Continuing with our industry-focused blog space capturing thoughts and expert advice from distinct music pros, we speak to DHP Family's concert coordinator Ben Ryles.
Hey Ben! What’s your story?
I started out by putting on shows in my hometown, sunny Stoke-on-Trent, when I was in my teens as I was fed up of having to go an hour up the road for gigs – whether that be Sheffield or Manchester or Liverpool or Birmingham or wherever. The contact at the venue I used in Stoke happens to work for Rock City (DHP’s flagship venue) nowadays; small world! I moved to Nottingham in 2005 to study and got a job behind the bar at Rescue Rooms. Pulling points quickly turned into me being asked to be on the team booking artists for Acoustic Rooms on a Monday night which saw shows with Jake Bugg, Beans on Toast, Kodaline, Amber Run and loads of others. Then I went on to hold the calendar for the venue and was the marketing manager for DHP for a time. After a brief sabbatical I returned to the fold and moved to Manchester to help with our operations here. I help to coordinate Dot to Dot Festival in the city as well as working with Slow Readers Club, Cassia and a number of other exciting bands from the Northwest and beyond. I’m really proud to work for a company that upholds the same morale compass I had as an independent promoter.
What does your day to day work look like?
Emails, meetings, dinner, time with the family, emails, meetings, gig(s), emails, bed; repeat. You definitely need to be committed to work in the music industry, but the benefits for all of that hard work are incredible. The feeling when hearing 3,500 people singing a guitar line and knowing you’ve played your part in that is indescribable. My role gives me creative freedom to not only book artists, but then also develop other ideas that in turn help acts before they have management or agent representation. That same freedom allows me to help to build Dot to Dot by thinking about the complete experience for the festival goer: from speaking to food outlets and independent retailers to helping to organise after-shows and secret sets.
How do you generally discover new music?
I get sent loads of music, which is great. I endeavour to listen to all of it while going about my day. I’ve found some real gems that way. There are a few great blogs that champion acts in the Northwest too. Even the Stars immediately springs to mind. To be honest though, living in Manchester has been incredible for finding new talent too. Iconic places like Night and Day take chances on a band’s first show before they’ve even got a Facebook page. Also, with the proximity of the venues and how often they’re used you can go to 4 or even 5 shows in a night. Hearing a band live – and getting a feel for what they’re all about – beats listening to an MP3 any day of the week!
What advice would you give to artists just starting out?
Stick to your guns. Be inspired, but don’t plagiarise. Play shows and get your gig legs early on and then learn to know your worth. It’s better to play a headline show at the entry level venue in your local city and sell it out rather than play 4 gigs in a week; I would argue that the latter benefits no-one.
How do you decide whether to book a new act or not? What do you look out for?
Obviously the quality of the music first and foremost, but you can tell how serious a band are about their art by how they present themselves on social media or even how they come across over email. If a band works hard to present their ideas in the best possible manner and come across in a professional way then it stands them in extremely good stead. You immediately alleviate any concerns that they’re potentially not going to turn up on time or take too long sound-checking (which can cause huge delays and therefore stress to those on the day – including your headline artist that could well have an influential manager and/or agent). I recommend that all bands have a comprehensive channel list and spec from day one. You’ll never have a promoter or in-house engineer at a venue turn around and say “who do they think they are with their pro-looking spec?”. Another thing that saves time is having reference points to how you want to sound (literally name-dropping key influences on the band if necessary) on there too, especially when starting out.
Finally, what track do you have on repeat at the moment?
Cassia – 100 Times Over (Distiller Records). I literally can’t wait for the record to come out this year. Extremely exciting times for this band!