Leadmill, Sheffield

Leadmill’s promoter Rebecca Walker tells us how venues need to embrace change to survive in the current economic climate...

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 2 Feb 2015
  • min read
Sheffield venue the Leadmill is one of the region’s most famous and longstanding live music venues.

Since it opened its doors in 1980, it has played a key role in the rise of many bands both local to South Yorkshire and from far further afield. Arctic Monkeys, the Human League, Pulp and ABC have all graced its stage while Coldplay, Enter Shikari and the Killers have all played key gigs at the venue on the way to the top.

We quizzed Leadmill promoter Rebecca Walker on their involvement in Independent Venue Week (IVW), an initiative aimed at celebrating live music at grass roots level. She tells us how venues need to embrace change to survive…

When did you start working in live music?

I went to university to study music tech and became the Leadmill's promoter when I graduated in 2009. I've been here ever since!

How has the business changed since then?

I started at the company in the depths of the economic crash when times were hard for the entire entertainments industry. It’s been a long struggle but here at the Leadmill, we're great at adapting to the situations around us and have managed to continue to bring the very best in live music and DJs to Sheffield. This has begun to get easier as we crawl out of the recession, but times are still tough and we still have to be ahead of trends and keep our ears open for the hottest new acts to introduce to the city.

How have the relationships between artists, promoters and venues changed?

Not in the past six years I've been here, but we have always continued to be professional and welcoming as possible, just like we have for the past 35 years.

How have audiences changed?

Audiences haven't changed, but the way we promote to them and how they find out about shows has. Promoting shows has increasingly become more online and social media orientated. But again, it’s all about keeping on top of trends and what our audiences are engaging with.

Why are independent music venues so important to communities and local economies?

We have an opportunity to invest in breakthrough acts from a small level that national promoters and chain venues can't.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an indie venue?

We don't have the luxury of the cash flow and back up of major sponsors that chains such as O2 Academys do. We have to gamble in terms of what acts we book and investing in break through acts, but they have to be educated gambles. Also, our club and comedy nights help supplement our income between shows. Without them, we wouldn't be able to host the shows that we do.

Why did you get involved in IVW and how does the initiative help your business?

In the tough economic climate, it’s great to have a week raising the awareness and recognition of independent venues across the country. Without smaller, independent venues such as ourselves, there wouldn't be the investment there for emerging and up and coming talent to fill the larger chain venues and arenas of the future.

What advice can you give to artists trying to establish themselves as a decent live act? 

Make sure you have a clear and concise online presence with up to date music. Be creative with how you promote yourselves and always have a ‘hard work or no work’ attitude.

We spoke to a number of venues around IVW including the Night and Day Café in Manchester, the Cavern Club in Exeter and the Boileroom in Guildford.

Check out interviews from some of the acts who turned out for IVW including Prinzhorn Dance School, Stornoway and event ambassador Frank Turner.