Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week he talks to Mark Kneebone, head of promotions at Live Nation and co-promoter of the Laneway Festival.
Laneway is now a staple on the local festival scene, and while lots of you are probably frantically trying to organise yourselves for Monday, spare a thought for today’s guest who started working on this year’s festival before the last one was even done and is here to talk to us just days out from perhaps the biggest day of his year.
Laneway co-promotor Mark Kneebone started out at indie label Kog, honed his skills at his own shop Isaac Promotions and graduated to running first Laneway, and then promoting some of the biggest names in the business as head of promotions at Live Nation, the massive entertainment company that brings some of the biggest names in music to New Zealand.
In that role Mark has promoted gigs across the whole spectrum of music, from the big – like Adele, Pharos and six nights of Pink (!) – to the more niche but still pretty big, like Aldous Harding.
To talk the music business, brown M&M riders and a pioneering programme to cut down sexual harassment at music festivals, Mark joins us now.
Having promoted million dollar events – and other events that haven’t gone your way – how do you define success?
My definition of success has changed drastically over the last 10 to 15 years. When I was a younger man I was much more about the things that we made – ‘we made this’ and ‘we did this’ – but you realise now that it’s about building something. We have a considerable amount of staff here and a big part of my life now is mentoring people and bringing them through but also being able to know that they are not only getting the resources they need but also getting better at what they are doing.
I take a lot of satisfaction in training people on how to plan a festival, how to spot talent, how to bring people through or how to do marketing and working as part of a group. I find that incredibly rewarding. Also using the influence and the position we have to try and do things like making our shows safer, making Laneway safer and trying to take on things like sexual assault at shows. We have a bit of a microphone and a bit of influence so trying to use that to make things better and make them not as shit as they have been in the past.
My partner has been a victim of cat calling and groping at shows, some of my staff have at our own shows. There was a prominent accusation against a media figure in the music community about what happened a couple of years ago at a show down at the waterfront and I was the promoter of that show and it’s incredible jarring. So we’re putting in things like safe spaces for women and hotlines. At the ground level it’s about trying to teach staff and door security in how to deal with people that have been assaulted or something like that. The hardest thing is trying to find people who can train those people in specific music ways because the training out there is for office places – which is great, but if there’s a speed metal band playing on stage and a girl crying at the barrier, then the classic HR technique of ‘let’s pull her aside and we can talk about it’, that doesn’t apply. We have a unique environment and so we are actively trying to find more people who can help.
Last year we brought some people in to train all our senior Laneway staff and we’re trying to do more of that. How do you make it a better industry for everyone working in it? That to me is success – that and making millions of dollars haha.