Tallinn Music Week Conference 2022 Panel: Breaking out of the showcase circuit

20 October 2022 Conference

Photo: Aron Urb

Nordic Hotel Forum Conference Centre, 6 May 2022 

Showcase festivals help artists be seen and heard. They’re supposed to lift them up and send them off to the ‘real world’ of touring and gigging. Is such business still being made at these events? Or have they turned into places to meet and mingle – with artists providing a nice background, as opposed to being in the front and center? Is there some kind of a sweet spot to hit or secret sauce to pour over your showcase?

Learn about it all by this panel of seasoned promoters and agents.

The panel is re-watchable for the holders of PRO and DigiPRO passes until TMW 2023 via the TMW PRO platform.

Robert Meijerink, Head of Programme & Booker at Eurosonic Noorderslag
Adam Ryan, Head of Music of The Great Escape
Beckie Sugden, Agent at ICM Partners/Primary Talent
Erik Egenes, Head of Press and International at by:Larm
Natasha Padabed, Agent and Curator at More Zvukov Agency

Moderator: Martiina Putnik, Manager at Monday Morning Management

Martiina Putnik (MP): Let me open this discussion with a very straightforward question. Why do we need showcase festivals? Why should artists and professionals go to your specific festivals? 

Robert Meijerink (RM): Well, I think the urge or the reason why showcase events exist is because the job of the talent buyer, booker, promoter is to discover new talent. It’s actually the essence of the job of being a promoter. You are not only connected with people as having a network, but also in a position to discover new artists. That reason was in fact the very start of Eurosonic. The idea was very simple – let’s bring people together, make sure that they are able and in a position to discover artists. And organise a conference to talk about the music sector, its business and everything involved.

MP: Erik, you have quite a lot of participants from the Nordics at by:Larm and also the artists are quite heavily Nordic. Is there room for anyone else there or how do you position yourself?

Erik Egenes (EE): There is definitely space for other artists there and I think it’s also necessary. I spend a lot of time talking to Norwegians and to Swedes and Danes about this as well. Because they’re like: “Why aren’t there more Norwegian acts or Swedish or Danes?”. And I’m like, “If you want to be a festival that gathers people from abroad to see your acts, then we have to have something for them as well”. I can’t really argue with anything that Robert said,  I only want to add that being a successful showcase festival is kind of like being a vessel. You’re supposed to bring the artist forward on the terms that they themselves decide. It’s really important that artists themselves decide where they want to go and how. And then we are gonna help them to get there. It’s also an opportunity for the industry to get together, see new acts and be the platform where you can actually do that. In a lot of places the space for new acts is dwindling, so I think we need showcases more than ever. 

Erik Egenes. Photo: Aron Urb

MP: I guess at bigger festivals we might see quite a lot of interest from the industry side. What about the smaller ones? Erik, how do you pick and choose the professionals from other places besides Norway? The ones who help your Norwegian and Swedish artists to move along. How do you check their quality?

EE: Well, there are lots of ways to do that. Checking it with the people you already know is a very good thing. Use your network. That goes for anyone using a showcase festival for whatever purpose. Doing that and also visiting other showcase festivals in order to see how they are doing it. 

MP: Adam, why do we need showcase festivals?

Adam Ryan (AR): To provide platforms for new music to be showcased. New emerging music doesn’t necessarily get a look sometimes. It’s mostly about the big arenas, tours and selling lots of tickets. So to nurture and to focus on the new layer of industry coming through. You know, the future managers and future agents as well. 

MP: I will now turn to the agents on this panel. Why do you need showcase festivals? Why do you go there? What are you looking for?

Natasha Padabed (NP): Well, obviously they’re needed to present artists, especially the upcoming artists, for the agencies, festivals, media and so on. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a showcase, but I have a lot of good examples of how showcases helped a lot. 

Beckie Sugden (BS): Basically what Natasha said. Looking to do business, to find festival slots, to find festival slots for existing artists, but also to find what’s out there. Like Adam said, to meet the new talent – the new promoters, the new managers. It’s just a really good time for everyone to connect, to come together, to do business and listen to good music.

MP: Maybe the first step for getting out is getting in. Let’s take The Great Escape for example, where a big part of the programme and business is still UK-based. Where do the regions that are maybe a bit more exotic, come in? And how do they get into the music programming?

