with Dominik Schmidt of Golden Leaves Festival
Photography by © Kalle Knipst
- GLF about itself: The heart project Golden Leaves Festival is our personal declaration of love for music. Spread Love For Great Music is not only the self-declared motto of the boutique and lovers:inside festival in Darmstadt, but an internalized motto, under which hand-picked newcomers:inside and established greats of the indie scene have already been united for 10 years.
We interview Dominik, the booking agent and co-founder, of Golden Leaves Festival
A random Monday morning surfaced ... we met up with Dominik (booking agent at Golden Leaves Festival and editor-in-chief of Bedroomdisco). it was a sunny yet windy day in Hamburg and we met for an interview - and ofc for cake. After an exciting first greeting and after choosing the cake, we directly started with the exciting interview questions.
Chocolate cake for Dominik, streusel one for Vivi and rhubarb for Ana.
Ana: How did the whole Golden Leaves Festival prokect start? Did you study something in that direction?
Dominik: I studied media production and originally wanted to become a movie director. I just always wanted to do something with film. However, when I was in university, I realized relatively quickly that working with film people was not for me. So at some point I went into the sound department and got more involved there.
Then I came back from the internship, did a blog and a radio show - all that kind of stuff. We also only had lectures four days a week, so we had a lot of time to be creative - as well as access to cameras, sound equipment and everything - so we could just easily say "Hey, now we got a project together". We asked The xx for an interview. It was just always cool, that there wasn't that much like that in Hessen, so we had great possibilities . Nobody asked The xx if they wanted to do an interview because nobody was there. So we always got to all the cool stuff, even though we were actually just some random students who said "We're doing a blog" and that's how it all started.
It was really all rather by chance.
And Max Prosa, a friend of mine at that time, had done his management and he wanted to play some shows before his album came out. Then I mediated Darmstadt. The agency said "This is way too concert-like. It should be something different ... something that is not so much like a concert". So I said, the only thing I can offer now is that we just put him in a living room and that was literally exactly what they wanted.
That's how we started to do living room concerts.
More and more people started to join us, who also thought it was a cool project, and we built it up all that more. I was by then done with my bachelor's degree and I didn't have a moment at that time where I already knew, "Okay, that's where I want to work now and make my money with it." But I really wanted to transfer this living room project to a festival as a master's project and that's exactly how Golden Leaves came to life. But I didn't finish my master's degree in the end.
Ana: The idea with the living room concerts is really amazing and gives artists and the audience a certain inimity.
Vivi: And we also read that this atmosphere was exactly your vision for the festival.
Dominik: We had a lot of ideas at the beginning, which all went in this direction. The concept of a living room concert was really small and intimate. The idea behind it was also that we bring in 10 people along, that we know and another 10 people from the dorm or from the owner of the apartment. That's how you already knew half the people that joined the concerts. Everyone has an eye on you and you also know what donations you can expect. It has to be profitable for everyone at the end of the day. We were just students and money didn't matter to us. The most important thing to us, was to cover the costs. My parents lived in America at that time and I had the house to myself, so I could always accommodate bands well. They didn't notice it all that much, it was always pretty good.
It was all kind of easier back then, now ... a few years later everyone is in different situations, because everything is a bit different and you can notice that. At some point during the second or third Golden Leaves Festival, where we really had costs on the clock, it suddenly poured and then there was no price fixing, because the people were only there on a donation basis. That's when I realized, okay, this concept may have a lot of advantages, but if something goes wrong, you can be in a real fix. Then we screwed on it again and again and of course you then lose many characteristics that once made up the concept. For example, you want the festival to be accessible to everyone or that everyone can pay what they can or what they think it's worth, so that you can also recreate the value of culture and music. Sure that goes backwards at some point, but when you then have a six-figure number on the clock, you're also just happy when you know the weekend before the festival that everything is halfway safe. All that has to happen at this point, is that people just have to drink 3-4 beers and then it will work out somehow.
Ana: The idea must have been connected with a lot of worry, risks and responsibility in the beginning. I think it's really good that you guys continue to do keep this project alive. I just really noticed the risks of festivals other day, when I watched a lot of interviews and documentaries about festivals and their risks. My feeling though is that everything is slowly coming back to normal and people will start going to festivals again.
