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Culture

Pushing for More Pop 'auf Deutsch'

English-language music dominates the airwaves in Germany. But some are calling for a radio quota that would force stations to play more German songs, saying it would help homegrown artists and the local music industry.

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Herbert Grönemeyer sings in German, but he's one of the few.

Take a stroll down the radio dial in Germany and you might get confused about what country you’re in. News and talk is in German, mostly, but the music is overwhelmingly sung in the language of Shakespeare or, rather, a rock or pop version of it. Ask any German young person what they like to listen to and it’s far more likely they’ll know latest song by American pop music idols Justin Timberlake or Christina Aguilera than releases by German acts.

No Angels nehmen Abschied

Girl group "No Angels"

Now a coalition of artists, music industry representatives, economists and self-styled defenders of the German language are now saying enough is enough and that it’s time that the German radio landscape became a little more Teutonic. They are demanding the introduction of a music quota for radio stations that would require their deejays to play 40 percent German music—less Britney, more Nena (photo).

“There are many talented people in Germany who often sing in their mother tongue. But it looks as if there are fewer and fewer radio stations that are prepared to fit them into their programs,” wrote Gerd Gebhardt, Chairman of the German Phono Association, on his organization's Web site.

“Love” not “Liebe”

The amount of German music on German radio is miniscule. On pop music stations, only 1.2 percent of the songs played are in German, or about one in a hundred. Among public broadcasters, who are seen in Germany as having a cultural duty to fulfil, the numbers are slightly better, but not by much. German-language pop and rock makes up just six percent of their playlists.

“No other country in the world is so indifferent towards its language as Germany,” said Gebhardt. “German-language music urgently requires platforms where it can be presented to its audience.”

The call for more Musik on German radio is more than just a paroxysm of national pride. According to quota proponents, there are economic reasons behind it. Besides the big conglomerates like Universal or the Bertelsmann-owned BMG, most of the music sector in Germany is made up of small and medium-sized enterprises. They are the ones who suffer when the German-language artists on their labels don’t get airplay. A lack of radio time means these homegrown artists remain largely unknown to the larger public. Their CDs gather dust on store shelves and smaller production companies watch as insolvency looms.

Nena in der Schweiz für Frauengalerie

Nena

This market phenomenon has also pushed many German artists to forego their native tongue all together. Popular acts like No Angels (photo), Bro’sis, and Jeannette Biedermann all sing in English. Only a few well-known artists, like Ben and Xavier Naidoo, choose to croon auf Deutsch.

“It’s simply impoverishment,” German songwriter Reinhard Mey, who is among the most vocal proponents of the quota, told the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. “There is no way getting past putting a quota system (in place),” he said, which would provide badly needed assistance to a cultural and economic sector that is being drown out by “Anglo-American mass production.”

French example

Proponents point to their western neighbors, the French, who implemented a quota system eight years ago, which requires stations to play 40 percent French music including 20 percent new artists or new releases.

“France has shown us very clearly how such a system can work. Since the introduction of the 40 percent quota in 1995, the French music industry has seen sales increase markedly. At the same time, the German music industry has lost a quarter of its market,” said Mario Ohoven, president of the Federal Association of Small and Medium-Sized Companies.

The French government, which has a tradition of vehemently protecting its cultural players and institutions, has helped in other ways to increase domestic music sales. French artists receive social security, unemployment benefits, and subsidies for touring and rehearsal spaces. A 3.5 percent tax is levied on all concert box office sales and the revenue is used to support new artists, the export of music, and even the purchase of new equipment for artists.

Public wants it

According to the German Language Association, which is an advocate for both more German on the radio and fewer English words in German, the public is ready to hear its own artists and its own language on the airwaves. A poll that was conducted in April of this year found that 62 percent of those asked want more music with German lyrics. They aren’t alone. Across the world, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry points to the emergence of new sales patterns, with the sales of American artists beginning to decline across the world. While 93 percent of sales in the U.S. market come from domestic artists, in 2001, sales of local repertoires across the world grew to 67.5 percent.

This shift in buying patterns has caused other broadcasters to change their music strategies, even without quotas enforced from above. MTV Asia has begun shunning international acts to play up to 90 percent domestic music in each of the countries in which it broadcasts.

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