In an increasingly digital world, the annual jazzahead! conference in Bremen, Germany, is a great opportunity to meet fellow musicians and industry experts in real life.
Given its scale, though – almost 2,700 delegates last year – it’s easy to come under-prepared and miss opportunities.
To help with this, we’ve put together a 16-point checklist for you to look through, complete with some great tips and advice from a range of labels, promoters, and musicians.
Additional questions? Feel free to use the comments section at the end.
Coming in 2023? We’d love to meet you at the Jazzfuel booth!
Whether it’s your first time or 10th time visiting jazzahead!, you’re going to start on the back foot if you haven’t put in some work beforehand.
The participants list is your best friend here and you can access it through the participants portal as soon as you register; it remains active for 3 years so you can make use of it after the conference too.
Important to note that it’s possible to filter by role and country to allow you to laser in on the people you most want to connect with.
Many first-time attendees miss this and wish they’d tried some advance outreach. As British musician Phil Meadows reiterated, ”lots of the industry are there for an annual catch up with those they already know, so you need to be ahead of the game to get some time with those you’re looking to start new relationships with”.
As with pitching for gigs and press coverage, how you contact these people and what you ask for is important. Blasting out a copy/paste request regardless of who you’re targeting is not the best way.
As label Nico from Berthold Records commented, “I actually prefer musicians to send me music BEFORE the fair. If I think it’s something we would like to work with I will invite the artist to our stand”.
Whatever your approach, be mindful of people’s time (a quick coffee is often a good offer) by showing very specifically why you want to meet.
You can download a sample planner here to start adding in everything you want to do.
Know your goals: What do you want to achieve at jazzahead!?
It’s important to come to the conference with realistic expectations and goals.
Many promoters, for example, are there to watch showcases and meet existing contacts, so getting some one-on-one time with lots of them is perhaps difficult.
But whilst the idea of “coming along and seeing what happens” is not bad, it’s also useful to have a handful of specific things you’d like to get out of it.
As musician Nicky Schrire suggested, “identify four or so industry people you’d like to meet with because you’ve done your research and you know exactly WHY you want to meet them.”
If festival promoters are proving difficult, you might have more success with journalists or magazine editors who are there to get a general idea of the scene. One arranged meeting often leads to several more chance encounters…
It’s also good to have some more practical goals.
‘Get to each booth and collect their promotional materials’, for example, will push you to meet some new people. Or, to put it another way, “don’t spend all your time hanging out with musicians from your home city” – you can do that the rest of the year!
Bring your promotional materials
A quick chat with someone opens the door to future discussions, and having something tangible to give them can be useful in helping them remember you in the following weeks and months.
The automatic reaction of most musicians is to bring CDs with them to the conference. But is that actually the way forward?
In reality, there’s not a one-size fits all approach.
Whilst Nico from Berthold Records commented “we prefer CDs over an envelope full of adverts”, the majority of delegates are flying to the conference, which means taking back bags of CDs is unrealistic. Not to mention the fact that many people don’t have a CD player these days.
As usual, the takeaway is to know your audience and have options.
“Instead of bringing a heap of CDs to hand out, you’re better off having a postcard printed with your contact details, album cover-art and a QR code linking to your smart link page (i.e linkfire, presave, fanlink etc)” – Andrew Read, Jazz In Europe Magazine
The key is that it looks professional, captures the visual style of your project (ideally with your photo so they make the connection) and includes just enough text to remind them who you are and a taste of the style of the music.
It’s also worth reminding that in such a visual world, if you want to be remembered, your photos have to be professional and of very good quality. It all starts with the photos!
Other promotional items that have been spotted include USB sticks (a little 2010s?), stickers (why not!) and postcards. Dual-use items such as a pen with the artist’s name on it or sweets in a box are great tools and the organisers themselves have followed that by making the guide usable as a notebook.
Get social: How to use social media to your advantage
Whilst the conference is all about face-to-face communication, people often recognise each other from social media, or continue the discussion there later.
If you’re active on Twitter or Instagram, it can be a great idea to follow and connect with as many delegates as possible in advance.
Not to pitch something, or even to arrange a meeting, but simply so that your name and project is already familiar when you meet them.
You can take this one step further by following #jazzahead2023 hashtags throughout the event, commenting on showcases and posts in real time and sharing your own content throughout.
