International Showcase Tips

by SaskMusic

August 7, 2009 in Touring

As the Artistic Director of the Regina Folk Festival, this winter I had the opportunity (thanks to SaskMusic, the Canada Council for the Arts and the RFF) to make my first foray into the international music scene, with attendance at the Association of Professional Arts Presenters (APAP) annual conference in New York City, and Showcase Scotland (Glasgow). I’d like to share what I learned and provide some insight into how you, as an artist, might use these types of international events to support the development of your career.

I started with four days at APAP, where I met face-to-face with many of the big U.S. agents, and heard some great music in the process. This conference is massive (something like 1000 exhibitors, in all the various performing arts genres), and it was pretty overwhelming at first. Next I spent five days at Showcase Scotland, part of the annual Celtic Connections Festival held in Glasgow each year. This festival focuses mostly on traditional Celtic music, but also had a section for international independent music. (This year there was a strong delegation of Quebec artists as part of the celebrations around the 400th anniversary of Quebec City.)

Here’s some practical advice on obtaining a showcase at these kinds of events. One of the most common ways is to align yourself with an agent who is already presenting a roster of their artists at a given event. Of course, this is easier said than done, but part of what an agent can supply for their artists is a linkage to the whole network of people that need to hear you.

Another option is to hook up with delegations sent by the Canada Council and similar organizations. It was pretty hard for artists to get noticed if they just showed up on their own, and the rental price for a booth was also pretty expensive. (That said, there were some who attended without any outside support.)

For international events such as these, the artists who have already developed full-time careers (or who have agents and/or managers working full time for them) are going to reap the most benefits. Celtic Connections and APAP are curated events with artistic directors out there discovering music all the time through their own networks. My advice on getting yourselves ready is to hone your craft, play as many gigs as you can and create a buzz. If you create a unique sound and buzz about what you do, presenters, agents and audiences will hear it, and it will be more likely you’ll get a showcase. Check out past showcase lineups, determine how well you’d fit, and then send in a submission. With so many choices available to organizers it is unlikely that an unsolicited submission will secure you a showcase (or gig), but it can happen. Keep in mind that presenters are in constant contact with each other, and a good working relationship with one might result in a recommendation that will get you hooked in to other events.

Thanks to APAP I am now part of a North American presenters’ network through which tours are organized across the U.S. and Canada. This network helps presenters share bookings, costs, and artist recommendations. (This will certainly include artists from Saskatchewan who are planning international tours.)

Regardless of how they managed to get to the conferences, the artists who were most successful in developing relationships with presenters were those who approached presenters as allies. In other words, if you approach a presenter as an “obstacle” that’s in the way of you getting what you want, then that’s what they’ll become. But if you assume that they’re people who (like yourself) are passionate, dedicated and want to create opportunities for artists, you’ll stand a better chance of getting your music heard.

It is a simple formula...All of us want to have as much fun as we can while doing a job that we love. We want to hang out with people who energize and respect us for the work we do. If you are able to build relationships with presenters/agents without spending too much time on the “hard sell,” more opportunities will come your way!

Living the life of an artist is a wonderful and challenging thing. Kudos to all of you for making it work, and in the process making our world a richer place.

By Sandra Butel for SaskMusic. Originally published Summer 2008.

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