Winner Profile: Midnight Mango

Nurturing the live careers of acts is a role that is crucial to delivering a constant stream of quality line-ups for our festival market. We figured that two-time winners of the Festivals’ Favourite Agency Award, Midnight Mango, might have the answers to the question: What makes a good agency. We caught up with founder, Matthew Bartlett, to find out. And to discover where that name came from.

Congratulations first, you won your 2nd UK Festival Award

“Well, thanks. It’s just reminded me I must update my [email] signature.”

It suggests that you might be nice people to deal with.

“We were shortlisted for the other ones, which we didn’t win, but we were in the final. But I’m much more pleased about this one because it’s come from people who were voting, presumably who are people we work with.”

Let’s start at the beginning: Midnight Mango, I’ve been trying to work out where that name might have come from, but it beats me.

“Here’s the story: Like so many other people in the music industry, I used to be a musician. A long time ago, in the late 90s, I was in bands, and I wrote a song, and it was called Midnight Mango. Then I joined a cooperative of musicians, called the Sedgemoor Contemporary Music Group, and we wanted to have a website; this was the late 90s and the Sedgemoor Contemporary Music Group was just such a horrible mouthful to use. We bought the name Midnight Mango as the URL for that, just because we thought it sounded good and we had a little vote. Then Sedgemoor Contemporary Music kind of petered out and I got more into promoting. I still had the URL, so when I set up the business, I was probably too much of a cheapskate to buy a new one, so I named the business after the URL rather than the other way around. So that’s kind of how it started, it originally came from a song.”

How did the transition from musician to agent happen?

“We started as promoters, I think it was around 2003, 2004, I can’t remember precisely. We did that till about 2010 and we were promoting nationally, about three hundred shows a year, something like that, all over the place in venues ranging between 100 and a thousand, that kind of range. In 2010, we incorporated, so that’s when we became a limited company. Shortly after that, some of the artists that I did a lot of promotion work for, the Ska bands like The Beat, Neville Staples and Selecter, but the first one was actually Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds, who I did a lot of shows with, they all said to me at roughly the same time, actually, we don’t have an agent, would you like to represent us? You’re doing a lot of shows with us anyway and seems to be going well. And, um, and so I was like, yeah, all right, I’ll give that a go, so then I employed somebody else to come in and help me be an agent for the ska bands and I did Adrian Edmondson.

“That’s sort of how that happened. And then over a period of perhaps 2 or 3 years, we stopped promoting and just really reverse engineered the contracting.”

When you say we, who was we?

“Me and my colleague Ian; he’s still with us. Ian’s the guy who does all of the…loads of things actually, but not the selling of bands if you like, but pretty much everything else. He does all the finance and all of that, makes sure that people stay on the straight and narrow and all of that kind of thing. When we were doing more promoting, he was also doing a lot of the promo, a lot of the advertising of the shows, a lot of ticket counting, that sort of thing. So, we were two people up until we took on these bands as agents and then I employed someone else. That person was actually Zac Peters who’s now an agent with Runway.”

Between morphing from promoter to agent and winning your first UK Festival Award in 2019, there’s been some growth.

“Yeah, that’s right; looking back at it now, it was organic, I didn’t really grow it like a business, I sort of thought I was growing it like a business, but in fact we were just organically growing and gaining new artists. And then, of course, we got to 2019 and we won the award, which we were really shocked about at the time.”

In a good way, right?

“Yeah, in a really good way. Sarah Shepherd from Glastonbury rang me up and said, ‘you know you’re in line to win this award?’ And I was like, what award?  There was no way we were going to win an award, we hadn’t asked anyone to vote for it.

“We didn’t even really know about it until Sarah got in touch, so I said to Ian, why don’t you and Ethan, who’s worked with us for years now as well, why don’t you two go up and have a jolly, just have a good time and it’ll be all right, and you’ll maybe meet some people and have some fun. I stayed at home; I was sat in my armchair. I remember I fell asleep and then, the Missus was going, oh, you’ve won, you’re on Facebook, you’ve won. And I was like, what? So that was really funny. I was not expecting that because there are obviously big agencies in the UK, and they normally win things. It almost seemed like for, whatever the other awards were called at the time that they almost took it in turns to win things. I thought that’s never going to happen here, so that was quite shocking.”

It’s December 2019, you’ve grown into an award-winning agency with and office and staff. We all know what happens a few months later, right?

