Reviewing jazzahead! 2023 – The Musician’s Survey

April 2023 saw the annual jazzahead! conference in Germany, welcoming more than 2500 agents, managers, promoters, record labels, musicians and other industry delegates to meet, talk and watch all things jazz.

We asked musician attendees to share their impressions of the event through an anonymous survey; read on for the results. 

Over the last decade the jazzahead! conference in Bremen, Germany, has been one of the key dates in the international jazz calendar. 

The 2023 edition proved just how international it has become, with the USA taking prime space at the very entrance of the main hall, and delegates visiting from as far afield as Japan, South Africa, Brazil and Australia. 

In an increasingly digital world, the chance to meet face-to-face with so many friends and contacts – past and future – is not just hugely valuable, but also a lot of fun.

From my side, it was the first time having a Jazzfuel ‘booth’ which provided a more efficient way to arrange back-to-back meetings and host a musicians meet-up on the Saturday.

But, as ever, there was not enough time to chat to everyone and so opening up a survey for musicians participants to share more details on their experience seemed like a good idea. 

More than 60 people took part (thank you all!) and provided the basis for some great insight and takeaways.

Of course, their answers provide just one snapshot of the event, so feel free to use the comments section at the end if you didn’t get to submit yours, or would like to add other points-of-views to the piece…

Networking for the win! 

With more than half of respondents being first-time visitors, it’s perhaps unsurprising one of the most common reasons for going was “to see what it’s all about”! 

But deeper than that, there was a big focus – particularly post-covid – on networking and maintaining existing relationships. Specifically, in the area of booking gigs (agents, promoters) and releasing music (connecting with record labels). 

More geographically, there was also a focus on expanding a reach outside of their ‘home’ country. 

Other common reasons for going included “promoting a project” (ie specifically talking to industry about a new release) and to perform a showcase – both of which required some good advance preparation.  

Despite the intense nature of conferences (and the fact that many industry participants are there with their own agendas which don’t necessarily match with musicians’) the overall feedback was incredibly positive, with more than 70% of respondents rating their success at hitting their goal as 7 or higher out of 10. 

Productive conversations 

As anyone who has been to the conference before (or met me after day #1 when I lost my voice…) there is a *lot* of talking to be done! 

And whilst many prioritise connecting with booking agents, managers and promoters over the weekend, there have often been interesting cross-border collaborations born out of the event. 

That seems set to continue, with “musicians I never met before” being the #1 response to the question “which of these people did you have useful or productive conversations with?”

Almost half of the respondents reported productive conversations with a booking agent and/or record label, followed by journalists (38%) festival promoters (33%), radio presenters (31%) and club promoters (30%).

National jazz organisations were out in force at the conference and their work seems to have been valued too, with 45% of respondents noting productive conversations. 

It’s a good reminder that whilst you may live in the same country or city as the organisation responsible for support and funding, meeting face-to-face in a more informal setting can be beneficial. 

jazzahead! 2023 takeaways 

With lots of different experiences at the conference, we asked the musicians what their personal #1 takeaway was from the event. 

As you might expect, there was a wide range. 

“I got a record deal”, “my manager booked a gig for me on the spot” and “I was invited to play at Cairo jazz festival” are just three examples of very concrete results. 

But many others were more broad and long-term…

The importance of “connecting on a regular basis” was regularly flagged up, with another musician noting how the conference helped to gather “new energy and inspiration for my own projects through exchanging ideas, perspectives and other ways of thinking.” 

Those with showcases also had positive feedback, with one noting “the very fact I played at jazzahead helps in booking and establishing connections.”

It is, of course, not a magic pill though: “contacts take a long time to build. It’s a process.”

Another interesting point was the refreshing nature of connecting with real people, ahead of computer screens. Or, as someone put it: “it’s a lot easier to convince somebody ‘live’ than digital!”

Of course, not everyone experiences it the same, with one noting how the conference flagged up “the challenge of funding to make European tours for UK musicians viable” and another that “I might have to invest my energy somewhere else.”

Overall, though, the response was positive, with one musician summing up that “there’s lots of opportunities if you just grab them! And we are so many people in the world that deeply care about music!”

State of Jazz? 6.5/10

Despite the generally positive experience many had at the conference – and the key takeaways they left with – this didn’t necessarily extend to feelings around the overall future of the jazz scene. 

When asked “how positive do you feel about the next 12 months in the jazz world right now?” more than 30% of respondents answered with a score of 5 or less out of 10, with an overall average score of 6.5. 

Worth noting, though, that this leaves 70% who are feeling good about what’s to come, including 10% who gave an enthusiastic 10/10 for the months to come. 

Advice for jazzahead! 2024 (and beyond)

As many attendees have noted, the real value of the jazzahead! conference is in return visits and the long-term relationships which can be built over time. 

Or, as one musician put it: “Keep going and come back at least 2 times more before feeling the real opportunity or not.”

“It’s not a race and you’ll begin to see real connections and commitments when you revisit it over and over again.”

With that in mind, we asked musicians to share their best piece of advice for future first-time attendees. 

Many (perhaps from bitter experience!) reiterated how important preparation was to get the best results from the conference.

To make a plan! Choose some promoters, create some meetings, visit country stands

Make research before going.Which venue is the right for you. Who do you want to meet?

Set a goal up front, and contact the right people beforehand.”

Others focused on the importance of simply experiencing the event, rather than pushing for short-term ‘wins’.

“Make pre-arranged appointments but also go with the flow”

“Don’t try to sell yourself too hard”

Don’t worry/stress out too much about meetings with promoters, labels & bookers – just enjoy meeting so many creatives and great people; and the rest will follow in time.

Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to anyone and everybody. We’re all there to meet people.

Others went for more practical advice: 

Stay for more than one day” (it’s true, one day barely scratches the surface in terms of getting familiar with the layout and meeting people).

Eat well before attending” (three days of non-stop networking, combined with the frequent offer of free drinks, makes this a very sensible piece of advice!)

Go to the Belgian stand for their happy hour” (joking aside, the drinks receptions are a great opportunity to run into people you wanted to get  a meeting with,  but didn’t manage to pin down)

And, lastly, something I felt in full force: 

Whoever you are and whatever you do musically: “You are welcome”

Thanks for reading!

As always, this survey give just one snapshot of the event. If you were there, feel free to share any additional insight in the comments section below…

And, if you didn’t make it yet… see you in 2024?

Looking for more jazz conferences? Check out the 2023 Jazz Promotion Network event in the UK.

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