‘The Disparity Between Headliners & Newcomers Is Apparent’: Q’s With Lina Ugrinovska

Lina Ugrinovska, founder and director of Banana & Salt.

Lina Ugrinovska is the founder and director of European booking agency Banana & Salt, mainly dealing across the Balkans. She’s also a consultant on mental health in the music industry, but for this interview, we focused on the state of play in East Europe.

As she laid out, there are more and less developed markets in the region, and she warned promoters to not only take the safe approach, ie only focusing on the already established territories with their bestselling acts. It used to be part of the promoter’s job to take risk on new acts and markets in order to develop both. And if the plan was to create a competitive market in the long run, all involved would be well advised to remember these basics.

Pollstar: What’s your state of mind at the half-way mark of 2023 from the point of a live entertainment professional?
Lina Ugrinovska: A mix of determination and concern. While there have been positive developments in the live entertainment industry, also with regards to ticket sales, I cannot ignore the noticeable lack of people, and recovery concepts in the region of Eastern Europe. The current landscape calls for a more complex and multifaceted approach to strengthen the entertainment atmosphere.

I firmly believe that a comprehensive strategy is essential, one that combines creative programming, innovative recovery concepts, and collaborative efforts among industry stakeholders. This multifaceted approach is necessary to attract audiences, support emerging talent, and ensure the sustainability and growth of the live entertainment sector in Eastern Europe.

The growing disparity between headlining artists and newcomers is becoming more apparent, and employing the ‘safe card’ approach alone may not prove to be a sustainable long-term strategy in cultivating a competitive market.

Has the war in Ukraine influenced business in the wider region for the negative?
The situation with the war in Ukraine is undeniably devastating, inflicting immense suffering on civilians, while also profoundly affecting the country’s stability and security, and contributing to broader regional tensions and instability.

The conflict’s disruption of supply chains and economic instability has led to rising costs across various sectors, including the music and event industry. This has resulted in increased inflation, impacting expenses for organizing concerts, festivals, and live events, with no signs of improvement. All aspects of event planning, from venue rental fees to production costs and artist fees, have been affected, causing financial strain on organizers and influencing ticket prices for audiences.

Additionally, the negative media coverage and international perception of Eastern Europe due to the ongoing conflict have affected the region’s appeal to international artists and audiences. The economic repercussions of the war have also impacted the spending power of audiences in the region, leading people to plan ahead and carefully choose where to invest their money, often opting for one major event experience in the season.

What’s the economy like in your main market(s)? Are people able, and happy, to spend oney on entertainment?
The uncertain economic situation has led many individuals to be more discerning in their entertainment choices, favoring well-established and high-profile acts showcased in blockbuster events. This includes people investing in going abroad to attend whatever blockbuster thing is happening when their own market isn’t on the touring itinerary. The perceived safety and reliability of attending such major shows provide audiences with a sense of assurance and confidence amidst the prevailing uncertainties.

I am increasingly concerned about the implications of concerts and festivals becoming primarily accessible to those with higher financial means. The significant investments involved in attending events abroad, purchasing expensive tickets, and organizing travel arrangements may inadvertently exclude a substantial portion of the local and regional market.

How about the local scene?
There is robust local audience support for community events, which is a noteworthy observation. Attendees [of such events] are not solely motivated by the presence of high-profile celebrities; rather, they actively engage in events purely based on the event’s existence. This aspect stands out as a critical focal point that demands our unwavering attention and should not be underestimated or overlooked. It might just show us that the time for stronger local support is right here. This should motivate the promoters to look into something for which we have been pleading for years, instead of only using the momentum to generate more money.

Promoting shows, and keeping the business alive over the past three years has cost a lot of effort and energy, and was achieved overcoming some of the most adverse circumstances this business has faced in recent times – a great strain placed on the professionals making it all happen. How did you maintain high spirits and not overwork yourself. And is there time now for a conscious approach to things like mental health, or is everybody just caught up in the race for the next big show again?
I feel deeply grateful to witness how many individuals and companies are actively seeking a customized wellbeing program that addresses their specific needs and concerns. It warms my heart to see that the importance of wellbeing is gaining more recognition and attention in various professional settings. It reflects a collective desire to foster a healthier work environment and a greater emphasis on personal growth and development. Seeing this shift in mindset gives me hope for a future where wellbeing is at the forefront of every workplace and project.

Regular breaks and rejuvenating activities prevent burnout and maintain my passion for the industry. Travel and changing environments have always inspired and boosted my productivity. However, the new challenge of frequent overseas travel demands a fresh and healthy approach to stay centered and focused. Though unexpected, I am grateful for the opportunity to navigate this journey and embrace the changes it brings.

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Lina Ugrnovska inside Carnegie Hall, where she’s part of the organizing team of an event to celebrate 60 years of Bossa Nova.

What “new challenge” are you referring to? What’s the reason for your current frequent overseas travel?
I decided to set sail towards America, opening myself up to exploring the music industry in a new environment. As an international communications manager with Creative Music in Brazil, this journey has allowed me to delve into the vibrant world of South American production and creativity, uncovering new and exciting canvases for exploration.

Simultaneously, being a part of the upcoming Bossa Nova concert at Carnegie Hall on the 8th of October fills me with immense gratitude. The privilege of entering the heart of New York City, a place brimming with energy and artistic fervor, is an experience that enriches the soul without any effort. Both these paths have opened my eyes to the beauty of diverse music landscapes and the boundless opportunities that await when one is open to new experiences. I am beyond grateful and incredibly excited to be actively working on projects in Brazil, New York, and Europe. It fills my heart with joy to have the opportunity to experience the world through these diverse routes at this moment in my journey.

What’s your general outlook for the near and far future for this business of live?
Within the ever-evolving live music industry, my overall perspective for both the near and distant future is marked by cautious optimism, emphasizing collaboration as a key highlight for driving further development.

Looking five years down the line, I see the live music industry embracing significant changes to meet the interests of every side involved. Technological advancements will continue to play a pivotal role in enhancing audience experiences and broadening access to live events. The industry will prioritize fostering genuine connections between artists and fans, recognizing the intrinsic value of human interaction in music experiences.

Moreover, we can expect a heightened focus on sustainability and responsible practices. Environmental consciousness will drive the industry towards greener initiatives, reducing its ecological footprint while setting an example for other sectors. My sincere hope is to witness a significant shift towards fair compensation and equitable revenue distribution for artists and all industry professionals. This transformative change will play a central role in ensuring that creativity and talent are rightfully recognized and will strengthen the local markets.

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