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Bulgaria gains first music showcase and conference

Bulgaria is set to gain its first music showcase and conference festival this spring.

Spike is scheduled to take place between 26-28 May in Plovdiv, one of Bulgaria’s most historic cities.

The event will welcome music business delegates from over 12 countries, including the US and Canada.

The content of the conference will cater to executives in artist booking and management, publishing, royalties, and sync licensing, digital technology workshops and equality and diversity in the music industry.

The event was founded by Boyan Robert Pinter of Bulgarian promoter Pan Harmony, who says: “The festival’s primary goal is to create learning and networking opportunities for Bulgarian artists and professionals and to introduce international delegates to Bulgaria’s music scene. This will be done in the spirit of diversity and inclusivity.

“The festival’s primary goal is to introduce international delegates to Bulgaria’s music scene”

“We are very happy that our event will finally go live. When we took our first steps, we received a lot of international support, which gave us the confidence to continue building this platform for local artists and music professionals. We are very grateful to the city of Plovdiv – EU Capital of Culture 2019 – for being our gracious host, providing us with the perfect backdrop to our activities.”

The Spike showcase will take place across several locations on Plovdiv’s main street, including the Temple Bar, Bezistenа, and Rock Bar Download. A special selection of artists will be chosen to perform at the city’s Roman Stadium, downtown, which was built in the 2nd century AD.

“There are many surprises in store for our international delegates, as we’d like to them to experience the wonderful architecture, delicious food, and the hip, laid-back vibe that Plovdiv can offer,” says Pinter.


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Bulgarian promoters sell out two major live events

Bulgarian promoters Pan Harmony and Blue Hills successfully produced two major live events at the Plovdiv Antique Theater in Bulgaria last weekend (18 and 19 September).

German heavy metal artist Udo Dirkschneider delivered a two-hour show on 18 September, while a small orchestra – arranged by Tomislav Baynov and conducted by Yordan Kamdzhalov – performed the music of Bach and Mozart during the following evening.

The venue was permitted to operate at 50% of its 1,480 capacity and both events sold out at the maximum legal limit.

“Even though heavy metal passions run high and deep, the exhilarated audience was very respectful of the situation and kept their distance from the band and the crew,” says Boyan Robert Pinter of Pan Harmony.

“No intervention was necessary on behalf of security. We established a good perimeter between the audience and the stage but we didn’t even need barriers. Everybody was on their best and most responsible behaviour. It was certainly a historic event for us.”

“It was certainly a historic event for us”

Stefan Popov of Blue Hills says: “Besides being even better organised than usual, we’re very lucky to be able to work at all.

When it comes to international shows, Bulgarians are generally quite sceptical about whether the artists will show up, so when we posted a photo of Udo and the band from Sofia Airport, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and local ticket buyers were even more confident.

In the European Union’s poorest country, this just adds to a long list of factors that we have to consider.”

Though social distancing and mask-wearing are not mandated in outdoor venues, visitors were asked to wear masks and disinfect their hands upon entry.

Bulgaria went into lockdown in March and measures were eased from June. Bulgaria has a relatively low infection rate with 18,863 reported cases and 761 reported fatalities of Covid amongst a population of around seven million.


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One bad apple doesn’t spoil the barrel

In light of recent developments with Bulgarian promoters, now is the perfect time to widen the lens a bit and take a look at the Bulgarian live music industry beyond its recent highly publicised scandals.

The live music business in Bulgaria only really started in the 1990s. While Europe and the US were crafting the rules of the game and creating high-class music professionals during the post-war years, Eastern European markets had to wait for the fall of communism before a music industry could really take off.

The earliest western acts to come to Bulgaria came courtesy of adventurous local musicians who booked themselves as the support act, profit coming second to the glory of sharing the stage and a cold one with their musical heroes.

Despite these amateur beginnings, by the end of the nineties, Bulgaria had already received the blessing of a number of UK agents and production managers, bringing in stadium acts like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Sting and others. Before 1989, the idea of seeing any of these acts live was absolutely unthinkable. For Bulgarian music fans, these shows were an affirmation, a sign that Bulgaria was finally on the map.

By the 2000s, the Bulgarian live music sector had expanded exponentially. On the wings of a few lucky promoters (some heavily buttressed financially by western companies), a second generation of promoters arrived. These were not the passionate rockers of the 1990s, but a more opportunistic breed who saw the live music industry as a gateway to quick profits.

As the 2010s draw to a close, a new class of Bulgarian promoter is emerging

Unfortunately, these young bloods came to the scene having skipped the foundational level – music biz 101 – as it developed in the US and UK, growing out of social secretaries and campus events organisers. This new wave of promoters wanted only safe bets and sell-out shows.

While fast-moving markets have grown tired of shows consisting of classic rock albums played in their entirety by the few remaining members of a heritage band, Bulgarians, and Bulgarian promoters especially, are reluctant to move away from these established acts.

In effect, very few Bulgarian promoters had ever truly attempted to promote an act, preferring shows that sold themselves. The art of popularising and increasing the demand for an act, shining a spotlight on their talent, shaping public appetites and driving demand never really developed. Their only skill was in delivering shows; this being thanks more to the local production crew than the so-called promoter.

The loyalty between foreign agents and Bulgarian promoters is built on the back of the hard-working production crew. I’m proud to say that Bulgarian crews can, and do, work at every level.

“Show in foreign country went fine!” is not a good headline

Now, as the 2010s draw to a close, a new class of Bulgarian promoter is emerging. Our universities even offer degree programmes in music management. One can start saying “a music industry professional” in all senses of the term. The local scene has quite a few things to be proud of, from the success of large-scale productions like Roger Waters’s The Wall at the National Stadium and the development of the first-century AD ancient theatre in Plovdiv as a concert venue, to the emergence of well-equipped clubs like Joy Station, which has been heavily invested in. These all show a marked step forward.

The music industries in smaller countries rarely make the news with anything positive. Despite our best efforts to fight against these notions and do a better job than most, it’s just a drop in the ocean. This manifests itself clearly in situations where the outstanding work of a Bulgarian production team gets described as, “Not as bad as I expected.” I have witnessed this many times, and while it’s nice to be one of the exceptions, I’d much prefer to just change the perceptions.

It is important to remember that scandals only make the news because they are newsworthy. “Show in foreign country went fine!” is not a good headline.

For every scandal that makes the news, there are many successful shows put on by music-loving professionals and attended by passionate, grateful music fans.


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