Israel’s annual Tune In Tel Aviv International Music Conference kicked off its seventh edition with a musical showcase featuring a string of up-and-comers in the music space performing at venues across Tel Aviv’s Jaffa, the ancient port city comprising winding cobblestone alleyways, art galleries and scenic seaside restaurants.
The brainchild of Jeremy Hulsh, founder and managing director of the not-for-profit organization Oleh! Records, the five-day conference, which ran Oct. 31-Nov. 4, drew approximately 250 attendees (and an additional 800 local Tel Aviv residents who came out to see bands play). Held primarily at the Lighthouse Hotel, one of Tel Aviv’s newest hipster, boutique establishments, Tune In featured a roster of high-profile speakers in the music industry, led by Sire Records founder Seymour Stein, who discovered such groundbreaking acts as Ice-T, Madonna, Depeche Mode and the Ramones.
Others weighing in on the country’s relationship with the international pop community included First Born, the L.A.-based hip-hop/R&B producer who’s worked with Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida; London-based producer and mixer Danton Supple, who’s collaborated with Coldplay, Trevor Horn and Phil Spector; and Michael Chugg, the Australian concert tour promoter responsible for touring the likes of Frank Sinatra, Guns N’ Roses and Bob Dylan in Australia.
Designed to promote rising musical acts in Israel and expose their talents to record executives, managers and agents global-wide, Tune In is a confluence of performances, networking opportunities and keynote addresses targeted at those looking to expand their musical horizons and forge ahead in the industry.
Over 40 musical acts took part in Tune In, including Nitzan, a 19 year-old singer-songwriter who was the runner-up on the 2017 season of “The Voice Israel” and is positioned as the “Israeli Adele,” and Gilad Segev, who burst onto the Israeli music scene in 2004 with his single track “Achshav Tov” and, in 2009, released “We Were Meant to Be,” which he describes as “the first Polish-Syrian-Jewish-Israeli album.”
“I just get immense joy out of international industry influencers and decision makers discovering the local talent here which I’ve known about for almost two decades,” says Hulsh, who moved to Israel from the States about 15 years ago and has orchestrated investments in the Israeli music and film industry to the tune of more than $5 million.
“The goal of the event is to get these incredibly talented Israeli musicians the exposure that they deserve and that they wouldn’t get otherwise without this opportunity,” adds Doron Gabbay, who works alongside Hulsh to produce Tune In.
One of the overarching takeaways of this year’s conference is the collective frustration amongst Israel-based musicians with the Israeli government, which tends to favor classical music over pop in terms of artistic and financial support. The government, Stein said during his panel, ought to spend more time and money promoting Israeli popular music.
“Israel should have one of the best music industries for its size and even greater for its size in the world. You’ve got to get on your government to do something about it. It’s a God-awful shame,” Stein told the crowd, eliciting an enthusiastic round of applause. “They should realize what the hell is going on — that’s all they have to do — and act on it. Aside from helping people, there’s money to be made here. The export of music, some of that money would come back to Israel. It would certainly go in the pockets of all of the artists and songwriters who, for the most part, are Israeli citizens.”
When asked why it’s been so difficult for Israeli artists to land stateside, Shlomi Ash, a 30-year-old Tel Aviv-based singer-songwriter who recorded his 2017 debut album in England with record producer Chris Potter, blamed it, at least in part, on the “accent.”
“People don’t have a lot of patience for the accent — at least I don’t think so,” said Ash. “I think it gets better because me and my generation grew up on English music. Our generation is much more influenced by this kind of music, so it becomes much more natural.”
Tune In, Ash hopes, will help break barriers for artists aching to break through.
“Not a lot of Israeli artists have broken into the international sphere, so there’s a lot of passion that is not fulfilled yet, and we have a lot to say,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot and music is a big part of our culture, and I think there’s a lot to say that hasn’t been said yet.”
Saz, a Ramle-based Palestinian hip-hop artist and subject of the 2006 documentary “Saz: The Palestinian Rapper for Change,” performed to a standing-room-only crowd at Tune In, plumbing the idea that music can be used as an effective peace-making tool — better than any political maneuvering.
“I think peace will exist,” says Saz. “It will be so easy to make peace when you recognize there’s another existence of someone else. You just have to open your heart and open your eyes.”
For First Born, who marked his third Tune In appearance this year, Israel is rife with marketable musical talent. He’s flummoxed that more international acts aren’t clambering to perform in the country.
“Israel is a perfect cultural exchange,” he says. “You have all this amazing music that’s here and all these people from the States that want to come to Israel and experience it, so when everybody gets together it just forms a whole new cultural mash-up. I don’t know why more artists don’t perform here. It’s an amazing place where people love exported music. All fan bases are here, just like everywhere else. It’d be awesome to see more shows here.”
For Hulsh, Tune In is the perfect opportunity to show the world what Israel can offer, not only in the musical space, but culturally and in the tech sector as well.
“I think Israel is the best kept secret when it comes to music, music tech and creative ideas — and we always have success stories,” he says. “Every year we do have signings; we have bands that play in festivals abroad. There’s no doubt that that’s going to happen this year. The question is how big and how many and what’s the next step?”