
As well, there is wave after wave of new executive and management talent in the music industry ranks every few years with people working with emerging bands, gaining positions of power, and then there’s yet another turnover. New people coming up underneath them, and the older executives and managers moaning, “Who are these bands? Who’s their manager? What kind of music is that?” It is an industry ever-changing.
It is definitely ever evolving, and I think that sometimes the younger band go with the younger promoters that know more about it. I do find that it does switch up. It doesn’t necessarily stay at the same level in terms of age and genre and whatever. I have definitely seen it cross over, and I have done a lot of things that you wouldn’t necessarily consider to be my taste personally…
Not necessarily by choice but I have worked on stuff in the past at Live Nation things like J. Cole, and Zara Larsson. These are not things that I would necessarily listen to on a day-to-day basis, but I do like the music, and I do appreciate it. Everybody sees me as a rock specialist because that is what I’ve done my entire life, but I like so many different kinds of music. I am really into vocalists, really nice vocalists, the singer/songwriter vibe. I do like quite a lot of hip hop urban as well as rock. I’ve got this really wide music taste. So I am looking forward to working across everything as well, and I think that happens to a lot of people.
Women are today in positions in the music industry that were largely unavailable to them for years including as producers, engineers, mastering engineers, label executives, agents, managers, and promoters.
Yes. With the years that has changed quite drastically, and it’s just the case of being almost like an evolution process from where women were never given those opportunities and were never supported to have those opportunities; whereas now as we have gone on, the support is there, and the drive is there and there are more and more (women in leading positions). Being at ILMC (The International Live Music Conference in London) recently (March 5-8), it was incredible to see so many women in one place, just as part of a conference that is notoriously known as a boys’ club. And I think that times are changing, and with most of the new blood coming in, whether it be male or female, times will continue to change and shift as with everything else including with live or digital. The times are constantly changing. It’s very nice to see that it doesn’t matter who you are; it doesn’t matter what background you are; it’s all about these relationships, and it’s really nice to just embrace everything as it is.
People throughout Live Nation are pitched artists by agents and managers. You too?
Yeah. Oh yeah. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. People find my personal email address. Facebook messages. People love to talk work on Facebook Messenger, and I get really angry about it, especially when they have my email. “You have my email. Between the hours of 10 to 6, I’m glued to my computer. You are probably going to get an answer from me quicker on email.”
When did the pitching start? More recently or when you joined Live Nation in 2017?
When you join Live Nation, everybody is sort of clocking on. Also, a lot of people didn’t understand that I had moved to Live Nation to pursue a slightly different career. They thought I had gone to Live Nation to do PR. So they were asking me loads of questions about shows, and photo passes, things like that. I was like, “Guys that isn’t what I do anymore. I’m not in that world anymore. It’s a different world for me now.” I think some people still think I’m doing PR at Live Nation. The sort of people that don’t really pay attention.
You came to Live Nation with an appreciable skill set. From driving vans on tours throughout the UK to overseeing local and national radio and TV campaigns. Most people don’t have that depth of background at your age.
No, it’s true. When I started, Andy Copping (executive president of Live Nation UK Touring) did tell me that I already had the relationships with so many people in the industry that he saw my growth to being a promoter to be a quick one. He said, “You already have all of the relationships, and that is the most important part. Everybody knows who you are. Everybody trusts you.” I think that is why I was welcome into the team with open arms as someone who already had quite a lot of experience.
How great for you to have relationships with all of these young managers and bands that Andy and the team now work with.
Yeah, there are now four of us on the booking team. Kamran Haq, Sean Ryman, and myself are newer to the company and newer in terms of the booking team. It is working really well because we all have slightly different music tastes, although we are all on the rock and metal plane. We all have a different ear for music, which I think really helps when it comes to booking the line-up for the Download fan because the Download fan isn’t the typical Download fan anymore. Yes, they want to see the big headliners, but they also like a different selection of music than what people think the regular Download fan is. So we get some really good comments from some of the more soft rock or pop punk that we are booking. We still get excitable comments online from people. So it’s really nice to see that we are expanding the genres in the festival. It is working with the fans as well.
With Download coming to Donington Park Leicestershire, June 14-16th is everything booked?
