As the internet makes the world a smaller place, savvy musicians are looking not just at building the number of fans & industry people they’re connected to, but at whether there are new territories they could try to develop their career in.

A place that has, until relatively recently, flown under the radar, is Russia.

One of the people helping change that is Roman Khristyuk, executive producer of both the Jazz Across Borders conference (taking place in November in St. Petersburg) and the Igor Butman Music Group, which is responsible for many, many concerts and jazz festivals around Russia each year.

As someone who is both booking and promoting a huge number of gigs with international artists, as well as working to educate musicians on how to grow the ‘business’ side of their career, he agreed to answer some questions to share some of his insight.

You’ll find the full interview below, but here are some key takeaways:

  • “Promoters prefer to work with bands who care about promotion and who understand their responsibility for that” 
    We all know it: there are soooo many brilliant musicians and projects out there. So playing well is often not enough when you’re up against other bands who also do. Displaying a good grasp of how to promote your project is often a deciding factor for promoters.
  •  This year’s conference focuses on some really important topics for the modern jazz musician: accounting, getting on the radio, building strategies to enter new markets, revising PR and social media activities. Even if you can’t make it this year, are you educating yourself around things like this?
  • “You don’t get a gig the next day after you hand over your promo materials to a promoter. You need to make people aware of you and of your music and keep them up to date with your news, tours and achievements”
    Yet more proof (as if you needed it!) that one of the most important things in getting gigs and press for your project is persistence and consistency. It’s hard to emphasise just how crucial that is.

Hope you enjoy – and check out Roman’s tips for 8 specific jazz clubs in Moscow & St Petersburg and 3 x online magazines you could pitch to…

You oversee the programming at a jazz club in Russia which has been included in Downbeat’s ‘Best Jazz Clubs’ list for the last 9 years. Aside from big international jazz names, what do you look for in an artist who wants to perform there?

A few things. We look for artists who have a particular concept of their show or a special vibrant program, and in the meantime we welcome great artists in funk, blues, crossover and even world music areas because we love to add some new colors to our club program.

In addition to that, when we choose new artists who have never performed at the club before, we need to know their success story:

  • How many tickets did they sell at their last show?
  • How many people are usually coming to their shows?
  • How many followers do they have on Facebook or Russian social media?
  • How many views their videos got on YouTube?

There are a big bunch of great jazz groups, but not all of them know how to attract a crowd of people to the show, how to do a good PR and social media job.

Because nowadays you cannot just rely on the jazz club when it comes to selling tickets; musicians are getting more and more involved in promoting their gigs themselves.

If you do nothing to promote yourself, be sure the result would be poor (if you’re not a big name, at least). Promoters would prefer to work with bands who care about promotion and who understands their responsibility for that.

It’s not only us, it’s all of the clubs around the world.

Why did you guys decide to start the Jazz Across Borders showcase & networking event in Russia? What are the goals?

In the past 10 years my colleagues and I as representatives of the Igor Butman Music Group went to many events throughout the world including APAP convention in New York, Jazzahead in Bremen, InJazz in Rotterdam and found all of these conferences and showcase festivals very inspiring examples of:

a) organizing meeting hubs for jazz professionals
b) very powerful media of introducing the local jazz scene to the world.

Before 2017 in Russia there were a few music conferences, but none of them were dedicated to jazz. And, before that year, the Russian professional jazz community (which is quite big given the enormous size of our country) never had a chance to meet all together during almost one hundred years of jazz in our country!

And, as you know, for many, many years Russian jazz society was almost a terra incognita for the whole world before we held the International Jazz Day in St. Petersburg in 2018 and launched Jazz Across Borders in 2017.

Even now some of the jazz promoters and jazz musicians are wondering:

  • How are we going to get a gig in Russia?
  • Who should we talk to?
  • What are the main forces of the Russian jazz market?
  • What are the main festivals?
  • What are the main venues?

So the mission of Jazz Across Borders is:

1) to be a progressive networking platform which helps Russian and international jazz community to interact and share experience
2) to promote the national Russian jazz scene
3) to help foreign jazz professionals to enter the Russian market.

