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Culture

Sing it Loud, Proud and in German

The German government and the music industry are in favor of a quota for German language songs on public radio in an attempt to revive the popularity of mother tongue artists and boost the creative economy.

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Herbert Grönemeyer is one of the few who gets radio play for his German songs

It used to be the cultural mandate of public radio stations to promote new music and to support the music industry in its own country. Radio DJ's were known as 'hit makers' for that very reason in the days before repeatedly regurgitated and commercially profitable playlists were forced upon them.

Now, by delivering a repetitive selection of songs chosen because of their popularity with the listeners and the all-important audience figures, the 'hit makers' have become mere 'hit players'. It now seems that the promotion of new music is secondary to the constant flow of successful songs, and the primary aim of the programs is to prevent the radio from being switched off between commercial breaks.

When 'popular' music means those songs which have been successful with audiences for the last few years and manufactured pop hits sold on the back of some television program or commercial, then the music industry is left with two unhealthy extremes: the old favorites on one side, the immediate throwaway hits of today on the other. Left withering in the middle is the diminishing support structure for new music.

Only 6 percent of radio time for German pop

In countries where the native language isn't English, this problem has been magnified. In Germany in 2001, there were only 11 German productions among the Top 100 Airplay Charts with the first German-language song ranked at a lowly 163. In that year, only six percent of radio airtime in Germany was dedicated to German-language rock and pop songs once the oldies and folk music were deducted. This meant that only every 17th broadcast title was a song sung in German - amounting to less than one per hour.

A study carried out by former Minister of State for Culture, Julian Nida-Rümelin, over a period between May 2001 and April 2002 showed that the use of German-produced material on the radio was between 10 and 20 percent of all airplay, while German language titles remained below ten percent. Of the 94 programs surveyed, only 51 managed to reach a five percent share of German language titles.

No Angels

No Angels are German but make hits in English.

The figures for 2002 and 2003 may show a slight improvement on this considering the influx of German soap stars who have released records and the popularity of shows such as Popstars, Pop Idol and Germany's Search for a Superstar -- oh, but wait! Nearly all of them sing in English, don't they?

50:50 aims to save German music

The German government and the German music industry have proposed to take the matter in hand in a belated bid to save native talent. The 50:50 radio quota states that every second title played should be a new song which is no older than three months. The artist should not have published more than two albums so far, none of which has yet reached 'gold' status. But the most important part of the quota proposal states that every second new title is to be in German.

And this is what gives the initiative its name: 50 percent of radio play should be new songs and 50 percent of those should be in German. This should increase the paltry six percent of German rock and pop being played on public radio to at least 25 percent. The quota is also designed to give new music a fair chance of being listened to, and possibly also being bought in the shops. As an upswing, the initiative may ultimately provide more innovative music which will find new listeners for the radio stations and win back the old ones.

It is a model that has been used to great effect in France. The radio quota there has been in operation for nearly ten years now. Instead of a fixed ratio, as in the German proposal, the French promote a percentage of new and French-language titles according to the type of radio program: the fewer the number of French titles suitable in the program's repertoire, the greater the number of new titles and vice versa.

French model a success

The French model has also shown that the long held belief that 'successful hits = successful radio station' is no longer relevant. The quota has actually proved to be a financial success replacing repetitive set lists, which actually turned off listeners and consequently turned away advertisers. Through varied play schedules it has brought the audiences and advertising income back to the stations. It has also succeeded in strengthening French radio culture by offering ambitious music programs which have helped the country's musical culture as a whole.

Der Mannheimer Soulsänger Xavier Naidoo

Xavier Naidoo used to sing in German, now he mixes in English lyrics.

The decision by the government and the music industry in Germany can be seen as a direct response to the failings of the public radio sector in fulfilling its cultural duty. Artists such as Xavier Naidoo and Herbert Grönemeyer consistently release material in the native language but the trend of German performers to push for a market further afield and release the bulk of their output in English has, for a long time, been supported by more and more radio programs.

Bid to build stronger cultural identity

The German music industry continues to develop a wide variety of music in difficult circumstances that is not presented at all on the radio. The quota is designed to bring those who sing in their German mother tongue to a wider audience and help build a stronger musical and cultural identity in Germany.

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