The annual jazzahead! conference in Germany is one of the highlights in the jazz calendar if you’re looking to connect with agents, manager, promoters, journalists, record labels & other musicians.
In this article, I’ll take you through everything you need to know – from what to expect and how to prepare, to what to do whilst you ‘re there and how to get a showcase slot.
Keep an eye out for some quotes from other jazz musicians around the world who’ve already attended too…
[Looking for specifics for the 2021 digital-only edition? Check out our interview with the organiser Sybille Kornitschky here]
How often do you have the chance to sit face-to-face with a whole bunch of jazz promoters, agents, record labels & journalists and talk about your project?
Or better still, perform for them?!
The jazzahead! conference is one of the biggest jazz-focused conferences in the world and takes place each Spring in Bremen, Germany.
I’ve been going for the last 10 years – along with more than 3,000 promoters, agents, jazz journalists, musicians and record labels from around the world.
And when I say that the conference is worldwide, I really mean it!
Aside from the Europeans, I’ve met plenty of promoters from as far afield as America, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, Australia and Brazil…and there seem to be more coming each year!
As an agent & manager, I’ve seen direct results from attending this conference. I’ve literally sat with a promoter, gone through my roster and had an offer the following week.
And whilst the results might not always be as instant as that – especially if you are an independent musician pushing a new project – I still feel it’s the most important jazz industry event of the year, anywhere in the world.
“Jazzahead is an incredible opportunity to get face to face with a huge cross section of the jazz music community, to build relationships and create new opportunities” – Stu Hunter (AUS)
© Jan Rathke
1st time at jazzahead? Here’s what you need to know…
For those of you that haven’t been, jazzahead! can basically be broken down into two parts.
1) There’s a massive conference hall full of promoters, journalists, musicians, record labels, agents, PRs, distributors & managers, all working in the world of jazz.
Some people have booths where you can go and check out their festival, company or project. Others jump from meeting to meeting in one of the on-site cafes.
2) Bands from around the world perform showcases for anyone with a conference pass to watch.
Venues host a ton of performances throughout the day and a festival-style series of concerts around the city each night.
Not to mention the opportunity for after-hours ‘meetings’ at the various late night jazzahead! events…
Sybille Kornitschky, who has been organising the event since it began in 2006, highlighted one super important thing: “we see ourselves primarily as working for the artists, so each year we think about how can we make it more valuable for them.”
And, with more networking events and showcasing opportunities each year, they have seen the real way that you, the musician, is benefitting from the conference: meeting industry people and showing them what you do.
jazzahead! 2020 dates & details
Jazzahead 2020 takes place between the 23rd-26th April 2020.
Whilst the conference stretches over 4 days now, Friday and Saturday are the key days where most people are there and the majority of business is done.
It’s so valuable to be able to sit down with people who are usually only accessible by email and explain, quickly, what you are working on.
The main feature of the conference halls are the booths, where festivals, magazines, record labels, agencies and national jazz organisations set up displays about their activities.
Just getting around all of these (and taking time to chat with the hosts) can take the best part of a day – especially when the clock hits 5pm and some of them offer tastings of their national food and drink!
Aside from these booths where you can make some great connections, there are a few on-site cafes where you can hang out or take pre-arranged meetings.
Getting to jazzahead
The jazzahead conference takes place in the German city of Bremen, in the North of Germany. Whilst there is a small airport in the city, many people travel to Hamburg and take a train in. The station is around 10 minutes’ walk from the event, so it’s super easy to get to.
Jazzahead takes place in the congress centre, which is connected to the Maritim Hotel. So if you’re looking for convenience, that’s not a bad option.
It also has the added advantage of being one of the main late-night hangouts, so you can mingle with jazzahead attendees well after midnight – and not have too far to go when you need to sleep!
Due to its location near the train station, there are lots of other hotels within walking distance of the conference.
Booking in advance is highly recommended as the best hotels do fill up – which means the prices rise.
I usually check on booking.com for the best rates and reserve there – with free cancellation.
Preparing for Jazzahead
The preparation to meet persons and to know more about them before the fair was crucial. – Maciej Tubis (PL)
Preparation is key when it comes to jazzahead. The most important things to plan are:
- what you’re going to bring
- who you’re going to meet
There are several tips and tools to help you squeeze the most out of it, which I want to share with you here…
The jazzahead database
If you don’t have an agent or manager, the single most important thing to get jazz gigs is to be able to reach promoters.
One of THE most valuable tools which jazzahead! provides is access to a database of everyone who is registered to attend.
Once you’re signed up, you can log in and see the name and contact details for all these people, as well as search and filter by type (promoter, press, record label) and country.
Obviously you shouldn’t be adding these people to a mailing list and sending them newsletters, but you can contact them, one-to-one, when you have relevant news or requests in the future.
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is this:
How can I find contact details of jazz promoters?
One simple answer is “via the jazzahead database!”
For me, this alone is pretty much worth registering for, even before you set foot in the conference; even without turning up, you have a whole bunch of email address and contacts to reach out to all-year round!
Now I’m honestly not suggesting you grab every contact on this database and add them to your mailing list; that’s a sure way to waste your time and annoy promoters!
But you should make a list of every relevant person who is attending so you can reach out to them in the future when you have something newsworthy to share with them.
Should I bring CDs to jazzahead?
This is a common question from musicians.
There’s not one ‘right’ answer to this, but here are a few things to consider:
– Not everyone wants physical CDs, so check before handing out. As an alternative, you can offer to email them a streaming link afterwards.
– One benefit of having CDs with you (even if you don’t give them to people) is that you will get to show your promo photos and album artwork. So at least keep a copy in your hands at all times.
– If you are connected with anyone with a booth (national jazz organisation, record label, etc) ask them to keep a few copies on their table so that people see it. Similarly, ask any close contacts to carry a copy with them.
– Another question to ask yourself: are there any other more memorable materials you can bring? One year I had an artist on the front page of that month’s German jazz magazine, so I carried a few copies around. Do you have anything similar?
– Don’t give out music which doesn’t represent your current project. Too confusing and difficult for people to remember when they go through their conference bags a few days later.
© Jan Rathke / Messe Bremen
Arranging face-to-face meetings at jazzahead!
If you want some 1-to-1 time with a promoter, you need to book it in advance… leaving it to the week before is not going to work!
What I’d suggest is that you go through the entire database of promoters and highlight the ones who fit with this criteria:
- They book artists in a similar style to you
- They book artists on a similar level to you
- You have some history, or at least plans, in their territory
Once you’ve got your target list, drop them a short, concise email, with an opening sentence that shows you are relevant to what they are working on.
I’d also suggest asking for a specific amount of time (short, 5/10 minutes) – with a specific goal (“find out more about what you are booking and quickly explain my new album which is coming out XXX date on XXX Records”).
Also try name-checking any industry supporters you have who they might know.
For example, if you’ve played at London Jazz Festival, mention the promoter’s name. Same if you’ve played North Sea, Berlin, Jazz a la Villette, etc, etc, etc…
Or, even better, ask these supporters to introduce you by email to one or two key promoters in advance (or hang around with them a bit at the conference and see who they can introduce you too..!)
“being introduced to someone by a mutual ‘friend’ is what sometimes counts the most” – Sunna Gunnlaugs (IS)
Remember: if you are still relatively unknown outside of your home territory, they might not reply.
But at least you have made first contact and the next time (or time after that) when you contact them with a killer review or a new album, your name is somehow familiar…
“Make sure you work out in advance who you want to meet; it’s pretty overwhelming once you are there and people are busy!” – Sean Foran, pianist from Trichoctomy (AUS)
© Jan Rathke / Messe Bremen
Showcasing your project at jazzahead 2020
The other big part of the jazzahead! conference is the showcasing.
There are showcase venues dotted around the site which show near-continuous music throughout the day and a valuable opportunity to perform for ‘industry’ people.
You need to apply in advance to get one of these – and, if you’re lucky enough to be selected, make the most of it with some good preparation!
Applying for a showcase at jazzahead
The 2020 jazzahead showcase deadline has now passed, but you can check out the requirements here so you’re well prepared for 2021…
In short, your application is considered by a jury of mainly international jazz promoters & journalists from around the world, who have around 2-3 weeks from the deadline to check out your music.
This timeline means they have a LOT of music to listen to in a relatively short amount of time – so make sure you are submitting only your most engaging content!
“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
Whilst the judging focus is on musical quality, they also consider ‘international tour readiness’ – so keep this in mind!
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.
I spoke to a judge, who was a promoter for the Sage Gateshead (UK) and head of Europe Jazz Network:
As well as great music, the following are very important:
- 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- awards won, great reviews etc…
- A statement of how you would use a showcase opportunity to maximum effect at that particular point in your career
– Ros Rigby, promoter
© Nikolai Wolff / Messe Bremen
Don’t just play a showcase: PERFORM
So, you got yourself a showcase slot at jazzahead (or another industry event)?
Playing great music is most important, but when you are considering booking a band, you want them to be great performers too.
