Tapio Korjus: Music business is an endurance sport
Over the decades, Finnish acts from Wigwam to Wimme have worked with the tireless Tapio Korjus. He has played many roles, from manager and booking agent to record label boss and publisher through his Rockadillo group of firms. As he turns 70 this June, Korjus plans to slow his pace a bit – but not too much.
The music sector is no place to make a quick buck, says Korjus. Instead it requires persistent, long-term work, he says, as well as momentum: you have to be ready to strike when the iron is hot.
For instance, the international career of accordionist Antti Paalanen, one of the artists he represents, is now being boosted by Music Finland’s Fast Track music export programme. Before the break imposed by the coronavirus, Paalanen performed in early 2020 at key showcase events such as Eurosonic and Folk Alliance New Orleans. Wimme & Rinne, meanwhile, performed at the end of last year at the AfriCourage festival in Gambia, and had summer festival gigs lined up in Europe.
“When demand starts to build for an artist, I try to ensure that we make the most of these events. This business doesn’t work by just making up your own schedules and expecting the world to wait for you,” he says.
Over the years, chance has played a role in Korjus’s career. As he puts it, he’s not good at saying no.
An idea tossed into the air and a promise to “make a couple of calls” may lead to a massive four-and-a-half-year labour of love, such as bringing the leading world-music event, the WOMEX fair, to Finland in late 2019. As a co-founder of Music & Media event, held annually in Tampere for 30 years, Korjus was an old hand at arranging music-industry events, but he did not originally expect Rockadillo to be responsible for making WOMEX a reality. That’s what happened though, leading to a great success in partnership with Tampere Hall, the city of Tampere, Music Finland and others.
This business doesn’t work by just making up your own schedules and expecting the world to wait for you.
Korjus works with a small number of artists on a 360-degree model, including concert booking, album releases and music publishing. Since the 1990s his main focus has been on more ‘marginal’ music. In most cases, the initiative has come from the artists themselves – and sometimes it’s taken him a while before agreeing to launch a partnership, as pianist Iiro Rantala found out when he talked Korjus into managing his jazz group Trio Töykeät. Eventually he won him over, leading to a nearly 20-year partnership. Korjus values such long-term relationships with artists. For example, he has worked with Piirpauke and Jukka Gustavson over five decades, and with both RinneRadio and Wimme Saari for more than 25 years.
In his early decades as an entrepreneur, Korjus did not necessarily have the freedom to choose which jobs to take on. He gained experience as a journalist and as a DJ – a hat that he still occasionally dons under the name Dr. Riddim.
“As far as concerts, at first I brought all kinds of bands to Finland, so that I could convince the international agents that it was worth offering me good artists,” he recalls.
And they certainly did: Korjus brought in acts such as Patti Smith, Ramones, the Clash, New Order, the Smiths and countless stars from Africa, Jamaica, Cuba and Brazil.
Learning by doing
Korjus has expanded his operations a couple of times, but faced the limited size of the domestic concert market in the late 1970s and the deep recession of the early 1990s. Since then he has aimed for agility instead, focusing on music exports.
Korjus didn’t plan to set up a record label, but did so after bassist Pekka Pohjola suggested it in 1982. He’s been at it ever since, having released nearly 200 albums even though the pace of releases has slowed to 3–5 albums a year.
It’s surprisingly difficult to run a record company if you don’t have a back catalogue – and nowadays it’s challenging even if you do.
“For the first 10–15 years, I had to subsidise the record releases with other business. It’s surprisingly difficult to run a record company if you don’t have a back catalogue – and nowadays it’s challenging even if you do,” he says. (note: for further proof on the back catalogue on Korjus' labels, scroll down for a playlist!)
Looking into the future, Korjus aims to increasingly seek income streams for artists through music usage fees, noting that his stable includes talented composers whose music is well suited to films or dance pieces, for example.
Besides his business operations, Korjus has found time for many organisations in the music sector. After many fulfilling years, though, he says it’s time to make way for younger people.
“The top young people usually have such a drive for their own companies that they don’t necessarily have time to join these organisations. That’s how it was for me, too. But when you’ve experienced not just upswings but also a few major setbacks, you understand why it’s worth cooperating with others in the field,” observes Korjus.
Out of more than 50 firms that started Indieco, only a couple were founded by women. It’s a structural problem, but the situation is getting better all the time.
Korjus hopes that more women will join these organisations, too.
“The music business used to be run by enthusiastic young guys,” he says.
“For instance, out of more than 50 firms that started (Finnish independent record companies association) Indieco, only a couple were founded by women. It’s a structural problem, but the situation is getting better all the time, especially among managers and agents.”
Although Korjus plans to slow his pace, he says he admires label bosses such as Atte Blom, Seymour Stein and Clive Davis and artists like M.A. Numminen, who have never decided to retire.
“I have however promised myself to cut back on jobs for which there are plenty of other skilled people, such as basic gig booking in Finland. Instead I’ll concentrate on special projects,” he says.
- Kumma heppu & lopunajan voidellut: Kesä
- Dave Lindholm: Annan kitaran laulaa vaan
- M.A. Numminen: Rum and Coca Cola
- Kuhnafar-I: Kun mies ei anna
- Wimme: Texas
- Antti Paalanen: Meluta
- Kimmo Pohjonen: Keko
- Maria Kalaniemi: Ahma
- Sanna Kurki-Suonio: Tyttö kulkija
- Riikka Timonen & Senni Eskelinen: Perillä
- Värttinä: Tuuterin tyttäret
- Slobo Horo: Semah
- Anssi Tikanmäki Orchestra: Airisto
- Arttu Takalo: Les Désastres Nocturnelles
- Joonas Widenius Trio: Northern Fandango
- Heikki Ruokangas: Hailuoto II
- RinneRadio: Tule!
- Jarmo Saari Republic: The Jungle
- Iiro Rantala New Trio: Shit Catapult
- Piirpauke: Marie Poale Ciurate
- Jukka Gustavson: Mountain Information
- Espoo Big Band plays Pekka Pohjola: Yesterday’s Games, Pt. 2
Bonus: All Pekka Pohjola albums on Rockadillo Records are not yet available on Spotify, but you can stream these on Deezer and Tidal: