Tallinn’s Travelling Circus

Tallinn Music Week recorded its greatest success by selling out its roughly 700 capacity April 5 and 6 and cementing its place in the music business conference calendar.

 About one-third of the delegates were from outside Estonia, an indication that TMW will likely survive the increasing competition that will inevitably come when every European country has a similar conference.

So, who are these international visitors? Many of them come from the various European music export offices or similar conferences, along with a press gaggle of about three or four dozen reporters and photographers.

When Europe has as many as 50 of these shindigs, there’s a danger that individuality will get diluted as the conference circuit turns into something of a travelling circus.

What sets Tallinn apart is government support that goes right up to presidential level, healthy sponsorships, and the imagination and seemingly indomitable spirit of conference organizer Helen Sildna and her team.

Jesper Borup, a talent booker for Denmark’s Spot Festival, thinks the warmth of the welcome that the city of Tallinn offers is also a key factor.

“I think other countries may struggle to match that,” he told Pollstar. “With the Estonians it seems to be part of their DNA.”

It seemed all 700 delegates showed for TMW’s first session, traditionally a keynote speech from Estonia President Toomas Ilves.

During the showcase conference’s five-year history, which began with 150 delegates attending its 2009 debut, Ilves has become the must-see act.

Apart from being a genuine music lover, as opposed to a politician who sees music as a key to the youth vote, Ilves (aka President Cool) is also an engaging speaker.

The fact U.S. music mogul Seymour Stein – founder of Sire Records – was in the audience gave him chance to rhapsodise over such Stein signings as Talking Heads and The Ramones – as if Ilves needed an excuse to do that.

His speech last year, which came shortly after the Pussy Riot trial, was critical of the way Russia had “shipped the girls off to the Gulag for playing punk music.”

This year, he told how his comments had led to him being “excommunicated by the Estonian Lutheran Church.” He didn’t appear as if it had troubled him a great deal.
The daily conference programme was an even mix of current music business issues and info for the infant (or embryonic) Baltic music industry.

Regular TMW moderator Paul Cheetham ran a role-playing panel designed to clarify the differences between a manager, agent, record company, publisher and so on.
Playing the manager’s role, he asked Jonas Holst from Sony Sweden (playing the record company role) what he looked for in a new act.

“I like them to have some sort of local representation,” was the reply.

Given that was supposed to be Cheetham’s job, Holst had instantly turned role-playing into reality.

So, the record company’s first aim is to try to replace the artist’s manager.

Cheetham has run this panel for two or three years and by and large he’s toughed it out pretty well.

What advice can a panel give to aspiring talent that doesn’t know the difference between a manager, an agent, and a record or publishing company?

Perhaps in future this slot should be known as the “Don’t give up your day job” session.

Cheetham also moderates a similar panel based on the manager’s role in planning an artist’s career. The man’s clearly a glutton for punishment.

As for the showcases, there was chance to pick from over 200 acts, largely from the Baltic states and Finland.

If delegates made their choices from the originality (or plain silliness) of the acts’ names, Candy Empire, Dance With Dirt, Edgar Poe’s Favorite Cat, Elephants From Neptune, Fuck You I Am A Robot, Morgue’s Last Chance, Multiphonic Robot, Redneck Rampage, Tenfold Rabbit, and Who Framed Roger Moore? should have played to decent houses.

Latvian Music Awards nominee Triana Park opened its set at Rock Café April 6 by greeting the audience with a big shout of “Hello Tallinn,” apparently undeterred by the fact that there was only a half-dozen people in the room.

It steadily filled with a crowd that appeared to know all of the band’s repertoire. One particularly animated fan hadn’t forgotten to bring his air guitar.