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The Business of Live Music & Events with Dan Tsu



Writen by Hanaa Yousof


What does it take to build and produce a live event from the ground-up? There is a definite legacy and influence to the cultural zeitgeist that events produced in the UK spark, with the organisation of decades-long festivals such as Glastonbury an annual collision between artists and a dedicated team behind-the-scenes. Whether it’s in curating artist line-ups, preparing stages, or organising security, the meticulous work that goes into production cannot be understated.


For this week’s Blocks2Bags episode, we sat down with Dan Tsu, who amongst many other ventures is an event producer and creative director. The co-founder of Glastonbury venue Rum Shack, which has been running for over a decade, and founder of Lyrix Organic, a live events and education organisation using cross-disciplinary approaches, such as the intersection between rap, poetry, and music, to amplify social action-based initiatives. Lyrix Organix is “for artists who think like activists”, with Dan working directly with artists such as Akala, Ed Sheeran, Lowkey, and ENNY to be at the forefront of social change. 


Sit down with us this week to explore using art to build a legacy — and curating events that connect.



KEY BLOCK GEMS FROM DAN TSU & LYRIX ORGANIX


  1. Cultivating change through art — As is the foundation for Lyrix Organix, Dan’s work is steeped in a subversiveness that displays the power of art to start discourse. Change isn’t a one-way street; using art as a medium to connect with larger messages can be incredibly impactful and a pertinent way to cultivate change reciprocally with your audience.

  2. Understanding the business of music and live performance as a new artist — As we regularly discuss on Blocks2Bags, there are multiple ways to get to the bag, and this often changes under new and varying social landscapes. With music, for example, live performances today supersede products such as merchandise, and understanding these subtle shifts can be key in intermingling artistry with business. 

  3. Globalisation and humility — The desire to take your product — whatever this may be — globally, is not a unique one; but understanding how best to approach this can be a confusing journey. For Dan, whose work with Lyrix Organix has seen him go to emerging creative economies on an international scale, he emphasises the importance of approaching global environments with a level of humility, as opposed to asserting your perspective as the only valid one. 

  4. Harnessing digital landscapes authentically — The digital world is something we’ve discussed at length on Blocks2Bags; it is inexplicably intertwined with almost everything we do. For any new artists who have been witness to now-popular artists coming-up through social platforms, Dan advises using these platforms with a level of authenticity that speaks true to your comfortability with them — the people you’re ‘selling’ an artist persona to will catch on to how you truly feel. 

HOW TO GET INTO MUSIC AND THE BUSINESS OF ARTISTRY 


Cementing yourself as an artist within the music industry isn’t something we’re unfamiliar with on Blocks2Bags; our episode with Jammz alone was a deep-dive into the sometimes messy climb to the bag as a musician. Especially if you’re entering the space without connections, or an intimate knowledge of the business landscape, it can feel beyond intimidating. ‘Breaking in’ is an apt way to describe the harshness of the barriers between aspiration and a full realisation of such a dream. 


Here at Blocks2Bags, we fully see the pitfalls that can come with the climb to the bag; so we approached Dan for his expert insights on the three most important things to keep in mind and help any artist – new or old – as we approach 2024 and go again:


  1. CRAFT – To master your craft means understanding the way it shifts to accommodate for new changes in its respective industry; for music, this means an emphasis on live performance as opposed to more popular forms of the past such as selling merchandise, something Dan has been directly beholden to across the 14-year legacy of Lyrix Organix. Value underlies live performance; understanding this can unlock previously unfound pathways to success as a musician. 

  2. MEDIA – As our B2B hosts talk through with Dan in the episode, digitalisation is a massive factor to consider nowadays, physically intertwined with the business of music and live event production. Harnessing this can mean driving a new form of income to you, and interacting with another new medium for creative endeavours.

  3. BUSINESS – One of the biggest mistakes new artists make? Separating themselves from their identity as not only a musician, but a business. Building a record can start quite literally from home, so not factoring business in can be an easy pitfall; seeing where your music interacts with business is key in monetising your craft and maintaining this steadily throughout your career.


While the step-by-step process may seem like a daunting prospect, Dan maintains that the independence as an artist is particularly important amidst music as a “hierarchical industry which is built against us”. And it’s true; all you have to look at is numerous big-name artists exposing record-labels leveraging their high-status position to undervalue their roster of artists, often in spite of their successes. With his multidisciplinary approach to art, and his commitment to bridging gaps for artists regardless of background, Dan and Lyrix Organix encapsulates the benefits of taking ownership over your identity as an artist, levelling the field to be one balanced through equity. 


“I feel a responsibility to own that space to show people that there is a way to do things and follow your dreams and work within the community and the scene that you want to, and create change without it necessarily having to be sidelined by mainstream economics”, he said.

Such a mindset can soften the harshness of the industry; maintaining your power can be core in determining the course of your path. 


