Dance music fans in Northern Ireland will have heard of AVA Festival. It has been instrumental in the development and exposure of the local electronic music scene.
Up Productions is the name of Sarah McBriar’s creation that resides over AVA Festival, in addition to other collaborations with major brands such as Glossier and EVO Hair, Red Bull and Bullitt. They describe themselves as explorers and instigators of innovation; 'taking on production as more of an obsession, a visual portrayal of the moment, an experience that when brought to life can live forever in people’s memory and online.'
She also heads Plume Studios with fellow creative Oisin O’Brien, one of the minds behind local production collective Guerrilla Shout and the brains behind heavy techno imprint DSNT, which is enjoying waves of success thanks to Belfast’s infatuation with sound as hard as concrete.
Sarah had to apply 3 times for a funding application for AVA to be created, and recommends to any person making these type of applications to do as many as possible and never give up on their dream.
Sarah explains, 'It finds your proposal and what you want to do, but it also challenges you. It challenges whether the project is going to work. It’s a great exercise to do regardless of whether you get the money or not.'
'Once you get your first piece of funding it’s like a stamp of validation. You can then proceed to get more funding from other sources.'
But what about entering the industry in the first place? Sarah credits The Big Music Project as being one of the finest internship schemes available. It’s a fully funded scheme and has been responsible for shining a light on creatives who are now key members of the AVA Festival team; Emmett Costello, Nuala Convery and Pete Woods all came through The Big Music Project.
Trying to achieve a successful career in the dance music industry in Northern Ireland most likely will be a journey riddled with anxiety, especially for those in the early stages of their professional lives, but one that Sarah maintains is essential in today's industry.
'I think in the creative industry you have to absolutely prepare yourself to work in a placement context for at least six months', she says. 'That’s just the attitude you’ve got to have. If you’ve got an attitude like, "Oh I don’t want to do this" or "I don’t want to work for free" then the creative industry probably isn’t right for you because it’s just the nature of the industry.'
'Not only must you be prepared to work in a placement, but you must maintain flexibility in regards to the path of your vision. Everyone wants something and all too often we credit ourselves with knowing the best way to get it. We disregard other opportunities thinking that they won’t benefit us on our journey to our goal.'
'It’s very important to have your [long term] vision and know what you want from it, but you must be open to different paths in order achieve that vision', Sarah adds. 'I worked for a football club for five years, I didn’t want to work in sport, but I had the most incredible boss who I learned so much from. I couldn’t have done a festival like AVA without the knowledge he gave me. You need to understand that the pathway to your vision isn’t always the way you think it is.'
Flexibility is just one of the many challenges you will face on the creative career path. Once in the job, the obstacles come even more thick and fast.
Sarah admits she still finds it extremely difficult balancing her work and personal lives. The entire month of May is taken up with festival work. 'I don’t have a life during that period, apart from going to the pub for a drink!'
Sarah explains that to succeed, learning to say no is also key. Some might be under the impression that they must take absolutely every opportunity given to them or they'll inevitably fail. Rest assured, it’s a case of quality over quantity. 'Be comfortable to walk away from things,' she advises. 'That takes years to learn. It takes experience; I don’t think you can really adopt that approach without years of experience.'
'Finding the right people to work with can also be difficult. I’m quite fortunate in the sense that I found the right people quite early on. It’s about finding people that you can align with and comfortably understand each other’s visions and respect that. You’ve got to know when something’s working and something isn’t.'
She goes on to comment, on how seeing artists and people grow throughout the journey of the AVA festival is one of its most soul rewarding aspects. Or:la (Orlagh Dooley) has enjoyed massive success recently, having signed to Hotflush Recordings and set up her own label (Deep Sea Frequency), and Dublin producer Quinton Campbell, a product of the festival's Emerging Producer competition, has been recognised as far away as Seattle for his creative efforts.
It’s very much a family affair, if you couldn’t tell already, and this is what Sarah is most proud of. Throughout the years, that spirit hasn’t diminished, not even a little. Sarah says, 'The feedback that continually comes back to us is that we’ve maintained that family ethos. That feeling of being close and feeling involved. That’s very important to what we are as event and as a brand.'
Encapsulating all of this are her parting words, which anyone reading would do well to carry forwards not just in their creative endeavours, but their daily lives. 'Help out people you care about and continue to do that through your highs and lows because the good people will stick by you, and you should do the same with them.'