Interviews

Sid the Cat: how LA’s best indie music promoter stays consistent

Words by Kate Menzies
Photos by Lindsey Best, Pooneh Ghana & Nina Raj

We caught up with Brandon, Sean and Kyle from Sid the Cat to talk about what makes a great show, community spirit and why consistency is key.

Before there was Sid the Cat, the music promotions company, there was Sid the cat, the actual cat. As a beloved member of co-founder Kyle Wilkerson’s family, Sid became an inspiration to Wilkerson and Brandon Gonzalez to follow their dreams. In 2015, they founded Sid the Cat, a booking, promotion and production company. As dedicated music lovers, Wilkerson and Gonzalez were determined that Sid the Cat would have an artist-first philosophy. 

“We wanted to spotlight artists that we felt weren’t represented in LA”, says Wilkerson. “I felt like most of the shows in LA were lacking a level of excitement; you’d go to a concert, see one band and then pop over to another place and drink with your friends. We wanted to make these events unique and for people to stay there the whole night.”

Gonzalez agrees: “‘One thing we really wanted to do was book bands that we’re really excited about and create shows that we ourselves wanted to be at. I was managing a band, and Kyle had been doing this from Texas to LA, and if we missed a show then we would feel bad. We wanted to create that kind of environment.” Gonzalez, Wilkerson and Sean Newman are firmly embedded in the community they love, and they’re bringing that energy to the shows they put on as music promoters. From their choice of venues to the little touches like specially designed matchbooks, every Sid the Cat show is curated with passion.

The matchbooks are Gonzalez’s touch: “I’ve been collecting matchbooks for years, I have a whole box. When I go to a bar or a restaurant, even if the food is terrible, if they have a matchbook I’m happy.” What started out as a hobby led to a great promotional tool. “Kyle and I had been talking about ways to promote shows that weren’t flyers and then the idea of matchbooks came up”, he says. “We started doing it and it’s something that’s really fun for us to create.” And how do the matchbooks fare? “They disappear quickly when we give them out, so it must be working.”

For
us,
with
our
spaces,
we
want
people
to
come
in
and
feel
like
they
belong
there.

It certainly is working. Sid the Cat has found it easy to tap into the LA underground music community, because they’ve always been members of it themselves. Gonzalez reflects on their position: “We’ve been a huge part of the music community for over a decade. All three of us don’t even know how many shows we’ve been to. Really, it’s the community of artists that we love and the community that we’re in that’s been a big part of that. For us, with our spaces, we want people to come in and feel like they belong there.”I love telling people who they should be listening to, or who they should go see, because it’s so inspiring to me. Our community is a special one in LA.”

And from the very beginning, the team wanted people to love their shows the way they do. “From the very first show we did in 2015, Kyle has been saying ‘I hope people show up’ and it’s a genuine desire. We hope people show up.” This endearing hope has even been immortalized on Sid the Cat’s merchandise. It’s all about putting on shows that the team really believes in: “I think, overall, we’re people first. We just want people to come to our shows and have a great experience. A lot of the time we book bands without thinking about if we’ll lose money or not, because even if nobody shows up and we get to see this band we’re happy.” 

Moses Sumney by Nina Raj

Community spirit is part of what attracted the team to working with DICE. A shared ethos of truly loving music and nourishing local scenes was what built the partnership according to Brandon. “Going back, everything we do is based around the music community and relationships. People at DICE are passionate about the scene and care about the artists, about creating a good experience. That was a big reason we’ve worked with DICE.” And of course, there’s the need to protect artists: “The biggest thing that we’ve found as a selling point is the anti-reselling technology. We really want artists to get the money they rightfully deserve, and when a third party’s skimming off the top it sucks. That’s something we really appreciate.”

So, 2020 was a very difficult year to bring music to life. “We want to share those experiences with people, we really try to pay attention to those details and we make sure that from lining up to going to the show to leaving, you have a great experience.” says Brandon. “‘It’s really sad to not see each other every night, and our friends and the artists we work with. For us and specifically the ephemera we create to promote our shows, we get a lot of inspiration from a live room. So that’s been a challenge over the last year. But the heart of what we do is promoting artists, and we share art that we love. We’ve been able to maintain that with a couple of initiatives we’ve done.”

