Careers in Music Series #2: Matt Robinson

By Kath Hartley


In the next instalment of our ‘Careers in Music’ series, we caught up with Matt to discover how he balances a busy lifestyle as an Artistic Director, community musician, active performer and composer…

What does your role at Lancaster Jazz Festival entail?

Ultimately, it is my job as Artistic Director to manage the Festival Team and the company, whilst setting the artistic aims for the festival. I also manage the relationships with all the emerging artists that we work with over the long term.

My role includes programming the festival and managing how it looks, feels and meets its aims, whilst working within a very tight budget. To help with that it’s also my job to work with and maintain relationships with sponsors, funders and donors – finding and applying for funding to make the festival happen!

Events can sometimes be blood sweat and tears, what's the most rewarding thing about working on a festival like this?

I haven’t managed a festival yet that isn’t some combination of stress, nerves, caffeine and sleep deprivation.

In the early days of Lancaster Jazz I met up with Steve Mead, Artistic Director of Manchester Jazz Festival, with loads of questions. One thing that Steve said that really stuck with me was - “if you’re doing this because you want to listen to loads of gigs then it’s definitely the wrong job”.

Packing out events with emerging artists playing awesome music is great but during that time the team are usually running around backstage trying to make the next thing happen. This is what I really enjoy though – working with a great team that thrives on pressure to make something big and artistic happen.  

If running complex production schedules at 3am in the rain after no sleep for three days, whilst trying to find an artist that’s locked out of a hotel, knowing that you’ve got a breakfast meeting with sponsors is your thing, then get into festivals. I’m probably not selling it too well, but it is great fun.

What’s been the key to Lancaster Jazz Festival’s growth from community centre to sell-out contemporary musical festival?

Keeping the aims of the festival and staying true to them. Keeping it as an artist-led, artist-focussed festival. An event that works for artists. That was the key thing when we started in the backroom of The Gregson – an event that we, as artists wanted to put on and get something out of. Being able to maintain this ethos has been tricky as the festival has grown, so we try to make sure it keeps growing organically and not too quickly. There is always a temptation to chase audiences rather than grow slowly and sustainably – but that really is key.

How did studying Jazz at Leeds Conservatoire set you up for a role such as this?

I enjoyed the flexibility of the course, it allowed you to pick the focus of the work meaning you graduated with a broader range of skills.

Also, the majority of study was practical, for instance our final year community music module, which wasn’t just a single workshop, but a 12-week self-designed project in the community. This allowed you to try things in the real world with all the moving parts associated with designing and managing a project. These skills are essential in event management as well as being a freelance musician.

Which act are you most excited to see perform at this year’s Lancaster Jazz Festival?

The only performance I get to see in full is the headliner so I’m really looking forward to that. Especially as the Elliot Galvin Trio who make up the majority of Mercury Prize 2017 nominees Dinosaur closed the festival three years ago. Their album is very exciting so I’m really looking forward to it.

Do you have any advice for those seeking opportunities for artistic programming and promotion in the Jazz sector?

Talk to loads of people and make opportunities happen for yourself. It’s very rare opportunities come to you without any prompting, or by just doing it yourself. The jazz sector is in an interesting place at the moment - there’s a lot of energy in certain parts of the sector whilst others are struggling to survive… make the most of it.


To find out more about Lancaster Jazz Festival (which runs Friday 15th – Sunday 17th Sept) - click here.

Artists involved in this year’s programme include current students The Wardrobe Quintet and Morpher Trio, alongside alumni Emma Johnson’s Gravy Boat, Tom Riviere’s Family Band, Shatner’s Bassoon and recently announced ‘Jazz North Introduces’ artist - J Frisco.

By Kath Hartley

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