AR: I think there are about 15 different partners that we work with – ranging from export offices, to record labels, agencies and everything in between. We try to work and engage with different countries, to bring them onboard. This year we are working with the Caribbean, they are doing a showcase. We are going to have artists from Korea. We go out and seek those partnerships actively. Hopefully we’re gonna have one with Estonia for the next Great Escape. 

BS: Export offices all around the world are a big help. They do amazing job connecting artists with people like Adam and Robert. They are very important. And it’s very important for artists to rely on them also. 

MP: Eurosonic is doing a lot of partnering with the export offices. But there are nevertheless artists in areas which are a little bit on their own. Do they also have a window into your events?

RM: Yes, in fact everyone is invited to apply for Eurosonic. There are many countries in Europe who don’t have a proper export office. And then we either communicate with the locals who are running the festival or working as promoters. We have a very good relationship with the EBU [European Broadcasting Union – TMW]. We have connections with almost every public broadcaster in Europe and it helps us a lot to understand what the domestic market is about. There are many good examples of smaller countries who don’t have the funding or the financial resources to run an export office. But we are always actively looking for partnerships. 

It may happen that an export office is run by a festival, or the other way, the export office is run by somebody involved with public radio. I think it’s all about understanding which artists are ready to fly out from their own countries. Because if you want to play at a showcase festival, it potentially can be a goal, but from my perspective it should be also a starting point. For Eurosonic it’s very important to have good information about the artist. If you are not picked up for the upcoming edition it doesn’t mean that you’re either good or bad. We very much care about the artist and maybe there’s room for you in one or two years. 

Robert Meijerink. Photo: Aron Urb.

MP: I guess the message was not to give up on the first “no” and keep coming back. 

There are quite a lot of showcase festivals around now. We see similar faces talking about similar topics at all of these events, so it might get a little bit repetitive. Is business actually still being made at these events as it should be? Or is it more of a place to come together, meet and mingle – with artists playing somewhere in the background, as opposed to being in the front and center?

EE: I think it’s connected. You travel and see new music scenes and new cities and get to know new markets. The idea of it is not necessarily that a deal is done right there and then but that you prepare the ground, look forward and see if there are some potential collaborations in the future. And if something happens there and then, then that is a good thing as well. 

That leads to something else that I really try to tell artists as often as I can – you have to have long-term plans, or at least goals and visions of where you want to end up. And you kind of have to see where everything fits in reaching that goal. The goal isn’t necessarily just to get to play at a showcase festival this year and then something will magically happen. The idea is that it’s a starting point for you to get to the next level. It’s up to by:Larm to help you find out what that is, but it has to come from within you as well. So a lot of our job is teaching artists how to find that.

BS: Business is done even when you are mingling, chatting, having a drink. You know, I’ve met probably 3 – 4 people I didn’t know before this weekend’s event and 3 – 4 artists who have made an effort to come and speak to me, give me their Spotify links and so on. I think business is always being done, even if it’s in the social capacity. It doesn’t have to be “Yo, sign this contract” sort of business. Business comes in different forms. And as Erik said, it’s a long term thing.  a long term relationship. Those things will always help you. That’s how you’re gonna make it –  as a manager, as a promoter, as an agent – through networking.

MP: We know that Reeperbahn is for the German industry, the Great Escape for the UK industry… How do you get your foot in the door? Because sometimes in some of these markets it might be quite tricky to get the attention of the local professionals. 

BS: You’ve got to make it happen. If you’re an artist then I want you in my face telling me how you’re gonna be playing in a stadium in 20 years. I remember Kasabian – on their first ever showcase they gave out a manifesto on where they were gonna be within 5 – 10 – 15 years. Everyone was like “Wow, never seen this before”. I’m not saying every artist should go out and put a manifesto in our face. But tell us where you want to be, tell us how you’re gonna get there. Tell us why you’ll get there. I want to know that you know where you want to be. And I want to feel that passion from you. It’s infectious. It is what will make me listen to your Spotify and not just take your card and never look at it again. I want them to tell me what I’m gonna be a part of. That’s really important.

Beckie Sugden. Photo: Aron Urb

MP: Maybe it’s a good time to ask what they can do to get your attention. Because we know that sometimes you tend to get a lot of similar e-mails. What can the artist do to get your attention? What do you want to see in these e-mails? Ok, maybe they will catch you after this panel here. But if they have to go via e-mail, what should they do?

