Marking the first instalment of our brand new feature, Industry Insiders, we speak to Tom Hoyle, renowned promoter and co-founder of Bristol-based event night, The Blast.
In this interview, and others to follow in the Industry Insiders series, we’ll uncover and share insight into how some of the UK’s most successful events operate today, with tips and anecdotes straight from the teams behind the events themselves.
Looking back on how The Blast first came to be, the many challenges the brand faced in its early days, and providing vital advice to those looking to maximise ticket sales in the modern digital age – check out the full interview with Tom below to gain enviable behind-the-scenes knowledge of the event industry.
The Blast is arguably Bristol’s biggest and best-known clubbing brand, having brought a deluge of renowned electronic acts to the city over many years. Tell us more about its inception. When did The Blast take form? Where did the name come from and what is its ethos?
“I can’t remember exactly when we started The Blast but it was sometime around 2006-2007. It started out simply as a small bunch of mates who felt that the current big nights in Bristol weren’t offering us the sounds we were really into at the time. We always had the best nights at house parties and free-parties where the music policy was a bit less restrictive and we wanted to bring a bit of that multi genre, heavy-bass-led vibe into the local clubs.
“Where the name came from is actually a total mystery to me now I think about it! It was our mate Ollie who came up with it originally but he actually moved to Australia a few years ago so is no longer part of the team.”
What were the toughest challenges you faced when the brand first began? What were its biggest hurdles and how did you overcome them?
“There were several challenges starting out. The biggest one was probably finances – we were literally putting our hands in our own pockets to stump up the cash to pay artists each event. Sometimes it was a choice between paying the gas bill or spending a bit more on artists or promotion for the next show in the hope that you would make it back if the event went well!
“Also a lot of the bigger acts that we initially wanted to book as headliners wouldn’t play for us as they didn’t know who we were, and a lot of the venues that were popular in Bristol at the time wouldn’t give inexperienced promoters a look in. However we soon managed to turn these challenges into opportunity as we found our own niche booking some of the less in demand and more interesting acts, and working with the venues that were available to us.
People that we could afford and who weren’t playing the same sounds that were popular at other events in the city around that time. You could say that overcoming these challenge enabled us to find our niche.”
It’s been noted that The Blast came to be at a time when audiences were segmented into tribes, the likes of punks and goths, and that one of your goals was to bring together different styles of music and music fans. How has that benefited your brand? Do you think tribes still exist in this day and age?
“This is kind of true, yes. Certainly early 2000s in Bristol you had some big strictly DNB events like Drive By and Mutiny, then you had Blowpop doing Breaks and a bit of Hip Hop. And Scream etc doing techno and house. But there weren’t really any bigger multi-genre nights mixing everything up together.
“Our ethos was just a love of anything bass-driven and fun, so we went out on a limb with lineups that included DNB, Jungle, Breaks, a lot of Old Skool rave acts like Altern8 and Shut up and Dance etc.. We also booked people like DJ Assault, Deekline, Toddla T, Oneman, Sinden, Tayo, Diplo etc.. The only unifying theme was bass and a vibe, rather than being constrained to a particular BPM or genre. And it was around this time that the underground garage/grime/breaks crossover sound in London was evolving into Dubstep/140 and we started working with Caspa and Rusko and Skream and Benga etc very early on…
“I think there are still some tribes within music and youth culture, and that tribes are still important in helping people find their identity as an individual within a city or a scene. But it’s much more common nowadays to find people who say they listen to “a bit of everything” rather than being staunchly tied to one genre. I think we have streaming and stations like Rinse and SWU to thank for this as it’s so much easier to absorb a wide range of underground sounds now that it used to be when you had to actually go to an event or a specialist record store in order to hear the newest sounds that were just emerging.”
Branching out of your comfort zone, selling out 300-capacity shows across the city, The Blast has also organised festivals and ‘mega raves’ in the past, such as Shockout and STB. How did you make the leap from small intimate shows to huge spectacles? Have you ever sought out financial backing in the form of partnerships or sponsorships? And if so, how did you go about acquiring investment?
“We grew quite slowly and organically to be honest. We’ve never had any external financial backing or real sponsorship, but we just kept putting on the best events we could and reinvesting whatever we could afford from the profits into the next one to keep slowly growing and evolving. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t have entertained the idea of investment from the right source if it was offered!
