‘Flexibility & Innovation Are Key’: Q’s With Ruth Koleva, Founder Sofia Live Fest

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Ruth Koleva, artists, entrepreneur, and founder of Sofia Live Festival.

Ruth Koleva, born in Bulgaria, but living in New York, is an accomplished musician and entrepreneur, and winner of multiple awards including Grazia Magazine’s Woman of the Year, Forbes 30 Under 30, and Best Jazz Vocalist at the JAJ Awards in Japan.

In 2019, she founded Sofia Live Festival in her native country, “a contemporary three-day festival exploring innovation and interdisciplinary arts and genres,” by its own admission. Since 2022, Koleva has been on the board of the Bulgarian cociety for neighboring rights (PROPHON), and is also the founder and CEO of SoAlive music conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, ​set to premiere in​ October.

It’s evident, that Koleva has an ear to the ground in all things live in Bulgaria, and Pollstar wanted to get her expertise for this year’s East Europe Focus.

Pollstar: How much does the Bulgarian live business resemble pre-pandemic levels in terms of number of events on sale, as well as number of tickets sold?
Ruth Koleva: As with most of the world, the Bulgarian live music scene has been hit hard by the pandemic, and it’s been a process of gradual recovery. At this point, I would say we’re at about 70% of pre-pandemic levels in terms of the number of events on sale. Ticket sales are showing a similar trend, but this can vary greatly depending on the specific event and the artists involved. There’s a clear eagerness among music lovers to return to live events, and this has been encouraging for us in the industry.

Is the supply chain back up and running?
The supply chain is up and running, although there have been challenges along the way. We’ve had to adapt and find new solutions, and in some cases, this has led to improvements in how we operate. Flexibility and a willingness to innovate have been key to getting things back on track.

Chet Faker performing at Sofia Live Fest 2023. (Picture by Eli Deli)

Are you faced with price increases across the board? How do you offset those? Have you for example increased your ticket price?
There have certainly been price increases in some areas, mainly due to increased costs in ensuring the safety and well-being of attendees, artists, and staff. To offset these costs, we have had to make some adjustments to our pricing, but we are doing our utmost to keep ticket prices as affordable as possible.

Also economically, our region is below the general EU standard. We are deeply aware of the financial impact the pandemic has had on many of our patrons, and we want to keep live music accessible to everyone. That said, the rising costs for artist fees have become unbearable for many promoters.

What were highlights of this year’s Sofia Live Fest, and what would you like to highlight for the next edition?
Sofia Live Fest this year was a testament to resilience and the power of music to bring people together, even in challenging times. We experienced very good sales and great feedback from the audience and partners.

One of the highlights for me was seeing the audience’s response to the diverse lineup of artists we had – Chet Faker, Wax Tailor, UNKLE, Roni Size, 1000mods, Bulgarian Cartrader, amongst others. There was a palpable sense of community and shared experience that was deeply moving. As for next year’s edition, we are working hard to continue the trend of diversity in our lineup and aim to bring in some exciting international artists that haven’t performed in Bulgaria before. We are also looking at ways to make the festival even more inclusive and environmentally friendly.

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