Andy Nurse is one of the directors at Production Element, a UK company specialising in fashion and music festival events. In this episode he gives us a detailed view of the events industry and valuable advice for those looking for a career in events.
In this episode you will discover:
• How events in the fashion industry are put together.
• Why good communication and trust are Andy’s top priorities.
• Amazing advise on how to get into the events industry.
If you are interested in fashion show event planning please visit Production Element’s website here and email Andy at email@example.com
For Audio Transcript click here
Andy Nurse: You think now, is that if you really want to do these things, you’re not going to gain any amazing experience unless you get out there and say, “You know, look, can I come in? I’ll work for you a couple of days here and there, can I just do this, can I just see how these things are run?” Because there’s no better way of learning anything than being thrown in the deep end.
Voiceover: Toby and James are involved in amazing events all over the world. You’re listening to The Planner’s Planner Podcast, where top event professionals share real world experiences and cutting-edge ideas. Sponsored by MetropolisProductions.co.uk.
Toby Goodman: Hello, and welcome to this episode of The Planner’s Planner. I’m Toby, and I’m here with James. Hello, again, James.
James Eager: How you doing, mate?
Toby: I almost forgot how I was, then, I’m fine now. We’re motoring on through this now. We’re really pleased with how everything’s going. Last episode with Toastmaster Supremo, Jamie Paskin, was really good fun, and available to check on plannerspod.com, and, of course, through the iTunes store, for absolutely zero. James, this week talks to Andy Nurse, top event pro, production designer, sound engineer, all-around good chap, right at the top of his game. James, how did this episode come about?
James: This episode came about – Andy’s one of our most trusted and valuable engineers who works for Metropolis, and, quite frankly, we don’t see him as often as we’d like, because he’s a very, very busy guy running his own company, Production Elements. I’ve often chatted to him when we’ve been in trucks on the way to events, that kind of thing, and he’s told me about what else he gets up to, and I just through it’d be a really, really fascinating conversation to have here. It’s kind of in four parts, I guess, this podcast interview. The first part is all about the fashion industry, which is where the, sort of, centre of his company works. He’s got absolute mega experience there. Personally, I know nothing about – as it probably comes across in this interview – I don’t know anything about the fashion industry, but I was really keen to find out. Incidentally, he’s having this conversation from a place called the GMEX, which is a huge convention centre in Manchester, in the UK. Also worth saying, all the venues we reference are all UK-based venues, too. We’re very aware that we’ve got listeners from all over the world here, so if you want to Google them, they’re all, basically, London, or thereabouts, or the major cities in the UK. So, that’s the fashion industry, there, which is mega interesting. The second part, which I personally love, because we’re from a musical background, is an amazing festival, which is technically stunning, I mean, just amazing, called Chilfest. Which, yet again, just outside London. So, check it out there, I mean, they’ve got Grade A artists on that show there. Like, I saw, Bob Geldof from the Boomtown Rats, that sort of thing, so do check that out there, because that has some serious stuff going on there. Third part, Andy talks about his own very person event: his wedding. And, I guess you could kind of look at it as what does an event professional look for in his own gig basically. So, have a look at that, Micklefield Hall, yet another venue, just outside London. Everything’s just outside London here, anyway. And then the last part, I mean, Toby, you talk a little bit about that one.
Toby: Yeah, very, very quickly. The last part, if you are looking to get into the events industry and you’re not in it yet, Andy is going to give you some amazing tips on how to work and on how to get into this events…there’s just so much value in this. So, I think that’s it James, should we move on through…this is Andy from his company, Production Element, live from the over-10,000 square foot exhibition centre of Manchester, GMEX in the UK. See you on the other side!
Voiceover: The Planner’s Planner Podcast is sponsored by MetropolisProductions.co.uk and Metropolis-live.com.
James: Hi, Andy, how you doing?
Andy: Very good, thank you.
James: Excellent. Right, how we know you, is you are one of the…I know you from being one of the Metropolis sound guys who work on our crew. But you’re quite a hard guy to pin down, because you’re very busy with your own company. So, before we talk about that, I was just wondering, can you tell us a little bit about your back story in the events industry?
Andy: Yeah, what happened was, basically, I did a degree in music, and I moved on – so, I found a company based up in Hull who did kind of, like, the live production, which is stage building and, you know, all that side of it, and thought that’d be a great way to get into the industry after the degree, because I did performance and all that stuff, but I actually found I really wanted to get involved in the behind-the-scenes work and the production side levels. And I moved onto this company called ((Teager)), based up north, who basically took me in, did, sort of, what was the go-for boy, did all bits and pieces, like building staging, lugging stuff around and progressed up into a sound engineering level in the industry. And then from that, pretty much, went down south, and worked in the more corporate area and did that for about four or five years pretty much full time, getting to a project management level, and then, from that point, thought, “You know what, I should really start trying to do this on my own,” and went freelance with it. And at that point I actually met up with another couple of creatives and we formed a company called Production Element, where we – because we actually did quite a lot of catwalk shows, I did the technical side, I met up with this guy who was a choreographer, and this other person was a stylist, and, from that, we actually looked at these shows and thought, “You know, we can add to this,” and it was kind of frustrating for me, doing a creative degree, and not actually having any creative control on a show at all. We thought we could actually make this better, so Production Element was formed in about 2009, and we actually said, “We can do this better.” We got our first client, then, and it was a lingerie show, which was quite a bonus. And we actually did the show, and it came off a real success, and built our client base from that really, and we’re still going strong today.
James: That’s brilliant. Did you set up Production Element specifically for the fashion industry?
Andy: It kind of was, it was at the start, because we had the choreographer and the stylist in place. I mean, most production companies in the fashion industry, what they do lack is the actual technical side of it, which makes our company kind of a bit more compelling, because a lot of them say, “Okay, brilliant, we’ve got a choreographer, we can produce this show, but we need to bring up another company, and say, ‘We need to do this, what kind of sound do we need, what kind of lighting?’” Whereas, our company, because we’ve got the experience, we can actually say, “We can do this, this, this,” and we can dry hire it, as opposed to bringing in extra people for that. So, we at Production have actually the core of the people you actually need to produce a show, basically.
