Making Room for Diversity
At the Colisium music convention, Russian musicians and producers come together to support the industry.
Published: April 30, 2013 (Issue # 1757)
Vladimir Kravchenko does his best to bring the Russian music scene together.
While Russia is notorious for bad roads, unrepentant piracy and a lack of quality homegrown pop music, its also known for having huge potential on the music market, making it attractive for industry professionals from around the world. So when these international music professionals want to meet their Russian counterparts — to discuss the issues facing the industry, make contacts and sometimes inspire one another to launch new projects — Colisium, arguably Russia’s foremost music industry event, is the place for them to be.
Colisium is due to be held in Moscow from May 16 to 18, but it actually began in St. Petersburg, in 2007. Originally launched as a music industry convention and trade fair by Kapkan Records, a St. Petersburg-based label, interest in Colisium has grown so much over the past six years that this year’s conference has been expanded from two days to three.
The format is similar to that of events held for most other industries including presentations and panels with key industry figures during the day followed by concerts in the evening. The bands scheduled to perform this year include: Animal Jazz, Sakura, W.K.?, Murakami and Naik Borzov.
Held for the fifth time, Colisium also does not shy away from addressing pressing issues that face the industry.
Vladimir Kravchenko, the founder of Colisium and also an alternative rock musician, concert promoter and Internet radio DJ from St. Petersburg, believes that speakers should be free to speak about what they find most important at the moment.
“When something important happens in the country’s music life, it always gets covered at the convention, whether it’s in the program or not,” Kravchenko said.
“Even if a person is announced to be speaking on a specific subject, we don’t set any limitations on him or her so that he or she can speak about what’s interesting to them as well.”
In its first two years in St. Petersburg, Colisium brought together representatives of approximately 100 companies from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia and Finland.
“We started to attract some independent concert agencies and record labels, which were still in the process of development at the time, as well as music publications and web portals, interesting web sites and merchandising companies — all in all anything music-related,” Kravchenko said.
“We held it in St. Petersburg for two years, but soon after the financial crisis occurred we realized that half of the [participating companies] had ceased to exist, so we decided to concentrate on the convention, rather than the trade fair.”
In 2009, Colisium was held at the Lenexpo trade fair center on Vasilyevsky Island as a music and media conference under the auspices of Musikmesse – an extension of Musikmesse Frankfurt, the world’s largest music industry event.
After a two-year hiatus, Colisium resumed in 2012 and moved to Moscow once Musikmesse had joined forces with NAMM, the U.S. National Association of Music Merchants, which holds what is arguably the world’s premier music products trade show in Anaheim, California.
Apart from his work with Kapkan Records, Kravchenko is also known as the bassist for the bands Millions of Years and Scang. He is also one of the co-presenters of the Kapkan Brothers, an Internet radio program with Kapkan’s founder Artyom Kopylov.
With Kravchenko’s roots in alternative rock, the original Colisium was focused on this type of music, but later expanded to feature other styles.
“There are no limitations on style anymore, and so this year we feature blues and jazz and will have a separate conference on the heavy metal music scene called, ‘The Development of the Metal Scene in Russia,’” he said.
“When we started out, of course, we focused more on alternative music because there were a lot of independent labels and independent media. But now we do not favor any one single scene — as a label, as a conference, or even personally — because we all like different styles of music.
“But we’re definitely not focused on Russian pop music. There’s no development there, that’s why it’s not represented at [Colisium]. If there were any quality pop music [being made], why not? But the fact remains that there is none.”
The most important thing for participants of the conference is to share their experiences and join forces in creating new projects.
“Every year we see that interesting things happen following the conference, and that some concerts and festivals end up being organized,” Kravchenko said.
“There are agents who make arrangements here, and the artists are on hand to speak with as well.”
According to Kravchenko, Colisium was inspired by international music industry events such as Music Media Finland in Tampere, Finland.
“We started even before Colisium, when we held a conference known as The Russian-Finnish Music Convention with our Finnish partners — the University of Jyväskylä’s Music and Media Management program and a number of companies such as Live Nation Finland — in Helsinki in early 2007,” Kravchenko said.
“Several bands performed there, including [St. Petersburg alternative-rock band] Amatory. Starting from there, it grew into our own organization. There are many such conferences around the world, but there had been nothing in Russia before Colisium.
“There had been panel [discussions] as part of official conferences at foreign consulates and places like that, but there had never before been an open conference that could be attended not only by professionals but also by people interested in the music market, where they could ask participants their questions.”
