Interview with Øyvind Skjerven Larsen of Oslo Jazz Festival

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges as an independent jazz musician is finding the time to pitch for gigs whilst still practicing, rehearsing, writing and doing all the other jobs you’re expected to take care of…

But until you have someone doing this for you, there’s no way round it: if you want to be out there gigging, you need to be asking for gigs.

There are, though, some ways to make this work more efficient so you can get better results in less time.

  • One is really focusing in on the clubs & festivals that are right for you.
  • The other is taking advice from people on ‘the other side’ – aka jazz promoters themselves!

With that in mind, we want to share a short interview with Øyvind Skjerven Larsen who took over as programme director of the great Oslo Jazz Festival in Norway just before COVID hit…

With a strong track record in music (and jazz in particular), Øyvind’s 20+ year career so far has seen him working for jazz club Blå, Universal Music, Music Export Norway and, most recently, the Norwegian jazz forum.

Alongside working with all facets of the Norwegian jazz scene – clubs, big bands, festivals, education institutions and musicians – he also wrote for the Jazznytt jazz magazine.

All this to say, he has a wide and varied experience in jazz and is one of the people that many musicians around the world are reaching out to in search of a gig!

You can find the full Q&A below, but here are the quick takeaways if you’re in a rush:

  • Like many festivals, programming starts around 9 months before. Which means, if you’re planning on booking gigs in 2022, now is a good time to get started!
  • We’ve heard this many times from promoters: they will actively search for live video recordings of an artist they’re considering, to see what the gig will be like. If someone searches you on Youtube, what will they find on page 1?
  • Unless you’re a headliner, you probably don’t need to lead with stats about your following on Spotify, Bandcamp, Facebook or anywhere else; sell them on your MUSIC.
  • Playing as much as possible (even in your local city) can really develop a band from ‘great music‘ to the ‘great performers‘ that attract a lot of international bookings.
  • Before pitching to a club or festival, check their programme and be confident it’s a good fit for you, specifically.

Oslo Jazz Festival interview

You took over as director of Oslo Jazz Festival at a unique time in history, just before COVID. Are there any reactions (such as live-streaming) that you feel will continue to be a part of concerts for the long term? 

Not really. I realized during these times of crisis, that the screen can never capture the magic of a live concert. So when the days are filled to the brim with meetings on zoom and teams, I have no desire to see live music on the same screen. I spend my nights listening to records instead.

Let’s return to live music in front of an audience in venues asap 🙂 

What makes a great jazz festival, in your opinion? 

It’s all in the programming. A great jazz festival is able to capture the essence of what jazz is in its time.

Adventurous but not without history. Continuously searching while still being in touch with its roots.

How are you managing your programming for 2021/22 in terms of bookings/rescheduling/international artists? 

For 2021 it’s mostly Norwegian musicians playing at our festival, with some EU artists that I hope we are able to present.

For 2022 we believe in opening the borders more, and we have a great backlog of artists from 2020 and 2021 that we had to postpone.

If a trusted source mentions a great new band for you to check out, which platform will you usually go to first to learn more? 

First I’d check out their albums. Preferably on CD or LP, or maybe Bandcamp or Spotify.

Then I’d check what’s available online of live recordings via Google.

As a festival, how important is an artist’s direct-to-fan reach in your booking decisions? 

It depends on the size of the artist.

For smaller / less known bands it is not very important.

For bigger and more pricey bands it’s more interesting and helpful to dig into that side of the communication.

You’ve worked in various capacities, but never as a manager. If you took on this role with a new artist, which area of their career would be a priority? 

Touring, touring, touring.

No matter how smart you’re trying to be in any other activities it is by playing concerts the music develops and this is what is interesting to me.

I believe in general that bands are not playing enough concerts to develop their artistic visions.

What should every independent artist know about pitching to an international festival? 

Study the program and the dates of the festival.

Know why YOU should play at the festival you are approaching.

How does the preparation period for a normal festival year look in terms of timings and schedule for researching, booking, announcing, etc etc. 

Usually we start planning in September the year before the festival. Bigger projects might start planning two or even three years ahead.

We normally start announcing the first concerts in January, but this year we are announced the whole program on May 21st! 

Thanks to Øyvind for taking the time to answer these questions and I hope it has given you some useful things to think about.

If you’re curious to check their 2021 programme, it’s live now, here, along with all other info about the organisation.

You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Have a question? Feel free to use the comments section below.

Looking for more about jazz gigs? Check out the Jazzfuel jazz gigs page here or all of our interviews and guides with other clubs & festivals here

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