James: That’s brilliant. Can you talk to me a little bit about the structure of Production Element, from a personnel perspective?
Andy: Yeah, I mean, what actually happened, we are basically a sort of consultancy company, I suppose, we don’t actually have anyone employed by it, we actually contract everyone in. As it stands, there is basically two business partners, there’s myself and the stylist, who is Fran. And then the choreographer, who plays a heavy part in it, but hasn’t actually got any shares in it, but, technically, he is pretty much, he is the director of the company as such, because there is us three do every show. So, we have the stylist who takes care of all the clothing, what actually goes on the catwalk. We have the choreographer, who actually books the models, gets them on stage, does the rehearsals, runs through, like, does all the timings and everything. And then you’ve got me, who just takes care of all the logistics, technical, and everything else, basically.
James: And, roughly, how many shows are you doing a year?
Andy: At the moment, we are, I’d say, at least one a month. I mean, at the moment, February is a really busy time. We’re doing the National Wedding Show, which is over three different places, one in Birmingham, one in Manchester, and one in London. We’re also doing Moda, which is a big, king of, fashion trade show, which happens up at NEC, but that’s just all landed on one month, unfortunately. And then we have, soft of – this happens twice a year – this sort of fills up four months of the calendar, and then we have other shows, like Coatwalk, which is kind of Jacques Vert’s thing, it’s kind of, like, showcasing all their coats in the winter. It’s a really nice, prestigious show. We also do Jewellry Show, which is basically another catwalk for all the Jewellry Show, in Olympia, in London.
James: Excellent. I think it’s worth mentioning, at the moment, you are actually talking from the GMEX, aren’t you? Because you are actually at the National Wedding Show. This is coming live from a job, isn’t it?
Andy: Yes, it is. I’ve managed to get an hour off in my schedule, and we’re actually just currently plotting the show as we speak.
James: Excellent. To anybody who’s listening, what does “plotting the show” mean?
Andy: Basically, what we do, we have the day’s rehearsals and actually getting all the models on stage, doing the lighting, getting the sound right, you know, editing all the tracks, just to make sure they walk on and off at the right times, making sure the show goes to thirty minutes. Yesterday we had all the models arrive on site and we got them all in the fittings, so the product came in, all the wedding dresses and all that stuff, and we just get them all fittings, so that all the clothes fit right. And so today we actually spend the whole day just getting the show looking sweet, with all the choreography and everything, and then about four o’clock this afternoon we’ll hopefully have a dress-run where the client looks at it and signs it off, basically, and says we’ve done a good job.
James: Okay, I’m going to draw on something you just said there. You said, “thirty minutes.” We’re used to being on events which last four or five, six hours. How does an event run in the fashion industry?
Andy: So, what it does, they basically come up with the concept of – I mean, this show is very led by exhibitors who want to put their clothing on the catwalk. So, most of the time they actually pay for a scene. So, they offer either a half a scene, which is…I mean, we have ten models in the show, we have eight girls, two guys – and as a package, they offer either a half scene, which works out as four girls and possibly a guy, or a full scene, which is eight girls and two guys. And we have to incorporate…they say it’s only a half hour show we have, which is repeated four or five times a day. We have to basically make sure that the people who’ve paid for it get their full three minutes of scene, or one-minute-and-thirty scene, and we have to basically make sure it all fits into the half an hour slot that we’re allocated for the show.
James: Right, okay. This sounds pretty intense to me. You’re doing this four or five times a day, aren’t you?
Andy: Yes, that’s right.
James: Has it always been that intense when you started the company?
Andy: It’s kind of a weird one, because when we started, when we did our first show, we actually had a lingerie show, and they were actually quite flexible, because they just said, what we need to do…it’s an entertainment factor, but it also needs to give the exhibitors a chance to show off their brands to people who are coming in to see the show, and the catwalk is the main place, the meeting place, where the people come just to watch a bit of the entertainment, but also see their brands on the catwalk. So, quite a lot of the other shows, they’re quite free about how long the show needs to be, because this is actually a show for the public it has to slot in because there are lots of other things going on at the other show at the same times, so there’s like a How-to-Look-Good Stage, where they’re talking about what you need to do on your wedding day, styling tips and stuff like that. So we actually get allocated this half hour and it’s set over a time table over the day, and if we go over, we then interrupt someone else’s show on another stage. But it’s mainly for noise restraints and all that stuff, really.
James: Okay, that’s really fascinating. So, who actually comes to see these shows? You mentioned the general public, but do you do more industry shows as well?
Andy: Yes, this one is, well, this is the general public, and then we also do industry shows, which is…So, the one for Moda, for example, that one pretty much gets in buyers from across the world, but mainly what they’re trying to do, they get sort of, big players, like Debenhams and House of Fraser and John Lewis. The big buyers come in as well, it just gives a chance for wholesalers and also small designers to come in, show off their product at the show, and they can then say, “Okay, well I’ll get 100,” they do big orders like that. But the pulling power for a show like Moda is that they have big companies like Debenhams and House of Fraser who come along and actually buy the orders, but it’s all under one roof, basically, so it gives them a chance show off their products and actually get their products out into the shops, basically.
James: Okay, so, when the actual show is going on, what’s your role?
Andy: Once it’s all started it’s generally making sure the show happens well. Next week is the toughest one of the year for us, because it’s two different catwalks at Moda, but there’s three different catwalk shows on each stage. So that’s six, six catwalk shows, and there’s twenty-eight models split between both catwalks. There’s 512 outfits, 58 scenes, and it just goes a bit mental, really.
James: Wow, that’s incredible. So, you’re just overseeing everything, making sure it goes right. Can you talk to me about some of the departments you have underneath you, you’re, kind of, coordinating?
