One of the best ways of getting more gigs, is performing in front of people working in the industry (journalists, promoters, agents, etc) who will spread the news of your performance with colleagues and contacts.
Whether as part of a competition, festival or showcase, there are many opportunities on the international jazz scene to play in front of these people – including the annual jazzahead! conference.
So, as part of this Jazzfuel series on the 2018 jazzahead! conference, here’s a quick look at the things you can do to make the most impact in these situations…
NB: If you’re not showcasing at this year’s conference, don’t go anywhere! This info is relevant for any time you’re performing at an event where industry people are present. Which describes a lot of festival appearances, as well as the more obvious showcases and jazz competitions.
© Nikolai Wolff / Messe Bremen
SHOWCASES AT JAZZAHEAD! 2018
Obviously, when it comes to showcases, playing great is the key.
But there are lots of other things to consider from the initial application, through to the meet & greet after the performance.
Whilst the main area of the jazzahead! conference centre is full of booths – national jazz organisations, record labels, festivals – and space for meetings, there are showcase venues dotted around the site which show near-continuous music throughout the day.
Of course, the 2018 showcases are all fixed by now. If you didn’t get one of the showcase spots, or didn’t even apply…
Enjoy the music, of course, but really consider what makes the best performances so good.
Can you use this to improve the way you present your project on stage?
Or, as pianist David Helbock put it: “When you are fed up with networking you always can go and listen to some great music!”
© Jan Rathke / Messe Bremen
CREATE A JAZZ CONFERENCE BUZZ
“Artists really have to prepare such events upfront. It’s quite easy to create a little buzz on such a showcase festival if you have people with a little influence who help you to spread the word on site. Within the little cosmos of a festival a good performance can go viral pretty fast – and on these festivals you of course have the labels, festivals, journalists and agents.” – German booking agent Matthias Wendl
The jazzahead! conference is so compact that that news travels fast and each year there seem to be one or two showcasing artists who cause a real buzz; an artist that is not really well known suddenly keeps being mentioned as something ‘not to be missed’ the next day.
Whilst there is no exact science to this, making use of industry contacts at the event is a good idea. Even if you don’t have representation, you should know enough people attending the conference who you can reach out to with the news that you’re playing.
“When I was invited to perform an official showcase, I underestimated how little time I’d have left to still do my own promotion during the day. I’d definitely ask a friend or manager along to still get the most out of the day networking, as you can prepare to deliver a great concert.” – Bram Stadhouders, Dutch guitarist
PUT YOURSELF IN THE AUDIENCE’S SHOES…
For the last 2 years I’ve been on the judging panel for an event run by Jazz Danmark. It’s a rare chance for me to switch from the agent mindset, to that of a jazz promoter.
The big thing I took away from it was a reminder that whilst playing great music is most important, you want to programme great PERFORMERS too.
For an audience, a gig needs to be an experience. So don’t use a showcase to show off just what you can do. Create a memorable occasion for the promoters, journalists & labels who are there.
German jazz journalist Hans Hielscher, who is a long-time attendee of jazzahead!, who highlighted that – for journalists at least – the showcases are the key “for keeping informed” with what’s going on.
And, whilst he tries to see everything, sometimes clashes mean this is not possible so he will check out the bands in advance and pick the ones that he is most interested in.
Massively important takeaway here: make sure that when a journalist Google’s you in advance of your performance, they find a professional and clear website, convincing video content and up-to-date social media pages!
Hans also highlighted how sometimes he sent a CD for reviewing and realises that he has already seen them showcase. I guess the key here is to make sure that he, and the other journalists, have a good memory of it!
© Jens Schlenker / Messe Bremen
APPLYING FOR SHOWCASES
(AND GIGS IN GENERAL!)
The selection process for jazzahead! showcases gives a good insight not just into how you can best qualify for this opportunity, but how you can convince promoters around the world to take a chance on your project.
The jazzahead! showcases are decided by a panel of judges who are mainly jazz promoters from around the world. So, they know their music!
Whether or not you get selected, a lot of influential people have checked out your project!
The judges were sent links (audio, video, website…) of every artist who applied and had to mark each one as a simple YES or NO to get through to the next round.
The judging deadline is usually 2-3 weeks after registration closes, which means a LOT of music to listen to in a relatively short amount of time.
Whilst the judges focus is on musical quality, they also consider “international tour readiness” – which is something you can be thinking about now for the future, showcases or not!
Once the YES list is complete, the jazzahead! organisers host a telephone conference where they focus on finalising a balanced line up, in terms of country of origin, line up and style.
As I said, these judges are professionals. They know jazz and they know what will engage an audience.
But they don’t know your project as well as you do and they don’t have the time to dig through every live show and press cutting you send. So the overwhelming advice is to keep it concise, relevant and to send them your BEST media.
“Bands who provide the right (and convincing) promo materials are more likely to have a chance because, subconsciously, the judges will be able to get a better impression of what they do.” – Sybille Kornitschky, jazzahead! organiser
This exact same advice applies when you’re reaching out to festivals and clubs by emails, so bear it in mind even if you’re not planning on entering any showcases or competitions.
“As well as great music, it’s important to have a really up to date and lively website with both video and audio clips and a useful bio. Not too long, but giving any information that will show that others have liked your work. For example, awards you’ve won, great reviews etc”
You can copy and paste that advice when contacting her – or any other promoter around the world – for a spot at their next jazz festival!
For those of you coming to the conference this year; I hope you get to see some great music which gives you inspiration for your own upcoming performances and applications. And, for those of you who bagged yourself a slot on the official showcase schedule, I’ll leave you with this great piece of advice from New York-based guitarist Gilad Hekselman:
“Play your heart out. You should do that every time you hold your instrument anyway. And make sure to hang and just have some fun. What’s the point otherwise?”
© Jens Schlenker / Messe Bremen
DISCLAIMER: jazzahead! has been one of the key industry dates in my diary for some years now. I’m normally a paid up delegate but this year, as I’m writing this guide to the conference, hosting a ticket giveaway and generally sharing my opinion on it with you guys, the organisers are giving me a press pass.