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Since it was launched by Gill Tee and Deborah Shilling in 2018, Black Deer Festival (cap. 10,000) has become a well-established celebration of Americana. Building on that profile, the Black Deer brand is now being exploited further to provide an expanded opportunity for the genre’s artists.

 Not content with channelling their not inconsiderable energy into staging an annual festival, Tee and Black Deer’s MD Chris Russell-Fish have launched Black Deer Live, encompassing a burgeoning live show touring programme and branded digital radio station. Here, the duo ((pictured below at the launch of Black Deer Live with Britt Strickland from the band The Autumn Saints) discuss the strategy behind move and the hopes for the future.

The Black Deer Live show series kicked off in April and is taking in grassroots music venues across the UK. There are now plans to expand it internationally, following shows in the US later this year in New York and Florida. Among the concert promoters involved in the project are Talentbanq, Brighthelmstone and Desertscene, while independent London venue Union Chapel (cap. 900) has also partnered on the project.

Further strengthening and broadening the Black Deer offering has been the launch of Black Deer Radio. Supported by Nation Broadcasting and Head On Media, the station hosts Americana programming and will broadcast performances and headliner interviews from this year’s festival on 14-16 June.

 Has it always been your ambition to branch out beyond the Black Deer Festival?

GT: The strategy from the beginning with Black Deer has been to build a brand, not just a festival, but the festival had to be the beating heart of it. From the very first festival we had high production values, and that’s how we set out our stall, because the genre was underserved in the UK at the time and the anticipation was that Country and Americana was going grow as a genre.

CRF: Ask people what Americana is, and you get several different answers; everybody has a different perspective. So, we needed a strong brand and we have created one that is distinguishable and built on the high values delivered through the festival.

You now have Brighton-based concert promoter and event organiser JOY. Concerts managing the delivery of Black Deer Festival. Was handing that over part of the wider expansion strategy?

GT: By restructuring and giving an external company the production, marketing and booking, all under one umbrella, it freed Chris and I up this year to look at all the branches of the Black Deer tree, and where else we can take this brand.

With the wider festival industry finding it tough going due to issues such as rising costs, and the cost-of-living crisis, has that played a part in encouraging you to explore additional revenue streams?

 CRF: Yes. For any truly independent festival the margins are tiny even at the best of times.  We can’t all be 50,000-capacity festivals. It’s always a very risky venture, we’ve always believed that no independent festival can survive on three and a half days of business in an economy that we have no control over, with a supply chain that you have no control over as a promoter, and beyond that – in a genre that is not always fully understood and is quite small. Therefore, for the Black Deer project to continue we had to find a way to expand beyond three and a half days in a field in the middle of Kent.

How does Black Deer Live reflect the ethos of the festival?

 GT: The festival was founded with the intention of creating a funnel through which grassroots artists could reach a wider audience. Black Deer, in the beginning, was all about showcasing an underserved community of artists. So, what we’re doing with Black Deer Live is reflecting the ethos that was there all the way through. It means we can expand the platform beyond the three days at a festival once a year. We will have events throughout the year, and also promote grassroots talent on Black Deer Radio. We are now providing lots of different opportunities for new artists to be heard whilst still showcasing the incredible artists who are already established in this genre

CRF: We work with other promoters to bring Americana music to the grassroots venues, which we all know are suffering. We will give the artists an opening to play for Black Deer Live, and we have a really talented marcomms team working to support the artists and their shows. We have also partnered with TagMix, who will record all of our shows for digital broadcasting. We’re going to give all that content to our artists as a way of saying thank you for supporting Black Deer.

So, for the artists, you have the show and all the marketing assets, and you then get played and interviewed on Black Deer Radio – it becomes a holistic, 360 degree, approach to supporting as many people as we can in our genre.

“It becomes a holistic, 360 degree, approach to supporting as many people as we can in our genre.”

How well has Black Deer Live been received so far by the Americana community?

GT: It couldn’t have been better received. This amazing community can now have bigger amplification and the coverage they deserved through the medium of radio and have an opportunity to get their music heard, talk about themselves, and the whole Americana culture.

Is the project evolving as hoped?

CRF: Yes. We already have 19 shows planned, and by Christmas we’ll have 30. We only started at the end of March, and we are determined to move heaven and earth to build this project.

Is the intention to expand Black Deer Live beyond grassroots venues?

GT: Yes. We are taking considered steps forward in terms of the live shows. We have made great progress already and we are only at the beginning of where we could go with this  We are looking to eventually include venues with capacities of 500 to 1200, and we hope that as we progress we could then do the mid-range of 2,000 to 5,000-capacity venues . That would be perfect for Blank Deer Live. That’s the vision because it makes commercial sense, but it’s important to always maintain the core values that have always been a part of what Black Deer is all about

 Is international expansion a major focus across the whole Black Deer portfolio?

 GT: Black Deer Live, Black Deer Radio and Black Deer Festival are separate business units. To take Black Deer Live and the radio station to other territories is easier than taking the cost of your festival to another territory but that’s not to say it’s not going to happen. There are ongoing discussions. The ambition was always to do a Black Deer Festival in America.

CRF: The festival is a very different discussion to Black Deer Live, which we will launch in the US in September, and we are in negotiations to bring the series to roll it out along with Black Deer Radio in territories including Spain, Portugal and Scandinavia. The UK is just the beginning.

Gill tee is interviewed at length for the AAA Backstage Podcast series. Listen/watch here