With close to two decades of experience in festival management and music entrepreneurship, Hamish Pinkham is used to nurturing ideas that eventually become national sensations. As the co-founder and director of Rhythm & Vines (which celebrates its seventeenth year in December) Pinkham is now shifting his gaze to creative conferences and idea-driven forums, with The Phoenix Summit.
The Summit, described as an ‘uprising of creative minds’, offers a day-long collection of collaborations, performances, and fire-side chats with some of today’s thought leaders in the global entertainment and media industries. With the Summit’s inaugural event coming up later this month (September 14th at Auckland’s Q Theatre), Pinkham sat down with The Leap to discuss the inspiration behind the event, and to share some insights on how he started out as a young music enthusiast/lawyer and took the ‘leap’ into full-time event production on the world stage.
What is the Phoenix Summit and how did it come into fruition?
Phoenix Summit was born out of this idea that we wanted to gather some like minds into a room and share some stories and inspiration around the creative industries. We wanted to generate some leading conversation – be it around the social impact of creative work, or women in the industry, cutting edge technology in the industry – and present some speakers that are leading the way, in order to help inspire the next generation of Kiwi creatives.
What can people expect to experience at this first Summit?
In this inaugural event, we’ve got some fantastic minds to help spearhead some of these conversations: from leading music managers like Ty Stiklorius, John Legend’s manager, to leading creatives such as Lady Gaga’s mentor, who has worked on a number of her brands and commercials. We’ve also got some top policy makers in the local music industry, as well as some fantastic performers. I think if we get them all under one roof, with a hungry, inspired audience, we’re going to have some fantastic breakthroughs.
What was it about your journey that inspired the Phoenix Summit?
Thinking back to my journey as a young entrepreneur in the entertainment industry, I didn’t really have the kind of mentors or the platform to grow my ideas at a fast rate. I had a big vision, a lot of energy and tenacity to stick with it, but I didn’t necessarily have a forum where I could bounce ideas off people and meet like-minded industry folks. So as a result I ended up traveling overseas, to South by Southwest in the US and the International Live Music Conference, and got some inspiration from those forums. As I’ve gone on in my journey as a music and events entrepreneur, I’ve picked up a lot of skills and contacts. So I thought it’d be a good chance now to give back to the industry and create something so that the next generation can achieve their goals.
So did you take a similarly entrepreneurial approach to Phoenix Summit, as you did with developing Rhythm & Vines?
Yeah, there are certainly plenty of similarities between Phoenix Summit and Rhythm & Vines in this sense, you know starting out organically and addressing a need in the market – having a vision and surrounding yourselves by like-minded people. My role as the founder and visionary is to take that first step, and as you can see with Phoenix we’ve got some really good minds and commercial partnerships underway.
The approach we’re taking is really just about getting this idea and these conversations out into the market and seeing what feedback we get, and then we can mold out the concept as we go. That’s certainly what we’ve done with Rhythm & Vines – it’s gone through many different iterations and it’s grown into a multi-day, camping festival. It certainly didn’t begin like that. Once these things develop a life of their own, it’s really exciting to see where you can take them.
How will the Phoenix Summit be different to Rhythm & Vines (R&V)?
Phoenix Summit explores more of an ‘educainment’ niche compared to Rhythm & Vines. It’s hopefully going to be an insightful, inspiring, and entertaining day, but there’s also that educational aspect to it: we’re really trying to encourage people to grow and learn. It’s certainly not a festival, it’s more of a conference of sorts.
Anyone who’s ambitious and serious about achieving their creative goals I think would want to be there to pick up those little tidbits of information and inspiration that will help them along their creative journey.
R&V is seventeen years old this year. What do you imagine the Phoenix Summit will look like seventeen years from now? Where would you like it to go?
It’d be great to see the Phoenix Summit putting New Zealand creatives, culture, ideas and industry on the world map; having a home base in New Zealand but being a brand that’s recognised throughout the world and being extended throughout the world; and being a platform for Kiwi ideas to flourish and rise up.
I see the event being over multiple days and encompassing multiple genres in the creative industries: from music to film, from advertising to innovation and technology, to the creative arts and being a forum for all conversations – an aspirational platform for all and a unique Kiwi think tank that’s held annually here in New Zealand.
It’s certainly developing a life of it’s own as we build and grow, but we’ve got a pretty clear vision and that’s what we’re so passionate and excited about, and that’s what we can’t wait to deliver on on the 14th and from there keep moving onto the next one.
What makes New Zealand the ideal place for an event such as this?
I think New Zealand is a really popular destination for the creative industries. I’ve met a lot of people in my travels who would like to come here, and so I thought if I could establish a platform for people, that would attract this level of industry expert, then it would be a great meeting of minds.
I’m passionate about New Zealand and the creative industries here and the Summit is all about promoting the creative industries as a career path.