BS: You get so many “Dear All” letters, which have no name… Send it to me! If you want me to be your agent, talk to me directly. Say to me, “I want to speak to you. Do you have time?” If I don’t reply to you, come to this panel, wait til’ after, hound me nicely. I don’t want you following me around everywhere, but I want to know that you’re that passionate to want my attention. And you need to tell me why I need to give you attention. 

NP: I have found most of my artists because they performed live. For instance with alyona alyona I saw her first video clip, then I put it on my Facebook page and people started asking me if I’m her agent. Then I thought “why not”, wrote to her and we made this career from zero to here. So yeah, it depends. But I prefer to see the band live of course. 

BS: I actually have a good anecdote from the festival. Yesterday me and my colleague Amy were out and we saw these two girls. They looked incredible, they were super fashionable and were taking pictures of each other. So I was like, “Do you want to have a picture taken together?”. We had our passes on and everything, took their picture, had a nice chat with them and went on our way. Then later on last night I went out for a cigarette and noticed the girls’ picture on the panel of artists. They’d been with me and Amy, and they didn’t say to us “Oh, would you check out my Spotify page? Oh you’re part of the panel!”. 

Then this morning there was a young man who I met in the hallway. Again, he was looking to smoke. Hilarious isn’t it how all the smokers come together… But he was like, “Do you have a smoke?”. Turns out he was an artist and so he asked “Oh, what are you doing here, what do you do?”. I said “Well, I’m an agent” and he was like, “Would you mind looking at my Spotify?”. So I listened to his Spotify this morning and he was wonderful! That’s the difference. He took that opportunity to have me listen to him right there and then. The girls weren’t interested or didn’t make a connection. So if you see anybody with that badge on, you should be like “Who are you?”, “Why are you here?”, “Can you help me?”. 

MP: Now I’m curious whether they were a little bit Nordic or Estonian “I’m shy, I don’t want to be in peoples faces”. 

BS: You don’t have time to be shy and not be in peoples faces. If you want to be an artist, if you want to be famous, get in my face. Well, not literally.

EE: I studied journalism and the three years can be summed up with “do your research”. That’s the most important lesson to artists as well. You have to find out who these people are, what they do, who has played there before, why do I want to play there, what can I accomplish by doing that. There’s a festival in every fjord in Norway. but by:Larm is supposed to be different than that, at least it serves a different purpose. So you have to tell me why you need by:Larm. If you can tell me that, then I’ll be way more interested, compared to getting a “Dear Sir or Madam” e-mail. 

BS: You’re so right. When you scroll through the delegates’ list and there are no pictures, go find them on social media. Know what they look like, know what we look like. And approach us. 

Don’t “Dear All” Me!

Artists need to do a better filtration and research on who they’re contacting for the gigs. Not every act in the programme is for everyone. And it will never be like that.

– Erik Egenes

MP: So, lazer-sharp targeting. At bigger showcases we sometimes hear a buzz about the next big thing which everyone has to go and see. How can a smaller artist grab the attention at an event with 600 artists and a valid number of professional delegates? Is there something that they can do? Who can they collaborate with? Should they bring a press person along? How should they try to actually get the attention of this huge pool?

RM: It’s a good question and obviously depends on your dreams and plans. Because if you are selected to play at The Great Escape, Eurosonic or Reeperbahn, then I think you shouldn’t go there without a plan. You should clearly make some goals. If you totally do it yourself or you don’t have a manager yet, then maybe this is a time to reach out to one. This is the time to think of somebody to represent you there. Before applying for a showcase festival where you will be playing  for a wider audience, including journalists, music lovers who potentially can like your music, you should answer the main questions: Are we ready to go there? Do we have the right people on our team to make sure that the right people will be in front of the stage?

BS: I’ve seen so many artists fly out to South by Southwest [SXSW – TMW], play one showcase and think that the world is gonna change. And it simply doesn’t happen like that. You have to have your goals and a plan. You have to know why you’re going there and what you want to achieve. Without that it’s just a waste of money, just throwing money down the toilet.

