Despite its relatively small size as a country, the Dutch jazz scene presents an impressive array of music featuring both homegrown and international artists. In this interview we caught up with Frank van Berkel who is the programmer at Bimhuis in Amsterdam – one of the most well-known jazz venues in The Netherlands.
Frank has been running the BIMHUIS bookings since 2018, but his experience in the music industry runs much deeper than that: he started out first as a musician and composer but went on to work as a freelance programme manager for a whole host of events and venues, including North Sea Round Town in Rotterdam, Concertgebouw De Doelen, Jazz International Rotterdam, LantarenVenster and LUX in Nijmegen.
As manager of the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra, Frank also gained an insight into the world of touring and releasing music – in that challenging large ensemble format no less!
You’ll find the interview below, but a few quick takeaways that stood out…
- When it comes to booking emerging artists and rising stars, their following (on social media, for example) is an important consideration.
- When it comes to pitching your project either in person or via email: BE CONCISE!
- Most venues and festivals have a marketing team: work with them and give them the tools they need to help you.
You took over booking for the legendary Bimhuis jazz club in 2018. How has the programming changed, if at all, under your management?
We are programming for a broader ‘jazz’ audience than before. We have had less experimental (avant-garde) and free improvised music then before, and more emerging artists from the Netherlands and rising stars from Europe.
And I think even less traditional jazz than before.
Also some more co-productions with local festivals and organisations.
How do you balance your personal preferences and musical styles with what you think your audience will like?
This is difficult. I cannot just choose on personal taste and opinion. I also have to calculate what other venues are programming and what the media is writing about certain artists.
If my audience doesn’t like my personal taste, which happens a lot when programming emerging artists and rising stars, I have to be careful, or persistent, when repeating.
If my audience likes what is not my personal taste, I have to be careful as well. First not to forget to have attention for these artists, and then judge the music for artistic relevance and also that it fits the artistic profile of the club.
When selling a gig, how much of the success depends on that artists’ following and how much on Bimhuis having a strong and ‘ready’ audience?
This is difficult to say in numbers or percentage.
In general, when I compare to other venues in The Netherlands, and also other venues in Europe, I notice that we have good audience numbers for several different music genres.
Our renewed publicity staff have been doing great work in the last year, which certainly increased these numbers. But when it comes to emerging artists and rising stars we definitely depend on the online socials by the artist and their following.
So I would say 50/50 if it comes to numbers, but depending on the artist.
Where do you discover new music?
Mostly at festivals and showcase events. But also through my contacts, agents and musicians network who mail me with new ideas, groups, releases etc.
Rarely through Facebook or other social media, but it does happen occasionally.
By curating projects of our own, like composition assignments and other artwork in progress projects we curate.
Also during talent competitions when I’m asked to take place in the jury like Keep an Eye Award, Keep an Eye The Records, Dutch Jazz Competition, International Jazz & World Showcase event Israel a.o.
Also at jam sessions on Tuesdays in the Bimhuis and during our Rough Diamands Around Midnight series at the Bimhuis, which is a series hosted by Conservatorium of Amsterdam with the most talented students.
Furthermore we have Bimlab, which is an improvisation laboratory curated by the BIM, which stands for Union of Professional Musicians in Improvised Music.
What’s your #1 tip for musicians reaching out to a promoter for the first time by email?
Be patient, don’t expect you will have a catch right away by sending one email.
And don’t be disappointed, when not getting an answer right away, or getting a negative answer.
[Jazzfuel note: this piece of advice crops up with pretty much every promoter interview we share. ‘No answer’ doesn’t mean “we don’t like your music”! “We can’t make an offer right now” doesn’t mean “we don’t like your music!” Promoters are being offered much more good music than they can book.]
How should independent musicians approach or prepare for industry/networking events like Jazzahead?
Have your promotional shit together:
- Be able to describe your music thoroughly and originally, but only in one sentence!
