In The Green Room with… Stephen Budd
We take 5 minutes with TokenTraxx advisor and acclaimed music industry executive, Stephen Budd, to find out about his music career to date
Stephen is a true pioneer and trailblazer in the music industry and here he discusses launching award-winning music festivals and charities across the world, working with many of the most iconic musicians to grace the stage and navigating politics and geopolitics with Eurovision.
Let the interview begin…
What is the most interesting story you have read about Web3 recently?
The recent news that The Amazons’ new album is the UK’s first ever chart-eligible album to include an NFT through their Digital Box Set NFT. The package is the first ever Official Charts Company UK chart certified compliant release to include an NFT. It’s very exciting.
If you were an app, what would you be?
An app which is brilliant is Voisey. It is a music creation app, which tracks creators with vocalists, and connects musicians. I use it as a clever talent scouting mechanism for singers and songwriters. It’s very intuitive with an excellent algorithm to find amazing artists and it’s part of Snapchat’s music offering.
What is one message you would give to people trying to get into the music industry today?
I started off as a roadie originally, for Motorhead at their very first shows, and then as a manager where I really had to learn how to “sell” my artists, but on the basis that if I truly loved something, then why wouldn’t other people love it?
You must have perseverance and some extremely thick skin as you will be constantly told “no”. I continued to knock on hundreds of doors until someone finally said ‘Yes!’. People will be rude to you and you have to detach your ego to keep your passion for music alive and maintaining a central belief in what you do.
I have a genuine love of music and it is not just about making money — for me making money is secondary it’s what come out of having done good work. You must find that inner DJ in yourself and people will pick that enthusiasm up from you and want to act on it.
What’s been a particular failure or success which you learnt the most from?
In 2004 I created a huge project that would bring major artists back to the small venues and music bars for a good cause. I was involved with the Barfly chain of venues and also wanted to find a mechanism that would bring all the people in the business together behind one project. The cause was to help children suffering after the Iraq War, so I approached War Child and offered to raise funds for them.
Passport: Back To The Bars became a charity fundraising project featuring internationally famous artists performing intimate shows in small venues in the UK. The big idea was that fans would buy lottery tickets to watch their favourite artists major in the tiny venues across the UK. If they ‘won’ the lottery, they then showed their passport to gain entry, so touts couldn’t buy or sell tickets, it was Guest List only.
We eventually featured over 20 shows across six venues in a week in March 2004 leading up to the BRITS. Artists including the likes of Amy Winehouse, The Cure, David Gray, Craig David, Elbow, Spititualised and the Sugababes played amongst many others. These shows generated significant sums of money for both War Child and Shelter.
But at first no artist was committing to do it. Once I finally secured our first artist, which was David Gray, then came Amy Winehouse and from then it all started coming together rapidly.
It took me a year to pull together this project and it was a real labour of love. Again, perseverance was key. The project went onto become what is now the legendary BRITS Week shows for War Child, utilising the same ‘lottery’ method I came up with in the bath in 2004.
What’s the most useless talent you have?
I am a part-time political agitator. I am in a Signal chat group with a bunch of members of the House of Lords. I don’t know how I got there, but we argue vociferously how bad our government is and about Brexit.
But sometimes I do go too far by rocking an apple cart or two…but hey why not? I don’t think I’ll end up in the House Of Lords though…
Is there a standout moment in your life?
There have been a quite few, I’ve been very blessed.
I launched the NH7 Weekender Festival in India which was the first major rock festival in India. I remember looking at 60,000 people from the side of the main stage in 2019 and thinking: “Wow! That came out of a drunken idea in a Mumbai bar 10 years ago and turned in to something special.”
2010 was the festival’s first year and I was subsequently invited to travel with the then Prime Minister David Cameron and his coalition cabinet as part of a UK Government trade mission, alongside the Chairman of Vodafone and Chairman of British Airways and 30 other British businesspeople to sell the UK to India. It was bizarre as I was the only ‘culture’ person apart from the guy who ran the British Museum. I really did think: “What the f**k am I doing here?” — a true Zelig moment, I’ve had many of those since. But it was very helpful for finding sponsors for the festival.
…And a moment to forget?
I have been a Eurovision judge for various eastern European countries. I was a judge for Ukraine and helped to select the song for Ukraine the year that their entry won in 2004 with the song ‘Wild Dances”. All I had to do was choose the least sh*t song for the local competition and get my guys to produce it, but it went on to win the whole thing.
So, the next year I was invited to be the judge for Azerbaijan and then after that was Georgia.
It was 2009 and the final was in Moscow as Russia had won the previous year. But that was also the year when Russia had invaded and waged war against Georgia.
But the whole experience was beset by problems. My flight to Tblisi, Georgia was diverted to Armenia, and those two countries really don’t like each other. We had to reach Georgia across the mountains in an old Soviet style bus taking 24 hours and driving through scary bandit country.
In Georgia, I faced judging a whole range of contestants. One was a guy dressed as Stalin with two strippers alongside him and another was a band singing “We Don’t Want To Putin” and there were riots out in the streets whilst I was there as some locals didn’t want Georgia to enter Eurovision… I really got how political it was at that point.
I was in the middle of a political sh*t storm and whatever I song chose would cause a major problem. Sure enough, Georgia was ejected from EuroVision that year, and a lot of kerfuffle ensued. I decided not to do any more after that.
Do you have a favourite photo?
One key one is with James Brown in around 2002. I met him as I was good friends with his manager.
I spent a few days on the road with him and I remember the photo being taken in a London Church near Old Street where he was performing for the BBC. I stood next to him posing with a glass of red wine in my hand and Mr Brown said to me: “Son, I cant have my photo taken with you as I can’t abide having alcohol in the photo with me”, which I thought was ironic given his well-documented relationship with PCP and other nefarious substances…. but he was joking and after I necked it, we did the shot. Amazing guy.
Do you speak any other languages? If not, what language would you like to learn?
I speak a little bit of Dutch as my mother was from Holland. I am now very proud to having very recently become a Netherlands citizen to avoid the consequences of Brexit and had to do the citizenship ceremony speaking Dutch. I just received my passport and stood on Westminster Bridge and waived it at Parliament. Childish I know but it made me feel good.
If you weren’t in music, what would you be up to right now?
From the age of 15 I was going to do anything as long as it would be in music. But I could have run a bar or sold life insurance, who knows ! Maybe a career in politics as I have rather strong opinions about societal injustice and the where the UK has been headed over the last 12 years.
Do you collect in anything obscure?
I collect original Nigerian pressings of Fela Kuti albums and 7”s and have amassed 60 albums and 50 singles. Fela Kuti was the originator and pioneer of Afrobeat and as I helped start and run the Africa Express cultural project with Damon Albarn, I have been lucky enough to visit many African countries and ‘crate dig’ for vinyl. I also have 800–900 albums from Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mali and the Congo and elsewhere we have been for Africa Express events
What has been your Proudest Professional moment?
The Passport: Back to the Bars 2015 edition raised over £500,000 for War Child and won the ‘Best Use Of Events’ awards at the National Fundraising Awards. That was a proud moment.
Being appointed as Co-Chairman of the Music Managers Forum is another highlight and my OneFest festival winning the ‘Golden Welly’ for Best Small Festival at the AIM Awards was another.
Best advice you have ever been given?
Don’t personally handle your client’s money.
What would be the title of a song and an album about you and your life
Song — Work to Do — by Average White Band
Album — A love supreme — by John Coltrane. I am a massive jazz fan and this title that represents a love of music and a love of life.
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