EE: And you are also throwing the moment away. Because the moment happens there. It’s not like you get booked next year with nothing happening. The train has passed. So you have to seize the moment. And we see all the time at by:Larm. Artists have applied for years and were like “Let’s wait a bit, let’s give it some time, it’s not ready yet”. That intuition has proven to be correct, because it gets better when you have put in the hours. And these are the artists that make a difference. And then they play and some stuff happens for them. Had they played 3 years ago probably it wouldn’t have. Persistence and putting in the hours, tying it together with your goals is very important. 

MP: That comes back to what Robert was saying. Playing a showcase festival is not a goal in itself and you should really have a plan set out for what you want to find, what you want to do, where you want to get to.

Natasha, from your experience working with artists, how to make the most of it?

NP: It’s very simple. You have a database with participants, you check who is representing venues, festivals, media. You send them invitations, trying to reach the people whom you are interested in seeing your band. Basically you arrange meetings. 

Natasha Padabed. Photo: Aron Urb

MP: Adam, Robert and Erik, do you measure the success rate of the artists? What do they achieve, what kind of results do they bring, where do they go from there etc? 

AR: We ask for feedback from all of our partners and try to work out how many deals have been done, what type of deals and the value of these deals. That is something we monitor every year. We have had big acts like Ed Sheeran or Foals who have had their big moments at the festival. But for us it’s those smaller deals and smaller successes that make the event worthwhile. But we definitely monitor what impact we’re having and how we can be more inclusive and help change things. Obviously the 50/50 gender split at the bigger festivals is important. I think a lot of these kind of things can be changed with showcase events. They can eventually have an effect on the bigger stages.

MP: Robert, I know that Eurosonic is always very thorough with the afterwards analysis as well. Can you open up about that a little?

RM: Yeah, over the years we have had a long-running project called European Talent Exchange Programme, which now goes under the name of ESNS Exchange. The project is simple. It connects festivals, no matter what size. Glastonbury is there, Roskilde is there, Sziget etc. All these promoters and talent buyers are visiting and attending Eurosonic in order to discover talent. Their main goal is to go back home with some discoveries and for us at Eurosonic it’s very important to monitor this. That’s the reason we set up this programme. 

We also set up and launched a programme called Radar which gives professionals the opportunity to monitor the artists. You can write down the artist who played at Eurosonic and you get a simple overview on their social media stats, their reach, singles, everything. We have over the years become an institution. We are not that big, but we are doing our very best to get something out of it for the artists. 

MP: Beckie, you work with artists of different genres on different levels. You’ve also developed artists from smaller stages to bigger stages. Do you see some key characteristics on how and why they grow? And do you feel that showcasing is an important step in artists development?

BS: If I could answer the question what makes an artist massive, I would be a millionaire and in the Bahamas right now. But yeah, it’s what we said before. It’s tenacity, it’s the drive, it’s having a vision where you are going, what kind of artist you are going to be. What kind of clothes you wear, what designers you work with, what kind of stage you will have. It’s every single element in your head – where you want to be, how you want to get there. It’s those kind of things that breed success. If you turn up and you come to a showcase and you get an agent, a manager and everybody you want in your team and then think that you’ll just sit back and the world is gonna chase you…well you’re not gonna be a massive artist then. If you go “Ok I’ve got a team and here’s how I’m gonna use every single element of my team to make myself better and to get to my goals”, then that’s what it’s about. You always have to be involved. You don’t just get an agent and then the world will change and you’ll be playing in Wembley in 10 years. That’s just not the reality. But showcasing is hugely important. That’s where artists are cutting their teeth and learning their stage craft. But you gotta do it at the right time.

Playing in front of the industry is hard. It’s a cold world at a showcase sometimes because there’s a big gap in the front. And that’s part of it. You have to learn how to thrive in these situations as well as if it’s packed and you’re playing in front of 100 or 200 or 10,000 people.

MP: Adam, do you have an example of an artist who were at the exact right spot when they came to the Great Escape and then their career completely took off? What did they do, how did they make it happen? Did they have a plan?

AR: Yeah, they had a plan. From acts that have been going for 10 years and then coming to The Great Escape, Skepta would be a good examplet. He had been going for 10 years, but with that album, I think it was Konichiwa, we had him headlining just as it came to the public consciousness. The same with Rag’n’Bone Man. Bastille started in a small venue and then played 3 years on the trot and then finished up headlining the event. Christine and the Queens playing at the Queens hotel was a good moment, probably not the best venue, but definitely a moment. There’s lot of examples like that. 

