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Tampere music scene, episode 1 - Through the eyes of a booking agent

Tampere is a lot about music. Whatever genre you prefer, you will find it here. Tampere – All Bright! Blog starts a series of exciting stories devoted to Tampere music scene. These stories will be told by those who are directly involved into the scene – booking agents, music venues owners, musicians, music journalists, fans, etc. All stories are presented by Rolling Stone Russia reporter and Tampere Ambassador Margarita Khartanovich exclusively for Tampere – All Bright!

This time Margarita met with Rowan Rafferty, Managing Director at NEM agency, Tampere. Originally he is from South Africa. He moved to Finland when he was 12 because his father started working in Nokia. Keep on reading and learn how he ended up in music business in Tampere as well as his thoughts on Tampere music scene.

Statistics shows that people in Tampere go to concerts more often”

Rowan: “I really love Tampere. I feel like this city is my home now. And all of us working here are from somewhere other than Tampere.

75% of Finnish music industry is in Helsinki. There are a lot of people working there, a lot of big companies. With us being in Tampere we can afford to be different from these companies. Also in Tampere there are not as many agencies doing the same stuff, so it’s three of us. But we just really love Tampere and we want to be in Tampere.

Of course, we work all over Finland. We do not work exclusively in Tampere. But we try to do things exclusively for Tampere when it is possible because it is our city and we love it. A year ago we did Pentogram (USA) just in Tampere. In November we had Blackalicious (USA) just in Tampere – we didn’t do Helsinki. We did a legendary punk band called D.O.A. exclusively in Tampere. And we’ve started working with a ukulele orchestra.

Helsinki has so many bands and so many acts everyday. It is easier and more beneficial to just do Tampere. But of course a lot of bands that do not know Finland, they want to do Helsinki. Sometimes we have to explain to them why it is beneficiary for them to just do Tampere.”

Margarita: “So why?”

Rowan: “Well, because they can get more attention. There is not so much happening here so it is easier for us to get them good media. And I think that Tampere people love music. There is a lot less people here than in Helsinki but statistics show that people in Tampere go to concerts more often. And Tampere has the most live events in Finland per capita, way more than in any other city. I think Tampere had around 10 000 shows last year.

Margarita: “Any preferences in genres here?”

Rowan: “Yeah, it is easier to promote punk bands in Helsinki because there are more people. One thing with Tampere is that people from the surrounding cities are not as used to going to Tampere to see a show – they are used to going to Helsinki. What we do is to try to promote our shows to other cities like Pori, Seinäjoki, Jyväskylä because they could be more accustomed to come to Tampere.

One of the big issues about Tampere is that it is relatively small so it is more expensive to bring bands here. We cannot get flights to Tampere all the time so we usually fly bands to Helsinki and bring them by bus from Helsinki to Tampere and back, which takes a lot of time and money.

Sometimes bands need special instruments, and we cannot get them from Tampere. So we need to send the band to Helsinki to get that. When we did the Blues Brothers in Pakkahuone (we did it exclusively in Tampere). But it cost us almost 3 000 euros to get all the equipment they needed from Helsinki to Tampere. So it has its drawbacks but then again it has its positivity as well.”

Margarita: “Is this kind of business even profitable here?”

Rowan: “Well, yeah. Some of the times we just want to do Tampere and we accept the fact that we will not get money from it. But we wouldn’t continue doing it if it weren’t profitable in some way”.

Margarita: “Was it you who started this company in Tampere?”

Rowan: “This agency has its roots in the 80s. Harri Karvinen started NEM-booking in 1987 and has worked with all big Finnish bands that you can only think of in the music history. I started working for Harri in 2004 when I was 17. I don’t know where he found me and how he found me but he contacted me and asked if I would like to learn. And so I learnt everything about booking shows and promoting shows when working for him.

In 2012 we formed NEM agency – me, Markku Makkonen and then company called Tampereen Klubit ja konsertit Oy. We started an agency and then we bought NEM-booking from him. Now the company is ours and we are trying to make it more international and grow the company. And so far so good.”

Margarita: “And by making it more international you mean bringing more international bands?”

Rowan: “Yes. We have booked some bands in Europe and Russia like Lovex and One Morning Left, for example, but mainly bringing bands into Finland.”

“You never know anything for sure in this business”

Margarita: “How do you choose bands before you invite them to play in Tampere? Do you select them from artistic or commercial point of view?”

