Q’s With Impact International Honoree Beckie Sugden: ‘We Have All Grown In Lockdown’

Beckie Sugden.
Courtesy of ICM Partners
– Beckie Sugden.
The ICM Partner agent is part of Pollstar’s inaugural Impact International honorees.

Beckie Sugden joined ICM Partners/Primary Talent International in the UK this summer, bringing her predominately U.S. roster with her, including Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Russ, Noname, Mick Jenkins, T-Pain, Ghostemane, Mac Ayres, Soulection, Joe Kay and more.

When Pollstar reached out to speak about Sugden’s Impact International nomination this year, a lot more was said than couldn’t be made to fit inside her honoree’s profile. So, here’s the full Q&A, which touches on the realities of facing coronavirus and Brexit-related bureaucracy at the same time, the vision and hunger of Russ, as well as new endeavors she embarked on when there were no live events around.
Pollstar: The UK is opening back up, at least in terms of COVID restrictions. There are questions around new restrictions posed by Brexit. Please describe your state of mind in the middle of 2021.
Beckie Sugden: Optimistic and positively challenged would be a fair representation of my state of mind at present! It is a testing time and that is set to be the theme for a while. Every day we are facing new obstacles, but I am looking at it all positively as a chance to learn and grow. Whilst the UK and a handful of other markets are now open for business there is also a lot of countries that are not and as an international agent with a predominately U.S. based roster, it’s something that is challenging to navigate. 
There is so much more to consider beyond the complexities of putting a tour together normally, there is now vaccination and testing requirements, scenarios such as a crew member becoming ill on tour, lockdowns being implemented, fluctuation tax rates and much more. Ultimately though agents are problem solvers, and the pandemic is certainly our biggest test yet but a test we are all very much equipped and ready to deal with. 
How have you stayed busy when tours weren’t allowed to go ahead? 
Personally, I qualified as a volunteer vaccinator in-between lockdown’s and have been helping with the vaccination effort in the UK. This has unquestionably been one of the most enriching and humbling experiences of my life. If you told me I would be administering injections even a year ago I would have laughed you out of the room! 
My husband also set up a food business during the pandemic, so I have been using all my skills to help him do this. I can even program a till system now! I am the kind of person that is always looking for challenges so there is always something in the pipeline. 
Why was it the right time to move to ICM Partners? 
It’s never the wrong time to join ICM partners! This is a company on top of its game with some of the best people in the business representing some of the biggest talent in the world. Plus given how multi-dimensional an artist’s career now is, ICM is unrivalled in what they can offer an artist beyond simply touring. 
I’ve admired what the team at ICM and Primary Talent have done from afar for a long time, so I am very excited to be here and for the opportunities this affords my artists and myself to take things to the next level. Already the company team spirit and natural willingness to share knowledge has been like nothing I have ever experienced. 

Russ performs on stage at the 2018 Governors Ball Music Festival. June 2, 2018 in New York City.
Steven Ferdman/Getty Images
– Russ performs on stage at the 2018 Governors Ball Music Festival. June 2, 2018 in New York City.
Sugden says Russ has an unparalleled work ethic, which is easy to believe, considering his output.

Picking one of your clients, Russ, in what ways does he encompass what you’re looking for when signing talent? 

