In my previous article about Jazzahead, the world’s leading jazz fair and showcase festival, which was held digitally for the first time between April 29 and May 2 this year due to the pandemic, I shared my thoughts about jazz industry in Turkey.
In order to see the reflections of global post-pandemic concert trends in Turkey, I asked a few questions to major players of our music industry. Digital concerts that entered our lives in the absence of physical concerts seem to be permanent in the world, at least as a module because everyone agrees that digital cannot replace live. So what is the situation in Turkey?
As soon as we recovered from the first shock of the pandemic, we found ourselves on social media. When the way of expression they were accustomed to slipped away, musicians began to express themselves on Instagram, either by playing or speaking. Although we experienced digital pollution at the beginning, we were trying to find our way by groping as in the whole world. Some brands and venues began producing social media content, International Jazz Day was celebrated on Instagram with live or recorded performances, Zorlu PSM broadcast live performances on Instagram with local and foreign artists. Then came recorded concerts. Instead of cancelling the festival, Ankara Jazz Festival broadcast pre-recorded concerts of the musicians who could play together and combined recordings of some musicians who played remotely, free of charge on YouTube. İş Sanat offered the pandemic concerts they recorded in their own hall free on their YouTube channel. Akbank Sanat broadcast ‘Jazz at Home’ series, again on YouTube, and concerts recorded at Nardis and The Badau were broadcast on the digital content platform Sahneport. Istanbul Jazz Festival opened the recordings of its concerts, which were held with a small number of spectators in accordance with the pandemic regulations, to online viewing with tickets. Zorlu PSM broadcasts live and recorded concerts with and without tickets on their digital broadcasting platform PSM Online.
It seems that we still have a long way to go until normalisation. Everybody try, experiment and make alternative plans. As far as I can see, we are new to both producing and delivering quality digital content and being digital audience. Whether the digital field will develop or not will be determined by the course. Online concerts cannot be expected to replace physical ones, but can they have secondary benefits, if we use the opportunities provided by technology correctly, will it be easier for us to support quality music production and authentic sounds locally and globally? Time will tell.
So what is the situation now? Have concert watching habits in Turkey changed due to the pandemic? Is Turkey a suitable country to offer digital content with tickets? What are the advantages and disadvantages of free digital content? Istanbul Jazz Festival Director Harun Izer, Akbank Sanat Manager Derya Bigali and Akbank Sanat Culture and Arts Organisation Manager Gözde Sivişoğlu on behalf of Akbank Sanat and Akbank Jazz Festival, Jazz Society of Turkey President Özlem Oktar Varoğlu and Jazz Society of Turkey Festivals Director Pınar Gürer, Zorlu PSM General Manager Filiz Ova, Pozitif Artistic Director Elif Cemal, Salon IKSV Director Deniz Kuzuoğlu and Garanti BBVA Sponsorship Supervisor Ersin Babaoğlu have answered my questions and shared the plans and predictions of their institutions. With them, I will try to draw an up-to-date picture of the industry.
I first ask them how they see the current concert watching trends based on their experience and sectoral observations. Will the audience be more likely to watch the concerts from the comfort of their home after the pandemic or will they fill the venues again with the normalisation?
I believe the concert goers in Turkey will run to the venues again. First of all, we haven’t seen a physical concert for 15 months, except for some low-capacity open-air concerts and festivals that took place in summer of 2020, and I think music lovers would have missed it very much. Because being a part of collective concerts is a very social and motivating habit.
Elif Cemal, Pozitif Artistic Director
The concert audience has not yet become a ‘digital audience’ in the full sense of the word. I think this applies not only to Turkey, but to the whole world. The main reason for this is that online broadcasts cannot yet meet the usual concert viewing experience, even to a minimum. A concert is not just an experience of listening to music and seeing musicians, because there is much more to it. Therefore, I think that once the pandemic conditions are over, the concert halls will fill up again – maybe in a slightly different way, but still, the concert audience wants to watch the concert at the venues for now.
Harun Izer, Istanbul Jazz Festival Director
As both a music lover and an industry member, I can say that a digital concert was not satisfying either for the audience or the artist. As someone who buys tickets to domestic and international online events; digital has not been a substitute for live performance. Going to a concert/festival is not just listening to music, it’s a very special experience, and we’ve clearly seen over the past year that no screen can replace it. Digital will be a part of our lives, but it will never replace live performance, neither materially nor spiritually.
Deniz Kuzuoğlu, Salon IKSV Director
Undoubtedly, there are many innovations that the pandemic has brought to our lives, but I cannot say the same for the concerts. I think it is a completely different experience to buy your ticket days in advance, plan for that day with your friends, watch the concert live together, accompany the music and all those emotions, share that moment with the crowd, and I don’t think it’s something that can be lived in the comfort of your home. Maybe we will be a little hesitant to go indoors at first, but getting together outdoors will be more comfortable and we are looking forward to it.
