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Music Industry

Electronic music industry relies on power of performance

The c/o pop festival began in 2004 as a means for Cologne to showcase its burgeoning electronic music scene. Eight years on, the festival - along with the music that fueled it - has had to adapt to a changing industry.

Woman with headphones

Downloads are one thing, but nothing can beat live performance

Germany has long been home to some of the world's leading electronic music producers - from the Dusseldorf-based electro pioneers Kraftwerk to the techno immigrants now flocking to Berlin.

But as music sales shrink around the world as a result of illegal downloads, those responsible for the sounds once considered "underground" have had to come out into the light to get help. In search of ways to earn a living as musicians without the sales revenues they once knew, artists and industry professionals have had to change their way of thinking about the way the music industry works.

That's where the c/o pop music festival in Cologne has proven especially useful.

What began eight years ago as a long-weekend festival meant to highlight Cologne's electronic music scene has become Germany's most important convention for the creative industry. Workshops that once focused on the latest technology for creating beats and blips now address maintaining copyright in a digital world and guerrilla social marketing tactics for artists.

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae headlined this year

The festival's also shifted in the last few years to bring in musicians of all genres from around the world. This year's headliner was Janelle Monae, a US-based soul singer, who played to a sold-out crowd.

The success of both the festival - with over 30,000 attendees last year - and the individual performances, many of which sold out, has proven by example that the music industry can still be profitable. Provided it shifts its focus toward live performances.

A worldwide market

With that in mind, the founders of c/o pop introduced a new networking event last year as part of the festivities. Europareise brought in concert and festival promoters from around the world and gave artists a chance to discuss bookings with them. This year, that meant that representatives from over thirty countries, including Russia, Iceland, Japan, and even Korea were on tap to talk to artists.

While new markets for techno music are opening around the world, however, the Cologne locals at Kompakt Records say that the demand for electronic music is still strongest here at home.

Jackie Reinhold, founder of the Cologne-based Traum record label, agrees: "The electronic music community is especially growing in places like China and India, but I'd say that Germany is still our biggest market."

Still, that market has shriveled, at least in terms of physical sales. The very computers that help create electronic music have contributed to its demise as file-sharing and illegal downloads have dried up sales. And that means a lot of revenue lost in a country that ranks third for music consumption. But it could also explain why digital sales still make up only 13 percent of sales in Germany.

"Vinyl sales have been going down since 2008 and digital sales have only started to increase," said Reinhold. "But digital is where we can make our money."

The beat goes on

Audio level indicator

It's an industry that demands constant creativity

As a result of the drop in revenue, Reinhold admits that her label has had to make tough cutbacks - eliminating staff and being more selective in their releases.

Traum has also shifted its focus away from individual DJ bookings to hosting their own "label nights" - events featuring several of the label's artists over the course of a night - in Cologne and Berlin. And that shift seems to be paying off.

Their most recent label night, promoted as part of the c/o pop off-site series of events, saw over 600 attendees.

"That's huge for us," said Reinhold. "And a real change from last year's dismal numbers."

For now, at least, it seems Germany's electronic beats (and blips) will keep going on.

Author: Courtney Tenz

Editor: Kate Bowen

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