Dedicated to the Business of Contemporary Live Music

Backstage Stars – Rebecca Ayres

9 October 2018

As MD of Liverpool’s Sound City conference and music festival. Rebecca Ayres also has responsibility for Sound City Korea, Manchester’s Off the Record, Sounds of the Xity in China – in partnership with Modern Sky Entertainment – and the Sound City Music Entrepreneur Training programme. But it all started with Suede.

What are your first live music memories?

“My first ever gig was Suede at Wolverhampton Civic Hall in October 1993, it was the Dog Man Star Tour just before Bernard Butler left, and it was dark, sexy, brooding and electrifying – I was mesmerised.

“Suede were my idols and they were amazing.  Me and my friend Kate pierced our ears ourselves before the gig and I remember feeling really rebellious …  although, later I realised stupid, as I could have got an ear infection!

“Then Reading Festival in 1996 had a seismic impact. I was desperate to go to Reading since the age of 14 and bought a ticket two years later to go with my friend Lizzy, without my parents knowing. They were furious when they found out, but they eventually let me go.

“I saw Rage Against the Machine, The Prodigy, Underworld, Sonic Youth and the infamous and disappointing final performance from The Stone Roses – only Ian Brown and Mani as Reni and John Squire had left by then – before they imploded.  The whole experience was incredible.”

How did you get into the music industry?

“I did an English Literature degree at the University of Leeds and worked part-time at [record store] HMV throughout. This gave me a sense of music in a much wider sense than the indie, alternative rock and grunge that I had until then been listening to, and I got into dance music, which was big in Leeds at the time. 

“When I graduated I got a job at Conde Nast selling advertising in the classified and promotions sections on Brides, Tatler and GQ magazines, then worked at EMAP Advertising [now radio and media giant Bauer on Period Living.

“After a couple more job moves, I got disillusioned working in magazine ad sales and desperately wanted to get into music. I saw a job advertised to work on a music conference, London Calling, and went for an interview. The job was selling delegate passes and exhibition space to international music companies, so I jumped at the chance and got my foot in the door, working on a music event.”

“In 2008 I went on a music trade mission to Tokyo, organsied by [record industry body] BPI and UK Trade & Industry, and met Dave Pichilingi, also on the trip, who had set up the first edition of Sound City in Liverpool  a couple of months earlier.

“I liked the whole concept, so asked him for a job. At the time, Sound City was only him running it, but he rang me up a couple of months later and he asked me to help develop the event, and I joined that November – hard to believe that was almost 10 years ago.

“We started off as a small team, running Sound City in May and then started developing other events including Dubai Sound City, New York Sound City and Tromso Sound City [Norway].  

“I was focused on bringing in international export organisations such as Sounds Australia, French Music Bureau and trade organisations PRS and PPL, as well as developing our non-profit side with the Music Entrepreneur Training, and our year-round talent development programme with artists from the North West.”

What were your greatest low and high points?

“Dubai Sound City was tough – we hosted it in the year of the economic downturn in 2009. The promoters we worked with didn’t have the funding they said they did. so there were people who didn’t get paid and it created problems for us in a lot of relationships for years after.

“We learned a lot from that event. It was disappointing not to continue New York Sound City after three successful years with artistes including Reverend and the Makers, Drenge, and Skepta launching at the event. It was reliant on funding and we couldn’t get enough support from sponsors, so we have had to leave it dormant … for now.

“As for highpoints, this year’s Sound City was the first with me completely at the helm and it also returned to the city centre after three years on the North Liverpool Dock. The conference and festival sold-out, the weather was scorching and the venues, artistes, audiences were brilliant.

“The Sound City Music Entrepreneur Training programme has also been extremely rewarding, with us helping 300 young people aged 14+ to get their feet on the industry ladder.”

How do you unwind?

“I got married in January to Luke who is a DJ, working under the alias Bear Growls, but not sure whether that’s classed as winding-down. 

“I just did a trek up Snowdon overnight to raise money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, it was 60-mile-an-hour winds and 80-mile-an-hour gusts – crazy weather, but exhilarating.

“I love reading Russian literature and World War ll history, walking and reluctantly going to the gym, and I hope to volunteer at the Whitechapel centre, a homeless charity in Liverpool.

“I also play the violin and really want to quiet my mind down and get into meditation … when I get the time.”

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