Pınar Gürer, Jazz Society of Turkey Festivals Director
Of course, we observe that the habits have changed with the pandemic; many people are now accustomed to watching digital content. However, live music is something else and we think that the longing for it is increasing. We believe that concert halls and live music venues will fill up again when appropriate conditions are provided with normalisation. Of course, in the long run, I think we will adapt to the digital world.
Gözde Sivişoğlu, Akbank Sanat Culture and Arts Organisation Manager
Performing arts make the audience a part of the event. It is not only appealing to the eyes and the ears, but there are also experiences created by the atmosphere of that environment. The need to be together is increasing. In my opinion, after the pandemic, we will come together again as before and fill the venues.
Derya Bigali, Akbank Sanat Manager
If homes have comfort, venues have their magic. We saw the audience fill our halls in October, when we reopened, albeit for a short time, by taking serious hygiene and physical distance measures. The audience is eagerly waiting to return to the halls with the normalisation.
Filiz Ova, Zorlu PSM General Manager
The audience, who sees the concert as an experience, will want to run to the halls right away, but it seems to me that it will take time. Especially to indoors. The pandemic may jeopardise another season in this sense, because the world has suffered a great trauma and we have not even begun to see the consequences of this trauma yet.
In the world, live or recorded, digital concerts were born out of a need, but it seems as it will be permanent. World festivals and big clubs are moving towards a hybrid programming approach that will offer digital content as well as live concerts after the pandemic. I’m trying to understand what the trend is in our live music industry. Pozitif and Salon İKSV state that they aim to continue to do what they have always done in the best possible way. While Elif Cemal says that a hybrid programming approach would put a lot of extra financial burden on already costly works such as technical infrastructure, filming crews and royalty, and that continuity in the digital field can only be possible by cooperating with brands that will invest in this field. “The process showed us the value of our work and the need for it to be recorded” says Deniz Kuzuoğlu, adding that they want to document the events when the artist permissions and budgets allow. Ankara Jazz Festival holds the same opinion. Özlem Oktar Varoğlu says that they have developed themselves in order to make a quality archive work. Akbank Sanat and Akbank Jazz Festival state that they will continue the events in hybrid format. “We, as Akbank Sanat, were carrying out many of our activities in hybrid form before the pandemic. Our conferences and interviews were broadcast on our YouTube channel as well as physical events. The pandemic just changed the format a little bit, we started to organise physical events according to digital” says Derya Bigalı.
Jazz Society of Turkey Festivals Director Pınar Gürer states that they will try to make the festival, which they postponed from May to October, as live as possible but that they can include exclusive recordings of some foreign artists. Harun Izer, Director of Istanbul Jazz Festival, says that they have plans for digital, but they need to see where digital world is going in order to turn it into a comprehensive strategy. “Currently, what the digital space has to offer for concerts is very limited; we can only experience a very small part of the interaction provided by a physical concert in front of the screen. So, broadcasting a concert (live or recorded) is not a satisfying experience for the concert audience, it has to be something else. Will all these evolve into a hybrid understanding, or will the worlds of physical concerts and digital concerts separate? For example, for those who are interested in computer games, a concert in the game world can be satisfying (concerts done that way over the last year had millions of viewers), but for an audience who has listened to jazz music in concert halls for 30-40 years, this will mean nothing. Therefore, there may not be one solution for everyone, but different ways, different scenarios.”
“While we were establishing our new strategy, we set out from our purpose of existence. Since the day it was opened, Zorlu PSM has tried to deliver quality content to art lovers with its varied range. To further strengthen this mission, we focus on the question of ‘how can we create new areas of discovery’ rather than making physical and online distinctions. I think that ignoring digital events will be out of question after what we have been through. Although online events cannot be the equivalent of live events, this process made us realise how our access is unlimited. Thousands of people from Turkey and even from different parts of the world, who could not have been to PSM, had the opportunity to experience this experience. It is a great pleasure for us to capture the advantages of this unlimited and wide area of digital and those of our viewers that we cannot reach physically under normal conditions. We will of course integrate this into our programs in the future and continue to provide our audience with the best Zorlu PSM event experience” says Filiz Ova.
So what do promoters think about the potential of digital platforms to expose content to wider audiences? And if Turkey is a suitable country to offer digital content with tickets?
