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Susan Heaton-Wright Creative Director interviewed for International Women’s Day

 We have been celebrating International Women’s Day and featuring some of the amazing female talent here at Viva Live Music. The musicians asked if Susan Heaton-Wright, the creative director, could also answer some questions. So here goes!

Questions from Nuria

Why did you decide to create your business within the music industry?
Until 2013 I was a professional opera singer but retired as I had a family. I already had an extensive knowledge of the music business, including delivering entertainment for both corporate and private events. I kept being asked to organise entertainment for events, and was assisting in the organisation and delivery for other businesses. When my son went to school, I decided to set up a business.

What made you choose this type of business?
One of the many great things that happen when you have children, is that you meet lots of people you wouldn¹t normally meet in your line of work. I recognised that for many people, they didn¹t know where to look for high quality and reliable entertainment for either private or corporate events. I met many many people who on hearing what I did, shared horror stories
of how suppliers – and not just musicians had let them down when they arranged a wedding or party. I wanted to ensure the experience for customers was a positive one. Remember this was before the internet was used so much. I would say that searching on Google for suppliers, including musicians is still a high risk decision, as you don¹t necessarily know the calibre of the company.
How did you decide the name of your business?
Our company is called NSN PRODUCTIONS LIMITED using the initials of my husband, son¹s and my names. However after training for a 4 years we recognised that the name of the company didn¹t tell people what we do, and in fact the name NSN was often mistaken for MSN (remember MSN?). At the time I had two employees as well as freelancers, so with the help of an excellent marketing team, we re-branded and chose Viva Live Music as our trading name. The logo has some musical notation, which if tapped has the rhythm for Viva Live Music.
What would be the best advice you could give to someone starting a
business like yours?
Of course it is brilliant to be passionate about live music. And one of the challenges was that a lot of business advice isn’t necessarily relevant for my business – and not all business advisors really understand the industry. But my tips are all business related.
  • Know who your target buyers are.
  • Really understand the nature of the industry you are in and where your business fits into that structure.
  • Find out what is unique about your business because every business has competitors and you need to stand out.
  • Ensure you cost in everything when quoting – so remember to include your time.
  • You are only as good as your suppliers – in my case, musicians, so take care in selecting them. They are representing your company, so take your time to choose who you work with and always check how well they delivered their service.
  • Make sure you have the relevant documents/insurance/checks in place.
  • From the start, keep accounts and check your finances on a weekly basis.
  • Create a marketing plan – of course this includes social media, on how to meet potential clients and to keep in touch with them
It will be hard work, but good luck and enjoy!

Questions from Lizzie.

How did you come to be a business owner in the music industry? – Was it something that you’d always planned to do or did it come about as a result of other work?
 I certainly didn’t plan to be a business owner, but life takes you in different directions at different stages of your life. I didn’t come from a family of business owners: my family are teachers, medics, engineers, but it seemed the right decision based on my family situation at the time. I saw a gap in the market and went from there. Everything I do business wise I have learnt.
What is the most satisfying thing about the work you do?
 When I receive feedback from the client that is good (which invariably it is). When you have comments like “It was even better than we thought it would be”, it is great. Some people think Viva Live Music sends musicians rather like furniture or the lights, but a lot goes into checking the venue, choosing the right talent and curating the music. Although we have an ‘agency’ side, a lot of our work is creating the entertainment for the client.
You yourself started as an opera singer. What made you decide to step back from the performing world and start up Viva Live Music?
 I had a baby (who is 17 now). I found it difficult to combine having a young child with being a freelance musician so decided to retire from performing. When he went to school it was a natural progression to combine my love, knowledge and experience of live music and performance and create a business round this.

And questions from Marika

What would you say are the biggest challenges for the arts/performers in the business at the moment?
A really good question. The whole business of performance – whether it is music, theatre, or events is being impacted by technology. This can of course be a positive thing because technology can be integrated into performances. However, there are times when I hear “I’ll just put on an iPod in the corner” instead of having live music – and good luck to them. Also, certainly in the United Kingdom, the performing arts are not valued; in some cases they are perceived as a waste of money or a drain of funds. There are some clients who have a very unrealistic idea of what musicians and performers cost. And the Olympics did nothing to help with this (in 2012). Performers were being asked to perform for free; and when you have one of the world’s best four symphony orchestras being asked to perform at the opening ceremony for free, it showed the reality of the expectation. Fortunately they did receive a fee but only after a fight.
 
What advice would you give to others thinking of expanding into agency roles and promoting artists for events?
 Make sure you understand the legal implications of this. Once you engage other people to do events, you are an employer – even if they are freelance for a short event. You are responsible for their health and safety and those of the people around them. Ensure you have all of the legal side with a clear contract and that you are covered with your insurance.

Trends seem to change at a rapid pace. How do you keep up with the latest?

I keep up to date with the event/music media and often attend events. I keep up to date with trends by talking to other event professionals too.

You must have a wide network. How did you go about starting that and building your client network?

Through sheer hard work. Remember when I set up the business, I had NO contacts in this area because I had been a performer, so I worked extremely hard to build up business relationships with key decision makers and to make the company visible to potential clients. Remember this was 12 years ago, so marketing was not focused so much on the internet or social media. I got to know a lot of local venues where clients might need live music, and even started blogging!
Clients can be demanding, and we’ve all heard of the stereotypical “diva” of performers. How do you handle the various hats you need to wear when dealing with both clients and artists?

This is an interesting question. Whilst there are clearly some ‘Diva’ performers who have unrealistic demands (and they very quickly don’t work for Viva Live Music as I know our clients won’t put up with their behaviour), there are also requirements that any performer needs in order to deliver their performance to the best standard possible. Basic requirements such as having somewhere safe to leave personal belongings, soft drinks, somewhere to wait away from guests, are essentials. Food is also a greatly appreciated requirement – particularly if it is a long gig. However there are occasions when I have to remind individual performers that there is only one Diva: and that is the client. They are paying a lot of money for the service, and deserve respect, and for the performer to do their very best. We are very blessed with the clients we have. On only a couple of occasions have we had very very difficult clients: and on one occasion, the performers involved were determined to do their best performance despite some truly unacceptable behaviour from the client. They delivered a sensational performance and it was to their credit that they rose above the appalling abuse they received throughout the event, from the client.

Do you have one event that’s been/ or is your absolute favourite and why?
Ooh: this is a really difficult question because there are so many that I have felt YESSS! at the end of them – particularly when we have lovely feedback from the client. But in reality, it has to be my wedding 23 years ago.
Thank you to Susan for answering these questions. If you would like to book any musicians, please call 0800 0938464 or contact us
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