International Forum of 2023 WMFT / ed. Heidi Luk GIEM
Dear Music Lover,
How have you been? The second forum at the 2023 World Music Festival @ Taiwan B2B industry conference came to a perfect conclusion on October 12th. Through this session, we discussed the elements of conducting a music festival, the challenges of organizing a music festival, and the qualities of working partners. It is honored to invite three guest delegates, Zlata Holušová, Piotr Turkiewicz, and Alejandro Orellana, to be the speakers for this forum.
John Huang, Zlata, Piotr and Alejandro at 2023 WMFT
To start with the topic, John Huang, the moderator of the forum, likened the music festival to a banquet. “Conducting a music festival is like hosting a banquet. You need to manage many aspects to make the food delicious so that everyone enjoys the event.” He used the analogy of seasoning in food to cut into the topic and raised the first question:
What unique elements do you plan to showcase at the event to enhance the audience's experience?
“You can find many colors of music. We want to show what’s outside and other topics from inside." The discussion was started by Zlata Holušová, the Founder and Director of the Colours of Ostrava, an international music festival in the Czech Republic. This festival is one of the largest music events in Central Europe, has been running for over 20 years.
Zlata described her festival as a good menu from music and people. She traveled around the world to find what is unique and new, and brought them back to her country and showed them to her audience.
2023 Colours Of Ostrava / Photo Credit : Colours Of Ostrava Official Facebook
The idea of bringing new music from other parts of the world into her country was similar to Piotr Turkiewicz, the Artistic Director of the Jazztopad Festival in Poland who committed to commissioning new music, specially tailored for the festival. He mentioned “The worst part of the food is tasteless, so sometimes I prefer when I hate something, rather than completely tasteless. So, the festivals have to have any kind of effect on the audience, the artists, and also the producer of the festivals.”
In his festivals, he brought out new music and new sounds that people didn’t explore in order to provide a diverse experience for the audience. Also, he invited the artists by 100% personal taste based on if the artist connected to him. He wanted to share what he loved to the audience.
Whether the audience loved or hated the music, he looked forward to the feedback from them. He wanted to see the emotions and reactions of the people when they come out from the festival instead of just feeling dreary.
Piotr at 2023 WMFT
His standard of selecting artists was nearly with Alejandro Orellana, the Head of Programming and Artistic Production Director of WOMAD Chile Festival. Alejandro has worked with main festivals, concert halls and clubs all around the world. In his opinion, “I never put something I don’t like in the program. But sometimes I will put something in that I don't like 100%.” He brings out a message that music is subjective for everyone and we should be open-minded to new sounds and new music that we rarely hear. Owing to the collision of any opinions may lead us to discover more potential possibilities in music.
Don’t frame the festival, keep it open!
Piotr mentioned “The way I would describe the festival, in terms of flavor, is by avoiding any specific labels for the flavors.” Although the festival he conducted was named “Jazztopad,” he didn't want his festival to be limited by the confines of jazz. Therefore, diverse experiences were provided that the audience could be able to find out every day in the festivals.
Different music genres were performed by artists from any part of the world. “It's all about trust, I guess, that we have built over years. People come without any expectations, and just to discover sounds that they never heard about.” He conveyed to the audience that there are more genres to be shown and not to have any prejudgment of the festival. Just trust the chef there was gonna be something special and different.
2023 Jazztopad Festival New York / Photo Credit: Jazztopad Official Facebook
Other than music, he also wanted to do something different from other jazz performances, which is “To break the barrier between the stage and the audience.” To reach the aim, he started the show super small. “I was the guy that designed posters, took the leaflet to coffee shops, etc. Doing everything from backline to...basically all the festival things by myself when it started.'' He hoped to keep his festival authentic.
Conquer the Time and other Challenges.
“Not the first year, not the second year, but in the fifth year, you will start to understand your people and the people will start to understand you.” mentioned by Alejandro. Since 2015, he started everything from zero. To have a better understanding of the audience’s taste, he spent year by year changing the menu to build a fan base. Besides, it was hard for him to define what can and cannot do in the music festivals because Chile is a third country. He shared that he tried to bring a band from other countries many times, but the visas were hard to apply. Therefore, there were fewer artists to choose from.
The challenge of finding artists also troubles Piotr, he described the feeling as “It is very rare to come up with this experience after doing festivals, sometimes there is none. It is already great if you feel that something is special for you just for a moment.” In the beginning, there was a list of the artists that moved him for years. However, the moments that he felt incredibly powerful and special became less and less. Although it has become much harder in finding artists, it is believed that they will still make an effort to seek out more unique artists. “Their ways of finding artists are different from Taiwan, but you can prepare yourselves well to surprise them” summarized John Huang.
2023 WOMAD CHILIE / Photo Credit: WOMAD CHILIE Official Facebook
“Everything starts with money,” raised by Alejandro. Organizing a music festival undoubtedly involves huge expenditure. So, it is necessary to find sponsors. As Piotr mentioned, “There is a risk to find sponsors because the ticket is expensive to sell.” In order to provide a better music experience, ticket prices are usually higher. It therefore becomes more challenging to sell tickets.
Also, “there are too many uncertain factors when doing a festival, such as the weather or any musicians coming.” mentioned by Zlata. It is known that unpredictable matters can significantly affect ticket sales. As a result, the sales figure is unpredictable and it is risky to find a sponsor. From this, it can be seen that the producers need to have a strong psychological quality to face the stress.
Zlata at Speed Meeting of 2023 WMFT
What criteria or factors do you consider when choosing working partners?
“Having a passion for music,” all three guests unanimously agreed it’s the most important. In Alejandro’s team, there are three like-minded teammates. “One is the political one who manages money, one is to build festivals, the third one is me, the programmer. Passion is important.” To deal with the great workload, a positive attitude is necessary. In other words, maintaining passion for music is what makes the journey last.
Besides, in his opinion, age is not a consideration for him when looking for suitable partners. He gave an example of a 65-year-old colleague who performs well in his job in order to prove that not only the young people, but the older people can do the job. He believed that the types of people can be various, “But they all need to have the passion.”
To deal with unpredictable matters, patience and smartness are also required because we don’t know what is gonna happen tomorrow. Thus, it is important to be smart to solve problems that happen suddenly. It is believed that this attitude applies not only to work on music festivals but to all jobs.
Amazing audience at 2023 WMFT
Conducting a music festival is not just a business, but more about conveying the idea of diversity and promoting cultural integration. It is sure that we have a better understanding of how festival operates and maintains. Furthermore, we're excited to explore opportunities for further growth and diversification of the World Music Festival @ Taiwan.
This article was written by Luk Hoi Ting, a student of the Graduate Institute of Ethnomusicology at NTNU.