Maintaining the playful ethos of the company, the team at Sid the Cat has taken to the internet to continue shouting out and supporting the artists they love. “We really wanted to promote artists with our platform, so we did an initiative called Support Your Favourite Artist and we promoted merch that we liked from different artists. We did it for almost the whole year, we would curate merch that we thought was great and share it in our news blasts and on our social media. It was fun, and we just wanted to tell people that we believe in promoting artists and we’ll continue to do that even without the live aspect.”

black midi by Pooneh Ghana

Gonzalez continues: “We have a new thing called Paw of Approval, which is Sid’s paw giving approval for his favourite records of the year. I’m really proud, looking back and being able to say that we kept promoting artists even though our platform was limited from what it normally is. We did that for the end of the year and it was a fun way to highlight our favourite albums, because there were so many of them. In 2020 there was so much great music, like Phoebe Bridger, Moses Sumney, Waxahatchee, so we wanted to share it.” And there’s much more than social media posting: “We’ve maintained activity over the past year, promoting live streams and we actually did a festival and some friends joined us for Fair Fight Fest to raise money for Stacey Abrams. That was really cool to be a part of. Figuring out ways to support artists outside of shows we have going on is something we’re proud of and we want to continue.”

I’m
really
proud,
looking
back
and
being
able
to
say
that
we
kept
promoting
artists
even
though
our
platform
was
limited
from
what
it
normally
is.

Wilkerson points out that throughout 2020, there’s been time to look back on the achievements of the past five years. “We were able to do some things that were on the back burner, and also take a look at our first five years and really look back at and enjoy what we’ve built”, he says. “We didn’t have the time to do that before, so it’s been kind of nice to have extra time to go into new projects.” Gonzalez builds on this sentiment: “We’ve had a lot of time to reflect over the past year on why we do what we do. We all try to find venues that have this magic and make us feel awe-inspired. We have to think about how we can be a conduit for good music in the culture.”

Being a music promoter hasn’t been easy over the past year. But it’s been a key part of the team’s ethos to remain consistent in their efforts to promote artists and put on events. Even when there have been extreme limitations in place, Sid the Cat have continued to work steadily with the resources they have available to them.

“One of our things is to always be consistent in what we do”, says Gonzalez. “Kyle’s Great Grandpa had this bottling company in Texas back in the early 20th century, and on every bottle he had the slogan: ‘Yesterday, today, tomorrow’ – we’ve adopted that for ourselves. We believe in consistency, so Kyle and Sean and I haven’t stopped meeting weekly, we haven’t stopped our cadence of brainstorming and ideation, our business development and all that stuff. We’ve really stuck to being consistent: yesterday, today, tomorrow. We want to work as hard as we always have, and use the time to be prepared for the next wave of live music.”

Big Thief by Nina Raj

For how much Gonzalez, Newman and Wilkerson love the LA music community, it’s pretty clear that the community loves them right back. They’ve launched a social media campaign called ‘I Support Sid’ – a way for artists to share their stories of working with the team. In video testimonials on Instagram, you’ll hear about experiences of working with Sid the Cat, and how great performing at the Bootleg Theatre is. According to Gonzalez, ‘I Support Sid’ has “been a real source of inspiration and encouragement. We’re in the middle of that right now, and the artists have been so amazing. We also have some live stream stuff that we’re working on for the near future, and we want to do it right.”

So, what does the future look like for Sid the Cat? They’re going to keep moving with the times, and Gonzalez says they already have new plans afoot: “I think as technology changes – things like social media platforms – we’re going to find new ways to promote shows on these platforms. Figuring out how to engage people and thinking about how we can come strongly out the gate.” With the kind of tight-knit community they’ve built and their love for the scene, it’s going to be a glorious return to live music.

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