Pretty much done, yeah. There are a couple of slots, but as far as it goes, we are happy with the line-up as it stands. We might look to add a few more acts. We may not. We will see how it goes. I think we’ve done most of our announcements.
How many bands are there this year?
I don’t know. I do not know. People are always asking me these questions. I haven’t counted.
The headliners, Def Leppard, Tool, Rob Zombie, Slayer, Smashing Pumpkins, Eagles of Death Metal, Lamb of God, Slash, Slipknot, Skindred and Die Antwoord, are great. Then there’s the ultimate supergroup of blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, and All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth–Simple Creature—is slated to play its first official gig at Download.
I’m so happy about that. It is so nice to have them come and play Download as their first ever UK festival. It works great for the Avalanche stage too because the idea of that stage is different, the pop-punk vibe is a slightly younger audience. Something different from the rest of the festival. It seems to be working really well. The fact that Simple Creatures has come to headline that.
Also, on hand at Download are the Wonder Years, Roam, Dinosaur Pile-up, Allusinlove, Queen Zee, Kvelertak, Hot Milk, Lost Society, Nova Twins, the Picturebooks, Graveyard, the Hu, Goodbye June, Vambo, Cloud, and Kim Jennett
Oh, I know and Enter Shikari as well who has been around again, another band that I have known for many years. Growing up together. Going to their shows. They used to burn their own CDRs with hand-written titles. It’s really nice to see bands like that coming to do Download because I think that sometimes bands think, “Oh no we are not a Download band” and, if you look at the line-up, we have got so much now. We consider everybody within the alternative genre to be a Download band. “So why can’t you be a Download band?” It’s all about the fans and what they want, and what we like.
Explain how WWE NXT UK wrestling fits into the Download weekend.
We have had NXT Live for the past few years at Download. We have definitely noticed that rock music, and WWE wrestling goes hand in hand.
How does that work? At a side stage?
They have their stage there. They have their own little compound, and they have the ring, and seats around it, and we put the screens up, and everything. It’s like a proper show. A scaled-down proper show. You know everybody loves to watch bands, but sometimes you want a little sit down at a festival. Something different. Year on year, people say, “Well, I’ve never seen wrestling, but I’m going to watch it at the WWE tent.” And they come back, and they just can’t stop talking about it. I think people go, “WWE eh? I used to watch that when I was a kid.” And it is very different today. It is still the same kind of concept, but to see it live in front of you, rather than on the TV, is a totally different experience. I think the fans really enjoy it, and the wrestlers love it. Wrestlers love coming to Download so much. Year on year they are like, “Do I get to go to Download this year?” There are so many rock fans in the WWE, and in the NXT UK communities. A lot of wrestlers are excited to come this year, especially with Slipknot and Tool and things like that. It’s great to have the two combined. It gives us that extra something as well I think.
You have been the lead for Live Nation UK for some of the WWE NXT UK wrestling events.
Yes. I used to work on what was the United Kingdom Championship for WWE, but in June (2018), just after Download last year, we did two nights at the Royal Albert Hall where WWE announced it was going to launch their new brand and rebrand it NXT UK. You have NXT in the States, which is their developmental brand that is quite a big thing for the WWE, and it gets a lot of traction. and it has a weekly televised show. They are basically launching NXT UK as the UK-centric version of that. We are having tapings in the UK all around in these regional places. Then we decided we would do the tapings at Download because why not have a festival as your backdrop?
A great backdrop, especially if it rains.
(Laughing) No rain. I think that the tapings are going to be really exciting. It will be the first time that we have filmed it for TV. The WWE Network normally has just been doing live shows for people to experience at Download, but I think that the TV taping is going to be a really cool thing to do, and hopefully, we can do it again in the future.
Few line-ups surprise me anymore at outdoor festivals in the UK. Few music genres faze me either.
My mum’s the same now. When I was 16, I worked in a record store. I was the Saturday girl at the record store in town. The only thing that was cool to do which was brave. I used to spend all of my wages on CDs. They’d pay me on Saturday, and I would buy three CDs. So I took everything home, and my mum would also listen to them. Now she listens to Tenacious D. She loves the Foo Fighters. She loves Queens of the Stone Age. She loves Bowling For Soup. And this year, considering she only lives 20 minutes from Download, and I have been coming for so many years, this year she’s promised that she is finally coming to Download.