So yeah there should be some exciting things at the festival this year which may come from leftfield or where you weren’t expecting. But we are normally quite good at timing it. 

Adam Ryan. Photo: Aron Urb

MP: Is there anything we can do to get the people out of the pubs and into the gigs?

AR: That’s where the export office parties come in, I guess. Getting the music industry out of London is tough, let alone getting them out of the pub. But that’s why we always work with bands or with artists that have a team around them. That’s really important. The artist should just be focusing on performing and practicing and keeping their head down. And the manager or whoever is working with the band should be going to the pubs and networking and letting people know about the artist. So even if they can’t get to the show, then they have at least made the contact and put the name of the acts in peoples’ heads. But we are trying to do two shows. A show during the day with your country representation or your export office, and then in the evening we try to mix the lineup and pair you with a media partner and also artists from across the globe or from the UK. There’s more of an opportunity to be seen and you’re not tucked away. But you need to hustle and it’s tough. 

MP: Robert, do you have any tips or ideas from Eurosonic? How do we get audiences out of pubs and into the venues? Does it mean that we have to bring the food and drink there?

RM: The good thing about Eurosonic is that it mainly takes place in pubs. Yeah, Groningen is a city with very many pubs and smaller venues that are not regular venues throughout the year. So we give a lot of effort to proper production to make sure that the quality of every stage is high. Artists are coming from all corners of Europe and our main goal is to make sure that the production level is at least very good, that the sound and the stage and everything is topnotch. Everyone is investing in the showcase, for us it costs like 10,000 euros per artist. That means that normally when you go to Groningen, a pub is a pub, but during Eurosonic everyone buys a ticket. Well, mainly the professionals and the media do. But of course also music lovers, which is a very important group for us. They buy the tickets and they go to Groningen. So we don’t necessarily need export office parties. They do it between the conference, which ends around 5 pm, and showcases start at 8pm. That’s the thing about Eurosonic. During the day there’s the focus on the conference, making sure that the networking is in place, everyone can meet each other in one building. It’s a bit like here – you bump into each other all the time. And during the evening there’s proper focus on live music. 

BS: There’s nothing you can really do to get people out of the pubs, except putting on great shows with great artists. You can’t really force anybody to do anything. They have to be motivated in some way to want to do that.  

EE: This ties back to what we talked about – artists need to do a better filtration and research on who they’re contacting for the gigs. But that’s what we also try to do at by:Larm and what the professionals in general try to do. We try to match artists with people because not every act in the programme is for everyone. And it will never be like that. So you have to matchmake a bit and create arenas where that happens. But it’s mostly an organic process. You just have to create places where people can meet and give artists the tools, or as much as you can to find the right people. And the same goes about the industry side. It’s also important to have actual audience and music lovers in the festival because they are at the front.

Timing is everything:

If you are not picked up for the upcoming festival it doesn’t mean that you’re either good or bad. We very much care about the artist and maybe there’s room for you in one or two years.

– Robert Meijerink

Skepta [– – –] had been going for 10 years,  but by Konichiwa we had him headlining just as this album came to the public consciousness.

–  Adam Ryan

A question from the audience by Stefanie Schumann from Delicious Tunes agency:  

I run a booking and management agency based in Germany. I work mostly with African artists. Many countries have export offices who support their artists but we also have lots of great talent who don’t have the support. In my case it usually lands on my shoulder and comes out of my bank account. Yes, we can see it as an investment, but sometimes I feel that the policies of showcase festivals might need to be reconsidered to be more fair and more sustainable. Book five acts less, but at least contribute to the hotel costs or travel costs for artists who don’t have an export office. The other side is that sometimes you play for eight people at 1.30 at night and people are drunk or tired. I think we should try to create a more fair system between all of us, because we need each other. It’s not only that we need showcase festivals, but showcase festivals also need great talent. We need you and you need us. If we don’t offer great talent, where do we go?  

