Hi Matt! Thanks for sitting down with us today. For those that don’t know, can you tell us about Small-town Sessions and Igloo Doo, and how that came about?
Well, I live in a small town just outside of Blackpool called Lytham St Anne’s. It tends to be regarded as a retirement town with not much going on for the younger generation and that’s what made me think. Thing is half the young people round here travel all over the country and world to attend events that cater to their taste in underground music, but they had nothing on their doorstep to fill the void in between. There was a nightclub here but it was a guilty pleasure (chart music). Was the kind of place the music heads hated going to but, when left with no other choice, ended up in there. I was a frustrated bedroom DJ too. I always struggled to get gigs because I wasn’t rubbing shoulders with the right people or didn’t have any friends in the right places. So just like any bedroom DJ I was desperate for an audience! So yeah with all that in mind in August 2015 I came up with the name/idea of Small Town Sessions.
The first event wasn’t until January 2016. We held it at a venue called Burlington Bar. It hadn’t been open for years so it was rough around edges, but that made it perfect for House and Techno! The night sold out!
After 3 successful events I decided it was time to go outdoors. A friend told me about a rave in Clitheroe some years ago that involved some huge inflatable igloo structures. He said it was about 5 years ago but people still go on about it all the time. So I thought to myself right, let’s get these igloos to Blackpool then, and that’s basically how Igloo Doo came about.
Can you talk to us a bit about the organisation of Igloo Doo – from conception to actually running on the day – what were the big lessons you learnt?
The organisation was good leading up to the event. The only thing I would say is that when you’re throwing a festival for the first time whatever you think your budget is, double it! Every day leading up to the event about 2 or 3 things would come up that we’d never considered or budgeted for, and that killed us financially.
Always keep lists of everything you need to do and a separate list of everything you need to get, then a 3rd list for everyone (sub contractors) you need to liaise with. Then liaise with them every week in the month leading up to the festival…Haha it’s a nightmare really! I’m still discovering lists all over my house that say random stuff like “fencing panels…get more!!!”
On the day itself we had a generator go down 2 hours before we opened but luckily the people we hired them off were able to bring a back up for us. Other than that it went smoothly, no dramas no cock-ups everything went just as we planned. It was also the first time we’d ran our own bar too. Our bar staff were amazing everything just ran perfectly, and everyone was buzzing all day and night.
Not gonna lie it felt great having people I’ve never even met before coming up to me and saying it was one of the best events they’d ever been to! That made the blood sweat and tears worthwhile. We didn’t have any huge headliners and there weren’t 10’s of thousands of people there, but I don’t know, I guess it was just the vibe in general that people were thankful for? It’s hard to explain but everyone just felt…together? If that makes that sense.
The best advice I can give for anyone who’s about to do this is you can’t do it all yourself.
Obviously we had bar staff, security and DJ’s etc. But it in terms of decision makers it was purely me and the Mrs (Kelly). You have to have a team under you who people can go to when they want to ask basic questions like “where can I plug this mic into?” or “Matt can I take my hi-vis jacket off now?”
Honestly I’ve never heard my name called so many times, just constantly ‘Matt this Matt that…Matt is it ok if???’
Trust me, get a team of decision makers you can trust. Then you can focus on the bigger problems if any arise.
Lots of things made it a success from the organisation to the staff and so on, but the main reason for the success of everything we do is our followers. We are well and truly blessed to have such a dedicated and large (considering we’ve only been around since January) following.
They’re all awesome people, like literally the exact kind of crowd any promoter would wish for. No dramas, no fights, no VIP nonsense, no posers, just great people who come out to enjoy great music…and they come up to us and thank us?? No…thank you! We call them the “Sessioners”, and we’re nothing without them.
As an event organiser, can you talk us through the key people involved, what they do, and how that all fits together on the night?
Yes definitely, how long have you got? Haha. First of all my main and most loyal resident DJ’s, COGGS (Daniel Coughlin) and JARDZ (Tom Jardine). They’re top lads and they always deliver on the night, whether they’ve got a peak set time and tear it up or they’re on warm up duty and ease the crowd in gently, it’s always on point. They’ve got perfect taste in music for the brand and yeah…good lads to have on board.
Darryl heads up our sound team and owns Lancashire PA hire who we hire the voids off. He’s become a very good friend of mine I literally found him at the top of a Google search and rang him leading up to our first event. After he kept me on the phone for 40 minutes talking about sound systems I knew he was the guy for the job! Got a lot of time for him and he helps with stuff he’s not even paid to do as well…although I did buy him lunch once! Ian from FX Hire looks after us too, we get our stage effects off him. He’s a not a bad bloke for a scouser!
I’ve got lots of good friends who often call me to see how things are going and to see if I’m ok, to check in basically. They’re all bar owners or DJs themselves so they understand the struggle and they help keep me grounded, they know who they are. One of our Doormen Jay has been a massive help he went the extra mile at Igloo Doo. Top lad.