Andy: Yeah, basically from the start of the thing, we come up with the concept, we talk – basically myself, the stylist, Fran, and Johnny, who’s the choreographer – we come up with the ideas for each scene. We try to make our things very product-driven, so we try to make our scenes all about what clothing is on the catwalk, so the music will match that, and the choreography. It’s very style-drive. So, Fran comes up with ideas for each scene and stuff, and that’s how it all starts off. And then we all meet together, so all the products gets called in, and then Fran takes that away with another product pull person, who pulls that all into the office, and then styles it, and actually gets all the products’ styles. And then, from that point, we then develop, when we do the casting for the models, so myself and Johnny go in to have an open-day casting with certain agencies, and we call the models in London and we choose the models, send them off to the client, get them signed off, and that’s til all the models are selected. And then, from that point, we arrange to get it all onto site, whether it’s at NEC or whether it’s at Manchester, wherever, we get to site. And we have two other people who are product assistants who actually then start getting stuff together, writing out the actual program order, so it’s the running order of how each model’s going to come out, and what clothing, and just so it runs fluently, and then they can then get off the stage and get to the next. Because we have to have each scene, each model has to be dressed quickly. We have to work out how long they need to be on stage so they can get off quickly, get changed, and be ready for the next scene, so you have to have is so flowing. So there’s two product assistants who actually take care of that. And then when we’re actually on site, we also have dressers, so each model has a dresser, so that’ll double up everyone, and there’s a wardrobe mistress for the whole of the dressers, who is in charge of them, just to make sure they’re doing everything right.
James: Wow. So how many staff do you have on site?
Andy: Say, for Moda, there’s…well, we did photo last year, it shocked me, there was about 78 members of staff just making the show happen. You see, you’ve got hair and makeup, they’re the ones that actually do it on the day, so they’re just coming in the morning, making sure all the models come in, get them all right, and they take about two or three hours, just to get the models right, and that happens each day. But actual backstage logistics is quite insane when you actually look at how many people are back there and it starts with the core three people, and it just explodes basically.
James: Just on a personal level, we have a lot of people listening to this podcast, people coming into the industry, cutting their teeth on how to plan events like this. How do you deal with managing so many people?
Andy: The main thing is having the people you trust in the right areas. There are certain things you do…I mean, there are certain things we do that we’ll always have control of because we don’t want to pass it on. But then we also realize that there are certain things that we have to have people that we trust with. From day one, we’ve met a core brand of people we really trust. There is one lady we pretty much use all the time, who is actually the wardrobe mistress, who deals with all the backstage dressers, and it’s kind of one of those things that we don’t want to keep auditioning dressers to do all this, this, and this, and keep finding them, but we basically use her as kind of an agency, just to say, “Can we have – we need twelve dressers, these dates, and you’ll be in charge of them.” It’s the main thing about arranging these events, is having people you trust. That’s the main thing.
James: Absolutely, that sounds all too familiar to me. When the actual show is running, your actual thirty minutes, what are you actually physically doing at that point?
Andy: On the first day I’m kind of just making sure, and writing notes. Myself and the stylist do sit in the audience and just make sure that everything’s correct, the clothing’s right, because the main bane of our job is labels exposed, or dresses not done up, but it’s especially with wedding dresses, there’s obviously a lot of intricate detail in the back of it. So our main thing is just making sure the lighting is right. And you know, we actually are watching the show and observing it, and just trying to perfect it.
James: Are you watching from a technical perspective, or were you actually…?
Andy: Pretty much all around as a producer perspective, really. Just making sure the whole show flows properly.
James: God, that’s quite a skill base. As you can probably tell, I know nothing about the world of fashion, here. What would you say is the most unique thing about the fashion events world compared to, I don’t know, corporate, or whatever, anything else?
Andy: I think it’s a weird one, because there’s a few things…the creative’s really good, we have a lot more control over what we can and can’t do on stage. And there’s less politics in certain ways, but there’s more politics in others, if that makes sense. Because you can be much more creative, you can make a really beautiful scene, and we find, the client, as long as they send us kind of – even the people who are sending their clothing in – they’re sending us an idea of what they really want to see there, their clothing, be seen on stage, what kind of lighting, what kind of…you know, what the brand means to them. We actually take that on board, and we get real reward, where we actually understand it and produce it on stage, and I suppose in that way we get a lot more creative freedom, and we get a lot of enjoyment from that, because we can just make a scene really sad, really happy, and do so much with it. Whereas, in the corporate world, it’s very much, “This is the script, you stick to it, and this is how we have to get it done.”
James: How much prep does each show take? I mean, I know it’s going to change on a show-by-show basis, but…
Andy: I would say, right from the start, to meeting up with the client and actually getting stuff done, I’d say probably a month, just to get everything iced out. It’s not a full on, solid month, but it’s getting the idea, getting the contract, I’d say it’s a month of just, like, the ideas, and bookings, and everything.
James: Right, that’s… I’ve learned so much about the fashion world in the past ten minutes here. It’s quite incredible. I’m going to move on just a little bit. Your company also works in another area of events, in the festival world, doesn’t it?
Andy: Yes, that’s right, yes.
James: Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Andy: Yes, what happened last year, we sort of formed up with Chilfest, and I played a heavy role in actually the stage managing side of Chilfest, and what we found was, the year before, which was the very first one, was the artists’ liaison side of it was kind of lacking because there was no control over it. And we had all these artists coming in and out, it was just an area that wasn’t covered at the very first Chilfest. So…
James: Can I just interrupt you, first of all? Chilfest is a festival, isn’t it? Can you just give a little bit of background on what Chilfest is?