As those of you on my mailing list know, I was recently on the selection panel for an upcoming jazz series. We listened to more than 30 bands to decide and it really highlighted something:
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.
Create a showcase buzz
German booking agent Matthias Wendl talked about showcasing during a Jazzfuel interview he did:
“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 certain 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“
Whilst there is no 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 message:
“Hi [jazz promoter/supporter from my home country],
I’m showcasing at [x] time on [x]day in [x] venue. We’ve spent weeks rehearsing this one and it’s going to be a killer set.
If you could mention this to any relevant promoters you know, that would be amazing. This short video [link] gives the best representation of what it will be like and can be forwarded on!”
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.
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!
“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
© Jan Rathke / Messe Bremen
At the Jazzahead conference
Chatting with a promoter shouldn’t much different from sending them an email: you need to have one or two well-thought-out key points that you want to get across.
The goal is not to get them to book you right there and then – because they almost certainly won’t – but to leave enough of an impression that they will go away and check out some more of your stuff.
‘Social proof’ is important.
Most people have an aversion to being the first person to do something.
Standing up – all alone – and putting your reputation behind something is not easy. However, if people you know have already joined the party, less so.
You’ll probably have better luck with promoters where you’ve performed in their country or region before, so they at least know the promoters you’ve worked with.
Once you’ve had a meeting, make a note to follow up with them in a couple of weeks and send them your music to stream, even if they’ve got a CD.
Whilst a CD is a great ‘business card’ – especially if it has an eye-catching design – I’m not convinced every CD that’s dished out at the conference is listened to…
“Be prepared to describe your project in the shortest amount of time, have all supporting materials ready to go, and then, just enjoy the hang!” Vadim Neselovskyi, pianist
© Jan Rathke / Messe Bremen
‘Networking’ sounds so formal, but it’s really just mixing with a large group of people with the goal of trying to connect with as many of them as possible.
It might feel unnatural as a musician, but it’s a vital part of growing your network and raising your profile.
During the year you might only get to meet the odd promoter at a gig or event; jazzahead! gives you a chance to turbo charge that for 3 days, so make the most of it!
Regardless of what you manage to get booked in advance, there are plenty of free drinks receptions and events where you can bump into promoters.
Traditionally, most booths host a drinks reception at a specific time over the weekend. Check when all these are and, if you don’t have meetings, go along and push yourself to chat to people you don’t know.
When you meet people, you don’t have to give them the hard sell.
The first goal is not to get them to book you right there and then (because they almost certainly won’t) but to make a friendly, positive connection with people in person and follow it up with details afterwards, by email.
Also important: check the dedicated networking sessions for artists. Again, this needs to be planned in advance, and is very worthwhile.
JazzAhead was amazing. What I enjoyed most was the access and ready-availability to decision makers. I wish that I had taken advantage of the Matchmaking Meeting service that JazzAhead offered.– Myrna Clayton (USA)
It’s maybe also worth mentioning that out of all the hundreds of musicians who’ve attended the conference, there are a few who I’ve kept in touch with ever since meeting them.
Not because I necessarily heard them play or took them onto my roster, but because they were positive, friendly and made an impression as enthusiastic, dedicated musicians who were already making things happen themselves.
Jazzahead: the round-up
Hope that gives you some extra insight to the jazzahead conference and, if you come to the next one, some ides on how to make the most of it.
I’ll be hosting a free live Q&A session for Jazzfuel subscribers nearer the time, so if you’re not already on the list, you can sign up here.
And, just to round things up, I wanted to share a few extra quotes from musicians who’ve attended in the past.
“jazzahead! est un excellent évènement pour rencontrer les artistes et professionnel de la grande famille du jazz international” – Emmanuel Feramus (FR)
“The conference is a great chance for people in the music industry to meet each other personally. Not through e-mails or calls but sitting together, having a glass of wine or a cup of coffee” – Anna Lauvergnac (IT)
“jazzahead! offers artists the opportunity to get to know concert organizers, press representatives and musicians personally over several days. This is a great opportunity to network across borders” – Nicole-Jo, saxophonist
“It’s great to meet people with the same drive and ambition, sharing passion for the music and exchanging thoughts about the now and the future” – Dries Geusens (BE)
“Good vibes, nice people, free drinks and great parties. It was my first time at Jazzahead and I am totally convinced that it is the place to be!” – Jon Døssing Bendixen (DK), Abekejser
“I think the key to getting the most out of jazzahead is attending every year. People remember you from “last year” and the personal contacts and being introduced to someone by a mutual “friend” is what sometimes counts the most” – Sunna Gunnlaugs (IS)
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