Stepping Stone: A creator-centered approach to talent development in music

JazzLab always strives to build a bridge between the partner venues, the audience and the musicians. These connections take various forms: from our typical JazzLab concert tours over coproductions and showcase festivals to artistic projects with musicians abroad. With Stepping Stone we launch both an international talent development community and a pilot project as part of that community. We work closely together with the musicians, enabling them to follow their own specific ambitions and build up long-term international connections along their path.

Visit the Stepping Stone website

A musician’s path to a successful music career in their home country is, in most places, supported by various talent-development organisations. Less obvious and straightforward is how to proceed from there. Music organisations regularly collaborate over international exchanges in the form of showcase concerts and meetings that can certainly help a musician take a first big step towards the international stage. However, decisions are often made without carefully consulting and connecting with the performing artists, to see what they need most at that time. We observe a growing need in those artists to connect to the international scene, by establishing and reinforcing personal contacts in a sustainable way. Think “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

This is where Stepping Stone comes in. Together with Powered by TINC (Tilburg), JazzLab is one of the initiators of this new international community/platform which aims at empowering musicians towards sustainable international careers. Stepping Stone brings together a multitude of both pre-existing and new international initiatives and development programs, ranging from musician-based initiatives to programmes by funded supporting organisations, focusing on the creators, on their career development and personal relationships. The community shares knowledge, thoughts and experiences around their common ground: developing music beyond borders, starting from the musicians themselves. At the same time the identity and flexibility of each project, organisation and creator is maintained. You can read the full project description and manifesto here.

Stepping Stone, the project

One of the concrete collaboration projects we have set up within Stepping Stone involves residencies for young musicians from Flanders to explore music scenes abroad, engage in artistic collaborations with international peers and mentors and build a sustainable network of long-term contacts and connections.

Together with our local partner Handelsbeurs, we selected 2 musicians from our broader jazz sector: Berlinde Deman and Rob Banken, who will be part of this Stepping Stone pilot project in its first 2 years (2020-2021). Berlinde and Rob each prepared a portfolio in which they explain what their career ambitions are, which scenes they want to explore and which international contacts (musicians, promoters, organisations…) they would like to meet up with. This goes from quite general (“I would like to explore the minimal music scene”) to very specific (‘I would like to meet up and work with musician X”) and everything in between. 

Our international Stepping Stone partners explore whether there is a potential match, whether they can help our musicians on their specific path and discuss with them what they can work out together. The residencies can be one work period of 5 days or several visits of one or two days spread over a few months, depending on the needs of the musician. During this residency the partners help the musicians in whichever way is appropriate for the talent development path, by for instance sharing their knowledge, introducing the musician to their network and the local/national scene (music or other arts), facilitating meetings and collaborations with fellow musicians and/or mentors, setting up public concerts. 

After each residency period we evaluate together with the musicians and partners, to see what the next useful step on the trajectory could be, whether it be a follow-up meeting or residency, or exploring a different scene in the same or another country. Of course, we expect the musicians to display entrepreneurship, and the idea is that through these residencies and the sustainable contacts and collaborations that result from it, the musician can find easier access into the scene of the partner countries and more concerts and collaborations will organically grow out of this.

Partners so far are Handelsbeurs, Powered by TINC, Dock Zuid, Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival and NICA – Stadtgarten. The project is partially funded by Grensverleggers, a fund from deBuren supporting cultural collaborations between Flanders and the Dutch provinces of Noord-Brabant, Limburg and Zeeland. Moreover, Sabam for Culture committed to fund the fees for the international mentors Berlinde and Rob work with.


The official launch of the Stepping Stone community took place during the online conference of inJazz, on Thursday 25 June. During our launch session, we briefly presented the idea of Stepping Stone and how it came about, and then gave the floor to 5 inspiring people, both musicians participating in Stepping Stone and music professionals involved in a talent development project of their own, to discuss how they see the future of sustainable international careers.

Anne Konings made a beautiful scribe during the session:

Stepping Stone so far

For the first pilot project of Stepping Stone, we selected Berlinde Deman and Rob Banken, two inspiring musicians who have made their mark already in several formations nationally, and who are ready to steer their career path into international waters. Both of them have put together a portfolio with their ambitions, so what follows here is only a brief summary with the main points.

Berlinde Deman has been playing tuba for more than half her lifetime and is now exploring the wondrous sounds of the serpent. With this new instrument she wants to plunge into the minimal music scene, and combine the old tones of the serpent with elektronica. As a first step, she has been in contact with Rutger Zuydervelt, a Dutch musician who has agreed to be her mentor and who she is collaborating with now on new artistic compositions.

Due to corona, the first physical residency was postponed, but on June 22 & 23, they had a safe and creative first residency at Dock Zuid (Tilburg)! In the meantime, you can already pre-order their first duo-album Luchtwezen (SØVN Records), which will be released on July 15th. Besides that, Berlinde was also invited to JazzLab’s very own ‘JazzLab Invites’-sessions, which took place in June. A serpent/electronics live clip with Mirko Banovic appeared in a series of short videoclips that we recorded on the JazzLab site.

Rob Banken wants to walk two different and at the same time potentially intertwining paths with his saxophone. He would like to learn more about the gaming music industry and how his compositions can find a way into video games, and at the same time wants to explore how to combine visuals and light effects with his solo performances to make them into full-blown live experiences. The first step on his trajectory was his attendance of the Edinburgh Festival of Sound in February, where he immediately made the necessary connections for his introduction into the gaming industry and found out which direction he did and did not want to take.

We will regularly update this page to let you know what Berlinde and Rob have been up to.