Tallinn Music Week 2020 conference opening speech at the Estonian Academy of Arts by Director and Founder of TMW Helen Sildna

28 August 2020

Good morning,

It feels like a miracle to have you here. But it’s not. It is a decision we took with the team. It is the work that we did and it is the trust that you gave us.

The truth is, our team has never made a bigger effort to pull this through. And the contribution of our partners, from Telia and Nordic Hotel Forum to the Ministry of Culture, and of course within the sector – venues, programmers, sound and light, production and ticketing companies, the tourism sector partners – has never been more crucial. We became a united team to pull this through.

I have never met larger uncertainty, yet more courage, broader challenges, yet closer cooperation, more of the unknown, yet larger desire to learn and find out.

It is an extraordinary time.

We were 2 weeks away from the festival in March when we had to postpone it to August. August seemed at a safe distance then. Ever since we have been asked repeatedly, why is it that we decided to go forward.

When we pay attention and listen to the scientists, we will hear them saying that we need to adapt and we need to learn to live with this… perhaps indefinitely. When we really take this information in, we will realize, there is not much point in postponing our lives into a post-pandemic era. It may not arrive. Considering the likelihood of extreme weather events on top of it, it is not going to get easier. So we have to get smarter.

We cannot shut down music, culture, our way of being, we need to learn how to live in this new world. It will affect the shape of our industry, the shape of travel and the shape of the events we put on. It will require a new level of responsibility, professionalism and smarts.

The events sector needs to establish trust in the society, proving we are capable of adhering to the regulations and minimizing the risks. We need to take the initiative and build a positive agenda.

Looking at it from a different perspective – there aren’t very many other industries that would be professionally capable of handling large crowds in a safe and sophisticated manner, making wide and comprehensible communication campaigns at the same time. Promoters and festivals, used to dealing with thousands of people, do have unique professional experience in crowd management. We need to use our skills in the service of culture and in the service of society now.  We need to up our game.

When uncertainty increases, it helps to go back to the basics – to the very core of “why we do this”. Tallinn Music Week was created from the desire to put Estonian music and talent to the world map, to connect it to the rest of the world – to be a connector. These were the pillars: supporting the music sector, spreading knowledge, enhancing connection and exchange.

These are things we are not prepared to give up on.

When challenges arise, we need to up our game, to learn, improve, get better and even more resilient. To lead change, we need to lead ourselves first. To learn new things we should not assume, we should ask and find out. Lose the autopilot.

In March and April, we ran a survey. Not to assume, but to find out – ask the artists, ask the clients, ask the partners. No surprise, we discovered some blind spots and information gaps we were not expecting.

We talk about innovation a lot these days, but to tell you the truth, our biggest innovation this year has not been the digital hybrid format, but an additional team of 10 competent people, having individual conversations with artists to support them and to have actual conversations. Not an app or technical platform, not an extensive info-graph, but real-time face to face conversations.

We often think innovation is about a digital tool, but maybe it’s more of a change in the pattern of our behaviour. A transformative change in how we think and create.

The themes of Music Industry 2.0, Sustainable Development and Neighbours were the themes of TMW since last autumn. And in a way, these topics have only grown in their importance. When starting to work on the actual conference programme we’ll kick off today, the essentials became:

  • Leadership in culture – upgrading our competences and realising that the bigger the challenges,  the more crucial is the quality of leadership that can make it or break it.
  • Health & Safety of live events – a discussion that used to be in smallest corner rooms of our conferences, but now needs to occupy the main room and top management attention. I think the future of our industry will really depend on it.
  • Future education to prepare ourselves for the world in turmoil.
  • Smart policies for the crisis in the sector that understand and support the whole ecosystem better.
  • The importance of small live music venues.
  • The green turn, equal opportunities, mental health.

None of these has ever been more important.

One of the keywords of TMW 2020 as we worded it is “resilience”. Resilience and leading change.

A Facebook friend of mine, who lives in Beirut, Lebanon, posted some weeks ago: “If I hear someone say the word resilience once again, I’ll…”

Dear friends, we live in a connected world.

On 4th of August, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of the city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, exploded, causing at least 181 deaths, 6,000 injuries, 10–15 billion dollars in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.

This was three weeks ago, in the midst of the pandemic, in a country that has suffered chaos and bad leadership for too long.

The 9th of August was an election day in Belarus. On that day, all roads and entry points to Minsk were blocked by the police and army early in the morning. In the middle of the day, the Internet in Belarus was partially blocked. In the evening of the election day, immediately after the close of polling stations, the government-sponsored TV aired exit poll results showing a supposed landslide in which Lukashenko got 80.23% of the votes, while the opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya received only 9.9%. The landslide was so great that even the pro-government part of the Belarusian population found that it was unlikely to be true.

The post-election protests grew. Hundreds of thousands of protesters are on the streets in cities of Belarus standing up in solidarity for their freedoms.

And no – neither of these countries are free from pandemic concerns too.

Because we built Tallinn Music Week to be a connector, we now want to reach out to our friends in Beirut and Belarus.

Anthony Semaan, Co-founder Beirut Jam Sessions, Beirut Lebanon
Dmitri Bezkorovainyi, music manager, Belarus

Both of these guys, regular visitors to TMW, part of the people we’ll miss this year.

Thank you.

TMW was built to be a connector.

And even that word has become a double-edged sword these days when we avoid physical connection, get-togethers and travel.

There was a quote that I really liked in an article at the last Foreign Affairs magazine edition: “What is killing us is not connection; it is a connection without cooperation. And the cure is not isolation but deeper connection, the kind that can support collective action.”

The crisis is a chance for an audit. It’s time to go off the autopilot and really innovate. And start building bridges over troubled water – a beautiful quote by Simon & Garfunkel that Perttu Pesä, the Director of Tampere 2026 reminded us of last night.

Photo by Aron Urb
Video by RGB