Vivi: Yes and hopefully not only to the huge festivals that people already know.
Ana: You also have to change your mindset to open up to new music and genre. We were also at Golden Leaves for the first time last year and were totally blown away by the concept!
GLF 2022 - photo by Ana
Dominik: Every artist we book is like a headliner.
We never book artists that we don't like, just because we think it will give us more money. The idea is also that every act is heard. We also had bands that came from Singapore and if there are only 10 people standing, it's kind of ungrateful and heartbreaking. That's why the goal for us is always, to motivate people to come early so that they also have time to discover new artists.
If you only go because you think "Hey, I'm going to see this one artist", then you might miss like five other acts that are actually really cool and you might also like. We booked the other artists too, so it has to fit into our concept. I mean I know myself and I know how how hard things can be sometimes ... you're stressed and you just want to go and see one act and then you have to leave, but Golden Leaves is also supposed to be something where people can get out of that stress and just to enjoy the show and be surprised.
I think that has always been very well received by us. Especially in terms of genre. Not that it's like, "Well, I've seen the same band 5 times now and it was all kind of okay," but at the end of the day I just take away, "someone played this certain song that I already knew and like anyway". I think that's important and even more important now after Corona, because all small bands are struggling. If you are not one of those 5% that are selling out concerts, then you really have a problem.
Ana: We also noticed that a lot of concerts and tours have been canceled because maybe a lot of artists don't really dare to go on tour yet.
Vivi: Yes, and especially the international tours ...
Ana: Then there is the inflation on top of that ...
The costs are also the reason why we booked many german artists this year. To get the international bands here and also in the context of how the tickets sell. So, if I have a band that pulls 100 tickets in Hamburg, but should not cost more than 3,000 € and I dare to say that I know Darmstadt well ... it might pull like 10 people and that gives me just nothing back. Thinking of what we have brought in the last year in minus digits ... we just make sure that everything's cool again first and then we can look further.
Vivi's & Ana's Handbrot-Photography at the Golden Leaves Festival 2022
Ana: I have already received a lot of positive reactions just because of your hand bread. We don't really have that in the south here.
Vivi: But that was also your first festival.
Ana: And my first handbread experience! To us it was like that, that we went especially because of two artists and to be honest we didn't really listen to the others discography before the festival. We were really surprised and excited when we heard the other acts for the first time.
Vivi: That was really cool!
Ana: Yes, and I actually liked all of them that day. Well, really I loved all of them! It was also really interesting to stand in front of the stage, not knowing what to expect next. You just have to change your mindset and go there without having any expectations.
Dominik: Yes, with the hand bread it went me many years ago also so, with MELT and other festivals.
We notice again and again that it is especially difficult for people who come from other places and who don't know the festival. If they somehow get told, you have to be there or there and I mean of course that's kind of stupid under certain circumstances, but I mean, we tell them just as well "If you can't, then we'll find a way". So, it's not like we're saying "Hey, you can't get in here anymore". But I mean, on the other hand, even with the merger, you don't know who's playing when. There are just certain concepts and either they work for you or they don't. After all, people have made up their minds about why you do it that way.
Ana: It is also honestly somehow very special and extraordinary that the festival takes place in Darmstadt.
Dominik: We also see that people from Australia have come for it and sometimes we see generally where we sell the tickets. People also travel from England, Belgium or France. We also have a lot of people coming from Hamburg and Berlin. Of course, you don't always know where that move comes from, whether people have simply moved there from Darmstadt. Darmstadt is also a student city ... or whether the whole project just got around places.
Ana: I think the festival is great in terms of price. For the fact that you have so many artists, it's really good. Sometimes you pay that much to see one artist.
Dominik: Yes, it is like that. For some acts a ticket costs 40 €. A day ticket with us costs 42 €. That means if you want to see JEREMIAS and Paula Hartmann, for example, you already got one for free.
Ana: Could you describe the Golden Leaves Festival in two sentences?
Dominik: A family music festival for music lovers - to discover artists. Something like that!
Ana & Vivi: Sounds great and how did the Golden Leaves Festival get its name?
