Festivals, concert series, and other musical events in the Caucasus are becoming more diverse and happening more frequently each season. Each year there appear to be more and more opportunities to organize and/or attend events with different themes and performers. This is good news, a positive development and points to the increased momentum behind the various music scenes in the South Caucasus. More and more international artists visiting this region means more chances to hear live performances that some years ago would have been unthinkable.
"4GB Festival 2019"
Over the past few years I’ve both attended and performed at festivals and concert series in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. I’ve also been independently organizing shows around Tbilisi and, through my own project Mountains of Tongues, founded and oversaw two years of the Caucasus All Frequency Festival in both Tusheti, Georgian (2018) and Xinalig, Azerbaijan (2019) which brought together experimental and traditional musicians to perform, give workshops, and exchange knowledge. At this point I think I’ve learned a great deal through these experience but still have so much more to improve and expand on.
As positive as this movement is, I’ve seen some of the dysfunction and encountered many of the issues that are associated with this process first hand; I’ve made plenty of mistakes and am trying my best to continue to better the model, to clarify a certain set of rules and guidelines for organizing festivals and concert series in the Caucasus.
"Tbilisi Open Air 2019"
I believe this information is particularly relevant now; if serious mistakes are made while this movement is on the upswing (such as artists not being paid, gigs getting canceled, local people feeling alienated, and staff not receiving fair compensation) these serious problems could hurt not just the reputation of a single festival or organization but the entire music scene in the South Caucasus as a whole. An international artist who is not paid on time or at all for a show has an entire network of potential visiting artists who will ask them “How was the show in the Caucasus?”, a question that could be followed by a negative report of their treatment. One negative impression ripples out into a series of negative connotations connected to the region. Festivals held near and around local people not attending the festival that don’t take into consideration local concerns and customs could further damage relationships and limit the areas where future events may take place. If audience members were forced to pay high prices for tickets only to attend a show or festival with a lackluster performer or poor sound/seating/overall accommodation this could leads to a local lack of interest in attending events and diminishing audience numbers.
Black Sea Jazz Festival 2019, MokuMoku
I’ve compiled a list of observations because I want to encourage and collaborate with more and more people interested in setting up and running festival/concerts series of their own. The following is an outline of some practical considerations for individuals and organizations ready to take on the process of creating, organizing, and implementing festivals, concert series, and other events in the Caucasus. I’m drawing from my own experiences and opinions, as well as citing a few key remarks from a critical essay by the musician Lawrence English called “A Young Person’s Guide to Hustling in Music and the Arts,” originally meant for freelance artists in Australia but with many critical lessons concerning the ethics and actions of independent artists, all of which I believe are equally applicable to those of us living and working in the Caucasus.
Tsinandali Festival 2018
Maybe some of these remarks will seem redundant or obvious but I think it is extremely important to emphasize them nonetheless. Others comments, I hope, will help enrich and support the growing numbers of creative, entertaining, and multifaceted musical events being organized throughout the region.
Overall theme: what is the concept behind your festival/concert series - how are the different artists connected? Just by genre? Or is there a wider, more unique concept that brings the thing together?
Include local artists!: it’s great to have the opportunity to bring well known international artists to your festival but if your lineup is all foreigners it’s a missed chance not just for locals to play but for the visiting artists to hear what the region has to offer.
Support and program female artists: it’s a global issue, not just in the Caucasus, that festival line ups include little to no female musicians. It’s a structural problems that needs to be addressed; having a diverse line up is not only more interesting but sets a good example for aspiring local musicians.
MORE THAN JUST A CONCERT: EDUCATION AND WORKSHOPS
“If you’re supported by a patron or awarded a grant, then try to make the most of it…after all, policies change, government interests shift, patrons come and go - each opportunity you have is something you should take hold of and remember that it may not always be this way”*
Take advantage: how can this event benefit the audience in a variety of ways? What does it offer the local community? Local musicians?
Organize: can visiting artists conduct workshops? Can local musicians and others learn as well as listen?