This year we have 8 bands coming from Russia and we have 4 bands coming from France, Estonia, Netherlands and Armenia. And taking into account the experience of previous years we see that performing at these showcases gives musicians new touring opportunities in Russia and abroad.

Apparently there were over 1,000 participants at Jazz Across Borders in 2018; how would that break down, approximately, into promoters / labels / musicians / other?

Jazz Across Borders is attended in the first place by the musicians from Russia and other countries. They make up to 75% of the conference’s audience.

Next 15% are leading Russian and foreign promoters, including club and festival owners and directors, CEOs of the concert halls and independent producers.

5% is divided between PR specialists, booking and artist management agencies and recording labels.

The remaining 5% are jazz fans.

One area of the event involves music business pros discussing problems and trends in the industry. What were a couple of common themes last time and do you already have topics planned for 2019?

Last year we were focused on the artist’s development and artist management – how to build a career, develop your project, plan tours and diversify your revenues – this panels involved major experts from the United States, Europe and Russia.

This year we’ll continue with other practical aspects – accounting, getting on the radio, building strategies to enter new markets, revising PR and social media activities. The main goal behind planning of the program is to encourage musicians to discover more and more not only about the artistry and creativity, but also about how to brand, promote and market yourself, to make business, in other words!

I would say the business program of JAB is really unique, because you can hear some advices from top specialists in the industry.

How does the event differ to jazzahead?

Adding to the fact that JAB has much more educational and business events compared to jazzahead, I would say that Jazz Across Borders is much more focused on helping jazz industry members to make useful connections.

Jazzahead is attended by thousands of people which is great and shows big interest to this event from different professionals from all parts of the world, but in the meantime it takes a lot of time to orient yourself and sometimes endless and useless efforts to catch people who you really need, just because you become lost in this large flow.

In my opinion, Jazzahead is too big and Jazz Across Borders gives an opportunity to really meet and talk to the conference’s main speakers, the promoters and producers of the major festivals and major clubs and it’s the case when smaller is better.

JAB is not an exhibition, it’s a meeting point in the first place, though I can’t say it is a small conference – each year we have around 1000 participants.

The event includes a club night at venues around St Petersburg. Aside from great music, what can bands do to stand out with so much competition?

Saint Petersburg has 4 jazz clubs and what most of the participants of the conference do after the day program is club hopping – going from one jam session and club concert to another.

So, all of the bands get their chance to be heard by major promoters. Some of the bands are really smart and they do digital promotion on Facebook, Instagram and Google Adwords to attract attention, they prepare all kinds of promo materials and they set up meetings at their performances.

So, if you see this showcase as an investment and you have a well-thought promotional strategy, not only counting on the conference‘s tools, you will only benefit from it and you will not lose in this competition.

You have attended the jazzahead! & APAP conferences as both a representative of Igor Butman and as a booker for the 11 festivals you are involved with. What would be your top tip for musicians who are trying to connect with ‘industry’ people at these types of events?

At jazzahead and APAP I’m getting more promo materials than I can really digest. I literally don’t have so much time to go through all of it and I only have a CD player in my car, I don’t have any CD players around anymore. So, I would say you need to get prepared and, again, you need a strategy, because there are many people who want to get a gig like you.

The main thing about it is not only attracting attention; you need to think about how you would build your communication with promoters and maintain it in the coming years, because it’s a very long way.

You don’t get a gig the next day after you hand over your promo materials to a promoter. You need to make people aware of you and of your music and keep them up to date with your news, tours and achievements.

Even if they don’t reply at once, don’t get upset. Because … they will.

As any promoter, I’m looking for bands who are on tour for our club and our festivals, I’m looking for the bands who play some different kinds of music – more acoustic, more experimental, more traditional – depending on the concept of each of our festivals.

I start with searching through my mail box and I’m just going over the e-mails I got with gig offers and I’m listening to the youtube videos that I received from musicians & booking agencies.

And I already know about many of them – because I’m constantly getting information about them from mail-spreads, from their social media – and I know they’re not only great musicians but potentially reliable partners caring about their careers and working hard on building their audiences.

