Here at Get In Her Ears, we’ve been committed to promoting female identifying and non binary bands and artists for a while now, so we thought it was about time we also focus on those amazing womxn working hard behind the scenes in the industry!
The first in a new series of features looking at womxn Behind The Scenes, Mari popped over to her favourite space in London, Southbank Centre, to have a chat with Alex Shaw and Phoebe Gardiner, who are both responsible for promoting a lot of the incredible gigs and events that are held there.
Find out about all the hard work they do, and all the fantastic events happening at Southbank Centre below…
Hi Alex & Phoebe, welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you each tell us a bit about yourselves and how you got started working at Southbank Centre?
Phoebe: I’ve worked in the creative industries since I graduated, or even before I graduated, and ended up specialising in Communications and PR pretty much because I like talking about stuff I love. I had always wanted to work at Southbank Centre. I love it. I performed here in the Royal Festival Hall a few times when I was younger with a choir I was in, and even conducted some of the Orchestra Of The Age of Enlightenment in the Clore Ballroom as part of a school project. When the job came up I had to go for it. I never thought I’d get it as I didn’t have any specific gigs PR experience, but I must have won them over!
Alex: I’ve always been really interested in the arts, and when I came to London to study I was really able to explore more – I see a lot of theatre, gigs and art in my spare time and honestly don’t think I could work in any other sector. Before working at Southbank Centre, I worked for an agency specialising in Arts PR which gave me the opportunity to really be thrown into working on a vast amount of campaigns, from the London National Trust arts projects to fringe theatre. I learnt a lot about managing press and clients in a short space of time, and realised where my passions lay! I really care about accessibility in the arts and that’s why I decided to apply for the role here at Southbank Centre: I get to work on such great gigs by well known and up-and-coming artists and, as a charity, I’m proud to work for an organisation where accessibility is at the forefront of programming here. It’s also home to so many great youth projects including Tomorrow’s Warriors, Kinetico Bloco, and ZooNation Youth Company. I love the idea of a piece of coverage achieved by me inspiring someone to discover something new. I think experiencing arts in this big and busy capital is so so important and ties us together.
You both work in press for Southbank Centre, can you explain a little about what your job entails?
P: I’m Press Manager for Gigs & Contemporary Music and – working with Alex – we’re responsible for being on top of all the gigs happening here at Southbank Centre and securing media coverage that spreads the word about the brilliant and diverse music programme at our venues (Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, and even on occasion, the Hayward Gallery).
A: As press officer, I share my time and focus between individual gigs, and keeping in touch with external PRs to support all artists coming here as much as possible. Alongside Phoebe, I also look after the day to day logistics of any press elements of a gig, including running the press desk and looking after photographers/filming on the night.
P: We also manage the PR and media campaigns for a tonne of exciting projects across the year, which can be anything from a series supporting emerging artists, to Meltdown – the longest-running artist-curated festival in the world.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
P: I love the days when I’m on my feet, dashing around the site, overseeing filming or a photoshoot, or running a press night. Or navigating backstage with artists, getting them to interviews. I love Meltdown festival; the whole site comes together and it’s thrilling.
A: There’s so many different elements! I love meeting artists and listening to their interviews, but I also enjoy meeting journalists for a catch up and then of course, actually getting to experience the amazing music here.
And do you have a least favourite part…?
P: It’s tempting to want to shout about everything that is going on here when actually we have to think about the larger strategy and the overall story of the programme.
A: There is SO much going on here that we have to be strategic with our comms and we can’t always spend as much time as we’d like on certain projects. I’d love to clone myself so I could make it along to everything!
I’d imagine you have no difficulty promoting such an iconic space, but how do you normally go about approaching press to cover events at Southbank Centre?
A: It really depends on the show – Southbank Centre programmes such unique events that we’re always having to bring new ideas to the table and target a range of audiences which keeps our approach fresh. The breadth of the offering here means one moment we’re working to secure coverage for a global superstar and the next, a completely unknown name – so we have to think creatively and flexibly. It keeps us on our toes for sure! The advancement of digital is an amazing thing (and crucial to our work), but with so much information out there, we also do a lot to make sure all information about the programme is available and easily accessible for journalists.
Southbank Centre is my favourite space in London (in the world, really!), and consistently puts on an eclectic range of incredible events. How are events normally curated, and such a range of artists and events selected? Is it quite a rigorous process?