“We had an office then, we’re just outside Glastonbury here. So, in a village down there, mile or two away, we had a little office and there were 6 or 7 of us by that point.”

And then we all had to go home, literally.

“Obviously the show stopped, so I ended up still in the office, but everybody else was at home, so I was just in the office for a couple of months straight, really getting more and more fed up with rescheduling everybody’s shows. The others were on furlough, they kind of weren’t really doing anything until I discovered that you could actually have some training whilst you were doing furlough, which then I tried to implement. It didn’t really go down very well, to be honest.

“In the end, I got so fed up with being in the office on my own, I just picked up the computer and came home, thought, might as well be at home. Then I think by August I just went, there’s not much point having an office, so we got rid of it.”

And that was the catalyst to 100% remote working?

“Yeah, so we were all online then. The others were on furlough, I wasn’t on furlough, which made kind of financial sense because because I’m a business owner and the way I pay myself, my furlough was actually really small.

“Then they had flexible furlough, didn’t they? I remember that, and we were doing a little bit here, a bit there. Then I think we found out about the Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) money being available. That would have probably been around July ish time.

“That was due to sort of start in September, so we then had to pull together a proposal for the CRF. Um, and that was a game changer for us.”

A game changer, but in what way?

“The problem with the CRF; actually, in retrospect, the good thing, but the problem at the time with the CRF was that you had to justify an application for at least £50,000 across six months. By that point, we had cut everything to the bone; we got rid of the office, two people had left the firm and our salaries, which are quite bonus heavy, were quite low because there were no bonuses. So it was impossible to justify £50,000, we could have quite easily survived for much longer on £50,000 than six months.

“We had to think of a way of putting in a bid for more than £50,000, I had to come up with another idea and the idea in order to claim more money. And that idea was that we would claim more money to then redistribute to agents who had been made redundant by other firms. So that was the plan. We’d create grants, and these grants we would give out to people, and then we would help to train them. Whether they were already big agents or small agents or whatever, we would use that time to help train them up on our systems. By doing that, we were able to get that application over the 50 grand, quite a lot over the 50 grand, actually. So, we basically got some money off the CRF and redistributed it and started training. To some extent, that’s led to how we’ve operated since.”

So, you, in that way, pick up new agents for your organisation?

“Yeah, 100%, we advertised for that. The idea was that the pandemic would finish at some point and if we had new agents coming in, then that would be a good way to come out.”

You grew through a pandemic when the industry you serve was closed down?

“Yeah, that’s exactly right. Certainly, in numbers of people, we didn’t grow in terms of income, but we grew in terms of numbers of people. I suppose you could say we grew in terms of grant income because we’d never had a grant before, we’d never applied for a grant, we’d always just kind of relied on our metal or whatever.

“When it came to apply for the second round of CRF, we just did the same thing again. During that time, we developed a training course. The [original] idea was that we would have people who were freelance booking agents who didn’t have any money and would come to us and get a grant.

“It did happen on a couple of occasions, but mostly it was people who were doing something else in the music industry; maybe they were in a band, or maybe they were a promoter or something like that. When we did the interviews, which there were a lot of, the people that we liked actually weren’t the booking agents that we kind of wanted to get, so we ended up training quite a lot of the people completely from zero, not having any knowledge of being a booking agent but having some knowledge of the music industry. So that way we sort of developed this training course.”

How many agents do you have on board now?


And how many artists on your roster?

“It’s just over 200 at the moment.”

You win an award before the pandemic; you innovate your way through it and you come out the other end being voted by festivals as the favourite agency in 2023. What would you say makes a good agency from a festival point of view?

“The agency has to be approachable, they have to be responsive, and they have to be quick. Especially when you’re dealing with an agency like us, who is primarily dealing with acts that are on the billing somewhere, not the headliners.

“That’s not because we don’t want headliners, of course we want headliners. But the reality is, is that we help festivals with a lot of their billing artists, a lot of their second stages and they just want to get those done So I think facilitating that process is really important.

“I think it’s really important that my background was in promotion, my background was always on the same side as the festival, same side of the contract as the festival is than, so we sympathize with that. And I’ve been a festival programmer, I programmed a festival for ten years in the South West, and I know how frustrating it is to have to wait or for agents not to get back. One of our watchwords is deliver, you know, and that’s really important, I think.

“It’s something I thought about a lot. We do we we put a lot of time and effort into creating that approachability, that that happy atmosphere. The reviews that we have from other people are all really good. Pictures on our signatures, all of those sorts of things are designed to make us come across as more approachable.”

