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Tomorrow’s music industry - panel discussion from the Music Student conference 2020

Panelists from the left Gry Bråtømyr – director Norsk Jazzforum, artistic director of the Ultima festival Thorbjørn Tønder Hansen, student and co-organiser for the Music Student conferenceSiri Storheim and moderator Ida Habbestad. Via Zoom – musician Kristoffer Lo.

Corona, climate crisis and the battle for arts funding. What does tomorrow look like for today’s music students?

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Music Student Conference 2020 at the Norwegian Academy of Music (NMH) had to be moved from 1 April to 30 October. The six-month delay did not make the programme less relevant. On the contrary.

What are the employment prospects of newly graduated music students in a society turned on its head because of Covid-19? Is the future bleak, or has the crisis served as a catalyst for necessary innovation?

These questions were on the agenda for the panel discussion that concluded the conference. Ida Habbestad from the Norwegian Society of Composers chaired the panel, which comprised the artistic director of the Ultima festival Thorbjørn Tønder Hansen, musician Kristoffer Lo, the director of Norsk Jazzforum Gry Bråtømyr, and Siri Storheim, NMH student and co-organiser of the Music Student Conference.

Professor of cultural sociology Sigrid Røyseng had also been due to attend, but was prevented from appearing due to illness.

A new way of life, new solutions

"What have we learned from the coronavirus pandemic?” asked Ida Habbestad by way of an opener. Gry Bråtømyr highlighted the scope for dialogue and music-making in new channels and new ways, exemplified with an event at the Norwegian embassy in Tokyo in October. From Oslo, Bugge Wesseltoft gave a concert together with Michiyo Yagi, who was in Tokyo.

- Event organisers have also acquired new tools which have been developed at lightning speed. Now you can go to a concert, sit down and order what you want via an app. This gives the music a sense of calm, which is a good thing, according to the director of Norsk Jazzforum.

Kristoffer Lo – calling in digitally from his base in Trondheim – went on paternity leave when the pandemic struck in March and was already embracing a new way of life. Still, he has discovered how the pandemic has instilled a kind of calm in place of the day-to-day stress that musicians often experience.

“People have come to realise that it’s possible to live in a different way than before. It’s possible to look after yourself better. You’re forced to really think about what is important. You don’t usually have the time to do that when you have a packed schedule.”

A kind of coffee substitute

The Ultima festival was held on 10–19 September 2020 in compliance with the health authorities’ guidelines. According to its artistic director Tønder Hansen, the unusual circumstances forced the festival to be adaptable and think new, right up until the last minute. This meant having a more transparent dialogue with composers and musicians. That provided some good learning points, according to the festival director.

“We also began to understand the social dimensions that come with the festival. We received good feedback on the concerts we were able offer, but 10 minutes after the concert everyone had gone.”

Tønder Hansen spoke of his grandmother, who whenever they had a cup of coffee together would recall the coffee substitute she had to drink during the war and point out how lucky he was to be able to enjoy real coffee.

“Things are like a kind of coffee substitute at the moment.”

A taste of a freelance career?

Siri Storheim talked about her fear of losing her drive due to the uncertainty around whether the events she has been working towards will actually happen. Being deprived of meeting places both at the academy and elsewhere as a result of the pandemic has also been difficult.

“It reminds me of something you said, Gry, when we were chatting earlier. Many music students will be working freelance, which means they will be working all by themselves,” Habbestad said.

“Indeed, and with the coronavirus you’re left to your own devices in a way. That’s what it’s like after you graduate as well. But I do believe that you can start preparing yourself even now. Get together and find production facilities or a rehearsal rooms, work in a hub,” Bråtømyr said.

Local and sustainable

The coronavirus pandemic has meant that we travel less, which in turn has a positive effect on the climate. One criterion for success as a musician has often been how widely we have travelled for work, something which probably doesn’t sound great in an environmental perspective,” Habbestad contended. She wondered:

“Going forward, how can musicians think sustainability?”

Lo launched the idea of building on the same principles as locally produced food.

“We could insist that for a period only concerts by musicians from Oslo will be held in Oslo and only concerts by musicians from Trondheim in Trondheim in order to support the local music scene as well as the environment,” the musician said.

His proposal was very well received by the audience. One attendee was keen on the opportunity that this approach could provide to allow them to work on projects over time as well as the local flavour that could potentially emerge.

Bråtømyr was quick to add that a similar approach had already been realised in the form of the festival Oslo World which, due to Covid-19, this year only comprised Norwegian performers. She was also anxious to stress that socially engaged music students should not assume responsibility for solving the climate crisis.

“Of course you should go out there and perform to the world. We rely on that, on sharing our art. It’s not right that you should suffer from flight shame, it’s about finding a balance. What generates lasting value, and what does not create value? I don’t think stopping travelling is the answer. We should not stop performing for audiences in other countries.”

it’s about finding a balance. What generates lasting value, and what does not create value?

Gry Bråtømyr -

What about money?

This question came from Anna Rødevand, NMH student and co-organiser of the Music Student Conference. When cuts are made to the arts budget, what can music students do to influence politicians and ensure that the arts are prioritised?

Lo needed no time to think: “Send application upon application upon application,” he insisted. “Even if you don't get anywhere, keep submitting your applications. That way you tell the politicians that the music sector needs money.”

“As a performing musician, I know that politicians haven’t a clue what it is we’re doing. I’ve had politicians visit my studio who haven’t the foggiest idea how I work and what it is that I do. I’m the chair of Trondheim Calling, and they don’t quite know either. They have to know what our needs are, so we have to show them.”

Join forces

Politicians do not understand because they are not musicians, Storheim pointed out. She advocated taking charge ourselves:

“What we can do is to take responsibility, to become those very politicians who are tasked with awarding grants to the arts sector.”

Her contribution was met with immediate acclaim in the auditorium, although Bråtømyr – who is a trade union rep – was less convinced.

“I hope you music students don’t become politicians, I hope you will continue to perform your music. Join the trade unions and interest organisations. The more people we can represent, the more feedback you can provide on what you need, the better. Then we can take it from there. Politicians do listen to experts. The committees can trust that the unions have the expertise. We’ve become ridiculously independent these days, but sometimes it helps to join forces. By all means, get involved in politics. But don’t let it get in the way of your creativity,” Bråtømyr concluded.

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