At the 2022 Women In Music Awards, we celebrated the achievements of 12 groundbreaking executives and artists as the industry came together to honor their work.
music week spoke to the 12 winners to tell their stories.
Interview conducted by Anna Fielding
Sybil Bell is the founder of Independent Venue Week (IVW), the British-American celebration of popular venues. Marking its 10th anniversary in 2023, IVW UK has grown from humble beginnings to a permanent fixture on the industry calendar – involving hundreds of venues across all regions of the country, establishing long-term partnerships with bands like BBC 6 Music , Arts Council England and See Tickets, plus support from IVW Ambassadors such as Wet Leg, Arlo Parks, Anna Calvi, Wolf Alice and many more. Since 2014, over one million tickets have been sold for IVW-branded shows.
Following these successes, Bell has now launched Independent Venue Community – a brand new initiative that offers a range of musical activities for underserved communities in venues, during the day, throughout the year, all over the country.
The program unlocks the potential of places and the talent of the communities around them by developing new skills, opening up opportunities for dialogue with like-minded people to enjoy arts and culture, and creating greater spirit local community nationwide.
Bell is also the creator of Independents Day, a stakeholder industry event for the local and community sector.
Throughout his career, Bell has served as an artist manager, label manager, tour manager, studio manager, event promoter and venue owner. She has been a consultant to various trade bodies including UK Music, MMF and FAC, and has coordinated international networking events at SXSW for the Department of International Trade.
Here, Sybil Bell reflects on her multi-faceted career to date…
You founded IVW in 2014, almost 10 years ago. What does this award mean after so much hard work for such a brilliant and worthwhile cause?
“At first I thought they had the wrong name. Do you know that neither I nor Independent Venue Week have won anything in these 10 years? But I also think it’s a sign of our success. Because when you do something like that, it shouldn’t be about Independent Venue Week as an organization and it certainly shouldn’t be about me. It should be about our community. So it will take me a while to not feel incredibly uncomfortable, because that’s who I am, but I’m obviously extremely flattered. There are some amazing women he could have gone to.
Using this award as a milestone, how do you reflect on what you’ve accomplished so far?
“I really want to enjoy what happened; there are still people who don’t really know what Independent Venue Week is, that it was started in the UK by a woman and that we’ve been doing it for five years in America. We are very grateful to the Arts Council, See Tickets and the other partners who support us, but we are not where we need to be and it is difficult financially. So maybe I need to take this opportunity to say, if you want to support the next generation and help us unlock talent, then come talk to us so we can deliver something across the country.
Do you think the wider industry pays enough attention to the work done by IVW? There have been over 10,000 events now, with over a million tickets sold…
“I mean, it’s a million tickets over 10 years… But I see so many ridiculous sponsorship deals and big budgets pouring into spaces that are there and gone. Some festivals do it right, but a festival is not an eco-sustainable organization, entering these green spaces and spending an exorbitant amount of money for something that will only be used for three days. And if brands just want their name splashed all over the place then fine, but if you really want to support this community and the next generation of artists, tour managers and sound engineers… if you want to support places which are cultural centers, then here we are. People should know that.
“We must not wait for the sites to be threatened to rally. If the sponsorship happens early, at the grassroots level providing real support, then people will remember it as the community grows. It can generate a tremendous amount of goodwill. Here we are with all these places supporting the next generation and it’s almost as if they’re invisible.
How has the landscape of women in the living sector changed since you started doing IVW? Do you have a message for young women and people who identify as women who want to get into it?
“I think the landscape has changed. I know there’s always a question around events like Women In Music like, “Should we need it?” But there is still a long way to go. I always find it difficult. But I think women’s voices should first and foremost be seen as industry voices, rather than specifically as women’s voices.
“Having said that, we still don’t have a lot of women leading our industry. I can count on two hands the number of women who own rooms. I’d like to see that change – and it’s about the perception of business women and funders… I think what we’re trying to do with Independent Venue Week is to make people feel that everything is possible.
“So if we’re talking about the advice that I give, then I would say if you feel strong enough, then go ahead and do it. If you encounter obstacles, find ways to overcome them. You will find help in the most unlikely places. In our office, there is a collective belief that we support each other. We all look forward to coming to work even on down days. I think you have to find your tribe, the people who share your belief and your passion. And they won’t always be like you. But collectively, if you can come together and you all have the same goal, you have a very good chance of achieving it.
You also do a lot of activities around accessibility – what would help the cause the most in this area of work that you do? How can government and industry support this?
“It’s a matter of listening and representation. We always strive to be representative. Our first non-artist ambassador was Jeff Johns, Big Jeff from Bristol, who is such a well-known concertgoer. I saw him doing a round table with Steve Lamacq, alongside Nadine Shah and Adrian Utley. And Jeff was talking about how going to concerts had changed his life, that the need to hear live music was so strong that even though he had learning disabilities, anxiety and other challenges, that wasn’t enough to stop him from wanting to go.
“After that I asked him to be an ambassador because I thought it could change lives and encourage other people who thought they were being shut out of live music. He is one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of music. It’s an honor to have him in our family.”
Live music is still emerging from the pandemic, in a cost of living crisis. How did this affect Independent Venue Week?
“The problem with Independent Venue Week is that we don’t see ourselves as a lobbying and campaigning initiative. Not because we don’t care, but because we don’t have the ability. We got involved in the debate, we were asked our opinion. The world is in crisis right now and it’s really difficult for our community. But before all of that happened, Independent Venue Week’s vision was to have a week where we can celebrate, where we can all take a deep breath and look back at what we’ve achieved.
“It really helps to say, ‘Go to a concert, go this week.’ Because it’s not just about supporting live music, it’s about supporting local businesses, reinvesting in the global economy, enriching your life with arts and culture. spaces by attracting new audiences, encouraging them to open their doors longer, and welcoming communities that wouldn’t necessarily go to these spaces or even think of using them. This seems like a really productive way to help It really fits naturally and authentically with what they’re here to do.