Former programme director of Respublica FEST and musical co-ordinator of GOGOLFEST, now a PR-manager and organizer of events within the British Council in Ukraine Selector PRO programme, Alyona Dmukhovska tells about participating in one of the largest showcase festivals and conferences in eastern Europe, the importance of establishing contacts on such events and shares plans for the nearest future.

The Tallinn Music Week Festival began primarily as a music conference but has since expanded to a large-scale event that brings together theatre, urban culture, educational institutions and practical workshops.

I went intentionally to a music conference and evening showcases because this is exactly the format wherein I could get to know the kind of people I've needed to meet and finally "be in my element". To listen to presentations of some very cool people in the music business – the kind who just don't yet come to Ukraine. For example, I met Vanessa Reed, who heads up the PRS Foundation, a woman who is engaged in exactly the key initiatives that affect the significance of women and gender equality as applied to music festival line-ups.

Incidentally, recent western research has analysed the lineups listed on posters from large festivals and discovered that women's acts make up less than 20% of the total number of performers.

So, Vanessa is working exactly in this type of initiative and it was very easy to talk to her. Another strong impression was that of Imogen Heap who has a really creative approach to music. She told about Creative Passport also very much remembered Imogen Heap, a woman who is very creative in approaching music, talked about Creative Passport, and she mixed in some things about digital security and working with technology, so it was interesting to listen to her.

This all basically took place during our days at the conference; the evenings were reserved for the performances.

Each country brings its own shows and conferences. Last year I was at the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg — the most prestigious music conference in Germany and where the most serious people from the musical industry gather. Compared to that, Tallinn is a bit more relaxed, easier for people to relate to. Tallinn is a place that one could showcase Ukraine, bring our product, and the attendees would go for it. It seems to me that our stuff has a greater similarity to what's happening in Tallinn and would be received better there than it would currently in western Europe.

Tallinn Music Week is beneficial because doesn't only focus on the Baltic countries, but also on many countries in eastern Europe, and I'd say that makes it one of the most significant events going in this industry.

Only one performer from Ukraine performed at the showcase – Ivan Dorn. People react in all kinds of different ways to his music, but like with Russia – they brought 18 or 20 different performers, and Ukraine had just the one. So now I'm trying to push the idea of showcasing our musicians with my colleagues, in order to get our get our artists ready, helping them in the application process and giving them an idea of how events like this can help them. Tallinn is where we need to start because it's logistically easier and cheaper to organise and their format make sense.

Alyona Dmukhovska

Conferences are generally loaded with input coming from professionals, experts who work in this every day. Our universities teach dry theory, and people at the conference aren't there to teach, but share their experiences and discuss real issues. This format makes it clear who does what and in what kind of market circumstances and how to deal with all kinds of problems.

During my trip I spoke with a lot of professional teams, interested in their structure, in how they secure funding and how they assist musicians. And because there's nothing like it at all in Ukraine. This kind of expertise in a European understanding runs throughout the music industry. I spoke to Belgian, Czech and Icelandic teams — different markets, different funding, different music — yet despite this, they all performed very similar functions.

The knowledge I picked up there communicating with professional teams gave my colleagues and I a good idea of who to work, where to go. I'm hopeful that by next year we'll be able to set up a full-time team of professionals here in Ukraine. We lack their budget, so won't be able to work on the scale as the teams we saw in Tallinn, but we can certainly start, pursuing our own direction.

Our first big achievement: we're currently working with Ukrainian singer/songwriter Sasha Boole from Chernivtsi. As a result of our efforts he got approval to take part in one of the largest show festivals in Europe — Eurosonic. Sasha will give two performances in January 2019, and this all worked out because I understood what approach to take with the programme director and how Sasha should submit his application.

Right now we've got two major criteria for Sasha: he needs a western European booker and label for the release of his new album. This is a necessarily narrow focus that we'll need to get ready for the event. If it all works out, I'll be over the moon.

My colleague, Darcia Tarkovska, and I run a conference in Ukraine and events like Tallinn Music Week are an opportunity to be in our element and let the presenters know who we are, that there's music in Ukraine, too, and that we have conferences that they could attend. That's how I got to know some of the speakers we ended up brining to our RespublicaFEST Conference for young musicians and art managers in Kyiv this past August. The theme of our event was "money in music": the main sources of income for musicians, the search for international opportunities and funding, as well as passive ways to earn by making art.

It was extremely important to have live contact with these people, because you can write to them but nobody will answer. When they meet you they get a better understanding about what Ukraine is offering and that something is going on here. This is the only way to make this work.

In addition, for the past two years, I have been organizing an exchange programme for musicians. We had an exchange with the Czech Republic earlier and this year with the Netherlands and Germany. This year 20 people took part in the residence, 10 from Ukraine and 10 from Germany. These young people study, travel together, write music, perform in the country where the residence is being held, and it's all a very useful experience. It provides a unique opportunity to set aside the problems of life and devote oneself for 10 days to an immersive programme of writing music and getting to know another culture and its music scene. You learn from them, they learn from you and these kinds of residencies are really effective.

At themed events like Tallinn Music Week there are so many opportunities to get to know the people necessary to make your event a reality, like reps from NGOs focusing on socially oriented events. And since you're working with emerging musicians, the profit-factor just isn't an issue at all because they need the chance to learn and work and establish their foundation.

Resources that people should follow if they're interested in the cultural and creative industries

  • The British Council's official Facebook page — there is a full array of information about the work they do and opportunities they offer.
  • Newsletter from the Reeperbahn Festival — available both in English and in German. They publish huge quarterly magazines with interviews, big achievements, business overviews and trends.
  • Chris Cooke's blog. He's the business editor for Complete Music Update agency, which provides consulting services to music companies, artists and managers in the UK. His blog is very accessible, written clearly, and he talks about all kinds of musical topics and news directly from the UK.

Photo Credits: Alyona Dmukhovskaya, Oleksandr Kokhan, Tallinn Music Week