Rowan: “Well, sometimes we just hope for the best. In some bands we can see the potential. With other bands we know that they will sell tickets, like when we did The Blues Brothers. Everybody knows The Blues Brothers movie. With the ukulele orchestra we had no idea (laughs). We just loved the concept and we knew that through this concept we could get media and press.

Some bands, like Pentogram, we knew they would sell Klubi up – there was no question about that they might not. Sometimes you lose money, sometimes you are wrong. But sometimes things go really well. Like… First time I booked Amaranthe (Sweden) in 2012, I didn’t really know the band – I just loved their music. And we booked them and they sold out shows. I was like “Wow!” And we booked them another tour and bigger venues and they sold them out. We booked them for the third time in the biggest venues like Pakkahuone (Tampere) and Circus (Helsinki) and they sold 700 tickets to Pakkahuone and sold the Circus out.

So, sometimes you get really lucky. We try to assess it in many ways but most of the times we just know that they will sell tickets or that the band has something that we can get creative media and press out and hopefully through that the audience will want to the band.”

Margarita: “Does Tampere have curious enough journalists to cover such bands?”

Rowan: “Tampere has really good journalists. We get a lot of help from Tamperelainen, Aamulehti – they both were very generous and helped us. We also work a lot with Radio City and Radio Sun. But it all depends on a band. In some acts the journalists are simply not interested. And that’s what we try to guess picking the bands for Tampere. Quite often we are lucky and get a media partner, who gives us even more help with everything.

You never know anything for sure in this business, unfortunately. Of course, we also have friends who specialize in certain music so if we do a blues act I call a certain person and ask him or her – blues is your thing, so what do you think about this band? Or if we do a black metal band, I have people who I call and ask – what do you know about this band? It’s seven of us in the company and we are all of different ages and like different kinds of music, so we often discuss it between each other. And then we get out of it and say “OK, let’s do this!”

Margarita: “Tampere has this ‘manserock’ tag on it. But what music would you recommend to listen to while someone is in Tampere?”

Rowan: “It does have a ‘manserock’ tag. I think everyone should see Popeda once and try to understand what they sing about (I don’t understand). They have been around since 70s or 80s and they still have a very good life. That’s a classic ‘manserock’ band. In recent years there hasn’t been that much ‘manserock’. The last ‘manserock’ thing was Uniklubi, Lovex, Negative.”

Margarita: “And it’s all gone now?”

Rowan: “I wouldn’t say it’s all gone. I think these bands are just reassessing at the moment and trying to figure out how to move their career forward and change it a little bit because this trend has died. It is out of fashion at the moment and it might come back. And of course, the Finnish metal scene is always something for somebody to see. Yesterday we had Korpiklaani at Klubi and I saw there were a lot of exchange students there as well as Finnish people, which was really nice to see because Korpiklaani are really big in Europe but not so much in Finland.

If you go on Yo-talo’s or Klubi’s webpage you can find lots of interesting stuff. And then there are a lot of smaller venues that host really cool bands. We do Dog’s Home every second weekend (it’s for 150 people in capacity) and we do all kinds of genres there – rock, metal – and the tickets are 5 euros, not a lot of money. You can find a band that can start taking off.

Our neighbor Public House Huure has free bands or artists every week or every second week. O’Connell’s has a lot of fun – acoustic things and stand-up. Jack the Rooster has some cool stuff. I know O’Hara’s has some stuff. If you like punk, then Vasta Virta in Pispala is definitely a good place to start. If you want to try such Finnish music genre as ‘iskelmä’ then you should go to Ilona or Tähti. If you want to see some higher culture stuff, then go to Tampere-talo. Tampere has something for everybody.”

“I feel that Tampere inspires me”

Margarita: “Why is Tampere so musical? There was some statistics that said, “Each second person in Tampere plays a music instrument”.

Rowan: “I don’t know why but I feel that Tampere inspires me. The universities keep Tampere young – there is a young environment here. The city is biggish and busy but it is laid back enough. I think it is just a very creative city, which feeds enough of positive energy. I really love it and I’m really happy to be here. It’s easy to reach people. It’s compact but not too much. There are enough people for everything.”

Margarita: “Is it easy to start your own band here?”