Andy: Oh, sure, sorry, yeah. Chilfest was formed in 2013, and it was an 80s festival, it’s based up in Tring, in Pendley Meadow, and it’s had the act – I think the first year it was…I’ve forgotten all the acts that were on there, that’s how good it was. It was Tony Hadley, it was Midge Ure, kind of, like it was an 80s festival itself, and it was run for two days, so it was a Friday night and a Saturday. And it was full on bands, both evenings from five in the evening to eleven at night, both nights. And it was a real success the first year, and then they wanted to develop it for the next year, and so we decided to actually do a Sunday as well, to make it proper, full three days of music. And as we increased the artists, increased everything that’s happening on it, we actually found that we needed to look after these artists, and actually do all that stuff, which is where Production Element actually came in to do it.
James: Right, okay, can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Andy: Yep, absolutely. So what happened, was is that we – when you actually book a band or an artist, or anything like that, they come through, and they send through all their – their riders, they call them. So there’s a technical rider and a hospitality rider. So, on the hospitality rider, they say, “We need X, Y and Z.” “We need, like, 24 bottles of beer for the guys, we need hand towels, we need hot showers, we need all the food, catering, all this stuff.” And because each list got more comprehensive, it needed someone to take over that control, and also be the person who meets the band and make sure they get all their backstage passes, the laminates, their guests – because all bands, they say, “Can I have a guest list of this many people?” And you needed just some people to greet them and make them feel special, because obviously they’ll perform a lot better when they’re looked after. And that’s where Production Element came in. So, I got the other two guys, the core of our team – it was Fran, who was the stylist, but who also managed to sort of dress the changing rooms in a stylist’s way, so using her experience in that side of it, but also organisational skills of actually dealing with the artists. And Johnny, who is our choreographer, has also got a real skill in show calling. I actually had him, he was on comms with me, and I was calling him, saying “Can you send the next band, please?” And he was kind of show calling the band up and forth when they were ready for the dressing rooms. The formula works as well as it did on the catwalk show, it worked really well in this sort of industry as well, in the artists’ liaison side.
James: Yeah, I think it’s worth mentioning that Chilfest is a full on, professional festival with sort of Grade A-type acts in there, and you run it like a festival. So, here’s something like ten, fifteen minutes between each act, isn’t there?
Andy: Yeah, this year it was crazy. The organiser decided he wanted more and more bands, but there was no extra extension on time. So we had to come up with a clever way of actually having each band with a ten-minute changeover. And it wasn’t just, like, okay, one singer comes off, we put the next singer on. It was a full backline of full drum kits, lyric keyboards, bass guitar, everything. It was ten minute changeover, which had to be very, very quick. So we had risers backstage, which was with basically ten drum kits backstage on wheels, that we just kept wheeling around all the time. And we had the set up was designed so that we had two desks at front of house, two mixing desks, so that we could just literally flick between each one. So whilst the other band was one, the other engineer could sound check the other band backstage just to keep it flowing.
James: So, talk to me about the crew structure you have underneath you there?
Andy: I actually run Chilfest on the stage manager side of it, and I actually put more of a heavy role on the sound crew a bit, so we had, for the sound side of it, two guys at front of house, two mixing desks at front of house, and there were just two in-house sound engineers, if you like, who actually run that side of it. So when the guest engineers came, they had a port of call to actually go to one of them, whichever one was on, you know, if they were just checking they’d go to that one desk that was running backstage. And then the other guy would be running the front, the actual one that’s on stage. And then these two desks went into one desk which was side of stage, which one guy ran all day, just so there was no interruptions, in case with all the sound checking, and an error came up by mistake and it came out in the main PA, we another desk that just solely controlled the two desk so that it could be muted.
James: Right, I don’t want to get too technical here, because we’ve got people listening all over the world. That’s absolutely fine, but it shows, I think, what this is demonstrating, is the incredible technical understanding you have, as well as logistic understanding. What skills are you sort of employing there to do that job?
Andy: For the sound side of it, with those guys, I mean, they all have the skill in the sound engineer field, so the guy who actually ran it was an engineer assistant tech, who actually knows everything about the speakers, how to make it work, and he was actually in control of the main PA, he knew exactly what he was doing with it, the guy we used actually owned the PA. In that skillset, they’re very heavily influenced in the sound…
James: But what I think I’m driving more towards is, from an event planning perspective, what skills do you need to pull off a festival, I guess?
Andy: I think it’s very much the organisational side of it. It’s very much knowing the people you need to do each sort of thing. As long as you’re organised, and you know you’ve got that core of people that you trust, you can pretty much do anything you want. You see, it’s kind of like… yeah, to organise anything you really need to be organised, and so it says what it says on the tin. I don’t think you actually need…Well, the organiser of Chilfest, he has a real passion for lighting, but you don’t actually have to have a skillset in anything, you just have to have the drive and motivation. As long as you’ve got the core people you trust, I mean, because I don’t pretend I know anything about the video side of it, I mean, I know bits and pieces, but I’ll always get someone in and ask their advice about it.
James: So, basically, you’re drawing on a network of guys you know.
Andy: Absolutely, yeah. That’s the key thing here. If there’s something you don’t know, you need to find that person you can always rely on to help you out with it, and I think that’s another key thing here, never be afraid if you don’t know something, because there will always be someone out there who you can trust and rely on.
James: But, I think, what it interesting, is what you’re drawing on, and I find is very similar with Metropolis when I was kind of production manager, and to oversee that, is that I’ve got a basic knowledge of what’s going on, but I’m not a sound guy, but it means that knowledge means that I can talk their lingo so that everybody understands each other.
Andy: Right, yeah, I see what you mean.
James: Is that what happens with your video guys, for instance?
Andy: Yeah, I think I’ve got, because of the experience I’ve gotten from working for other people, I think I know what’s going on the technical side, so like you say, if you know enough to sort of say, “This is what I want, and this is what’s definitely possible, and how are we going to do it?” And that does really help. But on the other hand, if you don’t have that knowledge, or the know-how of that certain thing, it’s always quite easy to investigate into it, but obviously you just can’t promise it first off.
James: I was just going to say, so what sort of advice do you have? I mean, I think you sort of started hitting on it there, is to just always feel free to ask people.
