Flying Flags For The Baltics

At a time when music conferences are mushrooming throughout Europe, Tallinn Music Week can at least claim to be one of the most ambitious.

Rather than just ape the showcase festival and conference blueprint that Eurosonic-Noorderslag in The Netherlands has become, the idea is to build a platform that will help talent from Estonia and the neighbouring Baltic states sell their music throughout Europe.

A cynic might wonder how the Baltic acts manage to sell records in their own territories let alone anywhere else, but Helen Sildna – who quit her job as a promoter with Baltic Development Group (BDG) to focus on building Tallinn Music Week – has no truck with such cynicism.

She points to the success of Latvian rock act Brainstorm, which has opened for The Rolling Stones, R.E.M. and Depeche Mode and toured a half-dozen European territories. She believes many other acts could achieve as much if they could get their proverbial acts together.

Robert Meijerink – who books Eurosonic-Noorderslag – and Martin Elbourne from the UK’s Glastonbury Festival would likely back her argument. They appeared to be genuinely impressed with much of the music they heard at the demo panel that ended the two-day event.

Elbourne told Pollstar he saw two or three acts he would consider for one of the two stages he books at the world’s best-known music festival, although he felt it may be two more years before they’d be ready to tackle the UK and Europe’s biggest open-air.

Meijerink has already booked Baltic acts at Eurosonic, including Svjata Vatra, an Estonian-Ukrainian “fire folk” band that added top local club DJ P. Julm for this year’s TMW set

Along with Paabel, another act with an open approach to traditional Baltic music, Svjata Vatra’s already attracted the attention of some of Europe’s major festivals.

The buzz in the demo panel and at her Saturday night slot at Rock Café suggest Jurga, a young Lithuanian singer who’s already won best Baltic act at the MTV European Awards, may be one of the next acts to break into a wider market. She’s already had a No. 1 radio record in Hungary and won two gongs at the 2009 US Just Plain Folks Awards. She took best European song and best R&B song.

This year’s TMW, the second time it’s been held, had more than 120 acts performing across nine Tallinn venues March 25-27. Most of the rooms were within walking distance of each other.

Sildna believes Baltic acts would do much better if the region’s music business had a better infrastructure to educate and best promote its talent.

In a closed meeting for the regional and neighbouring Scandinavian music export offices, the Estonian contingent was roundly criticised for its strategy and contribution.

Sildna’s pragmatic approach to the problem means much of the conference is framed around helping Baltic acts learn more about the business and more about learning to help themselves.

Several of the panels come over as something like “A Beginner’s Guide To The Music Business,” but the increasing number of delegates from Baltic acts indicates that they’re keen to benefit from Sildna’s efforts.

Trying to strip the industry down to the basics and helping the local musicians understand the roles played by each sector can produce some interesting results.

“Yes, in a way I suppose we are a bit like venture capitalists,” said Hampus Kivimae from Sony Publishing’s Swedish office. He was responding to a question from a musician wanting to check whether he fully understood the explanation of what publishers do.

The panel was chaired by Nick Hobbs from Istanbul-based Charmenko and labeled as “a Music Industry ABC.” It tried to outline the work done by managers, agents, publishers, record labels and promoters.

A panel chaired by Tapio Korjus from Finland’s Rockadillo Records dealt with the advantage of having professional management. It inevitably got blown a little off course when it came to working out how fledgling acts can afford managers.

Managers including Paul Cheetham from Berlin-based Clockwork Music Management, recently confirmed as consultant for the booking of this year’s Popkomm showcase festival, and Karri Possi from Finland’s Blue Buddha Management pretty well said most managers understand they need to have the conviction to work for next to nothing until they help open up some new revenue streams.

Hobbs and Elbourne – along with Meijerink, Finland’s Fullsteam chief Juha Kyyrö and Fernando Ladeiro-Marques from France’s Le Printemps de Bourges Festival – were also on a panel explaining how “ready” a band needs to be to tour internationally and hit the festival circuit.

“What do promoters expect from a band arriving at their doorsteps?” the panel blurb asked.

Sildna looks to be able to secure government backing and sponsorship funding for TMW 2011, when Tallinn will be European Capital Of Culture. But the open support it’s getting from politicians and major sponsors including Skype and Estonian Airways suggest they’re also in it for the longer term.

Delegates from countries outside the Baltics couldn’t have failed to notice the coverage the event got from the national TV and radio stations and the print media.

Sildna’s opening address included a film of Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, shot a day before TMW opened as he worked through a busy schedule that included Tallinn, the US and Brussels.

He welcomed delegates to his capital city and expressed his full support of what Sildna’s trying to achieve there.