Truly what I am looking for is talent, vision, hunger to succeed and a want to work. Russ is the perfect example here as not only is he one of the smartest people I have worked with, but he has all these things in abundance. He makes incredible music, much of which he writes, records and produces himself, plus he is prolific. 
When I first started working with him, he was dropping tracks bi-weekly on Soundcloud and continues to keep his fans engaged with regular music. This was a self-imposed work ethic that rightly got him a lot of attention quickly and that he has continued to implement to great effect. 
In addition to this his drive and vision is unparalleled, he knows where he wants to get, how he wants to get there, and he is willing to put in the work it takes. He also listens to his team, if we disagree on anything if I can present an intelligent argument as to why I have taken that approach and how feel it would benefit his career he will listen and consider my perspective and we always find a positive way forward.
One thing I think that many artists could learn from Russ is how closely connected he is to his fans and how accurately he interprets those interactions. He will say to me he’s feeling good interaction in certain territories and the tickets he feels he can do, and his accuracy is quite astounding! 
There are so many great examples of this but none greater than when he played Portugal for the first time. He felt he could do around 10,000 tickets so as a compromise with the promoter we started in a 4000-cap venue, with upgrades held and ended up within 48 hours in the Altice Arena with 13,500 tickets sold! 
My biggest challenge is getting promoters to believe he is as big as he says so there is a lot of attention put into the correct venue selection so we can move through capacities or upgrade.  He is of course an anomaly in many ways but truly his understanding of his business and his craft has seen him rise to the top and stay there. 
What are your main takeaways from the pandemic?
I think the improved bond with promoters and managers has been a highlight. We’ve all been in the same boat, all fighting for survival, and the understanding, kindness, and compassion we’ve all shown each other has been heart-warming and it’s important we continue to act this way. If someone is reacting badly to anything I have found myself wanting to understand the reaction rather than bark back. Often there is something more at play. I think we have all done a lot of growing in lockdown and I hope we don’t forget these personal life lessons. 
Also focus only on what you can control, don’t waste your energy wishing things differently. My sister is an athlete and she taught me this a long time ago but never has the need to follow this philosophy been stronger. I can’t change how this situation pans out, but I can be prepared for it when it does.
What has the crisis personally taught you?
A realization of how much of a social being I am and how much I love being around people. How important being active is for me and how much of an outdoors person I am! Plus, how creative I am, I have spent a lot of the worst of the pandemic sewing outfits and not being scared to challenge myself in that respect. 
How have you motivated yourself, your team and your clients through this challenging time? 
I’ve kept communicating and let them know I am here for them all in both a work and personal context. I’ve felt a responsibility to stay positive for the sake of my team and my artists and check in on everyone as we all struggled through such a dramatic change in our workflow and lives. 
Ultimately there is an end to this situation, and I’ve kept reminding everyone of that fact! It may not be falling in line with our hoped timeline, but this will change for the better, whatever that looks like.
What do you foresee for the coming year in live?
A lot of shows! It’s going to be busy worldwide for a while. As agents we must be more aware than ever of what is happening around us. There is going to be a lack of avails, lack of festival slots and an abundance of artists looking to tour and tours looking to announce. There will be some winners but obviously some losers as the supply and demand chain is in total imbalance. 
This all said, I also think we will in the short term see more shows pushing back as key territories like Germany struggle to re-open, but hopefully this will be short lived and multi-country touring will be back on its feet within a year. 
Also, there is more repairing to do and audience confidence to regain. There is at present an issue with sold out shows, not getting sell out attendance, which it can only be assumed is because people are scared. This will hopefully change as people continue to see events succeed with low COVID rates and see the positive results from research being carried out. 
Your thoughts on inclusivity in live entertainment: where are we and what can improve the situation?
As an industry we are still a long way off and there is a lot to do. A major draw for me to ICM was how they have addressed gender parity and have already surpassed the goal of a 50/50 balance in their staff. This needs to be the norm and not the exception. We all need to do better and this industry of all should be an inclusive and safe space for everyone, no matter of gender, sexual preference or skin color.
Whilst there are things we can and should do short-term, there needs to an addressing of education and outdated systemic norms overall within society, this is not something with an immediate fix but something we need to work together to change. 
How do you foresee approaching sustainability going forward?
I foresee it being an important issue for an increasing number of artists and we are already having these discussions on a more frequent basis. Mainly this is around initial changes that can be implemented immediately such as artist addressing what is requested on their riders to reduce plastic and other non-recyclables backstage, but also larger considerations to reduce a tours’ carbon footprint, such as using local crews, production, and support artists to reduce travel. 
The impact that touring has on the planet needs addressing by the industry or decisions will eventually be taken out of our hands as the situation continues to worsen.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishments in your career and why?
I always find this hard to answer as I feel my biggest accomplishments are yet to come, but obviously working with and developing artists like Anderson .Paak and Russ from the beginning of their commercial careers is a huge highlight. 
Truly though surviving everything I have so far is my biggest accomplishment! It’s been a tough road to this point, but one I would not change as it’s made me resilient, knowledgeable, and shaped me into the person I now am.