She’s coming for the wrestling.
(Laughing) No the rest of my family is there for the wrestling, believe me. My cousin comes every year. He is the biggest WWE fan in the world. He will be at the wrestling. My mum says she wants to see Eagles of Death Metal when I asked her on the phone yesterday. So that’s a surprise.
How old is she?
Oh, she’s going to kill me. She’s 61. She’s a young soul at heart for sure.
You worked for only four months in radio promotion at Hart Media in 2011, as a promotion assistant. Was the career breakthrough for you working next at The Noise Cartel? Afterward, as a part-time employee first, you oversaw national and regional radio campaigns for Alice Cooper, Rammstein and others. As a fulltime employee you then handled national and regional radio and TV promotion as well as coverage of online media for such clients as A Day To Remember, Steel Panther, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, and worked at such events as the Sonisphere Festival, and the Jagermeister “Ice Cold” events. A coming out for you at The Noise Cartel?
Yeah. Hart Media gave me my first (promotion) job in the industry. They took a chance on me. That gave me a taste of what radio plugging is. I didn’t even know what it was before I started; but I learned everything I could in within 3 months and then I just buckled down and figured it out. Then I saw an ad, “Rock & Metal Radio Plugger Required, Maternity Cover.” “Well, if that was ever a job with my name on it. I didn’t care that it was maternity cover it’s rock and metal. So I sent them my CV, and almost immediately they replied, “How long is your exit period?” I was like, “I don’t know. I’ve only been on this job for a little while.” But yeah, they did the interview, and the rest is history. The maternity cover turned into 6 ½ years with me being there full-time and doing national and regional radio and TV. I did some club promotion. We used to do all of the alternative nightclubs. A lot of the student radio. I used to do radio tours. Taking bands around the country. Doing press trips to other countries.
With hard rock and alternative music, there are few UK radio outlets other than college radio. You’d obviously sought out the more accessible specialty programs.
Yeah, we looked at the specialty shows whether it was college radio, national or regional, there is some kind of rock show or rock fan at those stations. So it was about tapping in, and making those relationships, and genuinely trying to get on a level so you understood what the DJs liked. So when you recommended the music they trusted your opinion because you weren’t selling them Cradle of Filth when they liked the Spice Girls. Just about knowing what everybody likes, and recommending stuff that they are going to like. So you know that they are going to play it. Rather than sending them 20 tracks a week, and them hating most of it, and just stop opening your emails because they then think you don’t know what they want to play. It’s a trade that you have to hone and focus on your people to be sure that you are making the right connections.
My wife Anya Wilson is a country radio plugger in Canada.
I had to do some country once. Country music in the UK as a radio plugger, nobody really does it as a specialist thing. It’s really hard. I tried to speak to people at these stations, and they just did not want to talk to me.
At Baroness Artist Management from 2009 to 2011 you were a tour manager and driver for tours with Many Things, Untold, Heart In Hand, Tides of Virtue, All Shall Perish, Lower Than Atlantis and others as well as an independent promoter with some small capacity shows in London. It’s a rough gig shepherding bands around the UK at that level.
It really is a rough gig but because I was a bit younger, and I just wanted any kind of chance and opportunity, I just did it. Honestly, it is glorified babysitting at that level. It’s driving, doing the merch, making sure that everyone is awake, and on time. It was at a level that they weren’t used to touring. They were used to…
Betcha they weren’t used to a woman ordering them around either.
(Laughing) They definitely weren’t used to a woman ordering them around.
What is frustrating about the UK road system is that with the M1, M4, M6 M11 roadways South to North it is easy to navigate and drive long distances quickly; but East to West or vice versa, crazy. Circular junction roundabouts with multiple exits, lanes, and traffic lights. There are over 10,000 roundabouts in the UK. Just crazy to navigate them.
It is true. It is definitely true. We love a roundabout. Up and down the country is much easier than getting across it. I have never actually thought about that, but it really is a pain in the butt to get around.
You can drive from Gatwick Airport to Newcastle Upon Tyne via the M1 and A1 highways in under 6 hours, but to drive across England at any point is an ordeal, and it takes time.
