Being a promoter seems a tough role, in what is a tough industry right across the board – especially in small such a small music scene as NZ. Pressure is always on for gigs and tours to succeed not flop, with audiences expecting more than just their money’s worth of live music. Ben Mulchin is a concert and tour promoter, and owner of the Valhalla Tavern in Wellington. Sam Smith spoke with Mulchin about life as a promoter and just how hard it is putting on live rock music in Aotearoa.
I fell in love. My partner is a sound engineer ,so I always used to attend gigs and go to shows and liked the bands that were coming through. So I was like, I may as well join forces and basically have a little family business.
I guess some people are into craft beer others are into clothes, and music was a hobby for me. Given my social circles were always going to be music-based, to a degree it really just came from there.
Over six years now. Over two thousand days. It kind of all adds up, doesn’t it?!
In terms of promotion, facilitating the whole show from first contact with artists interested in playing NZ or Australia – all the way through to booking their flights, doing their visas, doing the accommodation, picking them up, making sure they have got the right gear, feeding them, sightseeing. On the show obviously, technical assistance, and show promotion.
It is probably over 80% coming to me. Which makes it a little bit easier because obviously if you approach someone, they have the onus to say, ‘Okay well what are you going to give me?’ rather than the other way around.
Yeah, more or less. We do hip hop and trap, rock and indie bands as well. It just depends on whoever is turning up. But I suppose if I have done enough of one genre then that door keeps getting knocked on.
Certainly, with some of the bands, it is probably their only show that they are ever going to do – so we have to make sure their show is going to be the best possible show. Usually, on the actual show day there is not too much pressure as everything has been organised, everything’s lined up. I would like to think there hasn’t been a show that has fallen to pieces, but certainly the pressure is on to make sure there are heaps of people in attendance, people buying merch, and making the band feel good, rather than like, ‘We are never going to come back here, there was nobody here,’ kind of thing.
Well basically the band still gets paid, and I just financially suffer, haha… But usually, it is all on the promoter.
Oh yeah, of course.
Some promoters do, and there are various reasons for that. Some people might be like you know what, you do or this work and it perhaps doesn’t work out and then they kind of push that on the band more than they deserve, it is not their fault there are only four million people in NZ. But you know some bands might think they are going to play Madison Square Garden or Eden Park – we try to stay away from those bands that have unrealistic expectations. That is the crucial ingredient, to say you are having a working holiday. ‘You are going to have the best possible show we can provide, but let’s just be realistic here.’
I suppose in some ways it was a reasonably easy decision based on what happened and the circumstances behind those sorts of things. Obviously, it is hard in terms of the business side but in terms of everything else, there was really only one choice. There was a lot of behind the scenes action where we had to get everything communicated for various reasons but it is what it is. We survived.
Absolutely. I suppose for me I probably put too many shows on. It is about making that special night where someone is going to pay $50 for a ticket to see X band or act that they really want to see. There is definitely still a core base of people and regulars, and five or six years ago, when I first turned up, certainly things seemed a little bit different. There was probably shows every few months.
I would say 60 to 80, and probably about 30 tours. The end of 2019 has been a bit slower, so maybe that was more last year or the year before, but this year we have got about maybe 16, which is still pretty good for the rest of the year. This means we can focus more energy on each show instead of just going straight on into the next one. Because we are only selling 50 to 60 tickets it is all about getting that continuous stream.
Usually about a year out. Some of them will be six months, but some will even be two and a half years. Now we are looking at 2020 dates and everything in March and April is locked in more or less. It is funny though because you lock it in and you think, cool, and then for me, all I want to do is get it out there!