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Jazz exports in the Coronavirus era


This topic feels challenging to write about now when there is hardly any movement from Finland to abroad. The second season of Jazz Finland International, a project administered by Jazz Finland and designed to improve the export skills of Finnish jazz enterprises, was launched with positive expectations last year, but has ground to a halt this spring due to the worsening Coronavirus maelstrom. Jazz professionals still have their sights set internationally, but opportunities remain far and few between, despite many solid plans and available export support funds. Finland is far away from continental Europe, let alone the Americas or Asia, which remain effectively out of reach due to various restrictions regarding travel and size of gatherings. The situation would be very different if we were located in an area such as the south of Germany, just a few hours’ easy drive from a range of other European countries where, like in Finland, small events are still organised – although mostly programmed with local acts.    

What should we do while we wait for better times? We can still publish albums and distribute them internationally, but the support structures needed to publicise them, namely tours, remain in limbo. We can advance various international collaborative projects, but when do we finally get to meet each other, rehearse, record and play for real, together? We can update our webpages and promotional collateral, but it is anyone’s guess how long that information will stay up to date. All significant jazz events have been categorically cancelled, even in early 2021, and virtual encounters offer no match for face-to-face meetings, especially when trying to establish new contacts. However, these circumstances will eventually pass, and right now it is important to maintain our tenacity and do what we can.

The key to international success for an artist lies largely in the strength of their support networks. Their promoters need to know who to sell to, how, and when. Looking towards next year, the situation needs to be closely monitored as many venues may be forced to close their doors and festival presenters are likely to lose sponsors as businesses suffer from the effects of COVID-19. This means that the live performance scene may not look the same as before, and the familiar “anchor venues” for tours may not exist in the same capacity as they used to. Now is the time for agents, managers and everyone involved in artist promotion to update their contact networks and even expand them in order to map out new possibilities. However soul-destroying virtual encounters may begin to feel over time, they do remain one of the only avenues for finding out about the latest industry news, to see who is still in the game and to suss out the state of affairs in the live music scene. And most importantly, it is a way of reminding others of your own existence so that when the international doors finally fling open, you will not be stuck on the bench while more active players are racing to the playing field.

The webinar circuit is going strong, showcase festivals have moved online – if they have not been cancelled altogether – and many jazz events have been modified to suit the virtual environment. Not many punters, however, will have the stamina to sit in front of a screen from morning to night and watch streamed gigs, but there are few alternatives available for us here in the northern reaches of Europe. Nevertheless, we all are in the same situation, trying our best to stand out from the crowd and promote our own projects, so it is important to remember that everyone in the industry is still just human, vulnerable and having to deal with their personal concerns in these extraordinary times; a contact does not always have to be about business – sometimes a friendly, personal update is enough, reminding each other that we are in the same boat, and hope to see each other in person soon.    

At the centre of all this, however, remains the artist, music makers and music. Finnish jazz musos have had time to compose and rehearse, refresh, and fine-tune their plans. Not everyone has postponed the release of their album and some are continuing to make plans with full publicity and hopefully live performances down the track.  COVID-19 has been a real punch in the gut for most artists, but one hopes that these unprecedented times have also helped them find a focus for their activities. In international competition, it is extremely important to know who you are as an artist, what you want to say with your music, and what your goals are. If an artist fails to provide crystal clear answers to these questions, it is nearly impossible for their support team to promote them and appear convincing in their international marketing and sales efforts, whereas thorough knowledge of the product will pique the interest of those buying, as well as giving a professional impression. The highly competitive jazz scene has no place for “hobby players” – export work requires serious commitment. A successful outcome depends on all relevant parties to use this time to recover their strength, make (perhaps updated) plans for the future, and take every opportunity to meet with any useful international contacts, whatever the meeting platform or topic might be.

We will be all smiles when we meet again in person! 

Minna Huuskonen 
Manager, agent / Minnamurra Music Management & Agency, Apollo Artistit
Coordinator / Jazz Finland International

Photo: Pietari Purovaara