Karolina Juzwa

Community, sustainability, network, flexibility — backbone of music venues in the pandemic times

The idea of the whole project is to create a platform where the venues could communicate and exchange experience despite the impossibility of personal interaction. They will rethink their business strategies, create an optimal model for further cooperation, and discuss the music sector situation in times of worldwide pandemic. 

Over the next months we will be publishing some useful takeaways from our meetings to warm-up the discussion and engage even more people to the protection grassroots venues in our countries. 

External expert: Karolina Juzwa — the musical expert and promoter from Poland who currently works for Wytwórnia Venue, SJA Festival, and the international Jazz Platform. She highlighted the most sensitive questions and influential trends related to the work of small and mid-size music venues in the new COVID-19 reality. Here are some of the thoughts from the discussion.


2020 “keep going” kick 

Despite all the difficulties for music venues, there is still room for positive moments that help them don't give up. Karolina Juzwa called such moments a 'keep going' kick. But sometimes, they look more like a miracle of 2020. 

For instance, Polish venues Firlej succeeded in doing 30 online shows with 55 artists involved since the pandemic started. The audience of those concerts reached an impressive figure of 55 000 people. Thus, the club became one of the first polish venues that started successful online activities. “Because we have a budget, the city public money, we could manage that, — mentioned the club manager Michal Slodkiewicz. ” Also, we could help the artists and pay them a salary. So, this opportunity to express solidarity is such a kick and motivation for our team”.

It is impressive how many artists are involved in online events these days. Also, more and more institutions started using modern technologies to represent them. Unfortunately, it is still a challenging experience that is strongly dependent on the equipment all streaming members have. 

Despite the natural development of digital formats, 2020 also highlighted the importance of co-creation and community engagement. In 2019 Dutch club Podium Asteriks was forced to leave its permanent home.  So, the venue team was not able to hold any event last year. But what kept Podium Asteriks going during tough times was the focus on building the network of local artists around them. 

“This gives me a lot of energy. — said Nick Veenstra of the club. — The local government gives many chances to build up small projects and financial support. So, artists can create their art again. Also, because of the pandemic, people started to rethink who they are and who they want to be. And many new forms are coming out of that”. 

While some music venues have government support in their countries, the situation with cultural financing in Ukraine is not so good. However, even without public money, the Ukrainian venue Mezzanine finds some positive factors that help it follow through these gloomy times. Taras Khimchak, the co-founder of the venue, mentioned one inspiring Birthday party (7 years of Mezzanine) when his team got huge support from the local audience and friends. “People donated and gave us such warm support. That was a ‘Wow’ feeling for me”, — told Taras.

Now we observe growing solidarity around culture in many cases. People do understand how difficult the situation for artists and organisers is. And they attempt to help them. Karolina Juzwa also emphasized that the audience is more engaged and willing to support not commercial institutions and musicians. “They want them to keep going”, — she said.

Pandemic exit strategies 

While the COVID-19 situation is different in every country, so venues struggle differently, there is one crucial factor that all European scenes face. The uncertainty leaves clubs with no options to plan their activities as before the pandemic. So, they are forced to devise new ways of managing and promoting events, creating lineups, and working with their audience on-site. 

“The situation in Ukraine changes every week, — mentioned Taras. — And the only thing we can rely on while thinking about Mezzanine’s future strategy is vaccination. But for now, it’s going super slowly”. 

Karolina Juzwa believes that only a flexible working approach can help to survive the crisis.  It applies not only to venues. Also, artists, agencies, promoters should rethink their strategies. Besides the capacity rules for the venues, there is also an economic crisis coming up around Europe. She also worries that especially non-commercial events will struggle due to the lack of funding. 

“I don’t think that concerts for 3000 people will be possible any soon, — Karolina Juzwa said. — That’s my personal conviction. Same with big music festivals all around the world. I’m not sure about them. So, now I think the safest option is the sitting events with 50% capacity when everything can be controlled while the public is flowing through a venue. Then we can check temperatures, social distancing, masks. And try to make people feel safe”.

But what about the major events which had been sold already before the pandemic and then were postponed many times? Karolina’s Wytwórnia venue tries to solve this problem by holding several smaller concerts instead of one big in the summer. “When we ask bands to play several times for the same fee, some of them find it difficult to understand. And I noticed that the more experienced musicians are, the more they are willing to do this. Because these 'short term celebrity' artists seem not to get it in the first place. But after two seasons of cancellations, they finally start getting it”, — she explained.

Being not able to perform for such long, many artists are ready to change their tour and concert politics and possibly agree on the lover fee. However, the public attendance at events is dropping, and this is the result of many things. Since March 2020 people have been staying at their homes. They do not visit big gatherings anymore. Some of them are still scared and feel uncomfortable in crowded places. So, it is also the challenge for the music club as well as the necessity to provide safety instruments on-site. 

In the past, clubs were keen to announce a concert as early as possible to gather the audience and sell the tickets. According to Karolina experience and changes in public behaviour, the safe period for starting promoting events now is no longer than one week. “This is the only period when people really know if they can go. And if we do it a month before, they will not buy tickets. The situation can change over a single day”, — she clarified.

The Belgian club Belvedere Namur also doesn’t expect huge demand for live concerts after the lockdown. They plan to return to the familiar workflow with small steps giving priority to local artists. Investments in a local scene happening in many countries around Europe now. First, it is more financially feasible to work with local musicians. Second, they are more flexible and can do residencies playing a few concerts per week. They are also more willing to engage in different aspects, e.d community projects. And finally, the cooperation with local musicians allows venues to avoid the international travel problem that arose because of the pandemic.


Wytwórnia Venue

Influential trends

Despite all the challenges posed by the pandemic, there are several positive and important trends clubs and other participants of the music sector should follow to make things work again. 

The most crucial issue for the sector to understand, redefine, and implement is environmental responsibility. Especially now when we know that the pandemic is a result of our unbalanced relationship with nature. The music industry will need to reform itself — it concerns travelling and also the venues on-site work. One of the solutions Karolina mentioned is the green rider. “Every time an agent goes to a venue, they need to talk about how to limit carbon footprint — hotel artists stay, the way they are going to travel, catering… Of course, there is a topic of discussion. This is not imposed on venues”, — she explained.

Creating a network so different venues can jointly invite and present artists from other continents is also an effective solution to minimize CO2 emission and our negative impact on nature. For the last few years, we’ve seen how big festivals sign exclusive contracts with musicians forbidding them to perform anywhere else for several months. Now it will no longer work. “If you bring an artist from the US or any country from another continent, you have to work with the surrounding promoters to use this artist as much as possible. That’s why I develop my network,” — said Karolina. 

Besides sustainable initiatives, all the communal projects (incl. grassroots initiatives) are also important right now. They build awareness about a venue and its actions and help to engage all the groups. And if some organizers don’t understand it yet, they’ll have to, believes Karolina. She mentioned that these days clubs need to introduce more people to culture, art, and music. 

In this new pandemic reality even big festivals, celebrity artists, and major agencies face the situation when they need to rethink their approach. It is no longer possible to do things how we knew them. “We will try to do things on a smaller scale, we will try to do them more sustainable, and we will cooperate more”, — summed up Karolina.

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