We hear stories of festivals struggling to find headliners, does that mean it’s a sellers’ market? Is it all sunshine and roses for agencies?

“It’s certainly not all sunshine and roses for agencies. There are lots of other pressures as well on the agency in terms of what programmers want. I was with, uh, one of the Glastonbury programmers last week in Ireland, and we went through the whole roster. His focus was very much on female fronted artists. So, I’ve got to get my quota of three female fronted artists sorted first, before I go back and deal with what other spaces I’ve got.

“So that’s a big deal and that’s a big deal for agents as well. We’re obviously signing music, we want to sign music based on what we perceive as quality, but there’s also these other pressures coming in. They’ve kind of always been there and rightly so, but that’s something that’s harder to deal with just because of the simple fact that there are more male fronted artists out there. So, you know, you have to approach that with a level head.

“There are issues with programmers. The artists that the programmers want Are tied up in agencies that can only deliver them to a fixed number of festivals per season, right? So, people are chasing artists that they’re never going to get as well. And this business is very headline focused.

“What we found this year, and I think it’s fair to say, is that this year it does seem to be later. Um, so, um, last year we did a lot of work in January and February. I think that will happen again and maybe even push a bit later than that.”

You say that efforts are, quite rightly, being made by programmers to balance diversity across their bill. Do you actively monitor diversity across your agents’ rosters?

“Yeah, 100%. We’ve got a big spreadsheet, it’s got all the information about where artists come from, what gender they are, a bunch of other factors as well. Every time we sign an artist, our marketing administrator fills in the spreadsheet, and the spreadsheet tells us what our ratio of men to women are and so on. So, yeah, we do that precisely, all the time. We use that to try and, I wouldn’t say necessarily encourage, maybe encourage, but also to make our agents aware of what the gender balance is on their respective rosters. That’s because, if you’re aware of something, you’re more likely to do something about it, aren’t you? So yeah, very much so. I’m really into the numbers.”

I had a cruise around your website earlier and I found a button marked ‘Learn’. Clicking it revealed 30 articles covering all aspect of an agent’s work. Is that a result of what you developed with the CRF money?

“It’s very much that. Actually, it’s an offshoot of that and it’s a resource in itself. When I wrote the training course, I wrote it as articles. I didn’t tell you this, but I used to be a schoolteacher. But, when I was writing that, I was writing it as an article, kind of as a blog as well, which I was posting.

“I thought, well, I might as well just write this course like this. And so, this is the resource that we can refer back to when we’re teaching it; it’s there, it’s online, and people can look at it.

“There was a whole lot of discussion about whether we should make it public or not. I was learning a lot during the pandemic about inbound marketing and about how, if you put yourself out there and you say all the things that you want to say and you provide information that people want to know, then they’re actually more likely to engage with you.

“So the philosophy behind that was a pretty simple one really; if we put that up there, then people will learn from it and some people who learn from it will get in touch and the ones that don’t get in touch, they’ve got that resource there to refer back to.

“What we’ve found is that quite a lot of people who are nothing to do with us say ‘we use that resource for finding out about this.’ One of the promoters I work with a lot always said to me ‘we always use and show our people the post you wrote on small shows and VAT because it just explains why the guarantees are so low on small shows.’ So that resource is there and it’s there for anyone. But it is also our training course.”

I guess that telling a band how you do your job helps them become a better band to deal with.

“Yeah, 100%. There’s another section on there called play and that has two reasons for being there. One is to tell bands what it is that we expect from them if they’re going to apply; it gives them a heads up of what they need to do before they contact a booking agent.

“The other side of that coin is, that if someone approaches us and we don’t think they’re ready, then we can just say, thanks for approaching us, check out this section of the website, that’ll give you some idea of what we want. So it saves us time and it’s also a useful resource for them, I hope.”

And do you find people come back to you after reading it?

“Yeah, they do. And quite often they’ll come back for a conversation and sometimes, you know, we’ll have that conversation. Quite often I say to artists like I really like the music but I don’t feel that you’re ready, x,y,z, but let’s stay in touch, tell me about milestones that you pass. That’s certainly happened where we’ve met an artist and then maybe we’ve signed them, but like a year later after they’ve evolved a bit.”

I can’t help but notice that the section on your training course about small print, you’ve had to split it into four sections.

