Last week saw Berlin Music Week take place for its fourth year, with 2500 delegates from across the music industry attending the WORD! Conference, and a further 5000 music fans joining them for the First We Take Berlin showcase festival. Checking in on the action and catching up with a few of the delegates and speakers was Vasilis Panagiotopoulos.
In the Postbahnhof – Berlin’s former postal railway station – a man in his early 30s addresses an attentive crowd against the backdrop of a sleek slideshow. “The future of print is bleak”, he boasts. “As a publication we need to be something to someone as opposed to everything to everybody. For us, it’s all about having integrity, credibility and trust in what we do, therefore we have to walk away from a lot of advertising money. But there are billions of dollars of media money and that is transitioning to digital”.
The speaker is Pitchfork’s president Chris Kaskie who delivered the keynote speech on the opening day of Berlin Music Week (BMW). Running alongside the more commercial Berlin Festival, BMW plays host to the WORD! Conference and the showcase festival First We Take Berlin. This fourth edition of BMW was attended by some 2500 delegates and 400 journalists from 30 countries. Meanwhile First We Take Berlin featured international acts including Jagwar Ma, Seams, Samaris and Money attracting over 5000 music fans.
During WORD!, various panels and workshops examined the spectrum of challenges facing the music industry today. Eric McKay, Head of Business Development at VEVO presented the business model behind one of the world’s biggest online multi-channel networks and highlighted the difficulties of launching in the German market where YouTube does not (or cannot, for licensing reasons) drive online music video traffic.
British music journalists John Doran (The Quietus) and Francine Gorman (The Line Of Best Fit) joined German counterparts for a thought-provoking discussion on ‘The Death Of Music Journalism’ in the age of the well-executed PR campaign. Doran stressed how important it was for journalists to resist being led by PR perspectives. “There is space on the internet to write about the stuff that nobody else is writing about”, he reckoned.
Deezer’s Chief International Officer, Laurent Billion, gave a speech on the state of the music-streaming market. Asked by CMU about the current debate on whether streaming services are sufficiently paying back artists, he said: “More than 70% of our revenue goes back to the industry. In my view the problem lies between the labels and their artists. We pay our rights and we fulfil all our legal obligations. We are neither producers nor aggregators. We are broadcasters. We need middlemen. We cannot be responsible for organising the rest of the food chain”.
Further conference highlights included a talk by Eventbrite co-founder Renaud Visage on how ticketing technology is transforming the live music industry; a panel on music supervision featuring Paul Logan (formerly VH1/MTV) and Tess Taylor, President of the National Association of Record Industry Professionals (USA); and finally an input on fixed rates and neighbouring rights by Charles Caldas, CEO of the global indie licensing agency Merlin and Charlie Phillips, Head of Legal and Commercial Affairs at Worldwide Independent Network WIN.
With its undeniably vibrant buzz Berlin Music Week organisers are sure to be pleased with this year’s event. Behind its success is a plethora of music organisations including Kultuprojekte Berlin, All2gethernow, Initiative Musik, VUT, Berlin Music Commission and Musicboard Berlin – the latter a newly-established initiative with a yearly budget of over one million euros. While on the one hand this line up of groups is testament to the diverse offer of music organisations in the German capital, the city’s music industry is prone to over-fragmentation.
“Nobody from the outside can fully understand the politics and organisational structure of Berlin Music Week”, explains Dietmar Schwenger, Editor at MusikWoche, Germany’s main music-trade publication. “The situation reflects – also historically – Berlin’s structure as a city. Over the years these organisations have stepped-up cooperation, but there is still room for improvement. I think there’s need for an event like this in the German capital. Germany is big enough to have more than one music industry event – along with Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg and c/o Pop in Cologne – as long as these events concentrate on what they do best, while carving their own niche. And with the success of this year’s event, Berlin Music Week can start to measure itself in the same league against these other festivals”.
Vasilis Panagiotopoulos is a freelance writer and publicist based in Copenhagen.