Andy: Absolutely. I think that’s the main thing here. When I first started off, it was that you were kind of a dog’s body, you would do anyone’s job, and I used that to my advantage, I was working under a lot of people, and I tried to move around departments, just to get the know-how of certain things, but what I would say is that you don’t need to have all that knowledge, because the choreographer, who we’ve got at the moment, he pulls off shows when I’m not around and I’m doing another show. He’ll pull off a show, and he’s got no technical experience, but he’ll always either ring me, or he’ll assign someone to the job who will help him out as much as he needs to.
James: So a lot of it is feeling free to be open and communicate with people
Andy: Absolutely, yeah. And especially in organising events and stuff. You just need that band of people you can trust, and it’s just keeping that network of people, it really is important.
James: My next question is, I actually wrote down, what are the differences between running a fashion a show and running a music festival. But for the purposes of this conversation, I think what I’m actually heading towards, is what are the similarities? Can we talk a bit about that?
Andy: I mean, the rock and roll industry is that you get one shot, and that’s it, done. And in the fashion industry, we’re kind of blessed that we get chances to rehearse. Sometimes we don’t get a long rehearsal but we always get to foresee what’s happening, and we know the size of the stage, we know the length of the music tracks, because they generally are a track that’s actually got timing on it and such. So we can actually, to the second, design that and get it all sorted, and we know what models we’re working with. Whereas in the music industry everything is live. You don’t get a chance to re-correct anything. So when it comes to planning, there’s no room for error in the music industry, is there? So a band comes on and their technical rider says, “Okay, we need so many microphones, and we need this, this and this.” They’re going to be on quite quickly, so you’ve got no chance of running out and changing that or anything, it’s what you’ve got there and then, and that’s what makes it happen.
James: So, with Chilfest, how much stuff are you doing on the fly?
Andy: Not a lot, actually. The only main thing about bands is they’re terrible about sending through their specs and stuff, so you have to constantly chase them. But most of it, because a lot of bands come in, and rightfully so, if their rider’s not met they don’t play, but they still get paid. And that’s the key thing, and that’s why that needs to be so organised, and to the point of how big their drug riser needs to be, to what spec of sound system, it’s all very important, but you can’t change these around when they’re going to be on in ten minutes times. Whereas in the fashion industry, if you get something slightly wrong, you’ve got the rehearsal day to overcome it, or you can run out and do stuff. There’s a little bit of headroom in that respect.
James: It sounds like you’ve got an incredible responsibility, there, as production manager.
James: Yeah, indeed. I mean, I guess when I said, “how much is done on the fly?” I meant, “fly” that you’re organised, but then they just get on and do the show, rather than actually having to rehearse it, because when you see a festival, take Glastonbury for instance, they haven’t rehearsed on that stage, have they?
Andy: No, I mean, this is the reason why they have their touring engineers, because they can slightly pick up from the last show, they can load a file with their digital desks and such, they’ll load their sound channels and such, but they usually tour with their own guys, and they’re used to just pushing up a fader and hoping it works. In that respect, quite a lot of it is done on the fly, but they have that kind of, I supposed, even when it is a ten minute changeover, they still have the backstage sound check, which could last an hour. So they’ll have the headphones on and just make sure each microphone’s working, but then it is down to the engineer on the day. They are pretty much doing quite a lot of it on the fly, because they might find that, you know, obviously all areas, all environments, are all very different. So, yes, I suppose in that respect, they will be doing a lot on the fly.
James: Absolutely. So it’s remarkable to think that you have the show going on in the front, and there’s just this incredible hive of activity going on behind.
Andy: Yes, and there was a couple of guys, just sort of stage hands, they all had their in-ear monitors, and they were basically walking around with headphones in and talking to front of house and saying, “I’m not getting this, I’m not getting that,” and you just see all these microphones running out, getting onto risers, hearing the drum kits go off, it was impressive to see, it really was.
James: Do you find that stressful, overseeing that?
Andy: The first hour is very, very stressful, just because it’s trying to get everyone into the routine of how it’s going to work. We have the get-in day’s always the day before, so we always try and set things up how we’d like the day to run. Unfortunately, things won’t actually ever really happen until bands start climbing on stage and when you’ve got the massive noise actually coming from the front stage and you’re trying to work backstage. The first hour, it does take time to calm down, and then obviously once the last act’s on of the day, it’s a drink somewhere and just sit down and collapse, basically.
James: Do you have any sort of tips to try to minimize that stress?
Andy: My main thing was just stick to a timetable. So if you have a schedule of all the things in the day, for example, with Chilfest is was like, at twelve o’clock, this happens, at twelve-thirty, and every band you talked to you say, “Can you arrive at this time?” so they load onto stage and it’s nothing. But as long as you stick to the timetable and allocate ten minutes here or there that you can have as a window, it’s generally okay, because that always calms me down. Because you’re looking at, “God, all this is going on,” and you look at the timetable, and you actually look across it and go, “Okay, they’re doing this now, they’re doing that, that’s okay, we’re only five minutes behind or ahead of schedule.” And that really does calm me down.
James: Are you a bit of demon with Excel, then?
Andy: No, I mean, I just like to have it in my head, the timetable. I’ve learnt from my past experience that it’s so much better to have something just written down. I mean, if it’s Excel, brilliant, if it’s handwritten, or even if it’s just a word kind of timetable, it’s just having something to refer back to. For example, I did the Royal Festival Hall for Katherine Jenkins this year, and I relied heavily on the conductor who gave me timings for each song. So, he came through and said, “Well, this one’s four-minutes-fifty, this one’s this, this one’s…” Okay, perfect. So it’s just him with the London Symphony, and then Katherine Jenkins came on. So I went through the stage manager’s side saying, “That’s perfect.” And then after the third song I realize that every single thing that he’s put these rough timings down, they were all about six or seven minutes out. So for the first half it went on very long, to the point where we had to actually cut a song for the next show. But my hand’s down, I didn’t actually investigate into how long the show was, I was just trusting the conductor, which is a big upset for me, because we had to pull one of the tracks for the next half of the performance.
