Liverpool Sound City Announces 2019 Lineup: Q’s With Festival MD Rebecca Ayres
Sound City returns to Liverpool, England, for its 12th edition, May 3-5, 2019. The first wave of acts has just been announced, including Loyle Carner, Mabel and Liverpool’s own Louis Berry.
The list of first acts also includes Alligator, Benin City, Dancing on Tables, Dot, Emily Burns, Giant Rooks, Heavy Lungs, Indigo Lo, Molly Rainford, Our Girl, Red Rum Club, Roman Lewis, Ryan McMullan, Saltwater Sun, Sophie and the Giants, Spinn, SPQR, Tamu Massif, Vistas, and more.
Pollstar spoke with the festival’s managing director Rebecca Ayres, who has been instrumental in developing Sound City into one of the UK’s most famous talent festivals. It is nominated as Best Metropolitan Festival and Best Small Festival at the UK Festival Awards 2018.
Ayres has been working for Sound City since its foundation by Dave Pichilingi in 2008. Pichilingi decided to focus on developing artists at Modern Sky UK, a partnership between Sound City and China’s largest independent entertainment company Modern Sky, at the beginning of this year, so he asked Ayres to take over as MD.
– Rebecca Ayres
Managing director of Liverpool Sound City
What makes Liverpool’s live music scene special?
Rebecca Ayres: For a long time, it seemed as if only guitar bands were coming out of Liverpool. But the scene has become so much more diverse over the past fews years. We’ve seen the rise of artist like Zuzu, Beyond Average or strong indie-folk bands like The Vryll Society.
It’s a good scene, there’s really a kind of friendship between the bands, people get on with and support each other really well. It’s quite a small city, really, with only 500,000 people. We’ve got a lot of great venues in the city, in close proximity. It really works well for Sound City.
Is the venue scene healthy?
There’s been a few venues between 100 and 300 cap that had to close over the last few years. Luckily others have opened. We’ve had venues that had to move to different parts of the city, because of developers coming in.
Liverpool is in the process of setting up a city region music board, a steering group of people involved in the music industry in Liverpool, but also a music officer that sits in the council and can talk to city planners when there’s a case for music to be made.
What makes Liverpool Sound City stand out among the many talent festivals out there?
Sound City was one of the first. It was set up with the idea of bringing a focus to not just Liverpool, but the North West in general. We believe that some of the best music that’s ever been made comes from this region, within 25 to 30 miles from where we’re situated.
Liverpool is an incredible music city, it’s got a real spirit to it. It’s known as the UK’s friendliest city, and it’s the best place to go for a night out.
People are always surprised at what Liverpool’s like. A lot of the time they expect a very industrial city, but it’s got fantastic architecture. It’s very cheap to go out and it’s cheap to stay here.
What’s the current size of Liverpool Sound City?
We have 350 artist that play over three days. Next year, May 3-5, we’ll have around 18 venues, all within five minutes walking distance of each other, in a place called the Baltic Triangle of Liverpool.
We have around 6,000 people that attend the festival per day, and just over 2,000 people at the conference, which we run at the British Music Experience on the Liverpool Docks.
What other projects around the world run under the Sound City brand?
We also host Off The Record, which is a showcase festival and conference in Manchester that we run in partnership with From The Fields, who run Kendal Calling and Bluedot Festival. Off The Record is taking place in November around the Northern Quarter of Manchester.
We also run Sound City Career, which is an initiative where we take eight artists from the UK over to showcase at South Korea’s biggest independent music festival, Zandari Festival.
We also partner with Modern Sky on Sound Of The Xity in Beijing, which is a showcase festival that focuses on the Chinese music market.
Does the financial support of Sound City come from private sponsors only, or do you receive city support as well?
We have two companies, one’s a non-profit company limited by guarantee, and we have a private limited company, where all the commercial sponsorships and ticket sales go through.
The non-profit side is where we run the training and talent development programs through, and we have elements at the conference supported by that.
We’re actually one of Arts Council England’s national portfolio organizations, so we get some core funding from them. We don’t really get any support specifically from City Council, we get a little bit of support from Marketing Liverpool, their promotional arm, but that’s quite minimal.
The rest is ticket sales and sponsors.
What other live events and festivals around Liverpool should people have on their radar?
There’s some great ones, actually. There’s a festival coming up shortly, called the Arab Arts Festival, a celebration of Arabic music. They’ve got brilliant artists that come over from Egypt, Tunisia and the UAE as well.
There’s also a brilliant reggae festival called Positive Vibrations. They won the best-new-festival award at the UK Festival Awards two years ago.
There’s Liverpool International Psych Fest, which is taking a break this year, a brilliant festival all about psych music.
You’re also on the board of the Association Of Independent Festivals? How do you evaluate the festival market at the moment?
Artist fees seem to go up every year, so it’s a challenge to get lineups that are within realistic budgets for independent festivals. It’s also a challenge for an independent company, that may only operate one festival, to survive agains bigger operators, who might have several festivals where they can book artists into.
Exclusivity can be a challenge as well. Sometimes the major festivals will put exclusivity clauses in their contracts, forbidding artists to play within a certain proximity or however many days of the festival.
Festivals are costly to put on, and most people that are in them do it for the love of it. The AIF does a brilliant job of representing independent events. It has got around 60 member festivals, including festivals like Boomtown, Shambala and Kendal Calling.
What it the Sound City Music Entrepreneur Training?
It’s aimed at artists, who need to self-manage and market themselves in the early stages of their careers, but also people that want to enter the music business, but aren’t sure exactly which career to follow.
The skills they learn are not just about what publishing is, or what PRS do, but also about how to market yourself on a shoestring, how to write a business plan, how to pitch, it teaches them lots of skills.
Some of the people that have done the training a couple of years ago went on to companies including Warner Chappell Publishing, Sunday Best Recordings, one of the production companies at Glastonbury, Nintendo and more.
The training is open to anyone that is based in the city region of Liverpool and have a burning desire to get into and work in the music industry.
If there was one piece of advice you would give young people wanting to set foot in this business, what would it be?
Don’t ever be afraid to ask. People want good people to come into the music industry. There are more mentoring schemes than ever available to people. If you’re passionate and enthusiastic, just go and ask.
Sound City is very open to working with volunteers and interns throughout the year. People that want to work with us just contact us and ask.
If you want to work with a festival, contact other festivals in your area, and find out if they’ve got opportunities to volunteer, go and contact a label about work experience, go and ask a music manager if you can help.
Always think about what you can do for that person you’re going to help.
What’s currently taking up most of your time?
At the moment we are getting ready for Sound City next year. I’m personally working with a lot of our industry partners and sponsors to agree with them on what they are going to be doing.
I’m also managing the team day-to-day on the projects we’re working on, like Off The Record, which is in November, and also the Sound City mentoring for artists, as well as working on some upcoming projects with Modern Sky.