The world's largest music conference kicked off on Thursday with the announcement of the establishment of a regulated Internet exchange and a renewed commitment to the promotion of German music.
It's the sound of music at Popkomm 2003 in Cologne.
No one could have blamed the atmosphere at the 15th Popkomm if it turned out to be a little negative. The final year of its residency in Cologne before it departs for Berlin would be reason enough for sadness among those who have regularly visited the world’s largest music conference in its traditional home. Add to that the rather depressed nature of the music industry in Germany, and it becomes a natural assumption that the annual celebration of creativity and business should have whimpered its way into the annals of Cologne’s history rather than go out with a bang.
Instead, the conference opened with high spirits and talk focussed on the future, not on the past. The introductory speech, given by a surprisingly upbeat Wolfgang Clement, the federal minister for economics and labor, was expected by many to bemoan the current struggles that have beset the music industry. But Clement, jocular and relaxed before a large crowd, dismissed the negative statistics and delivered positive words and determined plans.
Wolfgang Clement wants to help promote the German music industry.
The government steps in
Referring to his long association with the conference, Clement called Popkomm "a 15-year-old child who is now reaching puberty." And like any child of this age, it will not look back at what has gone before, but will look towards the future. The anniversary event, he said, gave reason to look at the crisis in the music industry with a vision not of problems to come, but new challenges and new beginnings.
With the music industry closing ranks to protect itself against copyright infringements, musical piracy and depleting sales, and with most of Germany’s music infrastructure uprooting to Berlin in an attempt to establish a cultural capital in the geographical one, it is time for the government to step in.
In Clement’s opinion, the government is ready to do just that. Before unveiling the proposals that will no doubt be touted as the Berlin administration’s 7th Cavalry coming to the aid of the music industry, Clement delivered the grim, bare facts of the situation.
Music industry malaise
It read like a check list on a misfiring machine. The German record industry pulls in 15 billion euros a year for the economy. It is a major employer with over 100,000 people involved in the various aspects of the business. Plus, the music industry influences the economic well-being of a lot of associated sectors; media, fashion and retail to name but a few. But despite these facts, the German music industry has been left to spiral into a depression which has seen record sales slump by 11.3 percent and sales decrease by over 1 billion euros. Germany has dropped from the fourth largest music economy to the fifth over the last two years. Despite quoting the on-going battle with bootlegging, illegal copying and the general depressed state of the German economy as reasons for the current malaise, Clement moved his speech towards steps to combat the downward slide.
"People ask me what my concept for the music industry is. I have to be honest and say I don’t have one," said Clement. "But what we do have is a solid creative base to build on and we must rely on this." He added that the industry should embrace new technologies and the creation of new products.
Regulating Internet music exchange
If there is a need among the people to download music, he said, then this trend should be countered by offering alternatives. It was at this point that Clement announced that a draft agreement had been signed by German record companies to provide the world’s first regulated music download option the night before. "Let’s hope this is something concrete, not just on paper," he said.
Turning his thoughts to the artists and representation, he added, "Creativity, and its promotion, is key." The media, Clement said, has a responsibility to the music industry as one of its main partners to promote German artists and products. The frequently discussed radio quota, where German language songs and material from new acts would get more airplay on public radio stations, was mentioned as one way of aiding the industry. The radio quota "is not about nationalism, it’s about strengthening the position of the artists and giving them much needed access to a new audience."
Bringing his speech to a close, Clement made his boldest statements on the state of Germany’s music export industry, an untapped and unexplored area of potential growth. "Are we doing enough to promote our product? The answer must be no. We look back and we see many missed opportunities to form a specialized export office and a lack of a coordinated approach."
Exporting German music
Quoting a government report that states that the German music industry would benefit from an export office to the tune of 160 percent of potential growth, he added, "Let’s stop talking about it. Let’s start doing it. Let’s set this office up and talk about the money later. I propose that over the next few days we all work towards a first draft for an export office." And with applause ringing throughout the hall, Popkomm 2003 opened with its first good idea, with many hoping it would turn out to be more than just that.