Adapt and Grow -
When the music stops – entertainment entrepreneurialism during a pandemic
Musician and entrepreneur, Tom Warner developed his entertainment business from an acoustic duo in local bars, to his British styled ‘roaming band’ The Travelling Hands, entertaining private clients and global brands at some of the world’s most luxurious destinations. Tom writes about his experience of running an entertainment business during a pandemic.
Musician and entrepreneur, Tom Warner had spent a decade building a highly successful entertainment business. By 2019, he was taking his roaming acoustic band, The Travelling Hands, all over the world, playing for presidents, global brands, and celebrities. Tom writes about how the covid pandemic tested his business resilience to its limit.
I always had a passion for music so it seemed natural I would end up working in the entertainment industry. As a guitarist, I spent my early career as a session musician for Virgin Records. I also toured the UK and Europe, and even made an appearance performing guitar for an artist live on X-Factor.
I loved those times, but I’ve always wanted to do more. The Travelling Hands began as an acoustic duo; we performed at local events around south west London, but even then I saw a massive gap in the corporate, wedding and private events sectors.
Instead of a performance restricted to one position, why not have a fully mobile band who can move through a venue, interacting with the audience, building an atmosphere, and creating an immersive musical journey for guests.
Building a live music entertainment brand from zero
As popularity increased for our original duo, I added double bass, percussion and saxophone into the lineup to give us a richer sound.
As with many fledging businesses, word of mouth helped and we started receiving bookings for weddings, private parties and corporate events. This was good progress, but my goal was to reach the high-end market.
We needed a strong image. There was a real demand for authentic, acoustic, folksy-styled English musicians so I partnered with award winning menswear brand Marc Darcy to deck the band out in classic British tweed suits.
With our image re-defined, I designed a new promotional video for the band to shoot over three days in central London taking in some of London’s most iconic landmarks.
In the background, I was leading an extensive social and on-the-ground marketing campaign reaching out to an elite network of luxury event planners both in the UK and overseas.
The big investment of time and money paid dividends…
Within a few months of making that video, we were entertaining at an incredible wedding celebration at The Mulia in Bali mixing with some of the biggest names in the corporate entertainment world. It really felt like a watershed moment, we had arrived.
It rocketed from there. We became a preferred supplier within an ever-growing number of five-star hotels, we were performing within incredible venues such as Kensington Palace and The Natural History Museum, and our international booking numbers were growing simultaneously.
By this point we’d had bookings for the likes of Cartier, Royal Ascot, Rolls-Royce, Hublot, Oetker Collection, Formula 1, Google, Samsung, Facebook, Jaguar Land Rover, Virgin, Sony & Adobe; we’d warmed up crowds for Lionel Richie and Madness, entertained European presidents, Ross Brawn, James Caan. We even sang Eye of the Tiger personally to Tyson Fury in Claridge’s.
Did I get nervous? I am a performer as well as a business owner, so it always feels like twice as much is at stake, especially when we reach what can feel like pivotal events. I remember our first event in a five-star hotel. It was in The Ritz around 2015 and I was terrified. Imposter syndrome was in the room with me – should I be here?
The band have to be at the top of their game at all times. It’s not just the show you put on, it’s the look and the professionalism throughout. Our clients expect the best and so do I. The event was thankfully a huge success and the feedback was fantastic.
The impact of covid 19 on the entertainment industry
Our first cancellation was a week-long event with Cartier in Geneva in March 2020.
Shortly after that, Royal Ascot - where we were due to perform over several days in the summer – was cancelled. Bookings then collapsed around us and across the live entertainment industry.
I felt that we could withstand a month or two. The business had cash reserves and I caught up with admin and background tasks to keep things running smoothly.
It was May 2020 when it dawned on me that everything I had spent the last decade building was really under threat.
For me, being the sole director of a limited company in the entertainment sector meant it was an unbelievably difficult time without much of a safety net for the business.
As weeks of the pandemic became months, I saw more and more event industry professionals losing their jobs around me and some even losing their businesses. I couldn’t help but ask myself, what am I going to do? I decided to hang on, and work on the things I could impact…
I started rekindling relationships with a select few London venues to explore ways of working together. The more people I spoke to, the more I saw some very unique marketing opportunities. Incredible venues - usually bustling with visitors - stood empty, and this got me thinking.
I formed a partnership with the iconic Rosewood London to film a musical tour of their stunning facilities putting The Travelling Hands at the centre of it all.
This was the toughest undertaking in my career to date: design and deliver a series of videos with an impeccable sound track, all to a five-star standard. It was incredibly exciting, but there was a mountain to climb and the deadline was tight.
I was working day and night to plan it all - booking the perfect film crew, arranging, recording, and producing our soundtrack, storyboarding all five videos, getting approvals where required, sourcing additional suits and props, and of course creating a detailed production plan for the filming itself. I slept when I physically couldn’t stay awake. I put my all into this project (and then some).
The filming day quickly arrived and passed by in a flash of confetti and tweed! I’m pleased to say I was delighted with the results...
Business resilience during difficult times
This project had a colossal impact on what we did next.
I would estimate that 60% of new enquiries today are from clients who have seen the videos. Our international bookings are starting up again with an event in Lake Como later this month, and I’m delighted to say August 2021 will be our best ever month to date.
So what has this taught me? First and foremost, you must believe in yourself, your offering, and what you can achieve. You know what you can’t do, but what CAN you do? I couldn’t make money from live events, so I explored multiple new business opportunities.
Looking after yourself is very important too and in those lockdown months, I surprisingly found myself baking different varieties of bread and growing chillis at home. It gave me something personal to focus on outside of work, as did getting into Peloton exercise classes over lockdown – this really helped my wellbeing through those months at home and continues to do so today.
The Travelling Hands are celebrating 10 years of musical adventures around the world later this year, and although this will be our best month ever... as far as I’m concerned, I’m only just getting started.
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