James: So is there sort of anything that you wish you’d known when you’d started that you know now?
Andy: A lot of it I did learn on the go and stuff, but I think, with the side of it, it is… I don’t know, I think I’ve enjoyed learning, actually getting in there and learning, you know, actually getting my foot in the door, obviously you need certain skills just to get to that point, but I’ve actually enjoyed the learning experience of it all, and it’s actually gotten more relaxing as you develop. But then on the other hand, I sometimes feel that you do get too relaxed sometimes, and then things just throw you out of place. Because when you do come into shows like this one, this is our third year now we’ve done this, and everything’s going really well, but it’s also sometimes you’re a bit on edge, because it’s going really well, you know what I mean?
James: I see, I see. Cool, cool, right. We’ve been going, I think, about a half an hour now, but there’s one other event I just want to talk about – a wedding coming up.
James: Your wedding. Brilliant, though. Did you know this one was coming?
Andy: No, I didn’t.
James: No, it’s brilliant. Andy, you’ve been kind enough to actually book us, Metropolis, to play at your wedding. Can you tell me, is this going to be a big production type thing, or are you just calming it down a little bit, because you want a day off?
Andy: Well, it’s interesting, because obviously it’s one of those ones where I’ve always wanted to see it as a big production for a long, crazy day. And originally, what we wanted to do, was, where Chilfest is based, I managed to get the same field, and they gave me a good price on it. And, I was actually thinking, “Let’s put a little marking out there, let’s have a mini stage, and let’s actually make it a mini festival wedding style thing.” And that was my main idea, and then sign on a few bands and all this stuff, and I was like, “Yeah, let’s do this,” and I had to contacts to get the people in, some good favours and stuff. And then we ended up going to see another venue, which we fell in love with, which is more of a barn, basically, it’s a renovated barn, it’s just beautiful.
James: Let’s give them a shout out, because that’s called Micklefield Hall. And, I have to say, we, as a band, have worked in hundreds of barns over there years – actually, probably not hundreds, but a lot. And this, possibly, is one of the most beautiful ones that I’ve ever seen, and it’s literally back over an hour from where we live.
Andy: Yeah, it’s perfect for me as well, it’s just down the road. And that’s what it was, just seeing this venue, just changed my whole perspective of the wedding. And it’s also lends itself – it’s got lots of beautiful browns, you can actually get an area by a pond that’s blessed, so you can actually have the ceremony there and everything. So it kind of changed my whole perspective of the wedding and such. So now it’s like this: the stylist of the fashion industry, she really wants to get involved and heavily style the barn in a very contemporary manner, but I think it’s now just going to be, I suppose, my feeling now, the whole day is just going to be the perfect wedding, in the respect of not the technical side, but the whole thing, the way it’s going to run and everything, it’s done. I just think it’s very different to how I originally saw it, basically.
James: Yeah, I think they’ve…we went and had a look around that barn a few weeks ago, and what I thought was just so clever about it, is it’s all installed, it’s all lit properly, and the sound’s in there, so you literally have to do virtually nothing to it.
Andy: Yeah, absolutely. And you’re allowed to have a naked flame, so you’re allowed to actually have candles in there, which really lends itself, because most venues are a bit funny about that sort of things, like you might have to have LED candles. But this guy, he’s so easy-going about that, he says, “Well, of course you can have candles,” so just to drape the place in candles will look amazing in itself. And as to the barn itself, you just don’t need to do too much to it, they’ve already put in the lighting that you need and the PA, but they’ve really thought about it, but the fact that you can use the whole venue, so it’s not just the barn, there’s loads of lovely ground, there’s a smoking area, which is fantastic, with a massive open fire. It’s just everything about it, and there’s not much you want to do to it, really.
James: I love the fact that you’ve gone from having this massive productiion type wedding, to having something so simple.
Andy: Well, this is it. I got engaged in New Year, that’s our anniversary, and we actually said, “Let’s try and have a quick wedding,” so, not rush it, but let’s try to make it this summer. And obviously, as my schedule goes, the longer you wait for a wedding, it sounds a bit selfish, but the longer you have to wait for a wedding, the more chances you have of losing out on opportunities and things. So, at the moment, you can see your calendar through to the end of the year, so you can see that June’s not too bad this year, so I said, “Okay, let’s do it now,” for if we waited another year, you never know wants around the corridor, basically.
James: Right. Well, we feel very honoured that you’ve asked us to do it, so I thank you for that one. Getting to the end, is there anything else you sort of want to mention, anything you think is relevant to the world of events, anyone entering events, that you’d like to talk about?
Andy: Well, the weirdest thing is, I’m about to show my age now, but about twelve or thirteen years ago, I was at university doing this thing, and that really, sort of, helped me get my foot in the door. I wouldn’t say it’s imperative, because I know some things are changing now, a lot of people are just going straight from school, getting their diploma, and going straight into the management side of it, and so I think that’s really a myth now, the university, maybe ten years ago now, that’s how you did these sorts of things. But now, it really is just gaining experience. And we have a lot of people who come into us and say, “Can we do some work and get experience for a couple of days” And that’s the key thing now, is just work experience, and knowing the people, and getting the contacts. It’s all very well having that background of education and stuff, which, totally don’t get me wrong, is really key, and you also have a great time at colleges and universities and stuff. But the main thing now is that if you really want to do these things, you’re not going to gain any amazing experience unless you get out there and say, “Look, can I come in? I’ll work a couple of days here and there, can I just do this, can I see how these things are run?” Because there’s no better way of learning anything than being thrown in the deep end.
James: I completely agree with you. When I was a musician cutting my teeth before I got into the events world, there were so many gigs and whatever, I was just going and doing for experience, for nothing, that kind of thing. Does the same work with your end of things?