- Enjoy networking, be comfortable with it, have fun and be patient
- Make sure you have a hook to your story: What’s the music about? Is there a musician or guest in the line up who we all know? Do you have some known reputation as a musician? And if yes how so? Keep everything compact and concise!
- an EPK
- a record or album of good quality
- a press kit with a short bio/summary and quality photos
- Link to your website, youtube, recordings or a hardcopy album
- Keep everything compact and concise!
What do you expect from an artist in terms of promotion once you’ve confirmed a booking?
Make sure you keep your promises. If there is a release date involved, don’t postpone it without consulting the promoter.
Make sure you have an up to date website which is online and accessible.
Make sure to schedule your promotion and talk to the promoter or the publicity staff about your plans, or ask for the needs of the venue, so that band and venue complement each other in promotion. Venue usually have experienced and professional marketing staff and their regular working method strategies.
Musicians aren’t marketeers by profession, but are original and creative when it comes to their art and have a network and following of their own.
What, aside from a sell-out show, motivates you to book an artist again in the future?
When artists are not too demanding, when they understand the situation working with a venue and when they have their personal shit (organisation and promotion) together.
Also when they’re nice people and deliver what they are expected to deliver.
You’ve been heavily involved with the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra. What’s your best advice for musicians who want to put together adventurous large ensemble projects in terms of actually making it work?
Look for funding. There are numerous funds [Jazzfuel note: depending on your country!] if you want to invest in large artistic projects.
For us venues, it’s impossible to invest. The meals, accommodation, local transports etc. It’s all big numbers so undoable. Especially if ticket sales are relatively low.
But funds have no problem with this. They want artists to be able to export their music.
If you were a musician with a relatively new project, would you focus on club bookings, festivals or both?
Mainly festivals. If you have a festival anchor in your tour, then you can look for club shows surrounding the festival date.
[Jazzfuel note: this is a very common and sensible approach because it avoids the problem of needing 2 or 3 clubs to confirm gigs on consecutive dates to make the tour financially viable. If you can first get a festival with a budget that covers at least your costs, you’re a lot freer to look for smaller jazz clubs around this. More on that here.]
Big thanks to Frank for taking the time to share his insight on these topics.
About Bimhuis Amsterdam
The BIMHUIS is a venue for pioneering musicians of all generations, from both the local and international scene and a founding member of the Europe Jazz Network.
With over 300 concerts each year, the programme offers a comprehensive overview of new developments in jazz, improvised music and many other genres, including world music and electronic music.
The BIMHUIS has been in existence since 1974 when Dutch saxophonist Hans Dulfer, wind player Willem Breuker and pianist Misha Mengelberg were looking for a place to give Dutch jazz its own stage and found an old furniture store which fit the bill.
About Frank van Berkel
Alongside programming for Bimhuis Amsterdam since 2018, Frank also works as a freelance programmer for festival North Sea Round Town in Rotterdam.
Before working for the BIMHUIS, he worked as a freelance music program manager for Concertgebouw De Doelen, Jazz International Rotterdam, LantarenVenster and LUX in Nijmegen. Besides jazz, Frank has also programmed folk music for the Celtic and Balfolk Night in De Doelen.
Frank van Berkel also managed the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra, an original collective of next generation Dutch jazz musicians. Before this, he was a freelance cultural event producer and a musician (double bass and bass guitar) and composer within several genres and cultural disciplines.
As a member of the advisory committee for music of the Dutch Performing Arts Fund, Frank was involved for six years in the assessment of musical projects applying for financial support.
He is regularly invited to join jury committees concerning the assignment of awards, among them the Buma Boy Edgar Prize, the Dutch Jazz Competition, The Keep an Eye award and the Paul Acket Award, commissioned by the North Sea Jazz Festival.
Frank studied double bass and bass guitar at the Rotterdam Conservatory (now called Codarts) and received a masters degree in music programming from the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem, The Netherlands.