‘If you really believe in something, you’re bound to… do a better job’ – festival director Lauren Down

From writing for the likes of The Line of Best Fit and London In Stereo to serving as managing director for End of the Road festival, Lauren Down is well practised in keeping a cool head in high-pressured work environments. An avid gig goer, her passion for music and the arts is interwoven into everything she does. I was keen to learn more about her journey into the world of music, the challenges she’s faced and her sources of inspiration…

Were you always into music? What are your earliest musical memories?

My earliest musical memories are probably long drives with my family – my Dad playing a lot of T Rex, Queen and The Who. As a kid, I was all about pop music – all the embarrassing things! Not embarrassed about the Spice Girls, obviously – that was my first ever gig.

I got switched on to the kind of music I’m into now when my parents friends made me listen to Beautiful Freak by Eels and In Utero by Nirvana. It had a huge impact on my music taste. I got into listening to alternative radio, watching MTV2, and reading NME religiously.

How did you get into music journalism?

I always loved writing, music and art. I knew that I would never be a musician, but realised that writing about music was something people did as a career.

I moved to London for university and joined the student paper immediately. Back in the day that was just going to gigs or getting CDs in exchange for reviewing them. I contacted a couple of websites, one of them being The Line of Best Fit. I honed my writing skills, listened to loads of music, read loads, and worked my ass off!

My first ‘proper’ job in music – aside from The Line of Best Fit where I worked my way up from contributor to deputy editor – was doing PR for two different companies. One was called Create Spark run by an amazing lady called Debbie Ball – she did the online press for Sufjan Stevens, Tame Impala, Jens Lekman, Pond, Japandroids, The War on Drugs and loads more.

Then I worked for Dog Day Press, run by one of my favourite humans Nathan Beazer, where I launched their online department and worked on campaigns for Angel Olsen, Caribou, Alex G, Nadine Shah, Matthew E White, James Holden, Neko Case and tons of other amazing artists.

Photo: Sonny Malhotra

How did you end up working at End of the Road festival?

I started going to End of the Road in 2008, because Paul from The Line of Best Fit told me that it was the best festival he’d ever been to. I went along with some friends and fell in love with it immediately. It was small, the music was amazing, the atmosphere was great.

In 2012, The Line of Best Fit became an official media partner. We were heavily involved in running all of the secret shows and sessions. I took Scott Hutchinson from Frightened Rabbit real ale tasting and then he did a secret solo show in front of the biggest crowd we’d ever had. I remember feeling super proud of having made that happen and witnessing everyone get such joy out of it.

The next year I helped revamp the festival’s programme and website. I was hired as a copywriter to do all the band bios, the programme content and all that kind of stuff.

Simon, who runs the festival, invited me to come and ‘chat about some more work’. It was an interview for the role of general manager! I hadn’t even seen the job description so we went through it line by line to ascertain what I did and didn’t have experience of. They called me a couple of weeks later and said ‘You’re the least experienced candidate but we’re going to hire you anyway!’

I think I got the job because I loved the festival, still do, and that’s not something that could be taught. I knew it like the back of my hand in many ways already and everything else I knew I could learn. I find that in everything that I’ve done and in everyone I’ve worked with… if you really believe in something, you’re bound to work harder, care more and do a better job.

You’re now the managing director. What does that involve?

I’m heavily involved in marketing, advertising and the overall look and feel of the festival, working closely with our in-house designer and illustrator to get the visuals right. I work with the office on merch and logistics. And then all the nitty-gritty details… co-ordinating the programme, working with the social media team, organising any sponsorship that we have, keeping budgets in line, working with the council, site design, making sure people are looked after on site, that our backstage areas are lovely for the artists…

I also work really closely with the local residents. Two weeks before the festival I go down and drive around knocking on doors and meet and greet everyone.

Photo: Nick Helderman

Sounds busy! Do you get to enjoy the festival when it’s on?

Last year was probably my favourite in terms of the balance between work and enjoyment. When I was first made director, I felt that people would assume I wasn’t working if I wasn’t in the office. But that’s not where I need to be – I need to be out experiencing the festival, seeing what’s wrong with it, seeing what’s right with it. There are so many things you can’t learn until you’re walking around.

My favourite moments are when I get to see friends and family enjoying it and experiencing it in the way that I did for so many years. The times where I get to stand at the side of the stage watching my favourite band and watch thousands of people experiencing something that I’ve helped create… it’s such an indescribable feeling.

There are a lot of brilliant female-led acts on the line up this year. What are your thoughts on addressing gender imbalance on festival line ups and in the industry?

On the wider industry point, things are improving all the time but it feels too damn slow. We’re still so far from a balanced situation and complacency is all too damaging.

On a personal level, I think it’s about checking your unconscious biases and acknowledging your privilege – particularly if you’re a middle-aged white man – and doing more to highlight incredible women around you. As a woman, support other women around you and if you’re in a position to do so, pull them up with you.

With regards to festivals, it’s not hard to book female acts. It’s really not. Cries of ‘there aren’t enough women’ are just utter bullsh*t. There are amazing, incredibly talented women everywhere you look in music – from the smallest band on a festival bill to the headliners.

And let’s not forget all the awesome women behind the scenes: Natasha Haddad and Lucy Wood at Latitude Festival, Fiona Stewart who started Green Man, Bengi Unsal, who is the senior programmer of contemporary music at Southbank Centre to name a few…

At End of The Road specifically, our production manager, site manager, technical manager, head of press, and pretty much all of our artists liaison team are women. There’s a lot of female staff and I think that’s just as important to highlight as the people out front.

Photo: Richard Grey

Have there been any particular challenges in your career so far?

Being a woman has certainly been a challenge. Being paid less than male counterparts, people assuming that they have a right to discuss your reproductive plans with you…

It’s a highly pressurised, stressful environment. It’s never been the kind of job that you leave in the office. I think the festival market is saturated and trying to stick to your guns, maintain your niche and what you believe in are all challenges.

Have there been any people that have particularly influenced or inspired you?

There are artists and musicians that have inspired me in their outlooks and determination. Patti Smith, hugely, and artist Leonora Carrington. Just for the way that neither of them take any shit, didn’t accept what life handed them and weren’t afraid to pursue what was in their hearts.

In real life – and I know it’s a cliche – friends. Particularly Jess Partridge – she works so hard and is so smart. She runs the PRSF Keychange project, as well as London in Stereo. Sonny Malhotra, my husband, also… he’s a photographer, his creativity is endless. I’m kind of jealous of it, to be honest.

I’ve been in London for 11 years and in the music industry for most of that. When I was broke and just starting out, there were a lot of us hanging out together. I see all those people now succeeding and I find that really inspiring.

What advice would you give other women working in your sector of the industry?

Don’t take any shit. Don’t give any undue shit – treat everyone around you decently and honestly, with respect. The music industry doesn’t need any more assholes!

Try not to doubt yourself. I know imposter syndrome is a huge thing for women in all walks of life, but particularly in high-powered creative positions, it’s easy for people to think that they’re not good enough. Don’t undervalue yourself, and don’t be afraid to say what you think. Work hard. You’ll probably have to work harder than those around you. I always think that where I am now is a combination of hard work and luck, but I worked hard to create that luck for myself.

You have to really believe in yourself and really want it. If you have this abstract concept of working in the music industry, people will see through you.

What are your plans for the future? Anything on your bucket list?

I see myself being at End of the Road for a really long time. I don’t think I’d do this job for anyone else because I’ve never loved a festival as much as I love End of the Road. I want to continue working there and help it grow. World domination, y’know!


Feature image: Sonny Malhotra


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