Robert, you said that it takes 10,000 euros per artist to produce. Is there a possibility to book five artists less, have 12,000 euros per artist and contribute ,.000 euros to their support? Or let’s say we want to book five artists from Africa. These acts don’t have support, we’re going to support them, or have a partner in place. Or maybe five venues in your country who book them while they play in your showcase, so we can recoup these tours. Because a recoupment of a couple of thousand euros of investment in order to bring an artist to a big conference takes a long time.

RM: Fair point. But if you talk about conferences as showcase festivals in general, then there are so many opportunities in Europe. A general setup of any showcase is very different. Some of them pay, some of them don’t pay anything, some of them pay a small amount. I had a proper study with some of my colleagues a couple of years ago, also in the light of creating more awareness, talking about the pay topic, sustainability and opportunities. The only example I can give is that if artists are playing Eurosonic, the clever managers and agents out there are planning a route towards Groningen. They make sure that on their way to Groningen they do a show in Paris, Austria or somewhere in between. So there are some ways to cut costs also for artists. But as said, there is no general standard. I think the only thing I can say for Eurosonic is that we are thinking about the future, but we are still not there. Because it’s all about money. We offer hotel, PA and lights. Artists get a proper meal, they get drinks. The production levels are fair. But having said that, I realise that they are not getting a fee to play. And our dream is of course to pay everyone at least a buyout or whatever. Or make them choose. But this is something in the pipeline, not something confirmed yet. 

AR: We pay the minimum of 150 pounds, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s more than the acts would get if they would be supporting in Brighton. In that respect it’s kind of fair. Oviously the fees go up but I guess if you came to me with an artist that you were trying to get out of Africa and put them on the Great Escape, and we saw the value for us to bring it to the UK market, then we would put you in touch with our promoters, we’d route a London show to help cover the costs of your trip over. And we would help to make it sustainable. 

Stefanie Schumann from the audience:

I know everybody has different policies and you are already the ones who offer a hotel and that’s already great. But we also feel that showcases are popping up like mushrooms at the moment. Everybody is doing a showcase festival in every country and in every region, because obviously there seems to be funding for this. t’s a great business as well in a way.  

RM: I’m sorry to interrupt, but what’s great about a business of having a conference and a showcase festival? 

EE: It’s not big bucks. But still, it’s really important what you’re saying about investing more into the artists. This is something we’ve done at by:Larm increasingly over the past years. by:Larm is 25 years old and just 10 years ago we had way too many artists and way too many Norwegian artists. There wasn’t a band left in Oslo that didn’t play. And now we have much fewer artists and one fund with a big prize that offers 500,000 Norwegian kroner, that’s about 50,000 euros, to just one artist, selected by the jury at the festival. A few years ago it was Girl in Red. It financed her first US tour and now she’s huge. 

So I think we have put a lot more effort into fewer artists and this also pisses some people off. They’re like “Why can’t my band play and why am I not good enough?” and all that stuff. And we’re like “Well, let’s see you in a few years. Show us what you do with that time”. And in the past 10 years, Norwegian and Nordic music has become bigger than ever. Obviously it’s working that way. Of course you have to step on somebody’s toes but this also enables you to not have a lot of artists playing for free. You can actually invest more in every artist if you make it smaller and more curated. This is a big thing that we’ve been taking a lot of flak for. But it also feels really essential.

AR: We have an African artist headlining the Great Escape this year – Tems. So, yeah I’m doing my bit.

MP: A lot of discussion and fury has been about artists not getting paid at showcase festivals. It might seem to the local artist that  the festival is doing really well and inviting all these people here. But of course we have been discussing what is the whole idea behind to be seen and to be heard. It’s a struggle to make ends meet. 

BS: That’s why it’s also so important to pick your momentl. Because this is an investment. This is something you have to invest in and you have to take a risk. Life’s full of risks. You have to invest ten grand in order to then make hundreds of thousands of millions. Hopefully, when you’re playing stadiums and stuff. This is why it’s so crucial to pick that moment. 

A question from the audience:

I work with contemporary world music artists and we participate in up to 4 to 8 different showcase festivals every year. Some showcases are of course huge career openers for the artists to get the word out and to get them exposure and visibility. There are so many showcase festivas and we pick where we want to apply. If an artist gets accepted we definitely ask around about the experience of other artists and agencies how did it work out, was the artist respected, was it fairly done, etc. So these things go around a lot. Showcase festivals that can’t offer these things won’t survive. Those that may not pay the artist, but give a fair opportunity, will stay. 

