Having risen over the last 13 years from playing gigs on London's grassroots circuit, to staging their own mini festivals around the globe and opening their own venues, it is fair to say Mumfords & Sons have gained a unique perspective on the live industry.
Their Gentlemen Of The Road shows have seen them put on bespoke bills in unusual locations, while band member Ben Lovett (pictured) has just opened Lafayette, his second London venue after Omeara.
To mark this unique approach to the live industry, the bassist was joined by his long-time manager and live agent – Adam Tudhope and Lucy Dickins respectively – for the keynote address at the International Live Music Conference's Futures Forum in London on Friday (March 6) to share their experience and knowledge from the road.
Here are six things we learned from their discussion.
1. There's no trick, you really do have to work hard
There are no shortcuts to be gleamed from Mumford & Sons' live success, and the cliches about hard graft are all true. "[They] toured non stop, I'd never seen a work ethic like it and it's continued," explained Lucy Dickins of the band's efforts. "They work hard and deserve everything they've ever got. Their attention to detail: their shows, the way they treat their fans, their crew, has been there from the start. It's never changed, it's there at the core." It is so central to Mumfords' outlook, they almost had a motto for their touring atttitude. "At the beginning we all said, 'You're entitled to nothing that you don't go out and get for yourself'," recalled Ben Lovett. "It meant we worked really hard and we took a lot of pride from in the first year or two of the band."
2. It's a global industry... of individuals
While now a planet-spanning live act, the band have continued to work with the same promoters in each market as their audiences have grown. "Getting to know somebody and having that relationship has been really important to this band. They're really interested in people as a group. So it's about the relationship with the band," suggested manager Adam Tudhope of the loyalty the group have shown to their promoters, although he stressed there was also a practical benefit for artists to build these relationships too. "It's also about the relationship the promoter has with the market they're in," he explained. "Them getting to know your band and working out the best way to market them has felt important to us... Promoters aren't a bank for us, they're enablers of the dream and you have to have a relationship to do that... A bunch of those people [we work with] may have ended up working at the bigger companies, most of them do now, but it's about the person more than the company."
3. If you build it they will come... they really will!
Mumford & Sons have staged nearly 20 of their Gentlemen Of The Road events around the globe, putting on mini-festivals with bespoke line-ups on greenfield sites in Scotland, Australia, South Africa, the US and beyond. According to Dickins, creating these events is not as difficult as it might first appear – bar two main concerns... "The two things that take the longest are finding the site and finding the line-up. Other than that it's pretty straight forward," she said. "Once you've find the site, everything else falls into place, and then you have your dream line-up and then you have to marry that with people who are available to do it and that takes forever! It's actually really straightforward, apart from those two issues."
4. Greening your show will cost you, but it's worth it
With their global footprint expanding, so too has Mumford & Sons' carbon footprint, something the group are keen to tackle. Though as Adam Tudhope explained, you have to be serious, realistic and commit resources to be serious about greener touring. It's more than just a line on a press release. "It's something on this last tour [for album Delta] we really wanted to take seriously for the first time," the manager said of the band's environmental measures. "It was something we were thinking about a lot before, but this was us doing it properly. We worked with a company who sent a person on the road with us who started a whole number of initiatives but was able to calculate the carbon costs of our touring, which we're offsetting. The key thing you have to commit to is spending money. It costs you money to be greener, that's the reality."
5. There is a cost to touting – and your fans pay it
With the act among those taking measures to preventing touting of their shows, Tudhope explained the band believed it was an issue worth tackling because the people who pick up its cost are ultimately their fans. "There was a US arena tour that generated, we estimated, many millions for the secondary market and the touts," he explained. "When we looked at that we thought, 'It's not that we wanted that money, it's that we didn't want our fans to pay it', because that's not what we set the ticket price at, we wanted to make it affordable. That piece of evidence galvanised us really strongly to do something about it. Luckily other managers and artists felt that way too and we've been able to create a really good coalition around the FanFair Alliance which has been very effective in this country."
6. The live industry should celebrate the differences
Warning the room that he could spend an entire panel talking on this issue alone, Ben Lovett cautioned the live biz against standardising and homogenising artistic output in the pursuit of profit. "It's the uniqueness that fans and artists want from festivals and venues," he observed. "People don't want it to be a cookie cutter so why are we pushing towards a cookie cutter? It's running away from the goal, people want unique experiences." With both his London venues – Kings Cross' recently opened Lafayette joining London Bridge's Omeara earlier this month – subscribing to this policy, and with artists including the likes of Beck (who told the bassist he was really struck by a "suit case of trinkets" the Omeara staff presented him with when when he played the venue) keen to play, Lovett's freestyle approach is making the point for him.
* Music Week subscribers can read our cover story interview with Mumford & Sons, plus Ben Lovett's views on venue ownership and his in depth thoughts on live music. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.