Start-up stories: The Newcastle Gig Guide

They tell me there are over 50 venues in the NewcastleGateshead area, so I start counting on my fingers. The Arena. The Sage. The O2 Academy – main stage and Academy 2. The Cluny. The Black Swan. The Student Union – there’s more than one, I think... And I’m stuck.

I consider myself a live music fan, but keeping track of all that’s going on across (Gateshead and) Newcastle’s live scene is impossible, and as for knowing if it’s any good? No way.

But when Stewart Platt & John-Michael Hedley discovered this problem, they went right to creating a solution for it. And the Newcastle Gig Guide was born.

“The Newcastle Gig Guide is a live music discovery platform that hosts every music event taking place in Newcastle and Gateshead. We also feature reviews, previews, interviews and photos from events,” they tell me.

“As promoters and huge music fans ourselves, we always felt there was loads of amazing gigs in Newcastle but there wasn’t an easy way to discover what was going on, all in one place.

“After speaking to a few people in the industry we decided we should try and make a home for all the events with an easy to use live music directory of Newcastle and Gateshead.”

That’s a great thing to have – but how do you turn that into a business idea? How do you make money from the internet? Well, you turn to some experts in that field, and you work at it. “After looking into many avenues and people to support the project we were lucky enough to be accepted on to The Digital City Fellowship scheme based in Teesside University,” says Stewart.

“We were offered a three month contract that gave us time to develop the idea whilst subsidising our living costs. This gave us the time to meet with venues and promoters and build our team of journalists and photographers.”

As the boys learned, three months can be a very short time in the world of start-ups. “After the three month contract expired, we were offered another three month contract that was our saving grace because it gave us the opportunity to start developing our website. After the six months were over we had a website we were very proud of and two business models in the guide and our own ticketing platform - Mint Tickets.”

Stewart and John-Michael worked with specialists who helped them with web design and build, marketing and social media, and specialist networking groups/organisations. They took the help that was available to them and they really capitalised on it.

The logistics of this kind of venture are undoubtedly challenging, and they’re quick to tell us just how hard they had to work to make the site into the resource it now is. “Populating the website. After receiving the back-end of the website from Thrive it was our job to populate it with every music event in Newcastle and Gateshead. We had over five hundred events to transcribe into our content management system manually.” Ouch.

“Date, time, location, info, artwork etc all had to be inputted individually. It took us weeks to complete and it still takes up the majority of time to stay on top of.”

So, is it worth it? How do they enjoy start-up life? “I don’t have to turn up for work every morning at nine am and finish at five. I can make the guide fit around the other work I have or if it’s a really nice day I can take the day off,” Stewart tells us. And we’re not jealous, not really. But in the interests of balance, we push him for the harder stuff too.

“The worst thing about being a start-up would be getting people to pay attention to your idea. With a very small marketing budget we’ve had to come up with a few unique ideas on how we can spread the word.

“At the start we recruited lots of journalists and photographers from the local colleges and universities. We offer them free entry to the events they choose to cover in return for a review or photos of the event.

“Most venues are very supportive of the guide. We have every music venue on board except three, but we hope once they see the benefits we are creating for the other venues and artists that are performing there they will come around.”

So, what’s next for the gig guide? “When we originally thought about creating the guide we wanted it to be a mobile phone app. All the gigs, all on your phone. After being quoted around ten thousand pounds we thought it would be best to create a website first, then introduce an app if there was enough demand for it.

“If the guide takes off however, we would love to do a gig guide in other cities such as Sheffield or Manchester or Brighton.”

And if you could have anyone championing the Gig Guide, who would it be?

“Getting a thumbs-up from Ant & Dec would be brilliant. Two local lads supporting the guide and the wealth of musical talent in the area would be a huge privilege.”

We hear they’re always ready to r(h)umble...