The Live Rooms in Chester is one of the city’s busiest and loudest venues. Soundsphere have a chat with Dan Read (also The Core and Chester Live) as he talks about the day-to-day challenges of running a venue and his advice on getting into event promotion.
S: How did your career start?
D] “Well, essentially I’m a qualified teacher by trade, and about nine years ago I used to hang round with a load of people from Deeside who were in lots of cool bands. I was just going to gigs, and one night I was in The Frog and Nightingale in Chester and thought ‘I’m really bored of coming to other people’s gigs and thinking how it’s so poorly run, I could do this myself’ and to be honest even I had no idea what I was doing! My background was teaching and retail management, and I didn’t have a clue. My first gig was absolutely horrendous and I’d left no changeover times, and the engineer was screaming at me! Originally it was called Chester and North Wales Bands, CNW Promotions and the logo was a Welsh dragon with a guitar, something really naff. It just progressed from there really, to the point where I’ve not completely sacked off tutoring, I’m more a full time promoter than a full time tutor.”
S: What’s it like running a venue in Chester?
D] “People still keep telling me that Chester is an emerging market and I think ‘I’ve been doing this for nine years, how long is it going to be emerging for?’ One issue that we have here is that Liverpool is very close, so if we pick up a tour that there is a Liverpool show on it so it will affect the turn out here and probably we affect their turnout too. A lot of our shows are either in house or we have external shows where big promoters come in and hire out the venue, so there’s a really eclectic variety.”
S: If you were going to advise someone to get involved in promotion, what key tips do you think a good promoter needs in a place like Chester?
D] “You’ve got to be committed to it. The Chester scene has changed in nine years, I think what we’ve got now is three really good venues. You’ve got The Live Rooms, Telford’s and Alexander’s and there’s also Central in Wrexham. The bands that are around are probably of a better quality that Chester has ever had before. It is hard work, I’ve got a really good team of six event staff who work for me. They’re of all different ages and different backgrounds, some are students or in bands and are doing it for experience. It’s not something that you can just all of sudden one day go, ‘You know what I’m going to be a promoter and that’s going to be my career,’ you’ve got to start from the bottom and do all the crap first. It took me probably six and a half years to get to the point where I could take my full time tutoring job and put it on the backburner, it’s flipping it completely and it’s a lot of hard work. You need to build up a reputation, and if your reputation is shit, and you go into a well-known venue they’re not going to touch you. Even when you get your foot in the door you’ve got to work really hard, and ultimately prove yourself.”
S: What have you learnt from the start of your career until now?
D] “What’s that saying? ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail,’ it’s all about the planning. You’ve got to know what’s coming, and every time it goes wrong you learn more than from when it goes right. At the beginning it will go tits up, it will go completely wrong and there will be all sorts of problems. I’ve done stuff with Focus Wales, Chester Live and other festivals as well, and every time something goes wrong you just need to file that and go ‘Right that went wrong!’ Especially with the touring bands, you’re pretty much going to get the same issues all the time and you learn of what they’re going to moan about. It’s also dealing with different people, we’re dealing with people who on their way up and others on their way down. Others who their career is gone, they might be making a comeback, and you’re dealing with the bands who probably think they’re bigger than what they are! The key is to learn from every mistake, and also don’t let the mistakes get you down.”
S: What would you say your biggest day-to-day challenges are?
D] “For me there is a balancing act you’ve got to play. I think if you’ve got no commitments it’s a lot easier, because you can just throw yourself into it and that is your life. But for me, when you’ve got kids, every day I’ve got to do the school run in the morning and I’ve to pick the kids up as well. So essentially I never get a day off! And you have to look after yourself as well. I was quite ill recently for about five weeks and a lot of that was just because I had just worn myself down, to the point where my body was just like: ‘No you need to stop and have a rest!’ It is a juggling act as well, I’ve got family, friends, The Live Rooms and Chester Live and other stuff going on and it’s just trying to juggle it. I look at my laptop and there’s just constant different emails popping up for different things!”
S: What would say your highlights of your career are?
D] “There’s been quite a few, the first year we did Chester Live which was 18 months ago, people had talked about doing a cross city live music event, but never had done it, and essentially it was all done and planned and out of the way within three months. To be honest just seeing that main room [The Live Rooms] when it’s full. When you know that you can’t walk from one end of the room to the other, that’s when you know the team have done a good job. It’s not just about me, it’s about everybody else that does everything else because again my team are doing their job and doing it well.”
S: What advice would you give to emerging bands trying to get themselves out there?
D] “I think the first thing is get your social media right. Social media has become so important now and bands sometimes will get completely judged on social media, so it depends on the image of what you want your band to be. I’ll look at the Facebook and the Twitter and see what’s going on, have they got a picture of the band? Two of the annoying things for me is you get a Facebook profile that doesn’t tell you where the band is from, and the other thing is when they don’t have any music. I would never book a band that I’ve not heard. There was a period of time that I’d never book a band that I’d never seen live and that’s just impossible because I haven’t got the time to go and do it. Bands can also look at getting a manager, I used to manage loads of bands, I did it for the love of doing it. If you’re not going to go the manager route, and you don’t want to pay for an agent, there are times when an agent or manager is needed, but you just need one member of the band to be your focal person. There’s nothing worse than speaking to the Facebook profile of a band you don’t know, and having a conversation with different people saying different things. Have one person that deals with the emails, another with the Facebook and make social media look professional. Get a decent logo, decent band pictures, it makes such a difference, without a picture you don’t know what you’re getting sometimes!”
S: What do you look for when booking artists?
D] “Sometimes I try and book stuff that I like but it doesn’t always work! You can book something that you like and it completely flops. But you can book stuff that you’re really not into and it can be a complete success. You’ve got to be able to have an ear for everything. Nine years ago I would have said I was into punk rock and metal, in terms of the venue the reason we do rock and metal is because no one else in Chester will do it.”
S: What are your hopes for the future?
D] “For me personally, next year will be busier, January will be my busiest January for shows in two years. Hopefully we’re going to have some massive announcements for Chester Live on the 16th January, and if I get everything I want for Chester Live it will be massive. People will genuinely will sit there and go ‘I can’t believe this is going on in Chester,’ because it will be a complete game changer if we get everything.”
S: Outside of music, what keeps you inspired?
D] “My biggest inspiration is my kids. I work hard so that they get everything they want and need. The flipside of that is that sometimes you don’t get to spend enough time with your kids and your family, it is about trying to get that work/life balance right because this industry isn’t 9-5, it’s all over the place!”
S: What advice would you give someone who wanted to approach you about a gig or event?
D] “It’s always good to be professional. I meet that many people, I’m good with faces but crap with names! I’m one of those people who very rarely answer my phone so email is probably best! My door is always open, if someone wanted to come have a chat I would never turn anyone away. It is important to get in young and to learn from a young age. I think if someone has contacted me whether it’s a band, a promoter or a club night, as daft as it sounds, put the details of what you want to do! It must be an industry joke that the amount of emails that promoters get saying ‘I want to promote this band’ or ‘Can I get a gig at your venue?’ and there’s no information or link to anything. In this industry, you’ve got to be quite thick skinned, be able to bullshit when you need to and be honest with people when you need to! I have high expectations of what I expect from other people.”
Interview: Dom Smith / Words: Tori Erskine