“We are fortunate enough to have a lead booker who is fanatical about new music and who has a real talent for spotting exciting new artists who are on the rise. We also had a buzz about us and a rapport with a lot of the acts we were booking in the early days, so we often found ourselves getting a cheap booking with someone who was blowing up, or had artists that we built relationships with because they loved the vibe of the events. We also got in early with Motion when it was still a skatepark and we worked with the owners and management there to build the space and grow with it at the same time.
“Finally, we’ve been very careful about who we partner with and have been lucky enough to collaborate with some great brands and labels who we could work with collectively to progress the events to the next level over time. For example, we teamed up with Slammin Events to help produce our Siren and Sequences shows at Bristol Amphitheatre. This was a logical choice as they have so many years of experience putting on large scale events and they come from a rave background originally so they understand what we’re about. It means we can focus on our thing which is booking and promoting the music, and we can rely on them to take care of the production side of things.”
With regards to the notable talent you’ve booked to perform at past events, how do you begin to decide on who should be approached? What research if any is undertaken before you book an act to play?
“My business partner, Rob, is the driving force behind our booking and programming. As mentioned earlier he has an incredible understanding of music coupled with fanatical interest in new and up and coming artists which means he’s always putting us on to exciting new talent. We also have a collective love of certain sounds which naturally leads to a shared vision that certain acts would just fit the vibe we want to present at the shows.
“In terms of the research, it used to be just whether we’ve seen them perform or heard a mix and been blown away, or if there’s a real buzz about someone and we’re desperate to bring that to a show and witness it first-hand. Nowadays you can also do a lot of digging online and find out how their other shows have been going, what kind of hype they have on their socials etc. Once you’ve decided who’s in your sights then it’s a case of convincing them (or more commonly their agent or manager) that your event would be a good fit for them and finally agreeing to the fee!”
When it comes to promoting your events, which channels have you found to be the most effective in boosting ticket sales and awareness? Where would you advise aspiring promoters to spend their time, energy and resources?
“Instagram is by far the biggest platform for us at the moment. That and the mailing list. But it really depends on where your audience is to be honest. If you have a younger crowd you might find TikTok more beneficial, likewise with older audiences you often find physical promo has a greater impact so we invest more into street posters or magazine ads for certain shows. I think the most important question to ask yourself is who you think your audience are and where they spend their time (online or in the real world). Then think about the most impactful and cost effective ways that you can present your event to them within those spaces.”
Following on from the last question, what tips or pieces of advice do you have for an upcoming promoter looking to launch an event or brand in 2023, given the state of the economy and the current cost of living crisis:
“The most important questions to ask yourself before putting on events are the same now as they always have been. What need can your event satisfy and what makes your event unique or different from others already on offer? If the artists on your lineup are playing loads of other shows, and you’re not offering anything different or presenting your event in a unique way then your event won’t stand out and you’ll struggle. If you’re offering something different and hopefully catering to a crowd or a sound whose needs aren’t currently being met within your city or local area then you have a much better chance of success.
“I’d also say it’s vital to be realistic about what you can afford and what you can achieve to start off with. You might have aspirations to book huge acts and sell out the biggest venue in your area, but put your ego in check and understand that it’s much better to work within your means and build up a following by working with acts you can afford, in venues that you can fill with a good crowd and not bankrupt yourself at the first throw of the dice! It’s way better (in my opinion) to have a busy event in a small venue where you can manage it properly and everyone has a great time, than it is to overextend yourself and end up with an under- attended event in a big space where everyone has a disappointing night and you walk away from it stressed out and having lost money.”
Finally, having worked with us for some years now, can you tell us what makes Skiddle stand out from other ticketing services? And what would you recommend to someone looking to sell tickets through Skiddle in the future?
“For me the nice thing about working with Skiddle is the personal touch. We’ve worked with ticket providers in the past who take days to get back to you when you have a problem, don’t understand us as an organisation or our audience, and who are often approaching it from a tech perspective over anything else. By contrast, Skiddle have always been really responsive and helpful in the event that we ever have any issues or queries.
“We also find the platform very intuitive and easy to use, it feels like it has been put together from a promoter’s perspective and a lot of thought has gone into providing a slick and well thought out service. It’s easy to set up an event, easy to monitor tickets and change allocations, easy to embed a ticket widget into our website, and easy to find audience insights etc which help us to be responsive in how we market and manage an event. It’s super reassuring to be able to see how old our audience are, where they are based, what similar acts they like etc. This just makes the whole process a smoother ride which is what you need as a promoter so you can focus on selling the tickets and producing the best quality events you can.”
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