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Culture

In Digital Age, a Look to the Stage

It was with much fanfare about the future of Germany's popular music industry that the 2005 Popkomm festival opened in Berlin. On the agenda were the renaissance of the concert landscape and the success of German music.

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Music, music everywhere

Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit set the tone for the coming days in his opening address. "I'm delighted that the music industry in Germany is on the up and up," he said. "I think the hard times are over and I hope Popkomm will get the
message out there that it's worth investing in German groups."

Even if that message hasn't penetrated the international psyche just yet, Berlin is certainly drawing attention to itself as a place where the music scene is alive, kicking and full of innovation. Some 800 exhibitors have flown in from abroad to be a part of Popkomm, and over the coming few days the German capital will host 400 hours of live music in clubs and venues across the city.

And that, says Raik Hölzel of the indie German label, Kitty-Yo, is the way it should be.

Silbermond: Gitarrist Thomas Stolle und Sängerin Stefanie Kloß

German band, Silbermond, in concert

"More is being made of the festival going on in tandem with the trade fair, and the live-performance aspect is being taken more seriously by the media," he said with a sense of relief. "Live acts are becoming much more important, as concerts are an incredibly important tool in the marketing of music."

Live is king

Make no mistake about that. For all its sleek beauty and micro-chip capabilities, the digital age has played havoc with artists' earning power. With many consumers preferring to copy music than actually go out and buy it, even the most popular musicians can no longer rely on CD sales to keep them in their old age. They have to get out on the stage and sweat for their supper.

The interesting thing is that this necessity on the part of the artists appears to be coupled with a desire on the side of audiences to get a taste of the real McCoy.

"The situation has really changed, people want to see music being made, and its not just about entertainment, but about transporting feelings," Hölzel said. "They're not looking for a perfect sound, but for emotions and dirty, direct, confrontational music."

PopKomm

Popkomm 2005

Things have gone full circle since the seventies, when record companies such as Crysalis, Virgin and Island Records were born out of the live industry. Now live is king again, bands release albums just so they can go on tour to promote them, and record companies who are feeling the pinch are looking at getting back into the live side of the industry.

Getting the good gigs

But it's a competitive business. Jens Michow, President of the National Association of the Events Industry (idkv), says there are as many as a thousand events organizers operating in Germany and hundreds of them are competing for the same gigs.

"If artists make the bulk of their money through the live music industry, then of course they look around to see which event organizer will give them the best deal. And that is unfortunately reflected in ticket prices," Michow
said.

Live 8 Berlin Brandenburger Tor Zuschauer

The live experience

Even at anything from 30 euros ($36) to 75 euros ($92) a pop, the cost of tickets are not outlandish enough to scare audiences away. Hölzel says the new trend in stage performance will stick around for a while, not least because it’s a whole new thing for a whole lot of people.

"The generation which grew up with techno haven't really had that experience. I've heard a lot of kids saying 'wow! That's a bass drum? I know what a bass drum sounds like from my computer, but I didn't know they existed as real instruments,'" he said.

Home-grown success

And while the hip young things are revelling in the revelation of where music really comes from, the Germans who make it are enjoying their own little slice of success. Since last year, when it was decreed that radio air time should dedicate a certain portion of its time to German language music, interest in the domestic music sector appears to have been on the increase.

Artists like Wir sind Helden, Silbermond, Jeanette Biedermann, Nena and Juli all trill in their native tongue and receive a lot of praise for their efforts. Thus far, the biggest chart toppers of 2005 in both the singles and album charts have been indigenous artists. So why the sudden loyalty?

"The music industry is susceptible to trends. For a long time it was the case that artists thought they could only be successful if they wrote and sang in English. Those times are over now. German lyrics are successful and people like to hear them," said Michow.

Die Band Wir sind Helden spielt auf einer schwebenden Bühne während der Verleihung der Echo-Musikpreise in Berlin

German band, Wir sind Helden

But Hölzel says there is more to the German music scene that artists whose popularity might have been affected by the introduction of air-time quotas. He says the music scene in Berlin is a hotbed of creative energy which generates great quantities of interesting music.

"People want to create something special, they're not primarily interested in making money, but want to make something that can influence other people. That music should be taken more seriously by radio stations in Germany, Hölzel said. "The audience is out there looking for that music, and eventually word gets out, but it has nothing to do with what gets played on the radio."

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