Elif Cemal thinks that if the right infrastructure is provided, digital content would expand the audience: “Ticket sales are normally limited to the capacity of a venue but in hybrid format much more people can watch.” Deniz Kuzuoğlu, who does not see digital as a programming model on its own, also thinks that the access will increase with the right content and targeting: “We now have the tools to reach anyone who is interested in culture and arts, especially outside of Istanbul. This process was very challenging and devastating, but it was one of its greatest teachings.” Harun Izer thinks that concerts can reach wider audiences by offering them both in physical and digital at the same time, but it will not be a huge plus: “I don’t think it’s easy to reach very different audiences via digital while Turkey’s digital infrastructure has not been properly established” he says. He emphasises once again the necessity of creating content specific to digital field, instead of offering them both in physical and digital: “You can’t get anywhere without knowing the possibilities of digital field and who it appeals to, and planning accordingly”. Filiz Ova, who says hybrid programming or digital content is no longer optional, believes that quality content has an audience, even in digital: “The important thing is to produce content that is creative, meaningful for the audience and unique that they cannot find elsewhere.”
Offering original content, choosing the right platform, right infrastructure, support; all of these will undoubtedly increase the target audience, but I do not think that we are a country that is very prone to consuming digital content with tickets yet. Actually, we are not a country that tends to consume art with tickets at all.
“In Western countries, music lovers are accustomed to buying tickets, so they allocate a certain part of their budget to this. Being a digital audience quickly turned into a habit there, but I do not think that the habit of buying tickets to digital concerts has developed in Turkey as in Western countries, including young generations” says Elif Cemal.
So how about offering free content?
In the first season, immobilised by the pandemic shock, a lot of free content was offered, but, I believe that the concerts that would be held with admission fee before or after the pandemic should now be offered with a fee on digital as well. I think this is important in establishing a digital audience culture. I find this necessary not only for digital but also for any presentation form of of art. I am of those who think that encouraging people to value art will increase the value given to art.
Deniz Kuzuoğlu says the same: “Free concerts is a very branched topic. Although it is very useful in order to show the diversity of performance, there are many issues that need to be discussed, like showing that this work has a value created by many from the performer to the sector worker. Reaching an audience that is financially and physically difficult to reach is both the aim and the need of this sector, but we need to continue telling the audience that this effort needs to be remunerated.”
While the originality of the content and the quality of presentation are the primary determinants, it may be attractive for the audience to be able to watch a concert in another city or even country much cheaper than seeing it at the venue. Time will tell, of course, but I think that the consumption of digital content with tickets will settle in time for those who cannot experience live experience due to any physical obstacle. We can benefit from free concerts with a more missionary perspective. Proper use of social media is perhaps more important than ever for promoters. Alternative or emerging acts that are not normally included in the programs due to lack of box office potential can be offered free of charge (even after the pandemic) to increase diversity and bring talent to light. Özlem Oktar Varoğlu holds the same view as well: “I think rather than not being able to accept those who are innovative or too avant-garde, therefore who appeal to a small audience, we can include them to the festival this way.”
Well, since these things have a financial burden, we come back to funding issue and I ask Ersin Babaoğlu, Sponsorship Supervisor of Garanti BBVA, one of the biggest supporters of the jazz music industry, how they approach these issues as an institution.
“Each content offered in digital environment naturally has a cost due to some technical needs. Brands like us that support the field of culture and arts cover these costs and allow the resulting project to reach people free of charge, which I think is very valuable. As a bank, making culture accessible is one of our strategic priorities” says Babaoğlu.
Garanti BBVA supported and continues to support social media / digital platform projects such as April 30 International Jazz Day broadcasts, YouTube series ‘Sesini Aç (Turn The Volume Up)’, and Nardis Sahneport concerts during the pandemic. In my opinion, it is important that they continue these projects also when we can return to physical. Projects that are free but have a mission, and others that are ticketed but have a high production cost, require support. I hope Garanti BBVA and other brands that support jazz or might consider doing so will make targeted investments in this field. In fact, when you think about it, digital platforms promise an audience for a brand that they cannot reach with billboards or newspaper news; of course, again and again, with the right project, right promotion and the right planning.
In addition to the standard sponsorship model, changing consumption habits also create income generating models through social media platforms such as Patreon, Fave, Substack and Cameo. If the industry can adapt itself to such developments, projects that can breathe life into the industry can be developed. Free or ticketed, it would be possible to offer original and high quality digital content, regardless of whether physical concerts can be held or not.
Digital content also seems to be an element that can enrich programs. It appears that a brand new programming way is emerging, where clubs and festivals in Europe share content, concerts shot in one country broadcast as part of another country’s festival, and organisations license concert performance videos from artists. This will remain so, at least until the normalisation and most likely partly thereafter. Especially considering foreign concerts, is this a possibility to enrich the programs besides live concerts? Does the elimination of logistics costs such as travel and accommodation make the promoters more free in their choices?
