Lucy Dickins is hard to get a hold of, which shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing that WME’s new UK head of music is having her busiest year yet. Fresh off tour with James Blake, who completed a U.S. headline run in March, she’s been on the road with Mumford & Sons, who are currently playing European arenas. The band completed the first North American leg of its ongoing Delta tour with a sold-out performance on March 31 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis, drawing 17,157 and racking up a $1.2 million gross.
It was one of three shows that catapulted the Grammy-winning rockers to the top of Pollstar’s new LIVE75 chart in April. Paul McCartney is the only other British artists to have achieved this feat so far.
Even those artists on Dickins’ roster that aren’t currently touring are keeping her busy. Rex Orange County for instance is working on his new record. Mabel, who’s been stacking up YouTube views like crazy with her latest single. “Don’t Call Me Up”, is plotting her debut record, and Adele is writing new material.
Things don’t look like they’re going to slow up either, with James Blake back on the road in time for the summer festivals, several of which are going to be headlined by Mumford & Sons this year. The band also announced that it would take its Gentlemen of the Road concert series on tour again next year.
We were lucky to catch her on a car journey en route to the Music Week Awards in London, where she was nominated – and won – the Live Music Agent category.
Do you prefer touring arenas or smaller venues?
I think small venues are exceptionally important in getting you to an arena, although it seems to be the case these days that lots of bands go straight to arenas on the back of one record. Not quite sure I can get my head around that, if I’m really honest.
Personally, I like the small tours. The arenas are fun, but I think you need to have a balance. Mumford & Sons played what could be considered a smaller venue for them in Paris the other night, and it was incredible. Such a good vibe. It made me remember the amazing time we had in smaller rooms and the vibe.
I think people forget how important small venues are in building careers. I’ve seen some of the best shows of my life in small venues. Seeing so many regional venues shut down is heartbreaking. That’s where we all started out.
Joseph Longo / Invision / AP – Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons
Today, the band sells out arenas, but Dickins remembers starting out in the clubs of the UK. “We really grass-rooted it,” she says.
Speaking of incredible shows. Do you remember the show that changed your life?
I do. It didn’t change my life, but it was probably the most impactful of my career, and that was when Hot Chip played the Astoria [in London], which obviously no longer exists.
For me, that was like: ‘I’ve made it. My band’s got to the Astoria’. Looking back, what was it, like 1,000 cap? But at the time it was a real benchmark of your career when you got to play the Astoria.
When was that?
I’ve been representing Hot Chip for 16 years, so it’s got to be 14 or 15 years ago.
Unfortunately I only know about that venue from stories.
It was amazing. I saw so many amazing gigs in that venue, it was incredible. So, I think that was a real peak for me.
But then, obviously, how can I not say Adele at Wembley Stadium, because that was phenomenal. The memories of that whole tour will stay with me forever.
Jamie T’s comeback….
It’s a tough question, because I’ve got lots of stories or feeling about different parts of my career.
– Adele enjoying the home field advantage at Wembley Stadium
The concert was a definite career highlight for Dickins
Then let’s talk about a few more. What else comes to mind?
With Mumford & Sons we played every single venue regionally, we really grass-rooted it. There was a moment when you could just tell by the vibe in the room, and how quickly we were selling tickets out, that something was coming.
How has the game changed since then?
It used to be, ‘how quickly can you sell a show out,’ while in this day and age it’s like ‘let’s just sell the show out.’ There’s just so many bands out there.
Has streaming, which places a wealth of artists at people’s fingertips, changed the way you conduct your business?
Streaming definitely had an impact in the sense that you don’t get those artists anymore that have four or five albums underneath their belt before headlining festivals, they’re becoming less and less and less.
Playlisting has led to people listening to many different bands all the time. That’s why festivals are going down the road of double headliners or have artists curating one day events, because there isn’t a body of work out there no more, which is a real shame, it’s so single led.
What is more, streaming figures can be huge, but they don’t necessarily translate to tickets.
But they can?
Yes, King Princess is a prime example. She’s a new artist, her streaming figures are going through the roof. We put a show on sale the other day, and she sold out 1,100 tickets in less than 30 minutes.
You can get a feel for it. Rex Orange County streaming figures are huge, and luckily his live figures are huge, but there are a lot of artists where that isn’t the case.
Do you have a favorite festival?
There’s a lot of European festivals I love, there are some brilliant festivals out there, where you, the artists and the fans get well looked after.
Do you have a favorite country to visit on tour?
No. I’ve got lots of favorite ones.
What first inspired you to get into this business?
It was a bit of an accident really. I wanted to go into film and was applying for jobs at film companies. I kind of wanted to do what I’m doing now, but in the film business, but the roles I was getting were really boring.
I was literally out of college for two days, and my dad said I had to get off my back side and go and do something, because he wasn’t going to pay for me. So, he said, ‘come into my office and work for me.’
It started like that. I went from there to a record company, worked my way up, left it again to go back into live, and discovered that, actually, I’m all right at this. Slowly but surely, I got my own roster of artists, Hot Chip were probably the first ones I signed and then broke.
From then onwards it was just growing, with Jamie T, Laura Marling and Jack Penate, who introduced me to Adele. I met everyone I work with today at small grassroots venues, where they all started out.
Paul Harries – Lucy Dickins
Wanted to get into film, ended up in the music business and discovered: “Actually, I’m all right at this.”
What was the biggest mistake of your career, and what did you learn from it?
You make mistakes every day, don’t you? Nothing major that springs to mind, there’s not been one massive fuck up, but I’m sure I make mistakes every single day of my life, and will continue to do so, but that’s how you learn.
Obviously I talk a lot (as you can tell), and I’ve never been afraid to ask someone, if I don’t really understand something. There’s always going to be something in this job that I’m not going to understand, but someone will. Just don’t be afraid to say, ‘can you explain it to me?’
Did you have someone giving you valuable advice such as this in your career, anyone you’d consider a mentor?
My dad, without a doubt. And my brother. They’ve played huge parts in my career. My dad taught me everything I know, how to be an agent. He was the best teacher you could ever possibly want. I owe my entire career to him. He’s the best.
My brother Jonathan (who I’m immensely proud of) is pretty much my soundboard in everything I do.
Your biggest miss?
It depends on what you call a miss and how you define success.
Speaking to an agent, artists you missed out on come to mind.
There have been artists, but I can’t name them, because their agents will know. (laughs)
But I definitely don’t sign my artists because I think they’re going to be big. I never thought Hot Chip would be worth three Brixton Academies. I signed them because I loved them, and I thought they were interesting. I sign things because I have a gut feeling, because it’s something that I truly love.
If they don’t ever become massive then I don’t care. I just want to be part of their careers and work with great acts, because they teach you.
Where can you be found during a show?
Watching the gig.
Which artists are you particularly fond of at the moment. Who should people have on their radars?
Rex Orange County, MorMor, King Princess, Mabel. I got quite a few. Just my roster, really, cause it’s brilliant. (Laughs)
Actually, Chinatown Slalom.