Members of the Access All Areas 30under30 alumni outline what they feel needs changing for the better in the live events industry.
As the live events industry continues its post-Covid recovery, issues such as sustainability, diversity, accessibility, and mental health have come to the fore – not least due to vociferous young event professionals.
A key focus of the team at the 66,000-capacity Boomtown Fair is environmental sustainability. Lana Elworthy, who heads up production, says the planning of this year’s event has involved an emphasis on sustainable build methods including the use of reusable materials and non-plastic-based paint.
She says many event organisers are making strides with sustainability but external factors is hindering progress: “Loads of festivals are trying to take positive steps in the right direction, monitoring their impact and acting on that, but with the wider industry problem of the economic crisis, budgets becoming tighter and infrastructure costs soaring, it’s taking away from the investments into these new initiatives and is making it a lot more difficult.”
Among the AAA 30u30 class who are heavily involved in promoting diversity in the industry is Metropolis Music promoter Alexandra Ampofo (pictured), who is diversity coordinator at its parent company Live Nation. She co-founded the promoter’s learning hub EMBRACE Nation, which is focused on racial equality and hosts workshops, training and speaker panels.
Ampofo says, “It’s the place where our Live Nation employees can come to and have a voice and ask questions, which they may not feel comfortable asking in front of other people. We wanted to make sure there was a central hub for everyone to be themselves.”
Caitlin Ford, a freelance event professional who has worked as a promoter rep for Live Nation, says, “In senior management roles it can be very male dominated. It’s important to recognise that woman can do exactly the same thing.”
Ford, who is also owner of Manchester-based underground electronic music events production company Televised, adds, “I have seen events where certain roles will be very female based and others will be male dominated, when in fact it’s important to mix the two. In a control room for example, a lot of the senior reps and management who make the decisions tend to be male.”
Several of the 30u30 cite NOWIE (Network of Women in Events) as a good community for young female event professionals.
With many of the 30u30s either currently working in freelance roles or having previously done so, they recognise the pros and cons when it comes to balancing job freedom and security.
Ford (pictured), who has been working freelance on several outdoor events in Australia this year, says, “For someone getting into the industry, [freelancing] is a good way to go – because you jump from client to client and you can build up the levels that you’re working at quickly. You can climb the ranks and potentially get to a higher position quicker.”
Watchtower Group (formerly Fly Events) festivals director Sam Joss says, “With so many new shows and a real skills shortage in the industry, it’s the perfect time for ambitious young event professionals to make their way. We are currently hiring interns and the quality of applicants has been incredible. It’s important for all businesses to be actively seeking out new talent and providing opportunities for them to gain experience.”
Paying the price
Rising costs is an issue that has hit the entire industry hard. Josh Heyburn, MD at Festivall Services, which specialises in event operations and temporary staffing, says, “At the moment, compared to previous years, people are a lot more hesitant to put pen to paper – especially when it comes to staffing. It’s very hard for a festival to gauge how many of those they’re going to need when they’re still ascertaining how many people are turning up for the show.”
Callum Amos, tour manager and MD at TourMgmt, agrees: “I’ve noticed the uncertainty of the industry – people being scared to book anything because of finances. A lot of people are sitting on quotes and leaving it until the last minute to book.”
As for customer buying habits, Joss says, “There was a period after Covid where everything sold out in record time but now with so much choice and the cost-of-living crisis hitting customers in the pocket, they are being much more selective about which tickets they buy. We are fortunate in that most of our shows are well established but it’s a reminder that everything we do has to be top notch, there’s no room for complacency.”
With the help of charity Attitude is Everything, the industry-wide focus on accessibility has increased. One 30u30, Samie Boyd, is particularly engaged in the issue and works closely with the charity as summer festival assistant at Live Nation-owned promoter Cuffe and Taylor. Boyd says, “My sister is in a wheelchair, and we grew up going to gigs together. It’s been terrible in the past. Now I’m in the industry, I’m passionate about making these changes.”
She says the rise of the use of British Sign Language, accessible changing facilities such as Mobiloo, and multi-sensory dancefloors are all positive steps.
Another important topic that has come to the fore is mental health and the wellbeing of workers. Amos says he has approached the charity Tonic Music for Mental Health to get mental health first aid trained, and wants to encourage clients and other freelancers to do the same.
“For me there are two main focuses: mental health and diversity. NOWIE is doing amazingly on the diversity front and Tonic Music is leading the way for the industry’s mental health training.”
Another AAA 30u30, Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival coordinator Naomi Hollas, set up Event Grads during the pandemic, which has become a popular community for event students and graduates.
Hollas says she set up the group after being made redundant and feeling like there was little information or support out there for young event professionals.
Boyd shares a similar view but says the increase in internships from the likes of Live Nation and the support of big industry names including Sacha Lord has helped: “When you’re in the industry you’ve got the support to help you progress your career, but helping people take that initial first step is where we can improve.”
Despite the challenges, the live events industry appears to be moving in the right direction with help from a new generation of passionate young event professionals.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE SUMMER EDITION OF ACCESS ALL AREAS, WHICH IS AVAILABLE TO READ FOR FREE HERE.