In Dan’s words, “independence is about following your heart”


DIGITALISATION AND AUTHENTICITY AS A NEW ARTIST 


Our world is constantly enmeshed with the effects of social media and rising technologies; but in the face of this digital landscape – what does it mean to be authentic


For Dan, comfort is at the centre of the experience. Advising young artists who wish to immerse themselves within it, he commented on the gap between a social identity and reality, where performing an online persona entirely separate to your own could actually be to your detriment.


“What’s the level of content that you can do comfortably?”, he posed to budding artists, saying that posting online was linked directly with “just being psychologically happy with media and what you’re prepared to share and what you’re prepared not to share”.

Here, Lyrix Organix occupies an interesting space; at the gap between the transition to digitalisation online, the grassroots organisation found itself at a beneficial position. Starting in 2009 with the creation of FaceBook, they were able to move with social media, as opposed to against the heavily-developed algorithms of today. Although the difficulties sparked by algorithms may seem disheartening, Dan also emphasised the value of social media in disrupting existing power structures and dynamics – something which has only grown over time. 


“Subjects in general have a greater power, and entrepreneurs have the power to dictate the narrative”, he said, reflecting on the way that politics have become deeply intermingled with social platforms.

Entrepreneurship, artistry, and business-facing endeavours often all rely on this connection – the way that social media cuts through mainstream narratives and international barriers to unite people with a common mindset or goal. Can it be intimidating? Yes. But understanding that this digitalisation can actually work in our favour, becoming a link between us as an entrepreneur and our audience, comes with a myriad of benefits. 


GOING GLOBAL WITH LIVE EVENT PRODUCTION


‘Globalisation’ can feel like a buzzword with no instruction manual as an entrepreneur, whether in the music industry, other forms of artistry, or beyond. How do you take yourself and your brand global – and how do you build genuine relationships, connections, and avenues to foster new forms of collaboration, knowledge and growth? 


As an event producer, Dan’s work for Lyrix Organix has seen him approach emerging creative economies across the globe in places such as Venezuela, Sudan, Mexico, and Ukraine. Collaborating with organisations such as the British Council, he offered educational insights from his event production, broaching topics such management and business in conjunction with the music industry. Specifically, Dan talked through two core perspectives when taking your work to a global level:


  • Education without ego – Global education is at the forefront of numerous entrepreneurial pursuits; but here, you need to recognise it as a twofold experience, wherein you have to be careful and practise humility. Preconceived assumptions and appraising cultural norms can function as a crack when establishing connections abroad. For Dan, he especially highlighted the colonial implications of such practices for him:


“Recognising and bowing down to the culture, and not making any assumptions that what you know is best”, were things he highlighted as pertinent, commenting on how as an anti-colonialist he perceived the way this could “come across as arrogance”.


  • Building organic relationships through newfound pathways – The key word here is empowerment; in his work, Dan found that relationships could be built through offering opportunities for people to feel empowered and learn in a way that they previously hadn’t considered, such as his organisation of Beatbox Championships in Mexico. Connections here go beyond just talking; taking practical steps can be more meaningful and effective than anything else.


Here, approaching globalisation with care and thoughtfulness can form a part of new foundations and legacies for your entrepreneurial endeavours.

LYRIX ORGANIX AND THE LYRICAL ACTIVISM LANDSCAPE


What does Lyrix Organix mean – and what has it meant – to the lyrical activism landscape? Founded in 2009, Dan traced the steps of its creation to a desire to create events that invoked feeling; his love for the intersection of genres such as hip-hop, spoken word, and folk with social activism sparked an interest in cultivating a platform for political discourse to be heard.


“I wanted to feel like if I was to put on another event brand, that it was actually contributing to the conversation”, he said, mulling over the way that the aforementioned genres were “the language of a disenfranchised community”

Art as a medium for change particularly appealed in that it could be the transitory link between political messages and a wider audience, acting as a vehicle in particular for POC individuals whose voices would otherwise be ignored. As Dan pointed out, Lyrix Organix was able to ‘democratise’ these spaces, something which was especially pertinent in making their events all charity-based. Working with organisations such as Doctors Without Borders, Lyrix Organix found itself creating meaningful discourse. 


Beyond the production of meaningful events, artists too were liberated through spaces like Lyrix Organix; approached by individuals such as Akala for Hip Hop Shakespeare and Kae Tempest, Dan found there could be a reciprocal exchange of change and meaning – genuinely powerful in the face of artists like rappers facing repercussions due to speaking out, sparking the dissolution of grime, among many other issues.


“Imagine if in the top charts you had artists who were actually saying stuff?”, Dan said. 

Diversification, music, and education also were things that he found went hand-in-hand; especially due to the tokenisation occurring after the BLM protests of 2020, there was a need to create spaces of learning that could provoke change. Working with academic Kate McBain, he led a consultation for Youth in Music, tackling the disconnect between the industry and education in relation to the systemic issues that affect earning from their art for a number of young musicians. 


Ultimately, event production and creating a legacy through this doesn’t need to mean conforming to what is expected; it can be an incredibly powerful medium to connect with social action initiatives, and go deeper than the surface.


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