Working in the programming department for a busy and diverse arts organisation and charity is no mean feat! At Town Hall Symphony Hall we put on over 780 acts every year; yes you heard us correctly!, and our programming department are responsible for choosing, approaching, liaising with and confirming every single one of the acts we showcase at both Town Hall and Symphony Hall; two of the best concert halls in the world. We have been asking our colleague Chris Proctor, Programme Manager, to tell us a little bit about what his job entails and how his role contributes to the success of the organisation and our events.
Q1/ Chris, can you explain to us briefly what your job entails?
Working alongside Chris Baldock, Head of Commercial Programming, I am responsible for the commercially-focussed shows that we present in both venues. These tend to be the rock, pop and comedy shows, together with the concert rentals that we have (both commercial and not-for-profit). Alongside this work, I am also responsible for the accessible performances that we present, including our relaxed performances and concerts for customers with an Autistic Spectrum condition, a learning disability or a sensory or communication disorder, and for establishing and developing relationships with other local charitable partners and organisations.
Q2/ What got you interested in programming as a career?
As a saxophonist myself, I have always wanted to be involved in the live music industry in some way or another. After completing my degree in Jazz saxophone at Birmingham Conservatoire, I realised that my strengths lie in the business side of the industry and not as a performer which is why I took opportunities to work at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, take the Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra on a UK tour and eventually applied for a job at THSH. Whilst working in the Front of House team, we were regularly settling shows with promoters and agents on the night, and I was interested in finding out more about how the various deals were done at the very beginning of the process. When an opportunity came at the start of 2012 to join the Programming team on a secondment, it was too good an opportunity to miss and I’ve not looked back since.
Q3/ Which acts/artists have you been particularly pleased to book at THSH?
There are so many to choose from, but I was really pleased to have booked John Lydon as part of his book launch tour in 2014 and to have booked Brian May as part of the Anthems small-scale tour. I’m also really pleased to have worked with our producers and promoters of children’s events to develop the relaxed performances and to grow that particular audience, alongside developing relationships with charities across the city such as Autism West Midlands, Midland Mencap and Birmingham Carer’s Hub.
Q4/ What is your favourite thing about your job at THSH?
I enjoy the negotiation that goes into putting a deal together and to see the results of that work coming to fruition in the form of a concert, comedy or talk event. Sometimes it doesn’t always come off, but the experience and process (however frustrating it can be at times) is something that I enjoy. I also enjoy the fact that once you’ve put the work into the event, to be able to attend it, speak to artists/agents/promoters and see the audience’s reaction is something that is very satisfying.
Q5/ What advice would you give to any would-be programmers of the future?
My advice would be to try and get involved in some programming work as soon as possible (usually in your student years), as the experience that you learn from at that stage in your career will stand you in good stead for the future. Some of the lessons I learnt doing the tour for the Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra have helped me to realise where I went wrong back then, and how not to do it again in the future! I would also say that you should be open to all styles of music and artists that are proposed, regardless of whether you may particularly like them or not. Some of the more exciting and fulfilling experiences I have had since joining the Programming team have been at events where I may not have previously decided to go because of personal musical taste/repertoire, but actually really enjoyed them!
Q6/ What exciting concerts and shows are on the horizon at THSH?
I’m really looking forward to the Autumn season we have coming up, with personal highlights including Sir Tom Jones’ first ever visit to Symphony Hall, a trio of great comedians within a month at Town Hall in Henning Wehn, Nina Conti and Josh Widdicombe, and a residency with the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra and MSJO Residency Quintet.