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Backstage Stars – Paul Reed

Backstage Stars
26 April 2018
Paul Reed
After growing up in the Britpop era Paul Reed began promoting shows in Newcastle with acts such as of The Futureheads and Maximo Park, before moving into artiste liaison at festivals and working for events companies. He is chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), which is now in its 10th year and represents 65 festivals.

What are your first live music memories?

“My Grandfather was a professional trumpet player, so my very first live music memories are connected to him. I also used to go to kids’ nights at a nightclub when I was young and caught an early gig from some pop act called Take That. Not sure what became of them.   

“Beyond that, I started to go to gigs in Newcastle during the Britpop era, watching bands like The Bluetones, Mansun and Manic Street Preachers. The first show that had a huge impact on me from that era was Blur’s magnificent headline show at V97, my first festival, and the Prodigy on that same weekend. What a double header.

“I immediately loved the scale, excitement and communal experience of attending festivals and large-scale concerts.”    

How did you get into the music industry?

“I studied Politics and Media at university in Newcastle, which has actually become very relevant in my current role. While studying for a Masters in Journalism I was also DJ-ing, working in a record shop and promoting my own shows at small venues – anything to get closer to working around music.

“While promoting my own shows I learned a lot about how the live industry works and built up some contacts. I started getting paid work doing artiste liaison at festivals such as Evolution and Secret Garden Party. Working on-site gave me an excellent insight into the festival environment and how all of the moving parts fit together. My mentors at the time were other promoters and people on the scene in the north-east and I learned a lot.”   

How has your career developed?

“I then got a full-time role as project coordinator at music development agency Generator, running their live programmes and a promoter development scheme. I also ran a small record label with some friends in my spare time and continued to promote and DJ. Generator CEO Jim Mawdsley [current chair of AIF] was and remains a mentor and friend. He has given me a lot of great opportunities and advice.

“I moved to London in 2009 and became head of operations at a Conservatoire for a couple of years, which although still music related felt like a slightly strange detour.

“I then moved on to become an operations manager at an event management company called The Event Umbrella, delivering festivals and events for the local authority in Ealing, before being approached about the role at AIF and joining as general manager in 2013.”

What have been your greatest highs and lows?

“I’m not one for looking back much but, as an independent live music promoter starting out, there were plenty of them. The first show I ever did had The Futureheads headlining preceded by some other brilliant local bands at The Cluny in Newcastle. I promoted it everywhere and sold it out, 400 people, which was fantastic but also a bit of a curse as I thought every show would be like that if I just worked hard.

“Putting everything you have into a show and it not working out – with a small audience on a damp Tuesday night in Newcastle and having to visit a cashpoint to pay the band is a tough experience. All part of learning the ropes but devastating at the time. You do wonder how it’s all going to work out.

“Without doubt, the overall highlight of my career to date is running AIF -supporting the most innovative and creative festival promoters in the UK. It feels like the right job at the right time in many ways.”    

Where do you see the live music business going?

“I’m frequently asked if there are too many festivals and of course there aren’t. Provided people keep having unique ideas and access to interesting sites, the industry will continue to evolve. It is very Darwinian in that respect. The market always corrects itself.

“The rise of more events structured around an overall experience rather than a musical line up is interesting. I went to Boomtown Fair for the first time last year and it feels like that is where the next frontier is – the next evolutionary step for festivals, with over 100 micro-venues and lots of interactive elements and an overarching narrative.

We’re also going to see yet more city-based festivals. Promoters can pack a load of talent into the line-up, market it as a festival and create a festival feel. It makes sense, since organising a greenfield festival carries a monstrous level of financial risk due to the cost of festival infrastructure.”

How do you wind down?

“I’m married to Katherine, who I met while working at an early Secret Garden Party. We have two children, Oscar, two, and Scarlett, five. Running a not for profit trade association, I don’t have any vineyards anywhere but a few bottles of cheap wine in a house in south east London.

“Most time outside of work is spent with the kids. I like being busy, still love going to gigs and festivals and read far and wide when there is the time.

“I’d like to travel more, especially after I visited Russia representing AIF this year and got the train between St Petersburg and Moscow, which was an incredible experience.

“There are plenty more places on the list – I’d say Japan probably tops it.”

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