Elif Cemal says that as far as technology and possibilities allow, digital content will create a great freedom in programming. “I think that the pandemic may have had a positive effect on the industry in this sense. Digital age and technology have brought us many innovations and will continue to do so. We, as promoters, have to keep up with the situation and be more creative by taking brands and musicians with us. However, we should not forgot that physical events produce many lines of work such as field workers, ticket offices, ushers, etc. that should also survive. So it looks like hybrid format will be the future thing.”
While Deniz Kuzuoğlu says that although online concerts enrich the program, because they do not have the same effect on the reached audience, everyone’s hope and plan is to go to the field again, Harun İzer states that it is not easy for international festivals to enrich their programs with concerts similar to those that are currently broadcast free on YouTube, and that a different event model is needed.
I totally agree that original event models should be created and content should be produced according to the medium, but I still think that with the right content selection and as a secondary module, even in the most standard format of digital concerts, it can enrich the program of festivals and venues all over the world to some extent. For example, venues that regularly hold foreign concerts in our country naturally have to be subject to European tours, as they make many cost items more affordable. This situation also limits the options for festivals to certain dates. Isn’t it possible to be much more free and original by exceeding these limits with licensing?
As far as I know, Zorlu PSM was the first to use the licensing model in the industry. The digital concerts of Ólafur Arnalds, Jay Jay Johanson, Hania Rani, Mark Eliyahu have been broadcast and are being broadcast on the PSM Online platform at certain date intervals. “More to come” they say.
Filiz Ova says that copyright and licensing are among the most current issues in the industry: “It has become a common practice to record a performance video of artists and show it with tickets for a certain period of time on platforms like us and ourselves. Some artists transform their concert videos into a new format by adding behind-the-scenes footage, exclusive interviews and documentaries. While licensing offers a great richness, rights-based agreement models between artists, institutions and their representatives are not fully established in Turkey yet.”
Although Özlem Oktar Varoğlu agrees that digital will provide certain conveniences, she is still in favour of live. Pınar Gürer’s definition of richness is somewhat different. She talks about the difficulties of performing foreign concerts without support, only with ticket income, and finds digital concerts very logical in that sense, but what makes her even more excited is to be able to strengthen the educational dimension of their institution, thanks to the access provided by digital; “Wouldn’t it be great to bring together valuable musicians from all around the world with those who want to be educated? That’s what I call richness.”
Everything is still uncertain; for how long will we live in pandemic conditions, when will the ‘new normal’ begin, how accurate will the projections for post-pandemic audience trends, we will see them on the way and meanwhile, experimenting will continue both in Turkey and in the world. Based on the fact that digital content will facilitate the international circulation of music, I wonder if it will contribute to the international expansion of Turkish musicians.
Sol: Left: Gözde Sivişoğlu, Akbank Sanat Culture and Art Organisation Manager – Right: Derya Bigalı, Akbank Sanat Manager
Derya Bigali thinks that presenting artists from Turkey on a digital platform will definitely increase their international visibility. Gözde Sivişoğlu, who says that they were considering adding a showcase section to Akbank Jazz Festival at their 30th edition but that did not happen for obvious reasons, agrees, and thinks that digital will be a faster and easier solution, especially for the showcase. Last year, Istanbul Jazz Festival held Vitrin concerts online. I wonder if the online presence of concerts has created an opportunity for musicians to reach more international industry professionals. Harun Izer says that they could communicate to a larger audience in terms of numbers, but there was a similar level of participation. I think we can attribute this to the fact that the promoters are turning to the local due to travel restrictions and discovering international talent is not their first priority during these troubled times.
Deniz Kuzuoğlu states that this is a topic that needs to be talked about separate from the pandemic: “We are in a period where we can watch an artist or band only with online access, on the other hand, this pool is quite full and it is very likely to get lost in it. Briefly, plus and minus cancel each other out.” In fact, this is partly related to Harun Izer’s views: “An artist’s international recognition does not increase just because an online broadcast is accessible from all over the world. If it were, for example, Spotify would be expected to have such an effect, but this is not the case. If musicians from Turkey do not have a strategy for abroad, they will only be recognised in Turkey. In addition, cultural policies on this issue are also important.”
Very true, unless there is a structure that has a mission to export Turkey’s music, as in almost all Western countries, mostly state-sponsored, it is difficult for musicians to do this on their own with only digital content. And yes, cultural politics. Özlem Oktar Varoğlu also touches upon this and says that she finds the participation and guidance of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs very important. It is difficult to expect this participation in the climate we live in, but if such an initiative does not occur in the long term, the developments in technology can only advance us one step ahead in this sense.