On this festival you won’t have to run off your feet

On this festival you won’t have to run off your feet

(The original article was written by David Sajó, on

Interview with Renato Horvath and Laszlo Kelemen, the organizers of Budapest Showcase Hub.

This is the first showcase festival in Hungary which is focusing specifically on the area, namely the Eastern European artists: the Budapest Showcase Hub (BUSH) has the goal to bring together the music industry of the neighbour countries, from the V4, through the Baltic States till the Balkans.

But what the word “showcase” really means, why do we need it, how can it be organized, and why is it interesting to anyone, who just simply likes to listen to cool music.

Among others we talked about these questions with two members of the organizers of BUSH, which will be held on 16-19 November.

I am sure, a lot of people have never ever heard about Eurosonic or Waves. How would you explain to the laic the essence of a showcase?

László Kelemen: Every industry has it’s own events, where the smaller and bigger players come together to discuss at what stage they are at the moment. Basically in the music industry, people are dealing with a form of art, for this, beside conferences and panel talks  they also organize concerts. Essentially this is important in two ways for a music industry protagonist: a manager has the opportunity to show his band, and try to sell it in a kind of market environment.

“Not the correct word, but more or less it’s like a meat market, where every band is showed, and if you are smart and have the right connections, you can invite important people to your concert, who can help you later on to make a good headway.”

The other aspect goes for who has an enterprise in the music industry, for them this event is important mainly to build professional relationships. During the three days in the city there will be tons of awesome concerts, that anyone can watch for a good price.

Why do we need an event like this just now?

Renátó Horváth: In the past years this could have been current anytime, but this year we felt that it’s the right time to make the step, and the right meetings happened. I have been  working for a lot of years in the Eastern-European region with our agency, Eastaste, and could create a great network. It was time to use it.

Previously I was also managing bands (Volkova Sisters, Zagar or Realistic Crew). Some years ago on a festival in Bratislava, a lot of Eastern-European, mainly Czech and Slovakian music industry professional could watch one of my band, and thanks to this we got a lot of invitations. Everyone always aims at Western-Europe, for this we didn’t think that there is also a market in Czech Republic and Slovakia.

We try to embrace this potential market for the bands, and build the showcase on it.

BUSH is a professional event, but anyone can buy tickets for the concerts. Aren’t you afraid, that it will be difficult to pull in the average Hungarian audience for concerts that are made of less known, regional performers?

RH: We didn’t choose enormous locations, but smaller ones, like Kuplung, GMK and Gödör, the opening will be on A38. We rely on promotion, and Hungarian bands, who can bring audience, who would watch also the foreign performers.

These three clubs are all in the party-quarter.

LK: This was the conception, because most of the showcases do it like that. Almost everyone, who already have done something like this, and we talked to, suggested “choose locations as near to each other as you can, because people hate to walk.”

In this regard, we are really lucky with the district.

How did you choose the performers?

RH: We tried to build up a democratic but professional system, where not us, but various professionals, promoters, club owners, festival organizers and journalists from different countries could nominate productions from their home countries. From every country 10-15 people nominated bands based on a few aspects we suggested them (e.g. Could people abroad relate to them? Do they have a professional team? Do they sound original? etc) The nominations counted, weighed and in the end we had the top 5 in every country. Finally we gave these Top 5’s to the nominators of other countries, so they could rate them in an unbiased way. That’s how we got the final names who we invited to Budapest. Like this we didn’t make distinction among Hungarian and foreign performers, and filtered out the opportunity that the bands will be included in the program based on bias.

Finally there will be 25 bands in the program, three of them on the opening ceremony.

We also participated on the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg this year, which is one of the biggest showcase festivals in Europe. We had the opportunity to speak with a lot of colleagues, many of whom participated in the band nominations, and their feedbacks were incredibly positive. They loved the method of the band selection, and they appreciated this kind of humbleness, that it was not us, who wanted to decide who should perform, but we gave the possibility of decision to the professionals of the region.

So, we can say, that for a regional band it makes more sense to think about the more realistic and reasonable Eastern European region instead of the previously preferred American, British, German, Dutch market?

LK: The biggest markets are still the US, Great-Britain, Japan and Germany, but nowadays there are so many bands, that from any of the eastern european countries, given the size, it isn’t easy to break out. Theoretically the best approach is the concentricity, first you start to make concerts abroad around your own country, then slowly broaden the circle. This of course has a contrast, when a band can get out to the States, and they become popular in their own country because of this.

I can agree with the idea that we need to concentrate on the V4 and the surrounding countries, you need to build yourself up here, and then try with the bigger markets.

RH: It was also an important element of BUSH, that we handle the whole region as a big unity. There are great showcases in the neighbourhood, like the MENT in Slovenia, Waves in Bratislava, or Tallin Music Week in Estonia, but these are mainly concentrating on the artists of their own and neighbourhood countries. For this we are trying to give similar opportunities to every participating country. This kind of uniformity is more attractive and a lot sexier for a Western-European booking agency, because they don’t handle separately the Polish or Ukrainian market, but bracket the whole Eastern-European market.

“A British music industry professional, not necessarily can and wants to make a difference between a Czech or Hungarian pop music.”

Because of this we think that if the region shows itself as one, it will also be easier to attract important Western-European figures, who are already curious about the event, based on the feedbacks we received so far.  

