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Justin Rudge is helping independent promoters through Live Music Professionals

What does Justin Rudge, creator of Public Bookings, do in a sticky situation?

“The venue had a new door person, who hadn’t taken the guest list into account, so we were over capacity before the first band started. As the headline band started, I was apologising to a group of 50 punters who couldn’t get in, when a fancy car drove up and a highly respected international promoter got out,” he says of the frantic experience. “A firm conversation was had with management, who were refusing to let him in – so I sent him in and missed the gig myself.”
 
It’s every booker’s worst nightmare, to potentially offend someone higher up on the industry ladder, but in this case, Rudge’s story concludes with a happier ending than most. “By the end of the night, the promoter had shaken hands on their first national tour support, so it was worth it.”
 
It’s this ability to always produce the best results out of bad situations that makes Rudge one of Victoria’s most notable industry experts. He has his hands in the various pockets of Melbourne’s music scene, from artist management to recording engineer, but his strength lies in booking, with an extensive history of representing places like the Standard Hotel and the charming Spotted Mallard. If we wanted to ask anyone for advice on how to book a gig, it would be Justin Rudge.
 
The aficionado says the key is to treat the job like a business, as much as you may appreciate the music for what it is. “It’s a business for everyone involved. Art is important, but remember commercial imperatives for all involved.”
 
As a starting venue booker, it can be easy to fall into the trap of wanting to craft an unrealistic but mind-blowing night of music, but Rudge recommends keeping sensible expectations so you can come out on top with the means to continue doing what you love. “Aim within your means, and be aware as a venue booker that you are responsible for making your venue sustainable,” he says. Not only that, you have to consider the whole team of people relying on you too. “We all want to have great bands in our venue, but if it isn’t financially sustainable, it’s no good for the artists, punters, venue, or your career.”
 
The same goes for festival lineups, which Rudge has helped curate as a founding member of the Leaps and Bounds Music Festival, the City of Yarra’s inaugural event that celebrates the diversity of the live music scene by involving over 50 venues, small and large. When it comes to lineups, all round satisfaction should be the ultimate aim, he says. “I believe that lineups and events only work if everyone is happy – venue, artist and punter. Curate your lineups to ensure that you are going to hopefully achieve this.”
 
But now there are more opportunities for young bookers or promoters to pursue the career with some guidance along the way, just so they don’t make the same mistakes Rudge warns against. In fact, the same Music Victoria he worked with for the Leaps and Bounds Music Festival has recently announced Live Music Professionals, a program that targets independent promoters and venues to support a sustainable music community, complete with coaching sessions and specialised workshops. When asked if he thinks the program would have helped him when he struggled in earlier years, he says he can see it “Breaking down that barrier for those beginning their careers who might not have the networks to learn from others in the responsibilities of venue booking.”
 
But to build a truly successful career in booking, there’s only one thing that can help propel your efforts, Rudge says: passion. “In the early stages, the financial benefits won’t be enough to make you happy. Work with artists you’re passionate about, place them in venues that suit the market and demographic you want to work in,” he advises. And when the going gets tough, the expert says the “Word of mouth industry” is full of karma, and if you “Do good work, the work –and opportunities and income – will follow.”
 
That’s the nature of the Victorian music scene, Rudge beams, “A wonderful community who will happily divulge resources and information – if you have the gumption to ask.”
 
By Jennifer Park

Live Music Professionals is a free opportunity for established independent promoters and venue bookers. Applications close Friday March 31. More information is available via Music Victoria’s website.