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Music News

An Interview with Crosstown Concerts

An Interview with Crosstown Concerts
Independent thinking by Steve Slack
 
“The first time Elbow played arenas it was an entry-level ticket, £25, which was ludicrously low, but it was as much as £27.50 to park your car,” Paul Hutton, co-founder of Crosstown Concerts, says.  
 
“So, while Guy Garvey’s been up in his garret, with his fingerless mittens around his candle, writing five albums, some other bloke came along with a truck of Tarmac, chucked it down, raked it, ‘There you go, £27.50’. That just sums it up to me.”
 
All the gigs you go to are the product of a promoter. They take the risk - sorting out the venues, managing the marketing, paying the performers - and a share of the spoils. Like pretty much every participant part of the rock ‘n’ roll circus, the promoter’s times have been a changin’ though. At the top end it’s become about owning the venues, or a share of them, the bars, the merch, and the car park, on top of the tickets. 
 
So when Metropolis sold up/sold out to US giant Live Nation at the end of 2016, directors Paul Hutton and Conal Dodds had already left, having served 28-years and 18-years there respectively. After a short respite they recruited business bigwig/music fan Fraser Duffin and launched Crosstown Concerts, glass full of their original spirit. 
 
“The ethos of Metropolis, and I was there at the very start, was to be independent,” Hutton says. “We were always the ones fighting against the majors. We were the Rough Trade or the 4AD of promoters. Unfortunately, and this was through no fault of anybody’s at all, the nature of the business changed. You had to be able to rub along with the corporates while keeping your independent attitudes, which was quite difficult. I’m not going to second guess [Metropolis founder] Bob Angus’ motives, I think he was finding it a little dull and Live Nation was an option. It’s not something he would have done lightly to be fair to him.” 
 
With offices in London and Bristol, one of Crosstown Concerts early gigs was Massive Attack at the Downs in September 2016, the band’s first hometown turn for 12 years. 
 
“We get this event, it sells out and we’re back in the game,” Hutton says, 12 months later, backstage at On Blackheath, another element in the company’s already burgeoning portfolio. In 2017, Crosstown Concerts has put on shows/tours for the likes of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sigur Ros, Justice, Phoenix and Lana Del Rey, with Belle and Sebastian, Jesca Hoop, The Menzingers, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds and Bad Sounds among its upcoming dates.  
 
“A lot of people have been really good to us,” Hutton nods. “We’re promoting 95 per cent of the bands that we wanted to carry with. There’s no point in me working with a Norwegian death metal band. I know what magazines to put it in, I know what media to use, but I don’t have an intrinsic love of it and a network of marketing and friends and associates who are going to guide me through that tricky path and burn a cross in my head. 
 
“A lot of the stuff we do starts out quite left field, then, as an act progresses, the mainstream comes towards them. Foo Fighters is a prime example. They’re still pretty edgy but they’re everyone’s favourite rock band. I wouldn’t in any way say that someone like Grohl has sold out, it’s just so good that people couldn’t stop themselves going to it.  That’s exactly the sort of band/artist you want as a promoter.”
 
[CROSSHEAD] Partners
Crosstown Concerts have teamed up with ticket agent SeeTickets and CC Young, a big music biz accountant, because it does a very good job and, frankly, because its reputation rocks.
 
“I figure they wouldn’t work with us if they thought we were a bunch of scammers. We did things like that which gave us a certain amount of credibility,” Hutton explains. “From a business point of view it’s a completely different world now. We’re much more hands on. We know where the money is and we’re running a tight ship. 
 
“As a promoter, you’ve got to be able to mitigate your losses. If you can do that you’re getting more people into the venue and you’re making it better for the band. When we started out [at Metropolis] the gap between promoters and record companies and managers and agents was absolutely huge. We weren’t even in the same book let alone on the same page. Someone said to me once, ‘Great show great band, bad show shit promoter’. Now, there’s a much more shared sense of, ‘If it’s going well we're in it together, if it’s going badly we’re going to make the best of it’.” 
 
A show doing 50 per cent business looks terrible. If it can make it to 65 per cent, the promoter loses less money, the band is happier and the punters get a much better experience. Crosstown Concerts is good at selling shows out and it’s good at rescuing them too. 
 
“A lot of the bigger companies just drop the ball and move on if it’s not selling well, because they’re operating on such a massive turnover, such a huge number of shows, they just haven’t got time for it. They cut a swathe through music like that,” Hutton says in conclusion.
 
“We try and find a higher percentage of successful acts earlier than anybody else. That’s our thing. And we try and bring a bit of joy into the show. It’s not all about ‘how many tickets did we sell’. You’ve got to have that side as tight as you can but, as Conal says, we’re not a sausage machine.”
 

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