Tallinn Music Week: The festival exceeds expectations

Tatiana Vinichenko
3/30/2015 1:16 PM
Category: Culture

The Tallinn Music Week (TMW), an annual music conference and showcase festival, took place in the Estonian capital over the weekend. Officially launched with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves's introductory speech, it is by no means an exaggeration to say that this year, TMW stretched all expectations and the festival is bigger in its scope than ever before.

More than 800 participants were drawn to the conference, with over 200 foreign music industry delegates from the countries as far as the U.S. and Canada. Some of the most influential people in today's music industry gathered at the Nordic Forum Hotel, which was the official venue of the conference, full of eager young artists, longtime music experts, managers, music label owners and numerous visitors from different parts of the world. Media representatives - from London music press to MTV America - flew to Tallinn, making the 2015 TMW a truly global-scale event.

The first day of the conference was officially opened by the speech of Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was introduced to the foreign guests as "our rock'n'roll president". To start with, the president dwelled a little on the days of his youth and love of music, but the main message of his speech was tinged with political notes and was more of a warning, as to the "nasty authoritarian goals" rock music may be used for. "Please keep in mind that rock'n'roll is great, music is fantastic, but let's keep it at the grass roots, let's keep it to something that we do on our own. Let's not bring it to the circles of authoritarianism, hatred, and war-mongering," the president said.

The actual program of the conference kicked off with a interview with Viv Albertine, a guitarist of the pioneering female punk-rockers The Slits, whose boldness encouraged many female rock bands to pop up in the 1970-80s. Viv's recently published autobiography brought her the MOJO award for the Book Of The Year 2014. In the interview, Viv shared her insights into the core principles and values of the times that gave rise to punk culture. "Our generation of girls were brought up by very militant mothers, who had militant goals," she recalled. "We couldn't go out and feel safe. There was always a fear of being attacked in the street". Viv believes that loud and in-your-face punk music was the way to let the steam off in such violent times, and "encouraged people to be mavericks and outsiders". "Punk has liberated me and I still feel it now, 40 years later. You can take the principles you had when you were young: not being pushed down, not being silenced," she said.

The representatives of the Central and Eastern European Talent Exchange Programme raised the question of lack of professionalism in music management. They pointed out that most people get into the music business unprepared to meet the challenges of the occupation and only learn by doing. The panel agreed on the necessity of education for those who wish to become band managers. On the positive side, the experts admitted that the borders between countries are now disappearing, so it is less about national music these days and more about music per se. "Bands used to be looking to the West, but now they are discovering the local character," Michal Hajduk, a Polish delegate, said.

The discussion of the positive trends in music business was picked up by the female group of conference guests, whose personal professional success stories underlined the headline of the talk, "Some of the best people in the business are women". Even though the sexist stereotypes in music industry still exist and some companies still use such terms as "a female promoter" or "a female agent", there are more and more women in music management positions on these days. The very fact that 80% of this year's TMW management team are women, speaks for itself.

Meanwhile, five independent record label managers and owners gathered to talk about the challenges of running an indie label today. The discussion revolved around the many competitors of small record companies in the modern era, from major oligopolic music labels to social networks and music hosting Internet services. The delegates stressed the importance of "the long tail" in music industry and the serious problem of bad editorial function on music websites. They admitted that nowadays numerous online services expose the listeners to the countless of bad quality songs, so people end up getting lost in unfiltered music.

It wasn't long before the panel of six Russian delegates sat down to have a serious discussion, running under the intriguing title, "Hope For Russia" . The room got packed with the listeners with no free seats left around, which signals a vivid interest from all over the world about the future of Russian artists and to the tricks of running music business in this huge country. The delegates emphasized that as long as Russian people believe that music shall be free for everybody, American and European commercial music streaming services are doomed to fail in Russia in terms of profit - except maybe in the capital, Moscow, which prides itself on being the most "americanized" when it comes to online music shopping.

Likewise, foreign musicians with ambitions to succeed in Russia should identify their main priority, the Russian delegates said. Entering the Russian music market in the hope of making money from CD-sales is a myth, whereas popularizing your music by touring Russia is certainly a new and successful trend in the country, the delegates explained. Russian fans like culture and think of live shows as something worth paying for, unlike recorded music. The panel concluded that the absence of interest of buying CDs makes it pointless in modern Russian music industry to run music labels and for Russian music acts to sign up to a specific label. Pavel Kamakin, a club owner from Russia, highlighted that new bands, including the foreign ones, should first find a Russian representative, an experienced professional in music and concert management, who would introduce the aspiring artists to necessary people, help them overcome practicle obstacles on the tours, and avoid many other bumps on the road to success in this country.

The conference relay was followed by a very anticipated interview with one of the most influential women in modern music industry, Marie Dimberg, the CEO of the Swedish management agency D&D, who is renowned for her successful longtime collaboration with Roxette. Marie shared some basic tips for those who are dreaming of a managerial career in music business. "Learn how to write in your own language and in a foreign language, learn how to communicate, learn how to express yourself and find your balance," she pointed out. When asked about key ingredients of success, Marie put it down in laconic three words "luck, timing, and talent".

What the conference and TMW concerts vividly proved last week is that there are plenty of talents in today's European music scene, and the annual Tallinn Music Week festival is the perfect place for them to get heard. The element of luck, at the end of the day, is just being in the right hands, guided by the dedicated professional, who gives it all for the young talent he or she believes in.

S. Tambur

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