Paulina Ahokas: TMW has played a crucial role in what has been achieved

09 April 2024 Conference
Foto: Aron Urb

Foto: Aron Urb

When TMW became reality 16 years ago, the music industry in Estonia was still in its infancy. It has simply been breathtaking to witness the immense growth and innovation that has taken place in the Estonian creative industries, and we can all agree TMW has played a crucial role in what has been achieved.

I feel privileged to have learned so much here: all the most cutting edge and important new phenomena have not only been discussed here, but also taken into action: TMW was working on sustainability way before any other live event I know started to work on their environmental programmes. Also, the value-based industry has been at the heart of the discussion here for 10 years already, and, new technologies have been at the core of this since the beginning. So, TMW really puts the needle on the record and thinks of its mission: a festival for tomorrow’s music, arts and ideas.

I want to give my heartfelt thanks to everyone in the Tallinn Music Week team, to every single person who have made this exquisite festival happen. TMW was born out of collaboration, and I am so honoured to have been able to participate since the very beginning. I have only missed a single year when my son was due to be born 3 weeks after the festival. It will be his 10th anniversary in the event  next year!

I presume part of the reason why I am speaking to you today is the fact that I come from Finland, a partner country of TMW 24. Mind you, we are also, for the seventh time in a row, the Happiest country in the world. This means that our society is relatively free of corruption. People feel that they can trust institutions, that there are equal opportunities, schooling, and we deem our standard of living to be high. 

On top of it all: Tampere, our home town, has been selected as the most attractive city in Finland for seven years consecutively. So, apparently I am coming from the happiest spot in the world.

Shortly, I will highlight why this is important.  

Now… there will be better speakers here to tell you about why Universal left TikTok and about the hottest trends in the music industry, that is: genre fusion, streaming platforms, virtual reality, sustainability, and collaborative projects across different forms of culture. This is why we are here: to learn about all of these, and not to forget, to forge the necessary friendships to be able to do so.

The great panelists speaking after me will be talking about the attention addiction industry of social platforms; the aging and physically bigger audiences; the young not drinking so much any more (this, truly, I find being a BIG problem!!!)

But I will speak about how we in the music industry – and creative sectors at large – can remain relevant, competitive, prosperous and the best employer in the world: the big picture. 

Back in 2006, Finland was honoured to be the country partner of Midem, which at the time was, unquestionably, the most important music industry event in the world. (This reminds us that if we do not keep on changing with the times, we will also perish…) On the third night of the event, I thought what was left was to drink at the lavish parties and to slowly work down my hangover, but, instead, I was faced by something that has, to this day, had the biggest influence on my career, namely, a speech by and discussion with Sir Bob Geldof.

He made himself very clear of this key fact: We work in the most significant industry in the world. Music and the industry around it, has the ability to influence the greatest number of human beings, change their lives forever, and to turn around entire nations, their values and actions.

Secondly, we have to make an effort for civilization, for education and telling stories about human values. And we will not be credible in doing so unless we keep our own home base clean. 

Every single company and organization in this sector needs to have a DIE plan: how to be more diverse, inclusive and equal. 

This is easy. There is KeyChange and many other organizations that will help you to make this plan. It is all about will.

The young demand this. Tell me if there is one organization here that would not need to be interested in how they manage to recruit the best talent of the future? 

I am not telling you we at Tampere-talo Group have mastered this, but we do have a person with disabilities in our staff, and the things people are the most satisfied with, according to our work wellbeing report, are the ability to be yourself and the tolerance for difference in our workplace.

It is not politics, it is not the financial districts of London, NY or Berlin, and it is definitely not tech or IT, but it is our industry!

There is no other industry that has managed to accomplish what we did in 1985 (note that this is 40 years ago next year!): namely, gather 1,9 billion people in a single event across 150 nations. The Live Aid concerts organized by Geldof, Goldsmith and Graham were, and still remain to this day, the most significant actions taken to relieve famine in Ethiopia. They ensured that the previous UN Vision reached its goals.

The impacts of music, events and art thoroughly permeate our society: our effects on employment, the economy, visibility, image, well-being, as well as learning capacity are extensive, and have been profoundly studied. Indeed, if you can point out any other industry that has broader positive effects on society, please let me know, since every one of us should immediately move there!

By the way, this matter will be discussed in detail later on today: Lutz from Clubcommission Berlin and Bryant Tan from Burning Man will be discussing how music cities pave the way and at Music x Media in Tampere, in October, writer and researcher Shain Shapiro will be speaking about how music can make your city better and will also explain in detail how you can measure the value of your organization, not just economically, but also at a social, employment and the learning capacity level as well. 

Rock ‘n’ roll and music needs to be against or for something. It can’t just BE.

It always needs a purpose. Of course there are great songs. There will always be great songs that don’t suggest anything other than being a great song. (And this also has a purpose.)

But every endeavor, be it playing rock’n’roll or building a business, should be used as a catalyst for change.

For a decade before this, the world was talking about the “experience economy”, how – after a post-industrial world – we moved into an economy, where everyone was running after experiences. This no longer is the case: people are desperately looking for purpose. Looking for purpose and meaning in their personal lives, in their free time, and in their work. People want to contribute to the surrounding society in a positive way. 

So, we have the most powerful tool in our hand: music and the industry around it. And there are millions of people who want to be involved. We must use our ammunition. 

What are then the most pressing issues of our time? What should we spend our time and effort and power on? What should we really focus on?

Instead of listing all of the UN Vision goals, I want to emphasize three points.

First of all, the development of novel technologies and social media did not bring us closer together as I guess we all believed and hoped for. On the contrary, they have created great rifts in our societies. People have turned against each other more than before. Unfortunately, antagonism and polarization have increased. There are those who have the power, and there are those who experience the total lack of it. 

Young people are deeply anxious about wars and environmental issues. 

Stating the obvious here: We need to bring people together, and make sure everyone is involved. 

We have the obligation to make music accessible to everyone.

The EU is not stupid, on the contrary. The reason the EU has is now focused on social sustainability and responsibility is because it is important. Europe will never be cheaper (thank goodness) than many other influential territories, but we can be societies were no-one is left behind, and in that way, build safe and reliable societies. And that, if anything, is sexy as hell. Because happiness is sexy, and that is what the world needs.

Concretely, to us, this means we must reach new audiences, and we have to build new audiences; no governments are going to sponsor or fund us to do this. We have to do this ourselves.

And I dare to speak about this: At Tampere-talo Group we have doubled our visitors and audiences to 590 000 last year. Even if Tampere-talo Group is only 7% funded by public money, our free-of-charge events were attended by over 25 000 people.

Thirdly, we have to be able to justify the relevance of our industry to sponsors and philanthropists, because traditional partnerships based on marketing value simply do not work, and they devalue our service and industry.

Every single one of us need to be able to tell, when awoken in the middle of the night, by which grounds our industry is the most important in the world, what is the economic impact of what you do, and how you concretely contribute to the wellbeing of your society and the people you serve.

With great power comes great responsibility. Thank you.