There’s a lot of interest: just in this initial year we’ve got three or four guests joining us from offshore and I know their networks are super interested in the Phoenix journey and where it may go, and they’re all interested in being involved. So who knows where this concept could go, once we get it off the ground?
How will the Phoenix Summit help New Zealand’s creative industries inform its culture?
You know, making art a focus for peoples’ careers and bringing their passions to the forefront, and empowering them to not be afraid of being in the creative industries. We’ve seen places like Wellington really boom with the likes of Weta and Peter Jackson, and the gaming and tech industries, so it’s in a really good place. And if Phoenix Summit can help highlight some of these industries, careers, and stories, and bring them to the forefront of conversation, then I think we’re going to help build a cultural identity which people can be really proud of. I see some great ideas coming through and if we can bridge the gap here between young up-starts and some seasoned creatives then we’ll be doing our job with the Phoenix Summit.
Let’s talk a bit about the ‘Leap’ you took into working for yourself. What were you doing before you got into event organising?
I studied as a lawyer at Otago University, and we came up with the idea for R&V while I was in my second-to-last year at university, while still studying law. So I found myself working on the festival more than my studies. I still continued studying law and got my degree and actually did graduate as a lawyer, but my passion and interest in the music business had taken over. So I put law aside and pursued my passion as a promoter.
There were certainly some ups and downs in those early years and hanging on and focusing on my vision and I think if I had that full time job I might not have given it the full commitment. So as a result I was able to get my head above water for the business and get established and it sort of set us up nicely for the R&V journey.
And looking back, I’ve been able to apply a lot of my training to my role and having the confidence to go into deals and contracts and the like. These things just sort of take on a life of their own, and now I’m more in the conference market but the legal beginnings I had are never too far away.
It’s given me the confidence to go into a lot of these ventures. Law teaches you a lot about problem-solving and keeping a clear head, and taking things one bite at a time, and that’s what this business is all about. Maintaining relationships and establishing opportunities and all the legalities that come with it as well. It’s been a great training for me as well.
Were there any early teachings you picked up that you could share with the Leap audience? Anything that stood out as an early learning point for you?
I think having mentors was quite a key thing for me, early on. At the time we had this unbridled optimism and naivete and a bit of blind confidence heading into our idea, and I think having a couple of more experienced business owners and event operators around us, just to keep us in check and keep our feet on the ground was part of our initial journey.
I think that’s what we’re trying to do with the Phoenix Summit as well. People may have all of these ideas to bring to the table but if we can have some more experienced heads that have sort of been there and done that, maybe provide some reality checks or talk about the hurdles they experienced throughout their journey then I think we’re helping to shape these ideas faster and more effectively.
In my journey, having my father and my friend’s father helping us in our journey was key as well. That idea of having some event experts surrounding us and helping us with different areas – from booking artists to delivering camping and transportation, and then, as the business grew, to more of a governance and support level and now we’ve got an industry player in LiveNation behind us. It’s always been an important part of our journey having that kind of support framework as we’ve grown.
Were there ever any doubts in your mind about taking the leap? Was there ever a moment when you thought about going down the law path or were you always focused on event management?
I was almost avoiding the legal path. I was interested in the work and the experience but I knew I wouldn’t be able to move at a fast pace towards my goals if I got caught up in that career path so it was a pretty clear decision. There’s always lots of pressures, be it from friends or peer groups or from family, and financial and travel restrictions. Choosing that entrepreneurial path is a hard road and although I was fully focused and committed to it, there were lots of challenges along the way.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to take ‘the Leap’?
Throw yourself into the network. Networking has been a huge part of my journey: attending events, attending summits and forums – reaching out to people and putting yourself out there. It’s all about making connections, because you don’t know who you’re going to meet and who will be able to help you down the track. Certainly in our industry, the creative industries, it’s a very social and dynamic world – there are lots of people to meet and introductions to be made.
I’d say it’s also about not being scared to make those introductions and to keep learning and applying yourself and I think Phoenix Summit is going to combine all of those elements.
It’s going to be a place, an event for people to gather and network and be inspired and learn, and I know when I was coming up on my journey if I had had a forum like this in New Zealand it would have done wonders for my idea and I’m hoping we can apply that for the next generation coming through.
Where to next with the Phoenix Summit?
Yeah there’s loads of topics we can be discussing at different panels and break-out sessions; we could have more live performers and invite people from different industries across the creative realm. But I think in Year 1 we’re just trying to keep things simple. There’s a music focus, there’s one stage, one day, one time frame and even the venue is easy to get to, here in Auckland – we are really trying to keep things simple in our first year. And I’m sure once we get through that we can start to see where the forum can go.
We’ve got ideas of bringing mini-summits throughout the country, you know, this idea of bringing Phoenix Summit and the brand on tour. But I think building something quite sizeable here in Auckland is going to be the next step for us.
Overall, we’re just trying to make peoples’ lives easier by giving them inspiration and contacts to go out there and achieve their goals and be the best versions of themselves.