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Culture

Politics Goes Pop in Cologne

As the 15th Popkomm music conference attempted to maintain the pace set by the euphoric opening address, politicians mingled with industry experts and artists to discuss ways to improve the music business.

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Politics and pop don't make good music, especially when the industry's future is at stake.

It was billed as the debate where pop’s future would be planned and initiatives to secure that future would be discussed. Seated side by side on the stage were the people with the ideas and the people with the links to power who could bring those ideas to fruition. Everything was set for the first day’s main discussion, Pop Agenda – Paving the Path for the Future, to start the music industry’s healing process.

But what the discussion actually showed, more than the ways politics and pop could work together, was the conflict of interests between parties and the lack of cohesive targets between everyone involved.

Much has been said about the current problems plaguing the music industry. The business finds itself floundering in a culture where a depressed economy leaves potential customers with less money to spend. Consequently, this has led to the creation of structures where free access to the products customers want are available on the Internet. The result in both cases is decreasing revenue for the music industry.

The burning question

The subject of bootlegging and Internet piracy was the main focus for Germany’s politicians. Both Monika Griefhahn from the Social Democrats (SPD) and Stefan Kampeter from the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) insisted that more should be done to reduce "intellectual and creative theft." However, this was the only common ground the two shared, and even that was denied by both sides.

"There should be a framework for punishing this electronic theft and this should be a mandate for the government," said Kampeter. "If we fail to protect copyright, we fail to protect the economy," he stated and passed the blame onto his political opponent: "The SPD, from as far back as the 1960’s, has said that creative products should remain in the public domain, that there should be more sharing." This is the reason the CDU is pushing for more protection for intellectual property in the fight against piracy, Kampeter said.

Monika Griefhahn retorted: "I don’t know where that claim about the SPD came from. We also believe that copyright needs to be protected, but we should apply practical solutions." Griefhahn referred to the recent copyright legislation agreed by the government and the new added tax of €9.24 on every CD burner sold as solutions the SPD were initiating. "We also need to reorganise the market," she added. "The agreement to start the cross industry downloading portal (a music sharing device run by the record companies where material can be downloaded for a charge) is evidence that this is happening."

Education is key

Those representing the music industry, although agreeing that piracy is severely damaging sales, preferred to address wider issues, such as education and the promotion of the creative economy. Udo Dahmen, the head of the Pop Academy school in Mannheim, believed that quality and training would be the savior of the music industry.

"People ask me, ‘how can you teach pop music?’ I say we teach the basics of what kids should expect and nurture the talent they already have. Also, we teach them to appreciate quality music. How can you expect quality music to be produced in the future if you don’t educate the kids in it?" Dahmen added that his own vision for securing pop’s future would include teacher training and an increased use of music teaching in schools.

Radio quota raises questions

Gerd Gebahrt from the German Phonographic Association picked up on the quality issue to turn the discussion towards promotion. He cited the proposed radio quota as a way of bringing German talent to a wider audience.

"Only 10 percent of German music produced actually gets airtime. We have a responsibility to give our artists airtime," Gebhardt said. "The industry has seen a 30 percent market loss in the last five years, 16 percent of that in the last six months. Okay, it’s mostly down because of the ‘free lunch’ mentality of bootlegging, but if that’s the only way of getting hold of material, that’s what consumers will do to get it." He said radio access for German artists would revive a stagnant sector of the market.

Stefan Kampeter seized on the subject to cast doubts on what the quota would actually mean. "In principle, the CDU agrees with the radio quota proposal. It’s a good idea that the quality and quantity of German products are highlighted and get exposure, but guaranteeing 50 percent of German productions on the radio is going to be problematic. As soon as you guarantee radio access, you’re talking about subsidizing pop music."

Gebhardt summed up the apparent disparity between pop and politics. "I disagree. They should play more German music and that’s that. Full stop."

Few solutions, more problems. The task at hand may not be just the saving of pop’s future but the saving of the relationship between politics and the music industry. One must surely be resolved before the other can stand a chance.

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