AR: That’s how I look at things as well. That it’s not good or bad. The question is what is the opportunity and who has the right to take that opportunity and how can they get the most out of that opportunity. Because if you look at artists as good or bad, then the majority of things are bad in the world, aren’t they? But you can’t have that as an outlook. 

BS: You look at the guys that are on this panel now. Their festivals started as smaller showcases. And they have now booked thousands of acts, right? So, you’re right, when they’re good, they get bigger, they get better. And they lead to success. 

A question from the audience by Andraž Kajzer, Art Director of MENT Ljubljana:
It’s not that much of a question, but more like an answer or an idea. First, if you think you’re losing money on a showcase, or it doesn’t make sense for your artist, don’t go there. Why would you lose money on it? Second, go there alone beforehand, see what the showcase is about. See if it’s worth it, is it worth losing money. Is it worth the time, the effort and does it make sense for your artist. Third, chase the booker and say “I don’t like the venue, I don’t like the hour”. The fourth thing that I think is very important and it’s not said enough – export offices should rethink their idea and their goals. Because they are investing most of the money into showcase festivals that are huge. These showcases are renting the venues and not making the best for the artists. Especially I see this with a lot of newly established export offices, maybe from Eastern Europe. For example, The Great Escape is a British festival so of course there are going to be a lot of British bands. From Brighton to London it’s 2 hours and you get 150 pounds for the gig. The artist thinks “Well, I can make it”. But from Slovenia to Brighton… if they pay me 150 pounds.. I have to have a work visa, which is even more than that. So I’m losing money. 

AR: We’re permit free now. But I think what you are saying is right. You should definitely put more pressure on the festival and the booker and ask if this is the right venue, is this going to be the best opportunity for me. Ask them if there is any way you can take over the social media side. Really put the pressure back on them and ask why we should play the event. Hopefully they will give you more than they would have if you hadn’t asked at all. 

EE: Yeah. Do you have opinions,  goals, something to talk to the booker about? Do you have specifications that can lead to having a better experience in the showcase? There’s nothing better than that. I love those e-mails, I love those phone calls, I love those conversations. The worst thing is when an artist doesn’t have any opinions at all and then nothing happens and then they apply the next year. And then I meet them in a pub in Oslo. And they’re like, “Why can’t I play this year?”. And I’m like, “You had your chance last year, why didn’t you make something out of it? Why didn’t you e-mail me then?”

NP: Yeah, I was convincing Reeperbahn to book alyona alyona. I can’t remember how many e-mails I wrote. And then she won the main award of Reeperbahn. That was really funny, I think they didn’t expect it. 

A question from the audience by Nick Hobbs, Managing Director of Charmenko:
From somebody who has gone to quite a lot of showcase festivals over the years, my general comment would be that I don’t appreciate bad programming. If there are many acts on and the descriptions in the programme are all glowing and they’re all written by some kind of a publicist who says that they’re all amazing and wonderful and so on and so on. And you go there and it’s boring British pub rock, which I grew up on and have kinda seen 800,000 iterations of and I don’t want to see it any more ever in my life. What I personally would like to see is quality control in some form or other. WOMEX is a festival that I know very well and they have a jury that changes every year. I think there are seven jurors. Seven different people every year and they fight it out amongst themselves. That’s quite a good system. So that means there’s a shifting quality control, but it is some kind of quality control. 

That’s one point. Another point is that programming lots of the same kind of music is terribly-terribly tiring. One would like a kind of an eclectic programming that rewards originality and creativity. 

AR: How do you know we’re not doing that?

NH: Well, I’m not saying that you are not doing it, I’m just saying this is what I’m looking for. My experience of showcase festivals tends to be like what Adam said, provocatively I assume, that you program a lot of stuff that you think is bad.

AR: The reason why I’ve been doing this for 7 years now is that we get to rebuild it every year. So it’s just not booking a site where it’s like “I’ve got this budget and I’ve got to fill the slot at 7pm”. Every year we look at the partners that we work with. From media partners and sponsors to record labels and managers. And shift it and change it according to what genres of music are coming through and obviously going back to that quality filter. A lot of my job is filtration and curation. These are the two things that we do. And that’s the difference between a good festival and a bad festival, isn’t it? There may be a lot of showcases, but the ones that have those filtration systems and are good at curating, tend to succeed. Yeah no one wants to see British pub rock, I’m with you on that. 