Dan Mee, one of your students. He got my number off Facebook and rang me one day asking if he could help at our events. He’s helped a lot, he’s a due a set for his efforts I reckon! Our promo girls, photographers, videographers etc. Far too many to mention I’d be here all day but somehow whether it’s by luck or fate or whatever you wanna call it we’ve just had the best people come and get involved with us and it all just works!
Other than that it’s the crowd, who I’ve already mentioned, and last but not least my Mrs, Kelly. She helped me come up with the name Igloo Doo and if it wasn’t for her moral and emotional support I wouldn’t of had the guts to go through with the festival. She’s a good egg. On the day of our events all of these people work in perfect harmony with each other. Legends each and every one of them.
With those that you book for Igloo Doo and for Small Town Sessions, do you believe in booking the grass-roots artists from the locality, or are you aiming to pull in bigger artists? Or is it a balance of the two?
It is a balance yeah. It’s hard work really. Some underground headliners might be well known within your social circle only because your social circle is probably full of music heads, producers, DJ’s who follow that particular genre closely…so you and your mates all know who such and such is and you all think it’s a great booking. However, is it worth spending £1000 on a headliner that only you and your pals have heard of? Is that underground tech DJ who’s had a big season in Ibiza or is making waves in London really gonna pull in Debbie and Sandra from Blackpool who just wanna go out and dance to some fresh music? No it’s not. You’re probably thinking well if Debbie and Sandra aren’t tech heads then I don’t want them at my event anyway. True. But it’s the Debbies and Sandra’s who top up your numbers as a promoter. No idea who Debbie and Sandra are what am I on about now haha…
Basically If you can reach out to everyone at once (without compromising your music) then you’re doing something right, and the best way to do that is by making your parties unique, not by booking a £500 DJ from out of town that no one’s heard of just because they recently had a track in beatports top 100.
If you only get 70 odd people who come to your event every time you throw one then you’re gonna be in the exact same spot in 10 years time. Yeah you can call yourself an edgy little movement that only a few understand, but let’s be real here, we want a career out of this right?
Save your money, give the slots to your mates or local DJ’s looking for exposure and spend any dough you have on making the event unique. If you come correct with your marketing, offer something different and throw a sick party, people will come regardless of who’s on your line up. Create a vibe that is unique to your brand. When the time comes for a headliner go big…really big. But until that time comes put your brand first not your ego.
I mean we’re getting our first major headliner in January for our birthday bash. So if we’ve come this far without any big names…it is possible.
As an organiser, and also a DJ/producer, how important is volunteering to the success of the event? And on the flip-side, how important is volunteering as a gateway into ‘tapping into the industry’?
The volunteers from you guys were great, I’m only sorry I couldn’t give them more time on the day but things were so hectic! They were crucial in setting up of our games area, then telling me bluntly that it looked crap haha. They put all the stuff out and everyone was just looking at like ‘oh, is this it?’ I said to them ‘be honest with me does this look quirky or terrible? Should I pull it? Be honest!’ Luckily they were honest and said ‘yeah mate it’s a bit lame’, so needless to say we pulled the games area from the event!
I think the main thing with volunteers from a promoter’s point of view is having an extra pair of hands that come for free. When you’re starting out events the hardest thing to do is pay people, basically because you can’t give what you don’t have, so volunteers are a godsend.
That said you do need to distinguish between a volunteer and someone who is doing something for a living. For example, don’t ever expect anyone who is a professional photographer to come and take snaps for free just because they’re your mate or something. If they’re a professional and it’s their livelihood then find the money and pay them otherwise you’re just taking the p**s.
From a volunteer’s point of view it’s brilliant opportunity to get behind the scenes and see the reality of what it takes to put an event on. The organisation, the stress, the good times, the bad, all of it. If you can get involved and get a feel for this then it will give you a great insight into the industry. Not only that, it’s a huge huge networking opportunity, massively huge, can’t stress that enough. If you’re a young person and you come help us and you get behind our events then your foot is in the door, and if you happen to be a DJ you might end up getting a set at a future event, or getting a fully paid job with us. It’s golden really.
Treat it like a really fun job interview and just go in thinking ‘Right, I’m gonna follow any instructions I get down to a tee, and I’m gonna soak up everything I see throughout the day like a sponge and take all that away with me’, then hopefully some good will come out of it.
Plus you can usually get right involved at the afterparty!
For those reading, where can we next catch Small-town Sessions and Igloo Doo? Any big plans in the pipeline?
Well Igloo Doo will be back in the summer of 2017. We won’t be changing too much as it went so well for us but there will be a couple of twists! As for our more regular Small Town Sessions events, it’s been such a crazy year we’re gonna take some time off till January, at which point we’ll be bringing a big name to Blackpool to celebrate our first birthday with a bang!
The end goal is for STS to carry on throwing great parties and for us to grow organically. I hope that one day we’re in a position where everyone involved with the brand can quit their day jobs. For now though we’ve just gotta take it one event at a time!
Or, if you’re wanting to get serious and take the course Matt did, then have a look at our Complete Music Production and Music Business Course.