My second piece of advice would be care about how you represent yourself, because when promoter is looking for a band, the first thing he pays attention to is music for sure. But in the meantime you also pay attention to the band’s onstage image, the quality of the promo video and photo sessions, how many people are there in the club or at the festival on the live videos of the bands, how does their website look, how does their social media look like and how many followers they have, how is their music represented on streaming platforms.

These things are as important as being a great jazz band.

If you had $100 to promote a gig at a club in a foreign city, what would you spend it on?

I wouldn’t spend it on of advertising in any kind of offline media. I would invest $100 in mailspreads through your venue’s email base, or as a second option I would make an ad campaign in Instagram and Facebook or contextual advertising campaign thru Google Adwords or Yandex Direct if it comes to Russia.

I would say that new media and digital advertising and investing in these sources will help you more than anything else.

Aside from the more famous festivals, Russia doesn’t seem to be a common touring destination for international jazz musicians, compared to some other European countries. Is there a ‘club’ scene that less well-known musicians could be approaching and, if so, any tips?

Maybe it’s not the most famous destination yet, but it’s really turning into it. We have two or three performances of different foreign bands per day only in Moscow!

Bringing foreign artists is a bit more challenging thing than it used to be 5-6 years ago, but still there are many festivals and there are many jazz clubs that have international artists in their program.

Many jazz artists want to tour in Russia, because it’s a large market. As the largest country in the world, Russia has quite a few festivals and clubs, mostly in the cities with populations over 1 million.

In Moscow, aside from our Igor Butman Jazz Club, I’d recommend checking out Esse Jazz Club, Alexey Kozlov Jazz Club, Andrey Makarevich Club and Union of Composers Club.

When it comes to St Petersburg, I’d recommend Dom 7, The Hat, JFC and White Nights. You can check more clubs at jazz.ru.

Which magazines or websites are important in Russia for a career-building jazz musician to be featured in? Could an international artist reach the Russian ‘industry’ by advertising there?

There are a few jazz magazines, all of them are online: jazzmap.ru, jazzpeople.ru and the biggest and oldest one, jazz.ru.

For sure, advertising in these magazines would help you to start building a career and reputation in Russia, but I would say, if you want to get more fans in Russia, you should focus as well on streaming services like Yandex.Music or Apple Music, airplay on Russian jazz radios, your presence on Russian social media – at least at VK.com and – when in Russia – you should do your best to get on one of Federal TV channels. And play as much shows at the festivals in Russia as possible!

Big thanks to Roman for taking the time out to answer these questions!

You can find out more about Jazz Across Borders here and the Igor Butman Music Group here.

More about Roman Khristyuk

Roman Khristyuk started working with Igor Butman in 2005 as PR manager of Le Club (now Igor Butman Club). In 2006-2008 he collaborated with the Independent newspaper in Moscow as a concert observer.

He is now the executive director of Igor Butman Music Group, alongside working on worldwide tours for Igor Butman and Moscow Jazz Orchestra. His work with IBMG involves supervising the following annual projects: Sochi Jazz Festival (Sochi), Triumph of Jazz (Moscow, Tula, Stavropol and St. Petersburg), Jazz Seasons at Gorky Leninsky (Moscow region), Future of Jazz (Moscow), Sakhalin-Hokkaido Jazz (Yuzhno- Sakhalinsk, Sapporo), Sirius Jazz Festival (Sochi) and Skolkovo Jazz Festival (Skolkovo Innovation Center).

In 2017 Roman helped Igor Butman to launch Jazz Across Borders forum & festival, one of the biggest jazz conferences in Europe, and since then has served as its executive producer. In 2017-2018 Roman took part in the organisation of International Jazz Day 2018 in St Petersburg as executive producer from Russian side.

“My deep appreciation to Igor Butman and his Foundation, and most, especially, to Roman Khristyuk for your incredible help in making International Jazz Day in St Petersburg a tremendous success!” – Herbie Hancock at Global Star Concert in St Petersburg, 2018.

Roman also teaches PR and concert management at Music Management Faculty of Russian Gnesin Academy of Music.

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