Maybe you can’t schedule a ton of meetings, but why not be the most prolific attendee in terms of sharing content so that everyone gets to know your name?
Practice your pitch: How to effectively present yourself and your music
It might sound more appropriate for the world of tech startups, but the elevator pitch is a real thing, as we discussed here.
Put yourself in the middle of a drinks reception, in a group of 5 people, when someone asks you what you do.
You need to be able to sum up your music and profile in just a few sentences. As with an email pitch, the goal is not to tell your life story, but to give enough info that the (right) person is interested to find out more later.
Essentially that means:
- What does your music sound like? (stylistic references)
- What career level are you at? (festival appearances? How many albums?)
- Are you relevant to them? (do you work with labels, publicists or even other musicians that they will know?)
If, on the other hand, you end up rambling through some vague descriptions of your music, you miss that opportunity to be memorable.
A bit like the beginner jazz improviser, it’s unrealistic to nail this at the conference with no preparation.
As long as the person on the receiving end has no idea you have rehearsed this in advance, delivering a carefully crafted intro to your project is actually better for everyone.
Just keep in mind that the goal here is not to stop everyone you meet and launch into a sales pitch. You just have it in your back pocket in case someone asks you what you do.
You’ll also need to personalise each time, depending on who your audience is. For example, a journalist might want to know the concept of your latest album, an agent might want to know the three biggest gigs you’ve played and a label might want to know your Spotify and Bandcamp figures…
Network, network, network
The opportunity to share a room with several thousand colleagues and potential partners is both rare and super valuable.
The goal is to utilise it to massively grow your network so that – fast-forward 6 months – there are a larger number of people that you can call on.
But that often comes with the self-inflicted pressure to come away with tangible results.
Instead, try considering it another way:
Or, as musician Nicky Schrire put it: “It’s easy to feel like a bottom-feeder as an artist attending a jazzahead! or similar. To avoid this, have a couple of meetings scheduled (informal, buy the person a coffee or drink, speak plainly, don’t get lost in the shmooze)…”
But whilst it’s good to try and have as many ‘chance’ meetings as possible (the late afternoon drinks receptions are great for this!) keep in mind some etiquette.
“Try not to “hover” waiting to speak to someone if they are involved in another conversation; as a booker, having a circle of people around you trying to catch your eye, can be a bit overwhelming!” – Jill Rodger, Glasgow Jazz Festival
Attend showcases and seminars
Aside from networking, jazzahead! also operates a programme of industry panels and showcases, both of which are worth putting in your plans once they’re announced in early April.
The educational events are a great opportunity to hear from specialists from various corners of the jazz world (and beyond) and get ideas for things you might not have already thought about.
They usually have an opportunity to make those connections personal either by asking questions during it, or meeting the speakers right after, too.
Like that, someone who you didn’t manage to book a meeting with can still be introduced to your project.
Showcases are great to attend for other reasons.
If you’ve never played this event with your project, seeing a range of concerts is a great way to see what does and doesn’t work in that slightly unusual situation.
Which showcases really captured the audience and why? Did any of them have good ideas for meeting industry people directly afterwards?
It’s also worth bearing in mind that industry people are often checking out these showcases, so there are plenty of opportunities for chance-meetings before and after…
And, aside from all that, hearing some amazing music from groups that are based far away from your home-town is always a great experience and a way to break up the intense networking side of things.
Stay organised: Keeping track of important contacts and information
One word that crops up a lot when talking about conferences is ‘overwhelm’ – the 2022 edition had almost 2700 professional participants from 55 different countries!
As such, keeping track of all the conversations you have and people you meet is rarely something you can do in your head.
Physical or digital, come with a note-taking plan and keep a record of everything!
It might not seem like it at the time, but it will be golden in the weeks that follow…
Collect as many business cards, brochures, flyers and other info as possible and try to go through and make notes on them as quickly as possible; if not each day, then on your journey home.
Follow up: How to follow up with contacts after the event
As big as the conference is, it’s still just one weekend – a snapshot in your year.
If you follow the advice of making personal contacts instead of pitches, these new relationships will need developing and maintaining – at distance – the rest of the time.
If you imagine that the average participant loses track of everyone they met, or doesn’t follow through on discussions, putting yourself in the position as someone who does reach out afterwards will really help you stand out.
