Booking Experimental Music
Q & A with Kat Jarby

Kat Jarby runs Copenhagen-based Kaja Management and works with experimental/avant garde music.

I met her back in 2016 when we did a panel – along with German agent Matthias Wendl from Artribute Booking – at the InJazz Conference in Rotterdam.

The theme of our panel was ‘Booking gigs in Europe’ and we had a good 45 minutes of talking about the challenges and goals of touring in Europe, both from an agents point of view and as a DIY artist.

I thought she’d be a great Q&A guest, especially as she is working in a real niche within the jazz genre.

So, keep reading for some great insight from someone who books a lot of gigs!

Some main points that I think are especially interesting:

  • The importance of being captivating live
  • Making the most of a big performance opportunity by working hard in advance
  • Gigging in the right place at the right time, rather than endlessly touring an hoping for the best

[2021 update: Kat has written this guest article for the Jazzfuel site about why setting goals will make you a better musician]

How did you first come across the artists on your roster? They came to you or you went to them?

Most of my artists have come to me. I’m the only one in Denmark who works with experimental music the way I do, so I get quite a lot of inquiries from musicians. I somehow managed to fill out a much-needed space for management and booking of experimental music.

Of course I attend a lot of concerts, and as the Danish music scene is quite small, I almost always immediately know if I’m interested in working with the musicians.

When thinking about taking on a new artist, how much of the decision is the music and how much is ‘other’ stuff? What is the other stuff?

The music is the most important factor – and for me the live performance of the music is even more important than the recorded music, as it is pretty easy to do well-produced albums nowadays. If available, I also look at the press coverage, which shows whether there is a general interest in the music.

Musicians can improve their chances to be discovered by agents by having a really good promotion kit – such as live videos, great photos etc., which can make it easier for the agent to begin the process of booking the artist, but it’s definitely not enough to convince me. If the music isn’t interesting or within my area of expertise, the ‘other’ stuff is of little or no use.

For me the musical idea or concept is the most important element. I’m primarily working with live music, so that means it should be captivating to watch.

How important is it to you that prospective artists are already touring by themselves before you take them on?

It’s really hard creating a career from scratch for bands, so it makes it easier to take on an artist who is already subject to some interest from festivals and venues. It’s more enjoyable to work with an upcoming band that has some hype to it, than a brand new band that no one knows about.

I believe there are a lot of things you can do in the beginning of your career that could be a long-term investment. One of them is definitely doing support slots. It takes time building a career that can last and, whilst waiting for that, it is important to play as much as possible and be seen at the right places.

At some point you have to stop being the support act, though – and it’s difficult to say when that is. No one wants to be known as the support act forever. But if you’re young and new, I think it’s a great idea.I know it’s a cliché: but, make sure you stand out and have a strong musical profile. There are a lot of very talented musicians out there, so do something different. And know what makes you different.

How much does it help you if your artist is supported by the government or arts council?

We have a pretty good support system in Denmark when it comes to exporting music.

It helps a lot when I book a Danish band for an international festival, as all the money from the festival can be spent on fees for the musicians instead of travel costs. It also helps convincing the festivals in booking Danish jazz instead of jazz from another country, since the subsidies make it is less expensive or difficult to fly in Danish artists.

Many festivals also know about the support system, so I have a few international partners who are repeat customers.

Of course there is always the dream about being successful in the usual countries such as the UK, Germany and the US, but I have actually found it more rewarding to export music to more exotic and less known countries such as Serbia, the Baltics, and Hungary. They have a different way of appreciating the music and, usually, there is a better audience turn-out. I believe in placing the music at the right places at the right time instead of just touring endlessly and hope for the best.

I’m not sure I can name festivals that work entirely with experimental / avant-garde jazz. There are more and more festivals that have ‘experimental’ stages or concert series during the festivals. For example, Copenhagen Jazz Festival does a concert series called ‘21st Century Jazz’ where they present modern, more experimental jazz on an easily accessible stage with free entrance. This way the experimental jazz gets introduced to a wider audience.

Actually some of the Eastern European countries have a more curious audience and festivals such as Belgrade Jazz Festival are really good at presenting avant-garde jazz. Tallinn Music Week also has a very interesting programme.

There are a few venues around for experimental music – in Copenhagen, Jazzhouse is one of the key venues. I can also mention 5e in Copenhagen, Opus Jazz Club in Budapest and Porgy & Bess in Vienna.

It is always fun when my artists perform at big prestigious festivals and a lot of people turn up to see them. I work with a Danish quartet called We like We, who performed at the legendary rock festival Roskilde Festival in Denmark last year. That was huge! But we knew that was a big deal beforehand, so we worked really hard to make the most of it.

Then there are the unexpected. My artist Nils Gröndahl performed at Tallinn Music Week in March – and when we arrived we found out that he was placed on one of the biggest stages on the opening night. He got quite a lot of press out of it and lots of people turned up for the performance. One guy from the audience afterwards told Nils that he cried during the entire performance – and he didn’t even know Nils’ music beforehand.

Performances like that open the door to a completely new market. And you can never quite predict that.

More about Kat Jarby…

Kat Jarby is the director of Copenhagen-based Kaja MANAGEMENT, which represents some of the most barrier-breaking Danish artists on the experimental and avant-garde music scene for international touring.

Kat studied a degree in music marketing in England, where she lived for four years. Before founding her own company, she worked as a project manager at the art music publisher Edition·S– music¬sound¬art. Besides her work as a manager, she is also the co-founder of the production company SYNC Productions and booker at the Spillestedet Stengade venue in Copenhagen.

You can see the full roster of Kaja Management here and connect on Facebook or Twitter for upcoming news.

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