Diversify: are there different events related to the theme of the festival that are not music related? Can you bring members of the local community to be a part of it?
LOCAL COMMUNITY/RURAL LOCATIONS
Represent: make ties with a local representative that understands what you are about and can clarify things to other locals.
Show: spend some time in the community before to show you are invested and care about the place, make sure people know who you are.
Explain: make sure everyone in the community knows exactly when, where, and why the event is happening; there will always be some issues but this helps keep them in check!
Invite: try to create openings for local people to attend concerts and workshops, free of charge.
FUNDING THE THING
“Building diverse contacts with a couple of people/organizations/patrons/ funding sources that can be utilized from time to time is a must for longer term survival… it’s important to recognize the potentials and limitations of these partners and to be respectful of their needs… equally, no partner should be ‘milked’… there’s no need to suck any one partner dry, not if you want to work with them again.”*
Singer Jazz Festival 2019
Transparency: make sure its clear to the public who you are getting funding from and why - be upfront, the money has to come from somewhere so don’t encourage speculation.
If you are funding the entire event independently, think of how you can keep ticket prices low - the event shouldn’t be inaccessible to those with lower incomes.
Broaden your scope and think laterally: one funding source is usually not enough so think about partnerships/who can cover what.
Potential sources of funding: embassies, NGOs, grants, businesses, patrons - many events have a bit of support from each
Pay your musicians a flat fee - none of this % of ticket sales stuff, in general musicians hate this and it’s unreliable. Musicians want to know upfront what and when they will be paid.
Have food and drinks free to your musicians - it’s the industry standard and it’s expected. If someone is taking advantage of this, i.e. drinking the festival broke, have a conversation with them privately.
Provide comfortable accommodation and put effort into hosting them - these are your guests and should be treated as such. Maybe consider having one team member dedicated to hospitality.
Make sure the transportation for musicians is arranged, free, and safe (as possible).
Soundcheck: each musicians is entitled to a well scheduled and substantial soundcheck - make this a priority because it so often goes wrong.
Give clear information about the amount, form, and deadline for their payment; as a musician I know there is nothing worse than waiting around to be compensated or chasing after an event organizer to be payed for the work you’ve done.
You can’t do this by yourself and you shouldn’t. Have a team with clear and divided roles. Work with people you know you can get along with.
Different tasks for different people is absolutely necessary - some people are good with money, others aren’t - if you aren’t, don’t touch the money. Same goes for publicity, organization, renting equipment, etc.
Ezo Festival 2019
Respect and be thankful for members of the team in any way you can.
Pay your team and pay them on time - if there is an issue in this regard be upfront and communicative.
Volunteers are great until they require so much guidance that is extra work for you - make sure if you have volunteers they have defined jobs that require little oversight.
Try to work with those friends, venues, businesses, organizations, and people you know are dedicated to your cause.
It’s unfortunate but if an organization or individual has a bad reputation, it’s probably for a reason. Be careful who you collaborate with, find out who you can trust.
4GB Festival 2019
Maintain your own reputation: show others your commitment to their issues and work through the inevitable problems with understanding and openness.
“If you agree to do something, then live up to your word. If you agree to help on a project or offer a fee to an artist or agree on certain conditions, then try everything in your power to respect those agreements. It’s the least you can do to honour those things you agree to as best you can. And if you can’t, own up to them. Be honest enough to take responsibility for those shortcomings and (if possible) in a timely fashion.”*
Be honest - let those affected know what is happening and why.
If you mess up, fix it or try your very best to do so.
Learn from you mistakes - you will make them! The process of organizing events involves so many varied factors, relationships, and unpredictable elements that they are bound to be a variety of issues every single time. Acknowledge them and move forward in a way that assures you won’t make the same mistakes next time.
Sign contracts with literally everyone…literally. Your friends, your musicians, your partners, etc. A legally binding document helps give assurance and states clearly on ink and paper what the expectations should be for every party involved.
Autor: Ben Wheeler
Cover Photo: Tbilisi open air