So this region also should advertise itself, like for example how the Scandinavian countries do?

LK: Of course, the Scandinavian countries have also a common export office, not by accident. But of course this is also a complex question, which we should think about together and develop a standpoint.

How can you explain, that in the past 15 years, countless bands from the region performed on similar foreign events but the real big breakthrough still hasn’t happened?

RH: On a previous showcase I was listening to one of the owners of Coda (One of Europe’s coolest music agency, with bands such as Sufjan Stevens, , The xx , etc) who said that, if someone wants to fish, he should go to the sea. That is to say, if you cannot reach any vibe or buzz in such musical centers, that can be London, New York or Berlin, then it has no sense to go to so many places and showcase events. Many bands are trying to move to these music epicenters, but they can still not reach the breakthrough. They are alone, without management, and they have to face living problems, that at home they didn’t have to. The musical career won’t benefit from baking pizza 10 hours a day.

There might be another way for it though. Some of the bands in the region for example DENA from Bulgaria. She could make a sort of gate-crash with this Eastern-European trash vision and strands of music, and signed up by the French Kitsuné. There wasn’t any professional management behind her, but played the Eastern European card very well. In certain Western-European circles they love this kind of stereotype game, the Eastern-European, slavic, convoluted image.

LK: It’s very important, that this profession is full of gatekeepers. If you don’t know those people, who can help you with bookings and appearances, then the whole thing doesn’t worth a cent. Because of this, you or your manager needs to go to showcases, so you can build your own network. In the case of Ivan & The Parazol I can say firsthand, that you of course also have to export your music in countries, where there is the demand for it. In Belgium and the Netherlands the ‘60s and ‘70s rock and roll is hip now, so obviously they should focus on that part, and they return to tour in that area not by accident. Of course there is America, but it is incredibly expensive for us at the moment.

Is it worth for a band manager, whose artist won’t perform on BUSH, to take some CDs and go to concerts, performances?

LK: I think it is obligatory for every band. In the last few years something has started, there are more and more delegates from the region on Eurosonic, now also on Reeperbahn, and I really hope, that people will realize, if you want something let’s say in the Czech Republic or Poland, than you have to talk face to face with the ones involved. It is really obligatory because of the network. Fortunately, more and more bands design their logo or make band photos based on conscious concept. It’s really good to see, that there are already some smaller bands, who pay attention how they look like, how they communicate and how they look on the stage. In this regard, I think we are better.

We have three trainings for the bands, that can be specifically useful. One of the topics will be Youtube, for this we called a speaker from the London and Hungarian Center, for another talk we called Andrew Apanov, who is going to do a workshop about smart marketing. He will explain, how can we create an exciting, awareness-raising musical campaign from minimal or zero budget. The third will be held by the company called, which was created for analysing marketing campaigns, and working from databases, like no one else in this genre.

RH: This is one of our main goal, to show how a musical campaign can look like, because what happens in the region, cannot be called like that. What most bands do is they sort out a premior on a music website for their new video clip and that’s it. To be honest, it isn’t exciting enough on its own. And it’s not necessarily a question of money, but creativity and insights to use Youtube and Facebook for this purpose. or Andrew Apanov are not going to present campaigns, that Rihanna made from 300 thousand dollars, but small ones.

There will be also thematic, invite-only workgroups, related to media or touring, that are all about to bring together people from the same profession but from different countries, and try to brainstorm, how could we help the music industry of the region. For example, bands could go to perform not only to one or two cities in the region, but to create a network which could be used for proper regional tours.

Our goals with the media would also complement this. We’re would like to see what can we do to give more publicity to the musical life of the region.

(Photo credit by János Bődey)

What about singing in English or not? There are a lot of popular bands in their home countries. At the same time, it’s a long standing problem, that it’s useless to go abroad in your own language, but if you sing in English at home you’re opportunities will be limited domestically.

LK: In my opinion, how to work for two markets at the same time is an exciting professional challenge. This can be seen in the case of Ivan & The Parazol, it isn’t impossible. They just released an EP in Hungarian, but soon they are going on a tour in Holland. Yes, it has some difficulties, but we shouldn’t lament about it.

How realistic is the opportunity, that the bands that are going to perform on BUSH, will be invited to places, where before they haven’t been invited?

LK: Makrohang was performing for example on the Slovenian MENT festival, after they got Slovenian and Czech concert invitations, because there was the club owner on their concerts. Later they booked two festival concert in the Czech Republic, whose organizers heard about them through the promoters who appeared on MENT.

I am not saying, it’s easy to make it happen, but not impossible at all.

Is there any specific expectation before playing on a showcase?

LK: I don’t think so, basically every band has to have a certain enthusiasm to play. The main requirement is to be able to communicate with the audience, either in English or in Hungarian. The visitors need to know however that the concerts are going to be generally shorter, organized in different time slots in order to show the most bands possible per night. The 8 euro daily ticket would in fact be more than reasonable.

RH: Nowadays it’s relatively easy to create good music at home, but being a great live performer is a must as well. Therefore we only considered bands who have great live acts. For a showcase it is a must!

LK: A club owner would not care how your videoclip looks like. It doesn’t matter to them.

RH: That is why we did not book Sia.

LK: Or Rihanna.

Would you like to attend the festival? Get your ticket!