IVW 2024: Sam Pratt from ABB Events Ltd talks grassroots events
By Ryan Moss
- 01 Feb 2024
- 2 min read
Independent Venue Week is in full swing and to celebrate, we wanted to chat with the people on the ground, working hard to platform grassroots music and help the next generation of talent coming through up and down the country.
Earlier in the week, we spoke to The Black Prince’s Phil Moore and today, we’ve got an interview with Sam Pratt, the director of ABB Events which is based in Leeds.
Sam has a wealth of experience in the grassroots music sector, spending 13 years as a DJ and promoter. He previously promoted events at Headingly’s A Bar Below, organising electronic music nights and working alongside up-and-coming brands and bedroom DJs.
Over the two years the brand was based there, Sam organised over 100 events, crediting this time as a place which gave “these new artists, who may have been students or younger people with aspirations to be a DJ or producer, a place to showcase their sound and put events on.”
In our interview, Sam spoke about the challenges faced by independent music promoters, told us about the joy of grassroots promoting and much more.
What specific challenges have you faced as an independent promoter over the last four years?
“Rising costs across the board, really. Everything is more expensive now and the partygoers tend to buy tickets for these events later down the line and much closer to the actual date. This can be stressful for those who are putting on the events, with the pressure and anxiety of the unknown numbers of attendees until the day itself. It can be difficult not knowing whether to pull or postpone the date or push forward with the night.”
Artist fees are rising and small, independent promoters and venues find it hard to book big-name, headline acts. How do you think this affects the live music ecosystem?
“It’s definitely affecting the industry. The idea that someone or a certain brand has control over an artist or DJ can be difficult. It doesn’t allow for much growth for smaller, underground brands and promoters, so it’s difficult to move forward and book bigger names. Especially with the rising costs of artists and venue fees.
It’s been a tough time for the industry with fewer people going to events and those who do spending less and being more selective with their nights out.”
Is it possible for booking agents to offer lower fees for smaller venues? The idea behind this is that bigger artists play so many events that the loss from smaller fees won’t be as significant for them. Independent promoters can then book well-known artists, which can attract more people to the events.
“I’d like to think so. However, I think it is dependent on the artist, their management and also who you know. Some bigger artists may be willing to take a cut to play in a smaller venue but this isn’t always the case. Booking agents are going to offer the highest price but you can negotiate, some tend to have an understanding that if it’s a smaller venue, there will be less ticket sales and money taken and may be willing to reduce prices.
Other agents will not accept any other offer than the one that they dictate. It is a really competitive market, so a lot of agents will always take the biggest and highest-grossing bookings for their roster.
The venue itself can also have an impact. Though a venue may be small, it may be iconic or have gained a lot of attention and bigger artists may want to play there.”
How would you like to see famous artists and large venues help grassroots promoters?
“By working with them, not against them. It’s important that bigger artists and venues have an understanding of the impact of rising costs and the cost of living have on the majority of local and independent promoters.
These factors have a knock-on effect on the decision-making of who promoters can book and afford to book. For a start-up promoter, it can be a big risk to put on a night with a costly headliner in a well-known venue. Known brands are going to gain more attraction and if you don’t have a loyal following it can be a gamble and not always meet expectations.”
Moving on to a more positive outlook, what do you enjoy the most about promoting events on an independent level?
“I enjoy curating the event and building an experience of all aspects of a party. At ABB we pay attention to all the details, we put thought into the sound, lighting, aesthetics, entertainment and theme of the night. We work closely with professional engineers who specialise in sound systems and AV installations for the best possible experience.
At our next party with Audial, we will be transforming a grassroots venue in the centre of Leeds, The Imaginarium into a circus-themed event. Here Freakenstein aka Tristan Da Cunha, myself, Matt JL and JoeJoeMojo will be joining us for a night of theatrics, soundtracked by House, Electro, Breakbeat and Ghettotech.”
Can you tell us about your favourite music experience in a small and independent venue?
“I’ve been putting on events across Leeds for the past 5 years and also attended them for over 13 years so it’s difficult to pinpoint a certain experience or event. However most recently I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the brand REC on curating events, for example, together we have brought the likes of Anthea, Gabbs, Man/ipulate to a small, independent bar and venue in Leeds. To have Distrikt bar packed out and have an unmatched energy throughout the venue really makes it worthwhile doing what we do, even if half the time it can be stressful; when it comes to fruition and you can stand back, take it all in and see everyone in the moment and connected. That’s my favourite part of it all, to be honest.”
Finally, how has being involved with music and events at a grassroots level impacted your life?
“It’s impacted it on so many levels that it became my life and still is! It’s now is such an integral part of what I do and I want to enable grassroots venues to grow and get the best out of their venue, I will also always stay true to having local support artists and DJ’s play for all our different events. It is so important to book local, support local, and it’s a privilege to watch other artists and events grow. I guarantee that you’ll have a more meaningful and proud sense of achievement when you support other aspiring DJs and brands.”