This week we bring you a feature with Heather Gibb who is involved with various elements for Download Festivals Boardie Takeover Stage. Many artists may be familiar with Heather as she can usually be found wading through the proverbial mountain of submissions to play the Boardie Takeover Stage.
Throughout this interview we have the unique opportunity to speak to Heather regarding her youth and what turned her towards music, the submission and selection process for the stage itself, how she gets through the submissions (yeah, we don’t know either. Better you than us Heather), her views on the industry and what advice she would give to someone looking to get into the industry.
Nexus would like to thank Heather for her time and answers.
What sort of experiences did you have growing up that lead you to want to have an impact in music?
My mum sang in a country and western band when she was young. I seem to have inherited her ability to hold a tune and I sang in bands from the age of 17 to around 22. So it’s always been something that’s been part of my life. I wasn’t destined for fame sadly but music has always been a huge passion for me and I love discovering new bands. So being able to let bands do that, having that impact on them, it’s an amazing feeling.
How did the opportunity to get involved with the Boardie Takeover Stage at Download Festival come about?
I actually got volunteered to sing at it 10 years ago when it started. The admins of the Download Forums at the time asked for artists to provide some entertainment in the Doghouse stage. So a few singers including me, a burlesque dancer, a comedian and a few bands provided the entertainment that year. It was a buzz. For the following few years, I provided the photography for the stage and I was then asked to become an admin on the forums themselves and asked to take more of an active role in the Takeover, helping to choose bands. When my predecessor Phil, stepped down, he handed me the reins and I have run it for the past 2 years with the help of my fellow admin Trish, and some of the boardies who I ask to judge for me.
You’ve had over 500 applications this year – which is a proverbial ‘hats off to you’ and your team – and also a massive task with a lot of music to listen too! How do you go about sifting through the 100s of applications?
I am amazed at the excitement around this year’s Takeover and yes it’s been a massive undertaking. I start listening to bands as soon as they start submitting, and I start making a note of who I enjoy and who I think will fit the festival this year.
I have at least 3 other people doing the same, all music fans who I can trust to be impartial and honest – we then compare lists and see who stands out, who were the bands we all picked and then we fight for the ones we really love and want to see in the final shortlist – we then make another shortlist and go back and start all over again and we keep going until we have about 20 bands. I then ask for people from the Download forums to volunteer to help with the line up – we go to a secret Facebook page and I post all the bands and just read their comments and discuss their preferences with them – we had such a variety this year and it was great to see them team be so constructive and honest with their comments – to be able to listen to a band you don’t necessarily like, but they understand they would go down great on the stage is true impartiality and it’s what I look for in the people who help me.
Eventually, we get to 5. So it’s a lot of hours listening and discussing and sometimes arguing too. I set this process up to be fair and makes sure the Takeover wasn’t just my own little vanity project. It works well.
It must be exciting to discover new artists – who are your standouts so far?
It is, and my Spotify always gets a boost this time of year with all the new bands I discover and love. I am a particular fan of InVisions and Cabin Boy Jumped Ship who appeal to my inner metalcore kid and really get me bouncing – I cannot wait to see what they both bring to the stage.
What’s your secret to getting through so many applicants – for example, a hearty glass of pop? A few motivational memes perhaps?
A good Rum and Coke always helps – and I talk to the dog a lot.
When picking acts for the stage, what factors are taken into account for the best-suited applicants?
I am not looking for bands that have played huge gigs already and I won’t consider a band that has already played the Takeover, or has played the main festival – we do get them applying believe it or not – the panel need to ask themselves “does this band need this” and “will this band benefit from this”. It’s not fair on up and coming artists for us to put on bigger bands that have played huge European stages and are signed to a sizeable record label. This is an opportunity for artists to promote themselves to the Download audience and boost their CV’s. Ultimately we need a band that is tight, can play and sound good live. I ask the panel to look for acts that are energetic, that play to their audience, and that will suit the Takeover crowd.
Who do you think is going to be the band of 2018? Additionally, what other bands would you say to look out for?
Oh, that’s a tough one – our top 5 are pretty tight in terms of talent – I think we can expect to see amazing things from the moment they hit the stage they are all crazy talented. Of the bands who didn’t make it the stage this year, I was really excited to see how The Kut have developed as a band since they applied last year – they were so close to being chosen this year. High Rise were also pretty damn close. Weekend Recovery caused some hefty discussion as did Hip Hop artist from Kingston Upon Hull, Marx who really divided the group – it got very intense at a few points. We plan on doing a Spotify playlist of the top 20 bands from this year’s applicants.
I saw on a recent post that you don’t allow bands to play in consecutive years – which is great. Do you think this is one of the more obvious reasons as to why smaller acts struggle to break through at other festivals?
That was a very deliberate decision on my part. How can it be fair to a few hundred bands that apply who have never played, if we just put on the same bands? But as a small stage with 5 bands in one night, we have that luxury – we do this for free, we are not motivated by money and that allows us a lot of freedom in terms of what we do.
Major festivals need to earn or we lose them. It’s a vicious cycle but the big bands bring in the big money so I can see why they get booked again and again. I would love to see more investment in up and coming bands who are playing the smaller slots at festivals – with record sales going through the floor, live is where the money is, but record companies and other music moguls just aren’t willing to put their money into new artists to build them up so that festivals like Download notice them and get them on the higher up slots on the bill.
So many bands are playing for a loss these days because they foot the bills themselves and do it for the love of the music….urgh I could go on all night about this one.
What are the three biggest challenges that you face amongst the live sector to remain current in today’s industry climate?
I’m older than your average festival goer and have to work much harder to stay current, because I am not mixing with the main demographic age ranges for music these days – my kids are 21 and 19 so it helps but I don’t find it as easy as they do, so I need to get out there and hunt it down and keep on top of whats current. There’s been a changing economic climate over the years and this has meant a lot of live music venues are closing so its harder to get to see live bands which also has an effect.
And there is an ever-broadening influence from social media and the more social media you have the more bands are out there and more coming up behind them and it becomes more difficult to keep on top of bands coming through, so its harder to identify the trends you might have picked up on with just media magazines and radio.
Finally, what three bits of advice do you have for those looking to get involved in music?
You need to be in it for the love of the music – any other reason and you will fail or get bored very quickly. Find someone you respect who is already in the industry and learn from them. I have had loads of great advise from Andy Copping over the years. Don’t limit yourself to a particular genre – there are tons of great bands out there from all genres, be eclectic and open-minded.