Dominik: Really good question. It actually just randomly turned out like that. We always planned to organize the whole thing late in the year. Somehow that's the only thing that stuck and then it was also relatively quickly fixed - also this GLF abbreviation. Everything without making any big plans "We have to develop this in such a way". That is simply not our vibe. So none of us has studied it in any great way or anything like that. With us it's just like that ...
everyone can contribute with what they can do and that's what makes a lot of the charm that the festival holds and radiates.
There are always situations that are a bit chaotic. It would be cool if one of us had studied something with economics. None of us did that. But still, it's kind of cool that people put their heart into it and invest their talents into it.
Ana: Doing the whole thing passionately ... It's not like a burden where you say, "Oh, I have to do this now". But you really do it from the bottom of your heart.
Ana: And how do you manage the whole thing part-time? You also have another job.
Dominik: I believe I am someone who is very good at multitasking and someone who can structure and organize everything very well and I get a lot of help. Now even more so, since we no longer have people who are employed, you really have to look at "Who can take over which position? Who can build which networks?" I sometimes give a little direction or my feedback. I also do Bedroomdisco on the side, where I'm editor-in-chief, and I also booked tours myself until COVID. I've always been someone who had a lot of projects and was always able to coordinate them well. Right now I'm catching up on four jobs right now, so I'm also just sitting down a lot in the evenings when my little kid is in bed and working off something for two hours or so. Also all this Instagram posting. I've only ever done it a little bit and hey, making a story isn't always that difficult or posting what our graphic agency has designed isn't that difficult either, but producing content every day also takes a lot of time away.
Ana: And how far in advance do you plan your festival?
Dominik: Actually always after the end of the last festival. The only thing that is fixed beforehand is the date. We have already blocked it. This year we were already very quickly finished with the line-up and there are already acts that I know I would have liked to do this year, who also wanted to perform this year, but where there was no more slot. That stays in your head and you have an idea what could happen next year. You practically already have an idea.
Ana: How do you deal with challenges like storms, cancellations or when not enough tickets are sold? Are there any insurances?
Dominik: Of course there is the whole normal cancellation insurance and also storms - force majeure practically. We have normal insurance for that. So if something like that were to happen, we would definitely be on the safe side, but a lo would have to happen. There would have to be a hurricane on the way. Fortunately, we've never had that before. Sure, last year it was pretty critical. If we would have had to cancel the festival because of the danger of forest fires, I don't know to what extent that would have fallen into it.
Of course it's an act of God because of heat and drought, but on the other hand it only covers certain parts, e.g. the costs, but it doesn't cover the income. I mean the festival was sold out every year before COVID. You would have a huge success story completely kicked to the curb, because all the things are playing along. So we are quite crisis-tested by now, you can say.
We are relatively relaxed about artist cancellations. There was also a situation last year - that was a slot that was cancelled at short notice. We simply streamlined the program a bit. If larger acts were to drop out now, I would talk to the agency then, where the dropped out band is, whether there is something there. Then you usually also have an eye on who might be able to fill in. They don't want to leave you hanging at that moment and then see what you can do with it. And because of bad weather ... so the one year where we were only on a donation basis, we took it pretty badly. But everything worked out. You just get used to the fact that every now and then you get something thrown between your legs, but you always try to worm your way through it. One has always found such starting points there. Where you also ask for help.
Ana & Vivi: What was your best and worst experience?
Dominik: The worst experience was definitely in November. When we might not be able to pay the bill and I practically had to fire two of my co-founders ... just at that moment. They were actually like my two brothers. There is now also a crack in it practically. They are not so involved now and had to look for new jobs - they don't have the time for it anymore and they don't have the mindset anymore. That is also something that affects you personally.
I don't earn my living with it, so there were moments when I asked myself, is all the energy you put into it still worth it? And when you really have situations like that, when you have to fire your best friends to save the project and everything that happens to you personally at that moment... that's just really intense. That was also a new feeling at that moment. I think we are all still mourning that. On the other hand, you also notice what energies that releases. It's no longer this "There are two people who work 5 days a week for it". It releases completely different energies. It's a project where personal friendship is at the core and you grow together as a family. The whole thing just doesn't work well when something like that happens.
Positive moment are then always very many. When around the second day of the festival everyone takes each other in the arm and one drinks champagne, the whole pressure then decreases and the dams break and everyone cries. The bad thing is then again that you have to break down two days and then you feel really bad [laugh].