Rowan: “Yeah, there are a lot of places online where you can find band mates. And there are a lot of small venues where you can try to play. As far as I understand, one problem in Tampere is to get a rehearsal room. There are not enough of them here. This place, where we are based, Musakeskus did a great job. There are 60 or 70 bands rehearsing underneath and above us right now.”

Margarita: “Oh, we don’t hear anything!”

Rowan: “They’ve done a great job (laughs). The bands can practice 24/7 whenever they like. They have 35 rehearsal rooms with 2 or 3 bands per room. This was really good. They opened in May but they started looking for bands last Christmas. They just put some information on Facebook and in a week all their rehearsal rooms were taken.”

Margarita: “How about recording studios?”

Rowan: “Tampere has a lot of good recording studios. I know that upstairs there are at least 2 recording studios. I know that Monitoimitalo 13, The Youth Centre, on Satakunnankatu 13 they have a free studio for bands, for younger bands. But I don’t know how much they cost otherwise. I don’t play anything. I play drums quite badly.”

Margarita: “So you have never tried to be in a band?”

Rowan: “I did! When I was 14 I tried to sing in a band. And very quickly I realized that I’m better at promoting shows and booking than playing. It’s a lot of work to play in a band. And you might never get big in a band. It’s expensive.”

“Most people will never get into NHL but they still play hockey as a hobby – music is similar to sports in that way”

Margarita: “Is it possible to live off music in Finland?”

Rowan: “A lot of our musician live off playing. It is possible. But you have to be really lucky to make big money. Our musicians don’t have big savings, penthouses, Jacuzzi parties and stuff like that. I also know musicians that work from 8 to 4 during the day and from 4 to 8 they play in a band. What makes it even more difficult is when they start to have kids. And 30-35 years old is a turning point for a lot of musicians. That’s when they start to reassess the whole thing whether they should play in a band or not.

I don’t see any problem in combining a regular job with playing in a band. The instruments cost money and the rehearsal room costs money. It’s not free. But then again I know a lot of people that play football or hockey as a hobby and that costs as well.

The problem with smaller bands is that they think that playing music should not cost any money. It’s the same as in hockey: most people will never ever get into NHL and they still play hockey as a hobby. Music is similar to sports in that way. Not everyone can live off with that but they should enjoy it anyway.”

Margarita: “I guess there are quite a lot of new bands that try to approach you and get gigs booked. Am I right?”

Rowan: “We get around 20-25 of such requests every week. We should reply more often but we do listen to everything, and some of them we do take. And most of the times if it is a smaller band and we like them we try to get them play in Dog’s home – that’s a good launch venue for them. We also get requests from abroad, mainly Europe. And we work closely with Germany and the UK because those are the biggest music markets. The problem with the international bands is that it is really expensive to bring them to Finland.”

Margarita:Yeah I have noticed that they don’t bring big artists to Tampere. There was Snoop Dogg, Bon Jovi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, here but it doesn’t happen that often. How do they even convince such big acts to come to such a small place?”

Rowan: “Money is a big factor – if you pay enough, they will always come.”

Margarita:I know that they even don’t stay in Tampere for the night after the show.”

Rowan: “Yeah the really big bands they have a private jet: they come in the morning and then they go somewhere else for the night. Tampere doesn’t have a five star hotel so a lot of bands go back to Helsinki and stay at Kamppi.”

“Music can be Tampere trademark and should be brought out more”

Margarita: “There is such an interesting event as annual Music and Media Conference. What is it and why is it in Tampere?”

Rowan: “Tampere people started it. Everything always happens in Helsinki but with this event being held in Tampere it is a lot more laid back, especially for the people coming from Helsinki to be somewhere else and they can focus more on the whole thing. And we take part in Music and Media Conference every year. It is very beneficial for us because we get to meet most of our clients, international people to work with. For us as a company and a delegate it is really good.

For bands it is really difficult because this year there were over 100 bands playing in 12-13 venues, and there were 800 delegates and it is really difficult to choose which bands you would really like to see. There is no way you could see all 100 bands. Some bands can get really lucky; they can be picked up by someone from the music and media show cases. But unfortunately nothing is guaranteed.”

Margarita: “Do you think that music could be Tampere trademark and could even compete with moomins over tourists?”

Rowan: “Definitely. Music can be Tampere trademark and should be brought out more. From the business perspective, if you want to be really rich by starting your own music company here, then it might be not a good idea. But there is an audience for music, that’s for sure.”

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