Lisa Paulon is the Organiser of the Camden Crawl, north London's annual, multi-venue celebration of new music. She talks about her career path through the music industry and advises aspiring festival organisers to find a good therapist...
Full name/age/job title:
Lisa Paulon, age indeterminate (!), and I’m the organiser of the Camden Crawl, an annual metropolitan music festival in London. This year, I’m also launching the Dublin Crawl, a similar event for Ireland.
Please give us an overview of your average day.
My overflowing inbox is a pretty good overview of what I do – or maybe more accurately what I don’t manage to squeeze into an average day! I usually start early, around 7am, because the hours before 9am are the only time I get alone.
From 9am, whatever else I may need to think about, I’m at full tilt until the evening: supervising the co-ordination of our promotional work, the composition and collation of artist contracts, attending meetings with the local authorities whose regulations we need to meet in order to hold the festival, ensuring that we maintain good communication with the agents and promoters representing the acts, soothing concerns and tackling minor crises.
I work on the Crawl from around the July preceding our annual slot in early summer through to the weeks following the festival. It’s usually the four or five months before the festival itself which are most hectic, however – send me an email at that time at your peril!
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That it’s full of glamorous parties and hob-nobbing with famous people! There are certainly opportunities to meet your favourite bands, or to attend an awards ceremony or two, but by and large managing a festival is a lot of face time with people who work behind the scenes. You have to take pride in the quality of your festival, and want to put the graft – often invisible – into making it as good as it can possibly be. It’s much more about getting your admin right than putting your glad-rags on.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
The volume and variety of the workload. I’m a terrible procrastinator, and though I work well to a deadline, it really has to be looming before I take notice of it. That makes juggling the many different balls involved in managing a festival tricky for me, but it’s tough by anyone’s standards: from the logistical difficulties of booking an act to the creative tensions of crafting a bill, there are a number of functions involved in festival management which in many other sectors would be undertaken by a team of trained specialists. You have to wear many hats in this game, though.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
I fell in love with post-punk at a formative stage in my development and have never quite shaken free of it! I genuinely love music, and that’s what powers my drive to be involved in promoting exciting new bands – the Crawl is about bringing new music to a wider audience, and our punters come because they know they’re going to hear something new.
I’m from Chicago, and went into PR and marketing with a number of independent record labels, like Wax Trax and Caroline. In 1991, I relocated to London to set up the European headquarters of Sub Pop records – and then in 1997 I joined Polydor/Universal. So I climbed the ladder from indie to major, but always with the focus on promoting new music – I helped launch Queens of the Stone Age, Ian Brown and The Cardigans in the UK, for instance. The Crawl is just a new way of doing the same thing.
What can you do to get a head start?
The music industry is a radically different place to what it was when I started out, and the festival market is crammed with so many events, it can be difficult to offer a distinctive festival which doesn’t clash with any other ones.
On the grassroots level, though, there’s always room for a festival or two – and the experience you’ll get running those is not so very different from the experience you’ll need to run bigger ones. What hasn’t changed in the music industry is that you need two things above all others: total passion for music (it’ll get you through the hard times) and the ability to network and find people you want to work with. It’s still far from easy, but you’ll help yourself along if you’re not afraid to talk to new people about what you love.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
The primary creative element of this job is developing and deciding upon the roster of acts that will make up that year’s bill. We have quite a unique approach to this process, since we appoint each year a team of “curators” – a committee of about 25 or 30 promoters, labels and artists who are promoting new music in the UK week in, week out, all year around.
This makes my job harder, of course: the committee comes up with a wishlist I then have to go away with and try to make a viable bill out of – putting me at the mercy of a slew of very disparate artists’ existing schedules and demands. Once I’ve navigated that thicket, I then have to go back to the curators and, in what we call our annual bun fight, go around the room, taking one curator at a time in turn, until everyone has filled their assigned venue. This results in joy and heartache, since almost everyone gets a couple of acts they really wanted, but many also miss out on one artist who was their heart’s desire.
This process does, though, keep thinks interesting – and the final bill, diverse but complementary, is always one to be proud of.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
That there are more forms than I ever knew could possibly exist, and that they all need filling.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
- A course in time management
- Excel for Dummies
- A good therapist or boxing class
Camden Crawl takes place at various venues in Camden, London, from 4 to 6 May. Find out more.
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