TMW’s Singing Revolution

The fourth Tallinn Music Week turned out to be the most successful as delegate numbers were up and the Baltic region demonstrated that it’s ready to be more than an emerging market.

The fact Live Nation has been found to have what may be the equivalent of a “five-year plan” to move into the former Soviet states in northern Europe and on to Moscow has increased the region’s strategic importance.

But TMW organiser Helen Sildna and her colleagues have spent four years telling anyone who’d listen that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are also rich sources of undiscovered talent.

Maybe this is the start of the second “Singing Revolution,” the term commonly used for the four years between 1987 and ’91, when natives of the Baltics attended huge gatherings to peacefully protest Soviet rule.

The day after TMW ended, the European Talent Exchange Programme released a statement saying Estonia’s Ewert and The Two Dragons are doing best out of this year’s program and have been confirmed to play festivals in Finland, Sweden, Belgium, France and Lithuania.

The act first stuck its head above the parapet at Tallinn Music Week and has since come to the attention of Canadian Music Week and is about to take its first steps in the U.S. with a couple of shows in New York.

Toomas Olljum of Made In Baltics, management company for Ewert and The Two Dragons, also looks after Bedwetters and Iiris, who recently signed with EMI Finland and used this year’s TMW to showcase her debut album.

Another of the conference’s main goals is helping local musicians, managers, agents and others understand how the global music industry works and where they can best fit into this bigger picture.

“How can an unknown act get on festivals?” would be a typical question, although the panelists usually show great patience when explaining why it’s not likely to happen.

The panelists Sildna chooses – and there were 160-plus from outside the Baltics – know there’s no need to be ashamed of entering management at van driver level, and tend to focus on encouraging the local delegates to identify opportunities.

For the second year in succession TMW was opened by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Estonian President who could easily fit alongside the likes of Ed Bicknell, Allan McGowan and Carl Leighton-Pope as a conference circuit regular.

Ilves, who was born in Sweden to Estonian refugee parents and brought up in the U.S., is clearly a huge music fan. His TMW speeches have been full of references to various artists and songs, usually harking back to the days when he was a regular at CBGB in New York.

This year he spoke of TMW’s history, quoting two Neil Young songs to illustrate what can change in four years.

He moved on to talking about music being a legitimate form of political and social protest, this time referencing MC5’s Kick Out The Jams album, among others, but also pointed out that in some countries it isn’t seen that way.

“In a free society it’s risk free. In an un-free society it’s not risk free. It’s not all fun,” he said, taking what came over as a sideswipe at Russian President Vladimir Putin as he showed a link to the show that got Pussy Riot arrested in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour Feb. 21.

Bicknell, interviewed by VIP editor McGowan, provided one of the most entertaining sessions of the weekend and arguably its most telling quote.

“Just like the record business, the live music industry will fuck itself through greed,” he said, referring to secondary ticketing and possibly warning the emerging Estonian business about the sort of future it’s facing.

Tallinn Music Week was at the city’s Nordic Forum Hotel and various nearby clubs March 29-31.