Andy: Absolutely. The way we got to where we are is we actually formed a business and took a risk and that sort of thing. But we never would have done that straight from day one, you have to have the experience in certain areas. I mean, the stylist, Fran, she actually started off just doing work experience, she used to be a Team 4 presenter, and then she moved on and thought, “You know, I could do styling or something.” But, you know, she worked liked at the bottom for some companies, carrying boxes, doing busy things, when the main stylist says, “I need these shoes, this, this, this,” she got them, and she developed her way up through the ranks that way. And it’s the same pretty much in quite a lot of industries, if you find a good company, or find a person you can really shadow, then you’ll pretty much be sorted, and you can pick up their skillsets, and then move on and develop how you want to.
James: I think it’s one of those things, you know, in our business, we really like to help people along, wherever we can. And if you’ve got someone coming along and coming on a few gigs, and not wanting to get paid, and they’re showing a lot of initiative, it’s only a matter of time before you do want to pay them, isn’t it?
Andy: Absolutely. A good example of that is that we hired a girl who’s worked for us was just really desperate to get in there and now we can’t do without her, so we have to pay her, basically. That’s the thing, is someone gets in there, and they’re so enthusiastic, and you’re aware that they’re there and making these things happen, and they’re doing things, you get to a point where you’re like, “I can’t do without you, you have to work, you know? Even if there’s no money, you’ve got to be paid.”
James: I think that is one of the most important ways into the industry, because, in some respects, you can’t pay someone who has no experience. But then that’s the way you learn, isn’t it?
Andy: Absolutely, and they’ll pick up that experience, and then you realize that actually, you’ve made this better, you’ve made everyone’s lives easier or you’ve what you’ve added to the table is fantastic. When you’re passionate about something, and you get into an industry, there are a lot of people that are quite cocky and arrogant, who say, “I know, I know, I don’t need to do this. “ It’s just being very easy-going, very flexible, and you’ll find that if you’re doing something you love, it’ll come very, very easily.
James: Indeed. I think, the thing is, we are, in this industry, as we keep finding out, working incredibly anti-social hours, so you’ve got to love it, haven’t you?
Andy: Absolutely. I suppose our social factor’s quite good, that’s the one thing, we have unsociable hours, but the guys we work with, we all get along really well with, and I think that’s what keeps us all sane.
James: Absolutely, that’s one of those things, we try to cultivate a kind of strong family vibe when we put our events out, and so we actually go on an event and actually have a genuinely fun time with everybody around us.
Andy: Yeah, absolutely.
James: Well, let’s wrap it up there. I think it’s really good. How can we get in touch with you?
Andy: Well, I’ve got an email address, so any questions or anything, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
James: Excellent. Also, check out Andy’s website, too. His company’s website, drop him a line if you’ve got any questions. As you can hear, he’s a really, really cool guy, who’s only too happy to answer any questions or anything like that. Andy, it’s been awesome talking to you.
Andy: Thank you very much!
James: Brilliant! Let’s do it again soon.
Andy: Okay, cheers, thank you, bye-bye.
Voiceover: You’re listening to plannerspod.com.
James: So, Toby, there we are, that’s our interview with Andy Nurse, what do you make of it?
Toby: I thought that was brilliant, because he’s clearly a lovely bloke, and he’s full of amazing information, and I learnt loads, because I had no idea the kind of intricate details that go on behind, particularly the fashion stuff, I guess, I ‘ve got a bit more experience as somebody who’s performed at music festivals, so I kind of get that. And there was some interesting technical stuff with the sound. The fashion, really interesting. The job advice, and how to get onto the ladder stuff just toward the end, absolutely invaluable.
James: Yeah, I totally agree with you. But going back to the fashion briefly, what I loved, was at that point when he’s got 70, 80 people working under him, that’s a management role, isn’t it?
Toby: Yep, that’s amazing. My major, kind of, learning thing was how many times you have to turn a show around in one day when you’ve got all those different exhibitors and different things. I mean, the amount of, you know, when it’s down to the minute type stuff, I mean, we do stuff down to the minute on our plans, but we always know it’s going to be to the nearest five, or whatever. And occasionally, when speeches overrun, or whatever it is, on an event that we do, it’s half an hour. But you’re talking about people who pay for a few minutes to show what they’ve done, their work. So they are absolutely expecting just their three minutes, and it needs to be properly military, and it’s amazing that Andy can pull that off with his team, which is relatively a small company, but obviously expands to massive when he gets to the actual event. And the other thing, which I was going to say actually, that wardrobe thing. You know, we’ve got a bit of experience with wardrobe, nothing as mega as the stuff he’s dealing with, but, again, isn’t it interesting that they’ve identified the first person they bring in as a subcontractor is a trusted wardrobe mistress?
James: Oh, totally. But the thing is, they’re working for Moda, there, if you just want to have a quick Google of Google – Google that…
Toby: Google of Google?
James: Google of Google. They are the business-to-business fashion show where all the buyers go around, checking out what’s going to be out for the next season, so it’s pretty mega stuff in the High Street world, isn’t it?
Toby: Yeah, it’s massive, and people should look at that, because it’s not a customer-based thing, but you can see at moda-uk.co.uk, you’ll see they are big time. Essentially, just to clarify what they’re doing, all the brands are showcasing their latest collections to the buyers, so, as Andy said, the department stores, and so on, and they decide what they’re going to stock. So it’s a real important one for the industry, because it’s essentially the decision-maker as to what we get to see in the shops when we go out and buy our stuff.
James: Yeah, and I actually thought the other cool thing, which I picked up actually when I was interviewing Andy, because my initial question was, “What’s the difference between a fashion show and a music festival?” Which, really, we ended up asking, “What’s the similarity between it? Because, as Andy showed, whilst the disciplines are very different, the actual skill base behind them are similar. What do you make of that one?
