It’s not easy to run a showcase festival. It looks easy on the surface; you get some people from the music industry to speak and get some artists to play and you are home. Nothing can be far from the truth.
First of all, you need to understand that the speakers are the backbone of a showcase festival. Why should anybody come if there were no opportunities? Artists sometimes just want the showcases as a gig opportunity. Since most of the showcases pay little or nothing it is kind of a stupid strategy. If you just come to a showcase to play not meet industry people to get into your team, you better not play. Much better to just visit the showcase and meet the right people to get a paid gig at a normal festival. Then if you have such a good live show that it must be seen, you should play at a showcase festival, after all the important people should be there. Still, you need to put down a lot of time to network with the industry people in both cases.
A showcase festival needs to have the right speakers and the right guests to get the business going. This is why you really can’t have the local heroes from the music industry as speakers. Sorry to say but most countries don’t really have a big enough music industry. The local players already know each other, they won’t let anybody new get in since they are protecting their business interests. In the end, if you do a showcase with just national and local people it becomes a place where they hang out and drink and just keep the old things up, nothing new happens. To get the dynamic you need to curate and have quite a well-established network to be able to have people that don’t know each other but will have the same interests to do business together. Let’s say that is not an easy task and one of the bigger reasons why many fail. I had several times local heroes demanding to sit in panels, When I let them get up there they suddenly realized what level the panel was in and they just sat like a grey mouse on the stage saying nothing since they didn’t have the knowledge of the international music industry.
When you have the right speakers, you go for the artists. If you want to be popular in the music industry you let everyone play. Let them set up their own shows and you don’t have to worry about anything. The problem here is that you can’t oversee the quality of the artists. Suddenly your average Joe has a spot on your festival and the professionals have a hard time guiding them to see the important ones they really have to see. If you are unlucky it just leads to that the professionals don’t see anything. This problem with quality control always happens to bigger showcases where there are more than 300 bands official and unofficial. So you really don’t want to be too big.
What then happens is that everybody starts competing to get the people down to their show. And since everyone has their own showcase, they invite all of their local hero friends to fill up and suddenly you have a lot of people but with ninety percent useless people that can’t do any business. That means that the ones that are there for business don’t really get anything since they are hooked up in useless conversations with the local guy who runs the local guitar shop. Then try to draw the best people down they have to have VIP mingles with just invited people. Last time I was at a big festival like that I visited over sixty secret VIP parties. The downside of that is that I only saw three artists at the whole festival, I was too busy to show up at the mingles since I didn’t want to have people in my network disappointed. Besides that, since there were so many artists playing the chances that they were not of high quality were very high and with that, you better stay and mingle. Since I was busy mingling I didn’t see any of the panels either. It was just a big, long cocktail party where you said hello to people talked for a couple of minutes, and then moved on. No business was really done. Many who advocate these bigger festivals are just these local heroes who really don’t have a network and just want to point out that they are in context with the music industry but in reality, they just have an expensive party with the locals they already know. Most of the time they point out one good meeting not realizing that they actually could have had a hundred good meetings.
When you do a good showcase festival you won’t be popular since you must try to keep up a good lineup that would attract your speakers and industry guests. You have to say no both to people who want to speak, artists who want to play and organizations who want to do things of their own on your platform. You have to program it in a smart way so people can see everything, and people have a chance to meet for a longer time not just five minutes. Getting the right people and artists to meet and hang, not just changing business cards. In the end is your job to try to create the perfect mix, not getting everyone to be satisfied.
Sounds easy? It’s not easy and right now it feels that we need to shape up the showcase industry or we will become useless. Too many events just become a local hero show or just a big circus where nothing really happens. The showcases need to have a good curation.
By Peter Åstedt