LiveSource co-founders Debbie Gayle & Nick Mathius on breaking talent, Brexit and the live business

LiveSource co-founders Debbie Gayle & Nick Mathius on breaking talent, Brexit and the live business

In 2023, business is booming for LiveSource.

Founders Debbie Gayle and Nick Mathius appeared in Music Week’s Rising Star column in January 2020, as their fledgling business was beginning to make waves before Covid struck.

Interviewed for a feature in the current issue of Music Week the pair stressed that they have weathered the storm, indeed, they’re planning to expand their remit. Their client list includes Enny, J Hus, M1llionz, Miraa May, Niko B, Rema, Shaybo, Tiffany Calver, Unknown T, Young T & Bugsey and Live Nation, and they have big plans for the future.

“Just just before Covid we did our Rising Star piece in Music Week, so this is almost like a full circle moment,” said Gayle. “It’s like this is our first year, we’re now able to launch again after Covid. It feels like we’re doing alright, it’s exciting.

The pair – who featured on the Black Music Coalition’s inaugural Excellence Honourees list – are focused on establishing LiveSource as a 360 degree tour and production service, taking full leadership on logistics, booking, travel, accounting, stage production and creative direction. 

“It’s down to our work ethic, we’re hungry to do it and we can do it,” said Mathius. “It’s a lot of work, but we’d rather be in control of everything so we know it gets done to the level that we deem it needs to be done. It’s just easier that way.”

Gayle and Mathius also said that they hope that their work can help change the face of the live business. Both were included in the Black Music Coalition’s Excellence Honourees list in 2022 and are passionate about the fight for a more equal industry.

“I think within live music, it’s about diversity being reflected within the infrastructure, and not just here and there but all the way through – from the person at the front of the stage all the way through to the person in the back office,” said Gayle. “I feel like we should be represented across the board.”

Here, in an extract from our interview, Gayle and Mathius open up about Brexit, breaking talent and more...

Alongside emerging from the complications caused by the pandemic, you’re also facing the disruption caused by Brexit to touring visas. How significant is that problem proving so far?

Nick Mathius: “That is a nightmare. Before, we could just book and go, now we’ve got to take a list of every single thing we’re travelling with and make sure it’s correct. It’s a lot harder when we’re travelling with bands, that’s where the real issues and technicalities can have an effect on people’s livelihoods. Musicians could travel and tour a country or a region for a month, now we’ve got to pay for these visas. That’s having a real impact. There are a lot of talented musicians in the UK, younger ones as well, and it’s diminishing what they can look forward to experiencing. For artists, it’s blocking the amount of growth they can have. American artists can tour the whole of the United States, which is bigger than Europe, and they’re fine. So [for] UK artists now, is it just the UK? That’s tiny.”

Debbie Gayle: “It changes things for new artists that may not have label backing or big budgets behind them because, ultimately, it will cost them more to tour and it may not make sense.”

Brexit is blocking the amount of growth artists can have

Nick Mathius

How do you measure success?

NM: “Still being here and active right now is a very big deal. With the way Covid impacted our whole industry and the fact that we were so new and so young in it, we didn’t have the connections where other people could go to someone and say, ‘Hey, I worked with you 10 years ago.’ We don’t have any of that. We’re still here, this year is looking very, very good and artists are still trusting us despite not working with us for long. That’s one of our biggest successes right now.”

DG: “For me, success is doing what you set out to do, when after every show an artist, a client or their manager is ecstatic and pleased, because it’s their craft. When an artist comes off stage and feels that way, you can’t recreate it. Seeing that every time there’s a show is a small success.” 

Is there a tour that you’re most proud of?

NM: “I’m proud of all of them. I know it sounds like a cliché, but everyone we’ve worked with is coming from a different place. They’ve all got their own different challenges. We’ve worked on big tours; we’ve done J Hus, his last one [in 2017] that ended in London, that was amazing. We had to go through a lot of hurdles for that. There are also other [smaller] tours, but for getting them off the ground and making them work as well as keeping everyone safe, happy and healthy, they are still successful in my eyes as well.” 

DG: “We’ve done support tours with developing artists and those are still ones that I’m super proud of. I’ve done tours where it’s just me and the artist on the road across Europe. Those still give me that same rewarding feeling as doing a global star’s headline show.”

I do think the live industry is trying to increase opportunities

Debbie Gayle

How has the landscape changed in recent years for Black music in the live space? 

NM: “Perceptions are still going to be what they are, but the way it’s being handled has changed, more so because of the people within the scene now. You’ve got the likes of myself and Deb and other people that have been there [a while]. People know that we are reliable, they know that there’s going to be a certain level of professionalism. That already makes it feel more comfortable than if they have no connection to anyone working on the event. That’s one of the biggest things we’ve seen, when we return to venues it’s like, ‘Oh OK, it’s you guys.’ Their anxieties decrease and they’re more comfortable.”

DG: “The success of Black music being reflected in the infrastructure behind it in the live sector will help change things. It can’t just be, ‘Oh, the venues know Debbie and Nick, so that’s fine,’ or, ‘The venues know this person or that person.’ I don’t think that’s beneficial at all. I think that creates a whole different problem.”

Are the pathways into the business open enough for young people from all backgrounds? 

DG: “I do think [more] opportunities would help. There’s a misconception that Black professionals within the industry can only work across Black music. Nick and I have worked across the board, that includes working on genres that aren’t typically seen as Black music. We’ve worked at world music stages, at electronic dance festivals, Nick’s done Christian pop, I’ve worked on metal, rock and indie shows. But I think because we are Black and because we operate within Black music, it’s often seen as though that’s our space, and we should stay there. That’s a challenge and a barrier that not only we face, but also people coming into the industry. Not every Black lighting engineer likes rap or grime, they might not want to work in that sector. But I do think the live industry is trying and taking notice. People do seem willing but it’s about timing, things aren’t just going to happen overnight or even in a year.” 

How would you sum up the role of live music in the industry today? Does it get the respect that it deserves? 

NM: “It’s the last tangible part of music. The only thing you can actually feel now is being in a venue or at a festival. Instagram views and followers are great, but it’s not a real feeling. If Instagram turned off tomorrow, it’s gone. This is the last thing where an artist is in control of their environment, they can control what they put out to their fans, how they make their fans feel, and get feedback instantly. That’s still, to me, one of the most amazing things – when you’re on the stage and the crowd reacts to a song for the first time. You can always see when it hits an artist, they’re like, ‘Oh, they sang that back.’ But I feel like it’s still respected because it’s business. Shows make a lot of money for whoever’s putting them on and working on them. It’s definitely respected because of the amount of money you can bring in for an artist, a festival, a city or even a country.”

Read the full interview in the current issue of Music Week. Subscribers can read it online here.

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