Yeah, all of those A roads and B roads and roundabouts. We have definitely made that much more complicated for us than it should be.
The other highlight of roadways in the UK are the all-night petrol stations.
Oh yes, I love a good service station.
I think the petrol stations on the M1 are open all night.
Oh yes, but back then not all of them had female shower facilities.
“You want a shower, lady? Are you kidding?”
Back then I remember they’d say, “We can escort you into the male shower.” I was like, “I’m just going to wait to get to the venue and hope that they have a shower. If not, I’ll stink.”
I didn’t realize that petrol stations had showers there.
Some of the bigger ones on the M1 do, and on the motorway they do, yeah.
Rather than sleeping in your clothes.
I had enough with 5 or 6 smelly boys doing that. I just needed to keep myself clean and presentable.
What kind of van were you driving?
A long-wheeled base high-top Ford transit and then we had a smaller transit as well. But nothing too big. Nothing that I needed an extra driving license for.
I recently interviewed Steve Strange, a partner at X-ray Touring in London, and we talked about some of the more colorful UK venues.
Oh yeah. There’s some great regional gig spaces in our country. I am not going to lie. I definitely enjoy it. Me and Sean Ryman, we always like to go regional, as we call it, when there is a tour on. We enjoy going to the out of town shows that aren’t London. See what the venues are like. You get a better chance to chat with the band or chat with whoever is there because it’s not as crazy as London. But I do enjoy visits to some of the regional venues.
Steve and I talked about The Barrowland in Glasgow where David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Foo Fighters, U2, Oasis, the Stranglers, the Clash, the Smiths, and Muse have played.
I love the Barrowlands so much. I went there just before Christmas to see (Scottish singer/songwriter) Lewis Capaldi. I just love the fact that venue has never changed. It was never updated. It makes me feel a bit younger when I go there because there’s a nostalgic feeling about it. But I love it. I love it very much. It’s a very special place.
Your first job in the music industry (2008-2009) was as an intern at Visible Noise, a UK independent label that focused on British bands, with a roster that included Bring Me The Horizon, Your Demise, Brides, Outcry Collective, and the Dead Formats.
It was an amazing opportunity, and I honestly feel that I owe so much to Julie Weir. She definitely became my rock mum. Introduced me to everybody that she could, and we worked really, really well together. The reason I left Visible Noise (after 10 months) was because I knew that there was no job for me there because it was such a small team at the time. I knew that I had to move on and give the internship opportunity to somebody else so they could work with her.
(When Julie Weir founded UK rock label Visible Noise in 1998, her goal was to foster and break domestic UK talent, and her A&R savvy was quickly apparent with the breakthroughs of Lostprophets, Bring Me The Horizon, and Bullet For My Valentine. She also set up Wiseblood Management, working with Blitz Kids, FVK and Zoax; and launched Subverse, London’s first all-ages rock club, giving bands like Bullet, BMTH, Funeral for a Friend and others their first shows. All of this led to Sony Music UK tapping her in 2016 to be label head of its metal label Music For Nations.)
Visible Noise was then Julie and Austen Cruickshank?
Yes, her Austen and Julian Tremaud. Just the three of them and me. and we were in that tiny little office on Portobello Road.
While at Visible Noise, you first began working as a tour manager. How did that come about?
I had a few friends in bands, and they were going out on tour. I was like, “Hey, can I come along, and do this with you”? They were like, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe just do one week, and we’ll see how it goes, and then maybe you can do the bigger tour.” Then they were like, “You are cheaper to insure with the van. Can you drive? Because if we insure you with the van, it’s way cheaper.” I was like, “Well, okay.” And I had never driven a van before in my entire life but I just thought, “Well, it can’t be that hard can it?”
How hard was it, particularly unloading at venues?
It wasn’t too bad. I got used to it quite easily. Touch wood, I didn’t crash. I didn’t have any bizarre incidents. There may have been a couple of cases where the window blew in or something like that because it was a plastic fire exit weird window. But I did pretty well, and it really did help me see the country and understand it. I hadn’t traveled really at this point. I hadn’t been around the country. I hadn’t seen venues. I didn’t have experience of working with bands, and with live music to this degree.
You had been caught up in the tightly-defined scholastic world with university studies.