BS: I’m gonna make you a T-shirt that says “filtration and curation”.  

Curation is King

Export offices should rethink their idea and their goals and not invest most of the money into showcase festivals that are huge.

– Andraž Kajzer, Art Director of MENT Ljubljana

There may be a lot of showcases, but the ones that have those filtration systems and are good at curating, tend to succeed.

– Adam Ryan

A question from the audience by Juliana Voloz, owner and booker of JV-Promotion:
I have many artists showcasing at many showcases like Eurosonic, WOMEX, MENT, etc. I don’t have a question, but a great wish that successful showcase festivals should not grow when they become successful, because it’s a great opportunity to get there, but then it’s a hard struggle to get audiences there. That is, if there are many showcases at the same time, many great artists at the same time. I wish there would be less artists with more opportunities to check, an environment where they work and find bookers. For me one of the best showcases is Mundial Montreal. They make sure that all invited bookers go to check all band. There are not many bands, but they can be seen. There is a huge competition in the big showcase festivals. So my wish is, stay as small as you can and love the artists that you invite.  

BS: There are so many showcases that won’t get big and other small ones will come in. So there’s plenty of choice.

Question from the audience by Kim Vagenaar from Peer Agency:
I feel that we’ve learned a lot about how to break into the showcase circuit, but how do you actually break out of it? Is there anything that showcase festivals offer to artists and their team in order to help them break out of it and grow and move forever?

NP: I can say a thing about Reeperbahn. After alyona alyona won the award, she got an opportunity to go to SXSW, then had a plan to go to Europe, then to China.. But then Covid happened and plans fell through. 

RM: Yeah, at Eurosonic we have an ESNS chart every week, which is directly connected with the artists who are confirmed. Not everyone of course, but it depends on the algorithm and it depends on the input received from the public radio partners. 

BS: It is for you then to make it happen as well. We’re not gonna hold your hand and make it happen. You’ve got your team, you’ve got your agent. You’ve got the people around you. You then have to use those to build your career. You’ve been given a vessel and a way to do it. 

Hold On I’m Coming!

You’ve got to make it happen. If you’re an artist then I want you in my face telling me how you’re gonna be playing in a stadium in 20 years.

– Beckie Sugden

It’s tenacity, it’s the drive, it’s having a vision of where you are going, what kind of artist you are going to be. What kind of clothes you wear, what designers you work with, what kind of stage you will have. It’s every single element in your head – where you want to be, how you want to get there. It’s those kind of things that breed success.

– Beckie Sugden

Playing in front of the industry is hard. It’s a cold world at a showcase sometimes because there’s a big gap in the front. And that’s part of it. You have to learn how to thrive in these situations as well as if it’s packed and you’re playing in front of 100 or 200 or 10,000 people.

– Beckie Sugden

 The idea of it is not necessarily that a deal is done right there and then but that you prepare the ground, look forward and see if there are some potential collaborations in the future.

– Erik Egenes

MP: As my dear journalist friend said before this panel: “Well, if you have to break out of the showcase circuit then you’re really already screwed”. So don’t get stuck in there. That is the short answer, but it would have been a very short panel.

Finally, a super quick lightning round. Your favourite showcase festival and why? And you can’t say your own and you can’t say Tallinn Music Week. 

BS: Eurosonic. Because it’s always a good lineup of acts, everyone is always there, great panels, good people, good acts. 

EE: Tallinn [Music Week – TMW] is pretty great so far…

RM: I was at the Sharpe festival two weeks ago. I loved it. I’m not such a big fan of the bigger festivals, I really admire the smaller ones. Because you can speak to people, you can see every act. MENT is a great event. Smaller ones will alway be number one for me.

NP: It used to be WOMEX. But now I also can’t choose. I have Tallinn [Music Week – TMW] , Eurosonic and MENT. 

AR: Bigsound in Australia, because I can’t  go there very often and there are always amazing bands there. Some of them really dominate the UK and European music scene. And they do such a great job in bringing the global music community together. 

BS: Can I just say one more thing? I think this is one of the best panel subjects that I’ve seen in ages. And I’ve never seen so many hands up. Well done Tallinn Music Week for bringing this to us.