Promoter proving the draw of quality

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 14/04/2014
Masterton-based music promoter Mark Rogers
LOREN DOUGAN/Fairfax NZ
LET THE MUSIC DO THE TALKING: Masterton-based music promoter Mark Rogers runs a successful marketing and management business from his Masterton home.

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He loves his product, but music promoter Mark Rogers is also spurred on by an Aucklander's put-down.

"We're not booking bands to play in Wairarapa, because it's full of farmers," the booking agent sneered.

Welshman Rogers has run Masterton-based live music promotion company Up With People with business partner Katie Grantham since August 2012, and was less offended than inspired by the agent's comment.

"That's partly where we got the [business] name - bringing the music to the people. We bring those big bands in that were ignoring Wairarapa because of those attitudes; just about every show has sold out, and we've proved that guy wrong."

The venture's foundations were laid five years ago when Rogers moved with his family to Masterton from London. There, he managed tours and PR for non-mainstream American stars such as current alt-country sensations The Handsome Family.

In Masterton that continued via phone and internet until the time difference forced a refocusing towards the Kiwi industry.

Rogers spotted a market gap, in that Wairarapa had a thriving music scene, but was off the touring band circuit. Building a brand image around quality music, he identified a unique selling point: sophisticated events with a left-field touch, in a region unused to such alternative treats.

Big sellers such as February's Pink Floyd tribute at Carterton's Stonehenge Aotearoa balance smaller-selling, renowned but more "esoteric" bands for which, ticket sales show, there is an appetite in Wairarapa.

That said, the biggest obstacle is "apathy". "It's very, very difficult to get people out. It doesn't matter if it's a free show, a $5 show, a $50 show; [it's] getting people off the sofa."

Crafting a "buzz" in both traditional and social media, and on www.upwithpeople.co.nz, is Roger's answer. "On the phone, on the laptop, telling people this is going to be one of the best live shows you'll ever see." But it only works if people trust him to promote good music.

An example is his largely sold-out March national tour by Missouri bluesman Pokey LaFarge, who, until Rogers got involved, was almost unknown here. "You do have to create that buzz to entice people in . . . but you have to deliver."

Alongside staging shows, management, public relations and marketing for bands, both national and international, are revenue streams.

Overheads are low - just a phone, a computer and a kitchen table. Shows are kept to about one a month to avoid saturating the small market and burning out the "staff" - Rogers and Grantham do the lot.

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"What I do, I want to do well . . . not some cheap venue, with cut-price beer, watching some band murder Led Zeppelin in the corner."

To make music pay in the provinces you need a pinch of serendipity, Rogers admits: Masterton's King Street Live, regarded as one of the best small venues in the country, opened months after Up With People launched.

He's making a living, but there's always risk. "When you lose, you lose quite a lot."

The DIY marketing focuses on getting bands heard. He cites the sale of 80 tickets for the Masterton performance of Wellington alt-country duo Claude Rains during an hour playing for Radio New Zealand's Jim Mora last year.

"Nothing does the talking like good music."

THE NUMBERS 2500 tickets, at $60-$80: Eclipse Pink Floyd tribute. 200 tickets, at $7: Heart Attack Alley at Masterbowl. 70-30: A common takings split, in favour of the band. Sometimes bands ask for an up-front "guarantee" instead. 

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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