Yeah, so it was really nice to go out to all of these regional toilet venues. To experience it all, and deal with the problems that came up because it really was toilet tours and toilet venues. The promoters weren’t necessarily that professional. They weren’t necessarily that reputable. Whoever had booked the tours had just dealt with all of these people, and it gave me so many challenges to deal with. Some people did wonder what a five-foot little blond girl was doing running around with bands.
You are only five foot?
Five foot three. I would jump out of this big high-topped transit van and they would be like, “Who the hell is this girl?” I’d walk up and they would be like, “We don’t want to talk to you about this.” I was like, “Well, you are going to talk to me about this because this is my job.” But honestly, most people were fine. You did get the occasional idiot who thought it would be funny to talk down to me or whatever, but it was fun. I overcame those barriers.
“Get the money! Get the money! Get the money!”
Definitely, the full force of Van Spronsen definitely comes out when I get pissed off. It’s not very often, but in those days after driving, and probably not very much sleep and it being cold and horrible British weather if you poke the bear a bit too much it becomes unbearable. Most of it was okay. It really helped me grow and understand how everything worked. I’m really, really thankful that my friends gave me the chance to do that because I think that it really did help build a foundation for me.
While building lasting contacts as well.
Oh yeah, 100%. I met promoters and booking agents from all around the country and bands, bands that are now life long friends; bands that I still work with. So many different contacts. That is why I wanted to do that because I was just in the London bubble, and I want to go out and make more friends from around the UK and gain more knowledge which I think really helped to benefit my career.
Did you start out as an emo fan?
Always. I had the big fringe. I had all of the eyeliner. I had the worst MySpace photos in the world. I’m sure you can’t find any of them on the internet now thank God. I definitely hope that they don’t make the light of day. Yeah, I loved emo. You sort of get into the big rock bands at the start, and then you start delving more and more beyond those things, and into the fringe, yeah. That’s what your friends like and that’s is what kind of got me going to gigs more. Like with My Chemical Romance I remember some of those gigs. “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” (2004) had come out, and the show that they put on, that just sold it for me. The theatrics of it all. I am still a big emo fan, really.
Meanwhile, your family is now saying, “Is she ever going to grow out of this?”
I think that my mum has realized now that I am never going to grow out of it, and that the tattoos don’t wash off.
Where were you raised?
I was raised in the Midlands in Leicestershire. A small village called Burbage (a suburb of the market town Hinckley). It is about 25 minutes out of Leicester. It is kind of sandwiched between Leicester and Coventry.
A great place to be a music fan growing up because there’s so much around you. Leicester and Birmingham being the closest music markets, but Sheffield and Manchester aren’t all that far away.
I used to go to either Leicester or Birmingham when I was a kid. You could get the train. As soon as I was 17, I learned to drive because the last train from Birmingham always left before the headline act finished. So I had to learn how to drive as soon as I turned 17 so I could go to gigs. I saw a lot of shows at the Birmingham Academy and the Princess Charlotte in Leicester.
Leeds isn’t that far away either, two hours by car.
It isn’t that far but I never ventured there in my younger years. It was definitely Leicester and Birmingham and that was about as far as we went. I think that maybe I went to Manchester once for something.
One of the groups you’ve known for much of your career is Bring Me The Horizon whom you met in 2006 at Download, headlined by Prodigy with Exit Ten, Enter Shikari, Atreyu and Funeral For A Friend. Bring Me The Horizon members were in a nearby camping space to you.
I remember just before I went to that festival it was the first time that I had gone to Download. I had won tickets through this rock club that used to be at The Astoria in London. I remember hearing about this band and I thought, “I need to check this band out.” I realized that they were playing Download. I actually didn’t get to see them play. I literally can’t remember what happened because it was so long ago. I remember seeing them with their even bigger fringes than mine camping two rows away. Everybody was camped there. A lot of the band were camped in the VIP camping. It was quite nice for everybody to hang out at some point in the evening when the guest bar or whatever had closed, and the bands had finished. Everybody would filter to the campsite.
And yeah I ended up working with them on “Suicide Season” at Visible Noise with Julie. And they are a Live Nation band so I’ve been along the way with them, which is quite nice and I think that I have been a fan of their music every step of the way from what I guess some people would considerable unlistenable early days EP through to their stuff now. And I am definitely one of those fans of their music who has evolved with them as well.
