The idea for this feature arose after Vice-Premier Minister of Ukraine, Andriy Klyuev, now proudly ex-Minister, suggested making amendments to the Touring Law, which the Verkhovna Rada approved after a first reading on 18 October. The new clauses featured unbelievably high taxes for promoters and concert organisers, together with the highly appealing possibility of their rights being signed over to local officials.
If the law really had been adopted, every sane concert organiser would undoubtedly have left the business, as selling socks by Lisova Metro would have been more profitable. These proposals caused a huge protest among people in the business, with them finally managing to safeguard their rights and force the Rada to decline the law. To understand better what is currently happening on Ukrainian stages, we invited Del Arte PR Companyís Olga Stelmashevska and Yuriy Gulevych to tell us first-hand about the problem.
Who Does What?
First of all, we need to find out how the system of concert organising works. Independently of whether itís a theatrical performance or a rock concert, there is an event organiser, promoter, venue and an artistís management. These tiers work together, and if they understand each other, then most probably the event will be successful.
What sounds strange is that the Ministry of Culture seems to be out of the loop and only really interested in a bit of tax payola. What it really should do is help, develop, dammit even sponsor various events, trying to bring in whatís hot in the world Ė rather than Ďstimulateí the folk and amateur culture thatís everywhere in the country. Seriously, guys jigging about in Ukrainian costume at pageants Ė who gives one??
What seemed to be an act of patriotism, when Yuschenko started talking about going back to our roots, turned into a disaster when local officials took it too literally, and almost strangled all manifestations of contemporary international arts, aiming purely and simply for ďvillage cultureĒ. What began with the patriotic idea of revitalising Ukrainian culture has led to the point where an artist who decided to sing, god forbid, not in the Ukrainian language, was banned from radio stations and TV channels. They were then told that Ukrainian artists should sing in Ukrainian only. Never mind the fact that for many people in this country, Russian is their first language and the language they express themselves in. So, thatís not an attack on self-expression then? Or that the Ukrainian music market already spends all its money on Okean Elzy. In any case, that market extends to a maximum of 40-odd million people, rather than Russianís near 300-million. Way to promote Ukrainian talent internationally guys!
The above are just a few examples of why Ukraine, as a stage for artists, doesnít look too hot right now, and why most of whatís created on the State dollar is just way too Ďfolkyí. Based on her experience promoting concerts across Ukraine, and being able to compare that to how itís done abroad, Olga Stelmashevska offers her insight. She tells us that itís common practice in Europe for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to be concerned about whatís happening in their countryís cultural sphere, allocating as much funding as needed and helping in any way possible, so that citizens can get the best acts, and their artists access the widest audience.
It all leads to an overall cultural boost, attracting tourists and adding cash to the economy. Thatís something the Ukrainian government would be wise to learn. For example, I doubt you know that there is a Municipal Brass Orchestra in Kyiv; it can hardly be called a popular one after all. At the same time, a small town somewhere in Europe may have two or more municipal orchestras or bands that play on a decent level and even tour the country.
What does that mean? It means that the overall level of culture in Ukraine is far lower than in Europe. For example Ė can you imagine Ukrainian firemen organising a band? It seems impossible, but itís common in Europe. There isnít even a single Theatre Festival in the country. Olga adds, ďWe donít have a cult of culture, and that has turned Ukraine into a very unattractive place for Western celebs to come. First of all, there is uncertainty that the performance will even be held, secondly there is simply too much bureaucracy involved in bringing a star to this country.Ē
A Third World for Others
So while the government only stops doing nothing to make things difficult, things do keep on running thanks only to private companies and promoters. Their hard work has eventually resulted in Western management starting to notice Ukraine and consider adding us to their touring routes. ďWe finally made a hole in the wall. Even when Ukrainian concert organisers were offering 100% pre-pay, usually management would refuse as they were sure that there would be problems,Ē says Yuriy.
But little by little, international singers and artists coming to the country have started spreading their experience among colleagues. Through word of mouth, Ukraineís reputation has improved. However, if the organisers did manage to repair the reputation problem, they still couldnít resolve some other issues such as roads, border crossings, copyright and media piracy. Thatís something the government needs to work on. ďArtists have fixed fees that vary country to country,Ē Olga explains. ďKnowing about Ukrainian bureaucracy at the borders and the state of roads, the celebís management either think twice about coming to Ukraine or bump up the fees. For example, in the time spent on a ride from Moscow to Kyiv, a singer or a band can visit three cities in Europe, earning much more than a concert in Kyiv. And that seriously affects ticket prices. A ticket to Stingís concert in Vilnius, with accommodation added in, costs far less than the Kyiv concert-only equivalent. Draw your own conclusion.Ē
And we return to the initial problem Ė the governmentís unwillingness to do anything and its ignorance in the cultural sphere. It seems to be a pretty implacable situation. Yuriy smoothes the tension, adding, ďWhat we are trying to do is create a sort of community of promoters in the country to work together. With our first protest, we managed to influence the government and persuade them to reject the amendments to the Touring Law. We may even create a sort of symbol or a mark to put on posters, so that people know that this performance comes with a sign of quality. But thatís going to take some time.Ē
Until this miracle happens, and the cancellation of concerts keeps taking place, we, as ordinary concert-goers, should remember a couple of simple rules. First of all, donít buy tickets anywhere else but authorised ticket offices. There are plenty of them in the city, so itís easy to buy a ticket in advance, rather than score from a suspicious stranger right before the concert. In case the concert is cancelled, you can always get your money back, as long as the ticket was purchased through proper channels. The best place of all is the ticket office of the venue hosting the event.
While the lives of promoters and concert organisers seem to be pretty hard, they are all ready to continue bringing joy to those seeking something other than the Scorpions or Deep Purple. On many levels, itís a tough gig, but there are plenty of interesting stories to share. Yuriy and Olga have their fair share, such as Julio Iglesias spending the couple of days before his concert with lovely ladies in a presidential suite, not even leaving for a minute, or Roxette coming to Ukraine from Russia almost frozen to death. And then thereís the Russian starsí bloated gig-riders, including Mashyna Vremeni requiring a whole carriage when travelling by train. But thatís a completely different story for a different article. Meanwhile, rock on concert-goers, keep on concert-promoters and step up Ukrainian government!