Escape to the future

Blog by LIVE UK under Live, Music Training & Careers

It’s not just a get-together for those interested in buzzy new bands, The Great Escape also unites some of the brightest minds and hundreds of people working at the sharp end of building artistes’ careers. Conference sessions will cover the key issues and theories will be dissected.  Rob Sandall reports on the preparations.

Brighton’s annual showcase festival and conference, The Great Escape (TGE), has seen tremendous growth since its debut in 2006, organised by HMV-owned MAMA Group across 30 local venues that play host to 300 acts, alongside a series of panels, seminars and networking events.

This year’s festival line-up includes acts such as Friendly Fires, The Joy Formidable and Max Richter, and although the artistes are an important factor in drawing crowds, operations manager Kat Morris believes that the location and careful pre-planning with partners are just as key to the event’s success.

“Brighton has a fantastic network of venues, as well as a strong live scene all year round, so it’s an ideal infrastructure that’s already in place,” she says.

“The town is a generally wonderful place to visit and close enough to London and Gatwick Airport to make it accessible for the music industry as a whole.

“But it was our involvement with the likes of the Barfly group of venues that gave people faith in us right from the start and, by choosing our partners carefully, we were able to involve them early in the planning process, which gave them a real feeling of having genuine input.

“In our first year, 5,000 fans and 700 delegates attended the event so we’ve come a long way, but we are still learning and developing

Morris also points out that, while TGE certainly enjoys the success, market research has been vital for adding value to the experience.

“We survey our attendees every year and use that feedback as the basis for shaping the following years’ events.

“Many of our delegates like the intimacy of The Great Escape and so we plan to maintain the same number of them at this year’s event in order to ensure that they get the most out of attending and find an increased likelihood of forging new business relationships.”

Texting advice

Natasha Haddad at MAMA promoting subsidiary Mean Fiddler, oversees the festival side of TGE and says that there can be some difficulty in handling the constant flux of venues opening and closing over the course of the year, as well as dealing with overcrowding and queues on the weekend itself.

She confirms that the event’s overall capacity – a total of participating venue sizes – remains at 15,000 this year.

“The nature of the festival is that people will always be in and out of the venues – this is how a lot of the buzz is created around the city. As a result, there will always be some queues, but we work hard to alleviate them,” she says.

“For instance, we operate a successful text service costing £1.50 for the whole weekend, which we use to report where the queues and secret shows are.

“We also do what we can to programme the timings and artistes in a way that minimises oversubscription, and while we try to predict the popularity of a new act when confirming them up to six months prior, we can’t stop the artistes growing past the level at which they are booked.”

Haddad says that with the likes of The xx, Mumford and Sons, Adele and Bon Iver previously making their mark on the festival, the low ticket price is something to be proud of.

“The three-day early-bird festival ticket is £45, while the three-day delegate pass is £120,” she says.

Heading the organisation of the conference this year is the business editor of online news service CMU, Chris Cooke. He says that TGE has become a “must attend” event, especially since he believes that the industry has reached a serious turning point.

“We've heard a lot of conjecture about new business models in recent years, but at the same time certain managers, promoters, labels and entrepreneurs have been busy developing new approaches for developing and monetising artistes and their music.

“Our aim is to bring as many of those people together as possible for an informed debate on where our industry is heading and to provide delegates with lots of really practical insights and tips.”

Conference attendees are largely connected with the live, recording, publishing and management industries, and Cooke believes that at a cost of £125 (with additional trade body discounts), delegates are getting a lot for their money.

“The fact that although TGE is now five years old it’s still a growing event says it all –delegate numbers have gone up year on year, despite the recession,” he says.

With a remit to shake things up in his first year of programming the entire convention, Cooke says that visitors should expect the usual broad range of subjects, as well as a few added extras.

“PRS for Music is back as host of day one for a second year and will bring with them all sorts of unique insights and a series of great panels.

“But there will be some new strands too, like the masterclasses and ‘in conversation’ programmes. We're also stepping up the number of formal networking opportunities, though the twice-daily parties for informal networking will still be very much part of the proceedings.”

For more news on the emerging and unsigned live sector see LIVE UK issue 134.
LIVE UK is a subscription only magazine, to find out more call 020 7486 7007 or go to

Photo credit: Eli Freeman


the great escape, music festival, music convention, unsigned bands, unsigned artists, music industry event, music business


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