A: Our artistic team is incredibly collaborative and we are lucky to have Bengi Ünsal as Head of Contemporary Music at Southbank Centre and Lexy Morvaridi as Contemporary Music Programmer at the helm. They have such an amazing knowledge of the music scene and do a brilliant job at bringing a diverse range of cutting-edge artists from all genres around the world to our venues. Inclusivity and access is at the heart of everything Southbank Centre does, as is ensuring equality across our programme.
Some of the best events/gigs I’ve ever been to have taken place at Southbank Centre (including seeing JD Samson and Mykki Blanco at MIA’s Meltdown Festival in 2017, Josh Homme at James Lavelle’s Meltdown in 2014, Laura Marling at Guy Garvey’s Meltdown in 2016, and Peaches at Royal Festival Hall last month!) – what have been your particular highlights since working there?
A: How to choose – there’s so much! My highlight here so far was seeing Moses Sumney perform in Royal Festival Hall last year. I was already a fan, but his voice was unimaginable live and he held the audience in a hypnotic trance for his entire set.
Southbank Centre may not be the first place people think of for more heavy/rocky gigs! But it’s hosted some of the most raucous artists including Iggy Pop, Peaches, Nine Inch Nails and lots more… How are these kind of events managed in such a historic, seated space?
A: That’s a good question. We have such a fantastic events and production team here who are the best in the business: they rise to every challenge and are experienced with dealing with the more high energy, daring gigs like Peaches in Royal Festival Hall last month! The venues themselves – despite being amazing historic buildings – are constantly updated to ensure the set-up is top of the range and able to accommodate musicians from all genres. As you’ve noted, we’ve seen everything from Nine Inch Nails to the hypnotic music of Stranger Things! The refurbishment of Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room in 2018 very much focused on improving access and infrastructure to enhance the experience for audience and performers alike.
Some of the spaces within Southbank Centre have recently been refurbished, can you tell us a bit about what changes have been made, and how this has affected the space?
A: Key for gigs has been the ability to transform the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer into a 1000 capacity space making Southbank Centre one of the only venues providing 2am licensed music on the South Bank. It’s now home to Concrete Lates – our monthly late night event in partnership with Boiler Room. In November, one of the stalwarts of the London jazz scene, and key member of UK jazz renegades Sons of Kemet, Theon Cross, will perform with a large band as Concrete Lates joins forces with EFG London Jazz Festival.
How have you found being womxn in the music/event industry? Are there any obstacles you’ve come across because of your gender?
A: I’m lucky enough to work with inspiring women all around me – in management positions within the press team, in the programming team and in the event management team. They all encourage me to aim high and prove there need not be a ceiling. It is noticeable to me though that there is a big inequality present in the music industry still. I’m very aware of my privileged position here in that sense, and that I am very lucky to work for an organisation that is so conscious of equality within their workforce. I do feel it’s so important that initiatives exist like PRS Foundation’s Keychange, and that we all take responsibility for helping others into the industry. Southbank Centre also hosts a regular industry Women In Music breakfast which I think is brilliant – you always leave feeling empowered and part of a growing community of powerful women!
And what advice would you give to other people wanting to get into the events industry?
A: Just to work hard and be willing to put yourself out there. People underestimate the value of being open and friendly too – you never know when you might want to reconnect with someone you’ve met in the past.
P: Network, ask advice, find a mentor, do your research!
As well as hosting events from some of the biggest names in music, Southbank Centre seems to consistently champion newer artists (as with your futuretense showcase), are there any upcoming bands/artists who’ve played there recently that you’d recommend?
A: Southbank Centre is really committed to developing artists and supporting the creative industries. We had the launch of futuretense with BBC Music Introducing earlier this month – a new initiative for audiences to discover their next favourite band for free, every Friday from 6pm – and I was blown away by Nikita Bassi’s performance. She had the most beautiful, powerful voice and her music was a brilliant fusion of cultures. I’d definitely recommend a listen and and booking to see her live now before she breaks.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
A: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us! We love working with Get In Her Ears and look forward to following this series.
P: And come on down to Southbank Centre! Over 40% of our programme is free, so we’re always encouraging people to come take a look at what’s going on; you never know what you might discover.
Thanks so much to Alex and Phoebe for answering our questions and being the first of our ‘Behind The Scenes’ feature! Find out more about everything going at Southbank Centre here.
Photo Credit: Jon Mo / @jonmophoto