As Sebastian Scotney (writer and founder of London Jazz News) commented:
“I keep in mind that I won’t be able to finish almost any of the conversations that I start up at jazzahead! It’s my follow-up afterwards which is going to determine whether anything happens.”
Stay on top of industry news: Keeping up with the latest trends and developments in jazz.
So you’re at the conference with the goal of making friendly, personal connections without launching into the ‘hard sell’… what to talk about?
Football, holiday plans and restaurant tips aside, having a good overview of what’s going on in the jazz industry right now is a good way of having informed discussions which are connected to your project.
What showcases are getting a lot of attention? Who’s headlining which summer festivals? Which artists are featured on the front pages of the jazz magazines at this year’s conference?
Getting more granular, what’s the latest news from the people you want to meet?
Who have promoters booked recently, what was the latest article a journalist covered, who does an agent have on their roster?
It’s not only useful conversation fodder, but also shows a level of respect; as Jan from April Records noted: “you make a much better impression if you start to talk about the music that the label release, instead of starting to pitch your own project right away.”
The conference is also a way to extend your industry knowledge for the future.
At least two international jazz magazines give away copies to all delegates. Keep them for future research.
Same with the delegates list and any other promo materials.
Attend after-hours events: Making connections outside of the trade show floor
Whilst the programme of networking and concerts is already intense, it’s only part of the conference experience.
As the day goes on, the events become more and more sociable (it’s a real festival feel in the evenings), until it’s time for the after-hours events.
Unofficial hang outs in the Maritim bar or after the CLUBNIGHT concerts, these are great opportunities to hang out and meet people in a more informal setting.
Keep an eye out for the jazzahead! badges that everyone tends to wear and, from personal experience, a friendly comment to someone waiting next to you at the bar can lead to an introduction to a whole new group of interesting people.
Collaborate with other musicians: Finding opportunities to work with other artists
Quite logically, a lot of the focus for musicians attending the event goes to trying to meet promoters, agents, labels, journalists and other industry professionals.
There is, though, a huge amount of value in networking with other musicians.
If you’re looking to tour internationally, getting to know your colleagues in other cities is a great way to get the local insight into clubs and festivals that are worth trying.
It can also lead to mutual introductions later in the conference, if you spot them with industry people from their local scene.
Networking aside, these interactions can also lead to interesting musical projects and collaborations in the future, as pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs can testify.
“I approached Julia Hülsmann at jazzahead! just to say hi, having listened to her albums. We’ve been playing together for 10 years now…”
Make time for self-care: How to relax and recharge during the event
I don’t add this point lightly: for any first time attendee (let alone fellow introverts) the conference can be pretty overwhelming.
As such, it’s not a bad idea to factor in some time to recharge so that you can make the most of the opportunities and late night hangouts.
Bremen itself is a nice old town and worth a visit; at the very least don’t leave without a photo next to the donkey, dog, cat and rooster.
There are plenty of green spaces to exercise (several delegates have been known to take part in an unofficial morning marathon) and several of the hotels have swimming pools or saunas.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the majority of the action happens in the afternoon and evenings, particularly Friday and Saturday.
As such, planning a bit of down time in the mornings – as well as leaving Thursday and Sunday free – is not a bad idea.
Or, at the very least, as one person commented on Twitter, another essential is “really, really comfortable shoes”!
It’s always worth keeping in mind the most important thing that many people commented alongside their advice: “have fun”!
Reflect and evaluate: Assessing your experience and setting goals for next year’s jazzahead!
As many people have mentioned, the real value from jazzahead! comes from repeated visits.
The chance to continue building relationships and gradually add more people to your network is when things get really interesting.
As such, making time for a detailed debrief after the conference is important, so you record the most important takeaways whilst it’s still fresh.
Maybe a certain type of promo material seemed to work well, or you wished you’d done something differently.
Maybe it’s simply a note about some people you want to reach out to earlier next time for a meeting, or a reminder about the showcase process.
Whatever it is, keep it somewhere safe and revisit plenty of time ahead of jazzahead! 2024…!
Thanks for reading!
Follow up questions about the conference? Feel free to use the comments section below.
Aside from that, hope to meet plenty of you in Bremen this April!