Industry Focus [INTERVIEW] with... Modern Age Music

Modern Age Music "We want our nights to reflect what we believe to be great new music"

James Bohrsmann of Modern Age Music “Our company is all about working with the best new bands we can find. We set our standards high, as we want our nights to reflect what we believe to be great new music. There is so much amazing talent on the underground guitar scene at the moment and it is just about showcasing that. We do as much as we can to promote each individual band we put on and we are always keen to work with bands who want to grow with us.”

Innovative and outward looking UK gig promotions company Modern Age Music specialise in guitar music and artist management. Keen to promote some of the strongest talent on the scene and help the bands grow, the company also continues to add new venues, introduce new sponsors and partnerships to its portfolio.

Founder and managing director James Bohrsmann works closely with promoter Brandon Wright and the hardworking duo gives bands and enthusiastic gig goers some of the best live music experiences. It's All Indie spoke to James and Brandon in order to get the latest on the duo's achievements.

How did you first get involved in promoting shows? Tell us about the first gig you promoted

 James: I first got into promoting as a way of creating some shows for a band I was managing. I put on a night at Alleycat on Denmark St in London for their single launch. The venue asked me to do some more so I started doing a once-monthly club night there. Everything grew from there, I got a taste for it and started picking up more dates elsewhere.

James:Brandon got on board which was a huge boost as I was struggling to do it all myself. Between us we have been able to grow really quickly with shows all over the UK now. I haven't had much sleep over the past few months but it has been fun.

 How would you describe the initial idea or concept behind Modern Age? To what extent do you feel you are achieving what you set out to do?

James: I never envisaged Modern Age to become a national promotions company but it has just grown into it in a way. We want to stand out and be the best we can. We have achieved a lot and we are happy with what we have done, but we are still keen to push on and see how far we can go.

Brandon: We are always keen to work with new people and build new working relationships. Bands, photographers, writers, promoters, come down to any of our shows for a chat and I am sure there is something we can work on together.

What sort of experience, qualifications or personal qualities do you bring to gig promoting?

 James: I did not have any background in it prior to starting Modern Age. I come from a business background, so part of the enjoyment of this to me was working in a totally different industry and with such a variety of people. The number of top top people I have met since starting Modern Age is incredible. The music industry has a bit of a reputation for harbouring some shady characters but for every arrogant person you come across, there is at least five talented, modest and hard-working people to pick you up.

James: I bring that business-mindedness to it and always have a clear plan of where I want to get and how I see us getting there. I would say a key quality to gig promoting is having a thick skin, it doesn’t always go how you would like it to and you have got the expectations of many different people on your shoulders.
 Do you want to talk us through some of the methods you apply to selecting bands to put on?

 James: There are different things we look at, but the key one is a band’s music. If it sounds great, we will book you. Of course, we follow what is going on and look to book headliners who have some buzz around them when we can, but having 90 followers on Facebook won’t stop us giving you a gig! Likewise, having 10,000 followers won’t mean we do. We just try our best to book bands with a sound we think our target market will enjoy.”

Brandon: Other than that, it is about the attitude of the bands. A band that works hard, and does their best to promote themselves and their gigs, is something we always look for. I could think of a handful of bands right now who we have booked and then re-booked multiple times because of the effort they have put into promoting their shows.

 What do you see as some of the biggest challenges about putting bands on?

James: The finances can be tough. As a promoter nowadays, you are taking on a lot of risk, especially when you are running multiple shows each week. More often than not venues require a hire fee to mitigate some of their risk, then you have got band payments, rep fee, rider etc. and that is before you even start promoting the show. There is a big upfront cost to running any gig, and there is no guarantee you will make it back. Overall, it is just a lot harder than you would think to get people through the door. It takes a lot of organisation and hard work and you are also reliant on all of the bands to play their part as well.

  What is the single most rewarding, satisfying or enjoyable aspect of it?

 Brandon: When the hard work pays off and a great line-up comes together and seeing the bands you have put on playing to a full house. Generally just any support from your peers is brilliant, the likes of The Zine team have given us some amazing support since we started out so we can’t thank them enough for that.

 What is your basic financial deal for bands?

James: It varies depending on the show and the band. More often than not it is a minimum fee plus ticket split. That means the bands know they are getting paid to cover some of their costs, plus they will get a split of any sales they bring in. It minimises our risk to an extent, but we are still reliant on all of the bands playing their part and pulling people in.

 Which are the most promoter friendly venues and why?