*Laughs* “That’s about the contracts, isn’t it? That was really, really interesting because it’s all about the clauses in the contracts. You’ve got all what we call particulars, which are the things that are different for every contract, like where it is, who’s playing, what time they’re playing, those sorts of things. And then you have the clauses, which are pretty universal for every contract. I thought I’d cover that in one post, but when I started working through it, it just went on and on and on, the things to think about went on and on and on. So, it ended up being four.”

Well, at least it’s broken down into something approaching bite sized chunks.

“I’m just teaching that at the moment with the current cohort that we’re teaching. When you look at it, first of all, you think it’s really dry, a bit boring, but when you get under the skin of why there are clauses in there about, I don’t know, sponsorship or merchandise or cancellations or these sorts of thing, it’s really interesting. There’s loads of stuff in there that conversations come out of that are actually fundamentally pretty interesting. It’s super important that the agents understand the contracts that they’re delivering, right?”

And obviously a lot of those clauses are someone else’s pain from the past.

“Absolutely. Every now and again we update our contracts because some circumstance comes to light.

“A really important one was, I’ll abridge this story a little bit, but, when we were writing the CRF application, a whole section of that was focused focusing on diversity, which forced me to think about it, which was a really good thing. One of the things I thought was [to]put a clause in the contract that addresses diversity. Right? Um, to protect our our artists in that situation

“Funnily enough, very soon after that, one of our artists was kind of involved in a bit of a scandal that was going on in Pontins. Pontins had this policy of not letting people with Irish Traveller surnames stay in their stay in their hotels.”


“Do the search and you’ll come up with Guardian or Independent articles, so they got in a lot of trouble for that. At the time, one of our artists was headlining an event that was actually staged at one of the Pontins, this particular band are very socially aware band, very conscious of that, and they said, ‘we’re not fucking doing that.’

“But the actual Pontins wasn’t the promoter, the promoter had hired the venue. So the promoter was like ‘shit, I’ve put deposits down on hiring this actual place, I’m bound by a contract to Pontins.’ Our artist was bound by a contract to the promoter.

“As it turned out, the band walked away and the situation was dealt with, but there was a moment in time where it was quite tricky and it was like, what are we going to do, because the band is going to breach the contract?

“So the band breached the contract essentially. We put in this diversity clause, but that contract didn’t have it in.  But that was in our future ones, to protect our artists in that situation where there’s discrimination against X or Y, then that’s a breach of contract.

“That clause was picked up by the Agents Association, and only recently, so now they’re recommending that all agencies use this diversity clause in their contracts.”

The penultimate question: DO you have a top ‘pinch me, am I dreaming’ moment?

“Well, winning that award was the first time, you know, in 2019. I mean, I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing smoke up your ass or anything, but that was a real moment for us because we were like, hang on a minute, people are kind of noticing what we do. In retrospect, I think a lot of people did notice what we did. We just didn’t really realise that.”

But you do realize that your pinch me am I dreaming moment was literally taking place while you were asleep in your armchair and possibly dreaming?

“I know, right?”

Finally, I don’t know I don’t know if the Pontins incident falls into this category, but what about an ‘ Earth, please open up and swallow me up’ moment.

“Probably more when I was a promoter than an agent. I mean, promoters live in a dangerous place, right?

“In 2000 I put on the Scissor Sisters in Bridgewater as a promoter, which turned out to be an absolutely fantastic gig. But it was on the same night as a football [match] in the European Championships, Portugal v England. They decided that they were going to, that they were going to, um, project the football game onto the side of the nightclub. Everyone was in the nightclub, 800 people in nightclub sat down watching the football game. The band are upstairs, waiting to go on stage, then the football game went into extra time.

“Then it was a question of curfews and this football game, which was really important for a lot of people. I don’t care at all about football, so I was like more and more stressed about the support band, who were going nuts and were going, ‘we’re ringing up our agent’.


“That was a pretty rubbish moment. But actually, the Scissor Sisters were totally fine about it, they went on stage really late, but it was a banging show.”

But there was no Madonna-style class action?

“The only one was the was the support act. Everyone else was really fine, the audience wanted to watch the football game, right?

“But then I said to the Tour Manager afterwards that the drummer doesn’t look the same as the drummer that was at soundcheck. He said, no, he wouldn’t, the drama has just arrived by train. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to upset you!”

It seems that there’s a lot to learn from Midnight Mango, from its advice to prospective agents, from its growth through adversity or from the experience gleaned from other corners of the live music biz. It obviously takes a lot of sharing to become the Festivals’ Favourite Artist Agency.