Gender and marginalisation lead IAMA talks

‘Coming In From The Margins’ is the key theme up for debate at next month’s International Artist Managers’ Association (IAMA) conference in Finland, taking place from 23-25 April at Helsinki’s Finlandia Hall (pictured above).

The concept was developed by conference chairman Aleksi Malmberg, director of the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux, and inspired by Finland’s position on the edge of the European map. ‘It breaks down the idea that it is a big oneness out there,’ says IAMA chief executive Atholl Swainston-Harrison. ‘It takes a look at the nuts and bolts of each context.’

Panel discussions at IAMA will cover gender, technology, and how the genre of classical music itself is often on the musical margins. The conference, which is being held in partnership with Music Finland, also includes performances by Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and opera-comedy duo the Fabulous Bäckström Brothers.

With regards to technology, Swainston-Harrison says, the key issue is quite simple: there are still the haves, and the have-nots. ‘The trend is to have an online presence; you have to have these things like websites. The people who don’t have access to that, or the time to manage it, are being cut off.’

Added to this is the problem of email overload – according to IAMA, artist managers receive on average 700 emails a day, which means everyone becomes desensitised in the deluge. To discuss this, Reijo Kiilunen from record label Ondine will join Jyri Huopaniemi, head of Nokia Research Centre Media Technology Laboratories, and Radialsystem V’s artistic director Jochen Sandig to address ways in which artist managers can deal with technology’s demands.

Eva Ollikainen
Eva Ollikainen

Classical music, meanwhile, is the subject of the keynote address from National Centre for the Performing Arts India chairman Khushroo Suntook. Suntook is a lifelong fan of western classical music and has done much to promote the genre in India during his career, including founding the nation’s first symphony orchestra. His talk will explore the ways in which classical music can create a healthy and lucrative niche for itself, not only in expanding markets such as Asia but in its long-established Western homes too.

Arguably the most important issue up for debate, however, is gender. The conference aims to unpack theories as to why women are so grossly underrepresented in the fields of composing and conducting.

‘Our research suggests that the very conservative nature of an orchestra is the problem,’ said Swainston-Harrison. ‘If that is the case, what do we do about it?’ The panel tackling this and other gender-based questions will include conductor Eva Ollikainen, Hong Kong Sinfonietta chief executive Margaret Young, and president at the St Louis Symphony, Marie-Hélène Bernard.

This year marks the conference’s 25th edition, with the previous quarter century – and the last five years in particular – having seen enormous changes in classical music as an industry. ‘The music business is much tougher since 2008,’ says Swainston-Harrison. ‘Will we ever get back to where we were? The feeling is, probably not…’

As a result, he says, artist managers are having adapt to new circumstances. Whereas 10 years ago the standard model was for artists to have a single global manager, now local managers are becoming prominent – people with specialist knowledge of a particular market, who can see and exploit more niche opportunities.

The knock-on effect for IAMA is that, in turn, its members want a different kind of service. ‘Every year the pressure is ratcheted up to serve the members in a more direct way,’ agrees its chief executive. ‘In the old days, it was very much the association dealing with the overriding issues facing the whole collective. Now, though, they want individual help.’

The real key issues, however, remain largely the same: taxation, immigration and legal problems. These are even more pertinent for smaller-scale local managers, who might not have the resources to manage the admin they bring about alone. ‘There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to helping artist managers,’ says Swainston-Harrison. ‘We just have to make sure we can meet their needs.’