 James: We are lucky to be working with some great venues at the moment. Some that spring to mind are CafĂ© Totem in Sheffield, Jimmy’s and The Castle in Manchester, Sticky Mike’s in Brighton; they have all got great venue management who are really easy to deal with and always helpful. Plus watch out for some news on some upcoming shows at 229 in central London, a great venue with a top team behind it.  

Dirty Orange Photographed By Sahera Walker

Is it possible for small promoters to break into the big league or are they always more likely to get squeezed out by bigger promoters?

James: It is tough to compete with the more established promoters to an extent. Ultimately, bands want the best exposure possible, so they will usually choose to play for an established promoter in the hope that it will lead onto to more opportunities.

 James: As you move up to bigger venues and bigger shows, you are also looking at increased costs and more risk, and it is difficult to fund that without any financial support via sponsorships or other partnerships.

 James: That said, you have to be ambitious and we have a lot of plans for the coming months. Within six months of starting out, we were running successful shows in multiple UK cities and a couple of months after that we had secured fringe stages at The Great Escape and Tramlines festivals. I think that shows we have ambition to push on and make the most of the opportunities out there. We want to take it as far as we possibly can.

Brandon: We have also had some really good support from other promoters. This Feeling have shouted out some of our shows and have generally been really supportive towards what we are doing. It is a massive boost to have that support.

How much direct contact do you get to have when booking bands through agents? Do you consider agents to be a help or a hindrance?

James: If a band have agent, we will go straight to the agent rather than the band. More often than not it is a positive experience and we book a lot of the bands we work with this way. It can be bit more of a rigid process, which can be good and bad. Some bands are really organised and it is easy to deal directly with them and more and more they have managers who are generally pretty organised and have the best interests of the band at heart.

What are the differences between promoting shows in London and elsewhere in the UK?

 Brandon: On the face of it, it is much the same but some cities are definitely harder than others. London is obviously a huge city and in terms of music, it is almost multiple different scenes within one. Location is key, in the right place you can expect loads of walk-ins, but likewise there are some great venues where you are totally reliant on people buying tickets for the specific gig.

James: Manchester seems to have a great scene at the moment, we have had some really good shows there this year. Brighton is a tough one, it can be tricky but luckily we have got Brandon down there running our shows! They have been some of our best thanks to his hard work.

What do you consider to be your biggest success to date and why?

 James: That is a tough one. Our first sold-out show was a big one for me. It was a headline show for Sisteray at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney. We had had some great shows leading up to it, but none that had quite hit capacity but Sisteray being the promotional machine they all worked really hard with us and it sold out a few days in advance. It was a great feeling at the show seeing a packed house for a band we genuinely believe will move onto far bigger stages.

James: Our last night at Alleycat on Denmark Street was another one. It was one of Soho’s great small venues which very sadly shut down at the end of last year. We pulled out all the stops for our last night – BREED did a midnight set which nearly took the roof off and actually blew the sound system and then Sisteray did their 15 minutes EP live at about 1 am. It really captured everything that is great about the underground guitar scene and at the same time everything that is wrong with protection of small venues in the UK. A sad loss and another grass roots venue gone from Soho.

 Brandon: Of course Great Escape and Tramlines fringe are also events we are really proud to be a part of. We are genuinely buzzing with our Tramlines line-up, and it is great to be teaming up with Vallance Records and Pistonhead Lager for it. Record Junkee is one of Sheffield’s best small venues, so it is shaping up to be a special day.

 How are you looking to expand or develop Modern Age Music in the future? How about the Music Management side of it?

Brandon: We have got loads planned. A couple of big UK tours to be announced soon which we are excited for, plus the re-launch of our monthly London club night - watch this space!

James: Away from the gigs, we have a lot of plans to grow into other areas. I want to expand our management roster. Currently I am managing Dirty Orange who we have big plans for. They are headlining Dingwalls in September which is a huge show for them. They are in the studio now with the man behind Hard Fi’s number one album and it is going to be a game changing single for them. It is starting to come together for them and I am really excited about the next six months.

James: Management is something I really enjoy, but I only want to take on more bands once we are in a position to be able to dedicate time and effort to every band we work with. There is always a temptation to grow our roster as there are so many mega new bands out there who we would love to work with, but it just has to be the right time.

Modern Age Music are always looking for new reps, photographers and writers to come to their gigs and play a part there. So whether you are just starting out or are more established, let them know and they might add you to the guest list for some of their gigs. They are always keen to meet new people and spread the word about the bands we are working with.

Of Empires photographed By Rhona Murphy