Toby: Yeah, I mean, they’re similar in some ways, but they’re completely different in others. I suppose it’s that core thing and the reason we’re doing this podcast, it’s all about the prep and it’s all in the planning. But obviously, music, you could say, is the supporting element, as opposed to the main element of fashion, for all these reason. But he’s obviously, as we know, because he’s a brilliant sound engineer, he’s got a good idea about what music works for what. And when you go back and listen to Chris Turner’s thing, and he talks about brands, and also you hear Andy touch upon brands, and those things, I talk to my degree students about that, you know, “What does that brand sound like?” There are the kind of briefs the guys do at uni, “Okay, you’re writing music for an expensive item of clothing, what does that sound like?” And then you start to kind of go into that area. So, you need to know about music in fashion, they’ve always gone hand in hand, and Andy’s musical background, as a music student, shows that. So that’s interesting to me.
James: Absolutely. I guess I was actually asking that questions more towards the music festival stuff he was doing.
Toby: Yeah, festivals, obviously timings, it’s all about the timings. It’s interesting, I’ve been a musician on festivals where I’ve been at the top of the bill, and also at supporting, and it’s funny when you do the supporting stuff your set can get smaller as people waste time. And I’ve done, I think, last summer I was out with Kid Creole and the Coconuts, doing a dep on drums for him, and we had five tunes or something, and we ended up playing two, because we weren’t the headline! So, I turned up playing two songs and went home, you know, and it’s like, man, those timings are really important, but woe betide anyone who takes the spot off the top person, and obviously their licensing situation and curfews, with outdoor events, which I’m guessing Chilfest has, they’re kind of in a field somewhere in Tring in Hertfordshire.
James: In the UK, just outside London.
Toby: Just outside London, your favourite phrase. So there will be some kind of curfew things, and when you do those festivals, like Andy was saying, drum kits on risers, like twenty drum kits on risers and wheels, you know, and out the back of the stage, a festival you see everyone’s kind of set up is on wheels. What I didn’t realize was, and again, he goes a bit techy on this, what I didn’t realize was that they were toggling between two sound desks. So I suppose anyone who’s thinking of putting on a festival might want to think about that, you know, “We’re toggling between two sound desks, so the next show’s ready to go straight away,” and that makes total sense, especially when you’re up against time, because it only takes one ego on stage to make his song slightly longer than it should have been, or than people are expecting, that’s amazing. Yeah, loads of stuff when you listen to someone talk about stuff, even when you’re familiar with it, you hear it from their perspective, you’re like, “Ah, I didn’t even realize that was a thing.”
James: Absolutely, I mean, I just said absolutely again…
Toby: Your favourite word?
James: My favourite word. Anyway, look, I think we’re there, we could continue talking for the length of Andy’s interview, actually about this, couldn’t we? Wrap it up. Toby, can you tell me where we find out more about The Planner’s pod, and et cetera, et cetera.
Toby: Okay, so, number one, as I said, just check out moda-uk.co.uk. Again, you want to check out what Andy and his company do, it’s called Production Element, it’s productionelement.com, and they say, “We create inspirational, intelligent, bespoke events, using a multidisciplinary approach.” There you go, that’s pretty open. And you really should check them out, they’re amazing, and as for us, plannerspod.com. You can find all the links to Facebook, social media, and everything about Metropolis, you want there. I just wanted to say, though, that, when you find is in iTunes, which you can also find The Planner’s Planner podcast in iTunes, make sure when you go in there – and subscribe, please – not only leave a review, but make sure, when you type the word “Planner’s Planner,” make sure you put the apostrophe before the ‘s’ of ‘Planner’s,’ and then it’ll come up really easily, we were just testing that the other day, so that’s a little titbit for you. Other than that, absolute brilliant, invaluable interview and can’t wait to see what we’ve got next.
James: Indeed! Let’s leave it there, catch you soon, mate.
Toby: Cheers, guys. Bye-bye!
Voiceover: You’re listening to The Planner’s Planner podcast with Toby Goodman and James Eager. Visit plannerspod.com.
00:50 – Where to find the previous episodes of Planner’s Planner.
01:26 – Who is Andy Nurse and how do we know him, plus what’s in store.
04:43 – What Andy studied and how he started to get into ‘production’.
05:40 – Who makes up the Production Element team.
06:20 – Why fashion is the primary focus of the company.
07:55 – How many shows Production Element work on each year.
08:15 – The specific shows that the company work on.
09:00 – What ‘plotting a show’ means and what is involved in preparation.
09:40 – Understand how a fashion industry event runs.
10:00 – What a half and a full ‘scene’ means.
11:15 – The differences between industry and public shows.
11: 55 – Find out who the big buyers are in fashion.
12:38 – Discover what Andy does during the show itself.
13:30 – Why a show needs to be product driven.
14:30 – Find out who is involved and how many people make a ‘Production Element’ show run.
16:00 – The number one attribute a person needs to work on high pressure events.
17:00 – The overall skills Andy draws upon during a fashion show.
18:00 – Understanding brands.
19:05 – Discover what ‘Production Element’ does at music festivals.
19:45 – Find out about Chill Fest.
20:40 – Discover what a rider is and what needs to be done to make sure bands perform at their best ability.
21:50 – Find out about show calling.
22:40 – Find out how what ‘backline’ is and how to organise lots of it. Plus.. lots of interesting technical info.
25:00 – Andy sums up what skills you need to make a festival happen and uses the T word again!
26:30 – Why a basic knowledge is all you need if you have great communication skills.
28:30 – Andy describes the key differences between rock ’n’ roll and fashion shows.
30:40 – Find out how much rehearsal bands get to prepare for a big festival.
32:40 – How Andy will minimize stress on an event.
33:25 – What Andy uses to help him through an event.
33:45 – What happens when conductors give wrong info!
35:00 – Why you should never be too relaxed!
35:30 – How Andy has approached booking a venue and suppliers for his own big event!
39:30 – Andy’s very valuable final thoughts about how to get into the events industry!
45:00 – Toby and James final thoughts.
54:00 – How to find the other Planner’s Planner podcasts and more about Toby and James.