Last year, Music Finland’s Mirka Pesonen, Blue Buddha Agency’s Kari Pössi and Sam Agency’s Sami Peura from Finland spoke on Russian-Finnish cooperation in music. This year will see a talk given by Sat Bisla, the British-born, Los Angeles-based founder and president of Musexpo, an international music, media and technology conference in Los Angeles, and AR Worldwide, an independent artist discovery and development platform.
Bisla will speak on the precedents of working with Russian artists in the U.S. as well as the history of Musexpo and AR Worldwide.
“Bisla is a man with colossal experience, who has worked with such bands as Muse and Coldplay,” Kravchenko said.
“One can say he was there at the birth of their careers.”
New York-based producer, David Fishof, will also be attending to showcase his second book, “Rock Your Business: What You and Your Company Can Learn From the Business of Rock and Roll.”
A former manager and tour producer for Ringo Starr and The Monkees, Fishof is best-known as the founder and CEO of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, an enterprise that gives aspiring musicians a chance to mix and jam with their favorite stars such as Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley of KISS, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and Motörhead’s Lemmy.
Organizers of such festivals as Nashestviye, Kubana and Rock on Volga will also be speaking for the second year in a row, but the talks will be different this year because, according to Kravchenko, the events have grown bigger and become more interesting.
Kravchenko adds that Colisium makes an effort to fight the kind of rivalry that is typical on the Russian music scene.
“Many Russian participants experience some rivalry on the market, but our task is to bring together as many companies as possible and present what is happening in the industry. We must present a general overview no matter what this or that promoter thinks of their colleagues,” he said.
“We must look for communication and cooperation to develop. Even if we just sit together and discuss things, it is a step forward for development and maybe even for the rectification of some misunderstandings.”
According to Kravchenko, the gap between the international and Russian music industries is not as wide as it once was.
“The only differences are in ticket prices and perhaps the quality of festival organization. The difference is rather between the music markets in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and those in the provinces,” he said.
Although still frequently limited to Moscow and St. Petersburg, the geography of Russian tours has expanded.
“If we take Lyapis Trubetskoy for example, they play 20 concerts a month on average, and there are a lot of bands like this now,” Kravchenko said.
“They don’t just tour across Russia, but also across Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.”
But there is still no clear idea of how to deal with the Russian tendency to overprice tickets, especially for large shows by major international acts.
“My friends wanted to come to St. Petersburg to see Depeche Mode, but when they found out how expensive the tickets were, they chose to go to Prague, where the tickets were three times cheaper,” Kravchenko said.
Piracy is also another issue facing the industry, but with advances in new technologies and the launch of iTunes in Russia, the situation is starting to change, according to Kravchenko.
“It’s a fact that people in Russia don’t like to pay for content, but a love of iTunes was instilled in people, and they now pay for downloads. I think we’ll see different figures this year.”
Launched in 1999, Kapkan Records has switched to releasing deluxe editions, merchandising and promoting concerts, as CDs have all but ceased to be commercially viable.
“Deluxe editions, with a sophisticated design, will remain [popular] as presents and for collectors,” he said. “But, of course, there is no reason to focus on CD production anymore. CDs have just become another kind of merchandise.”
In fact, a lot of the discussions that take place at Colisium revolve around new technologies. “People pay a lot of attention to application development and to new types of content distribution; this changes once in a while and we try to follow it, too,” Kravchenko said.
Personally, Kravchenko said he is most interested in the interaction that takes place between musicians and listeners in the form of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing.
This year, Yekaterina Chechulina of the Planeta.ru funding site will be talking about the company’s experience in crowdfunding based on examples of its work with such bands as Animal Jazz and Slot.
Both bands are among a handful that have managed to raise funds for recording projects via the portal which was launched in 2011 and deals in music, video, literature, art and games as well as social and charitable projects. Musicians Alexander Krasovitsky and Yevgeny Ryakhovsky of Animal Jazz are also due to join the conversation.
In addition, Dmitriy Lyaschenko of Citycelebrity.ru will be talking about crowdsourcing in the music industry, where the audience is invited to participate in the creative process, be it CD artwork or concert posters.
“The boundaries between the artist and the public have blurred,” Kravchenko said.
“Previously, big labels stood between them, but now they tend to communicate directly. It keeps [changing] from year to year. It’s interesting for us, too. Every year we look at our program and think how interesting it is, but the following year we look back at last year’s program and think how simple it was then and how interesting it is now. Things get more stimulating.”
The Colisium 2013 music industry convention will be held at Moscow’s Expocentre from May 16 to 18.