Some of the older executives in our industry would argue about some of those fringe bands back then, “This is just noise.” As music has kept splintering into further sub-genres, it’s been difficult for many people to keep up as newer fans have gravitated to specific genres. Older executives just aren’t on the street anymore. They aren’t—like you– acclimatized to many of the fringe genres, and until groups hit the mainstream, they don’t know them.
Yeah, it’s true. You do discover bands much earlier on whether that be back then things like MySpace where you used to go to look at bands or you’d go to a lot of gigs. I still have this huge box of all of my gig tickets from when I was a student in London. I went to so many gigs, and nobody at my university liked that music. So I used to go to those gigs, and go to these rock clubs with maybe one friend just to make more friends who liked the same type of music. And then through that, I had all of these friends and I went to all these gigs, all of these iconic rock gigs in tiny, tiny venues with bands that are huge now.
Who is big now you saw back then?
I can’t even think without having that massive box of tickets. Even me saying that I saw My Chemical Romance at The Astoria. I saw Panic at The Disco and they were meant to do their first ever UK show upstairs at The Garage which was a 150 cap venue, and it (the show) got upgraded three times. It ended up being at The Astoria or something like that. I thought you were a bit more on the ball when you are involved in the live music scene and you go to all of these shows and you watch the support bands—you used to go for all of the support bands and talk to them afterward because they were probably selling their own merch. Things like that. So I think it’s nice just to keep in touch.
Groups like Your Demise and Brides were coming up back then.
Yeah, they were. I remember that we were all camped together one year when I went with Visible Noise to Download in 2008 or 2009. One year we all camped together because Brides were on and Your Demise had come along for fun to work with Architects who were playing. We all ended up camping together
In 2016, you went to America to work on the Vans Warped Tour as tour coordinator of the non-profit Music Saves Lives, helping to raise money by encouraging bands to support the charity.
That was so much fun. I’m really really glad that I did it. I just had this feeling. I hadn’t really traveled. I hadn’t done any of those things that you meant to do in your life and see the world.
Had you been to America before that?
I had been to America, but I hadn’t done a stint of anything. Like I hadn’t gone to places like people do in their gap year or something like that. My friend (Russel Hornbeek) runs this non-profit, Music Saves Lives, in the States which encourages people to donate blood to the Red Cross. Year and year after, he used to say, “Come with us on Warped Tour.” And I was like, “I can’t do it. I have a job now. I can’t do it. I really wish I could.” They had taken me out to a few Warped dates in 2007 just to see them when I was in the States.” So I phoned him, and said, “If you have space maybe I will come out.” He was like, I do. I really do. I really want you to do it.”
My connections helped me drive the plan, and drive bands to support the plan as well. So it was really nice to use my connections in the UK to work with those bands on the road in the U.S. Getting them to support the charity. We did (American bands) Sleeping With Sirens, and Mayday Parade and then I got a bunch of the English bands, some of the smaller ones. I was helping them get some exposure as well. Like Roam, who we have at Download this year. And a band back there that was called Sykes that is now called Plya which is one of the bands I now promote. So I made some relationships on that tour that helped me now as well.
You have a B.A. in Popular Music Performance and an M.A in Music Management and Artist Development at the University of West London. You stayed in school a long time.
I know. I didn’t plan on it. I did my B.A. in Popular Music Performance, specializing as a vocalist because I was a singer. I thought that was what I wanted to do. I was going through for my degree, and I was sort of getting toward the end, and I thought, “What the hell am I going to do with a degree as a singer?” A trained vocal coach, I guess that’s what I get from it. They teach you how to be good at being a session musician, and things like that. You get taught loads of different things. But in the last module, you can choose management, education or production. I was like, “I have no patience for teaching people. I don’t want to produce. So I guess I will try management.” I did management, and I got a first in that module, and I really enjoyed it.
Did you ever perform in clubs with bands?
I did a few cover band sets here and there plus open mike nights. I created my own band for my final degree performance, and we did a few gigs, but nothing big.
Only because you said you were aware of not being old I will ask, how old are you?
I’m not old.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.