Ana: That's all very emotional and very beautiful.
Dominik: Yes, it also brings us closer together as a team, you know.
Ana: What is your favorite year at GLF?
Dominik: Wow. I really had a lot of highlights. It's really hard to say, because there are also many personal things connected to it.
Ana: Probably every year is special in its own way.
Dominik: Exactly. There are just things every year that you take with you and on this site back then, where we all stayed overnight. That was also special because we were all there as a team around the clock for 5 or 6 days. That was also different from the other years. For the guests who came there, it was not at all to realize what we have done in the whole year there. We have also made the whole years, even night watch. So we have built up the 5 or 6 days everything on site and have also made night watch, where we have not slept at all during the festival operation. That's all that kind of stuff. But that was also funny at the end of the day. We were completely exhausted and I mean two or three people a night ... there you squat during a festival operation and you are completely through and then you babble for 6 hours only nonsense. That's still kind of funny. There are so many stories.
We have also organized something in many outdoor pools and when you spend the whole night in an outdoor pool and it is completely open, you also think ... you just get paranoias. There are already many funny stories that have happened. I couldn't pick out a year now where I would say that was special or that we had a relaxed year. That was just always sucky during it. There were always moments where you had to act and do things, but it was still cool. We managed it as a group and experienced a lot.
Vivi & Ana: That sounds adventurous!
Dominik: Yes, it was!
Ana: You should write a biography.
Dominik: [laughs] -not sure if anyone would want to read that ...
Ana: What is your favorite music?
Dominik: Hmm ... it changes a lot. For a long time I listened to a lot of indie and now I even listen to jazz. What doesn't really appeal to me yet is German rap. What I still like to listen to is Death Cab For Cutie. I also like The Notwist. I really enjoyed listening to the Malaya McCraven album last year, which is a jazz album, but it's also kind of out of jazz. I also super like melancholic songwriter music. So the mix is what makes it. I couldn't spend a month with one album.
Vivi: Did you have an act where you said, that's really cool now that they are on stage with us?
Dominik: Quiet a lot actually. The Notwist has given us all super much, for years there was talk of the so-called "Notwist-Coin", where people said "If The Notwist comes, we would all give another 100 €" ... something like that. Yes, there are also a lot of things where you only realize afterwards how cool it was. Something like Glass Animals. Where we thought "cool band and cool live performance" but we didn't realize at the time we booked them that they would go through the roof and now even more so. Oscar and the Wolf are also filling the halls now. Lucy Dacus was always an act I wanted to see for years.
Ana: What advice would you give to people who are in the music business? This is a question that always comes up in our interviews.
Dominik: Just do a lot of it ourselves. So for us it was always like this ... we worked in empty rooms because there was just nothing else there and we wanted these bands to come to Darmstadt, so we just did it all ourselves. You can't wait for someone else to do it for you and sometimes you just have to do it. There are also super many projects this year that I start and initiate simply because I want to do them. Acoustic sessions or that we start maybe doing a podcast. These are all Bedroomdisco construction sites. There are already podcasts in general, but what's missing are the international acts. People who are interested in that kind of music know some English, so why couldn't it be in English? We are working on that right now ... on a podcast of Bedroomdisco in English. "Who is Phoebe Bringers, I'd like to know." Somehow you already know her, but listening to a conversation is something different than having the likeness of a person or reading something about them. That's a gap that also exists internationally, let's see if that catches on.
Ana: This year is the 11th festival year and the 10th festival. What can we expect this year?
Vivi: Yes, can we expect a big cake?
Dominik: [laughs] We definitely want it to be something special.
Ana: You could do a speech!
Ana: [laughing] you!
Dominik: We always do a speech on the last day of the festival before the last act.
Ana & Vivi: Oh we can't miss that!
Ana: Okay, last question. What is your favorite snack at festival? Is it Handbrot?
Dominik: Yes, Handbrot is of course very high up on my list [laugh]. Well, I was the one who said that handbread has to be there with us - handbread was laughed at. We want rather so regional offer however hand bread had to come from Leipzig.
Ana: That must never be missing.
Vivi: It really is a matter of the heart.
Thank you for this wonderful interview, Dominik!
... and the line-up for 2023!!!