English · Interviews

Interview with Björn Döring (Head of Project – Berlin Music Week)


What exactly is the ‘Berlin Music Week’ and how did it come into existence?

The Berlin Music Week was launched five years ago to give a platform to the local, national and international music industry in Berlin. Over these five years, it has evolved into a leading event – which is quite an achievement in a city like Berlin – with terrific concerts and events taking place every day. We combine two elements into a major five-day event: using the theme “WORD”, we organise the business platform for Berlin Music Week, which comprises high quality conferences, workshops, training opportunities, networking events and receptions.

The Postbahnhof conference and festival centre will host the two-day long WORD conference after the opening party Wednesday night. The slogan for this year’s conference is “Music Released”, which is divided into four supporting themes: with Music Interactive Tech and Start Ups, we want to take a look at the present and future of an industry that has weathered the digital revolution, albeit by undertaking tough measures. The fight for fair compensation and protection of creative achievements continues despite technological innovations and new business models. This is also the link to the second theme of Production Conditions for Pop Culture. Old and new revenue models will be discussed alongside the opportunities and difficulties facing a club culture that is being shaped by urban transformation. Recorded Music remains an important field, which we continue to represent in partnership with VUT – the [German] Association of Independent Music Companies – in the form of Indie Days. The theme of Diversity gives us the opportunity to take a look at music markets beyond established territories, such as the UK, USA and Europe, by presenting artists, cities and stakeholders from Africa.

Of course, you can’t talk about music without actually listening to it. Concerts, parties and events are part of the all-encompassing theme of SOUND. The best newcomers and future headliners of the next but one festival season take to the stage at the showcase festival, First We Take Berlin, which takes place in more than a dozen clubs throughout Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain on Thursday and Friday nights during Berlin Music Week. And it’s not just tour agents, festival organisers and A&Rs checking out the bands; First We Take Berlin is also a public festival, where a 20-euro ticket gets you into lots of clubs over two nights to see more than 100 bands – a real bargain for the public. At the weekend, Berlin heads for Tempelhof Airport, where the Berlin Festival celebrates the good old Berlin weekend tradition of a 48-hour nonstop party. Besides headliners like Woodkid, Moderat, Warpaint or the Editors, a good dose of Berlin club culture and art is also on offer. Techno legends Sven Väth, Digitalism and DJ Koze will rock the nights.

The Berlin Music Week came about as part of an initiative of various Berlin networks, including the Berlin Music Commission and the Club Commission, which needed an exchange and event platform to bring attention to their work and to make new contacts. The State of Berlin and the Berlin Senate Department for Economics, Technology and Research took up the baton and ran with it. The later wanted to develop it into a cluster event by combining various events, event organisers, initiatives and stakeholders, similar to events such as Fashion Week, the Berlin International Film Festival (even if this example is somewhat different) or the Berlin Web Week. The international driving force at the heart of this starting line-up at the time was the Popkomm music trade fair.

The ‘POPKOMM’ is internationally known. Has the ‘Berlin Music Week’ replaced it? What are the main differences?

In fact, Popkomm, during its heyday, was a global brand, competing with the MIDEM for the biggest music trade show in the world and showcasing the biggest stars every year, which generated extensive media coverage. But those days are over. The Popkomm’s best days were already behind it when it moved from Cologne to Berlin – and, unfortunately, it never really arrived in our city. The “market” of this international music/business event has changed drastically since then: several cities, regions and urban areas are establishing their own – often very similarly structured – events, which are all fighting for attention at home and from abroad. There are events focussed on specific genres such as WOMEX, Jazz Ahead or Classical Next. There are events that actively seek out regional niches such as Tallinn Music Week, and there are major events such as SXSW, which are trying to develop other areas of the creativity industry.

Berlin Music Week has not only managed to establish itself in this large pool of events, but also to hold its own with increasing success. We don’t compare ourselves to Popkomm – even if we took over their dates and function as a business platform. Whereas Popkomm was a traditional trade fair with exhibitors and large amounts of space, Berlin Music Week is a platform for meetings and the exchange of ideas. The “trade fair” only exists in the minds of the people and on the laptops of the participants, with their ideas and business models stored on their portable hard drives, both human and digital.

Another huge difference is our clear connection to Berlin. Popkomm, with its tradition and success, initially took a global view and tried to bring the relevant stakeholders to Berlin. For the local scene, it was as if a UFO had landed in the city for four days. The connection was missing. We start with the needs of the local stakeholders and give them the chance to shape the event based on their ideas. The curators and producers of our event’s themes all come from Berlin: newthinking communications and all2gethernow curate the conference, while the Hörstmann Group produces the showcase festival and the Berlin festival. Using calls for participation, we give stakeholders and artists the opportunity to play an active role in the conference and festival. With free accreditations for Berlin-based companies, we make it possible for numerous companies – which previously either couldn’t or wouldn’t buy accreditation at Popkomm – to benefit from the events at Berlin Music Week.

What were the main reasons that the “POPKOMM” had to deal with a revenue decrease?

Popkomm as a music trade fair suffered from all the same problems that the market for recorded music and the associated value chains suffered from. An industry that loses more than half of its revenue can’t be expected to continue to invest in costly trade fairs appearances or wild parties, the kind of image and activities a successful Popkomm characterised in the mid to late nineties. Companies are no longer willing to send the entire staff to a music trade fair, instead sending at most just one representative. Those who don’t react fast enough to these changes with a new offer will find themselves in the middle of a downward spiral of rapidly declining sales.

What did the ‘Berlin Music Week’ learn from these mistakes?  

Out with the old model. Out with the tired ideas of what constitutes “success” and what parameters are necessary to set to achieve it. Out and into the world of the unknown; because only by seeking out new and changing desires – which can and should inform this type of platform for the music industry – can you find new “customers”. We’ve completely shelved the model of a music trade fair that earns its revenue through the sale of booths and space. We want to and must achieve our revenue through the sale of accreditations and admissions, through sponsors, marketing services and public funding.

Where do you see the difference between the ‘Berlin Music Week’ and the ‘Reeperbahn Festival’?

As I mentioned before, we’re not interested in comparing ourselves. We set our own priorities and themes and always use the unrivalled diversity and appeal of Berlin as our starting point. No other city in Europe can make a better or more authentic claim to issues such as music start-ups or technology than Berlin. Berlin has major players locally, yet thrives on the unconventional ideas of the so-called Indies. And as a city, to which young people from around the world arrive every day to live and work, the theme of diversity is right at home. With these accents and with the legendary club culture, we make our own highlights. And these are what clearly set us apart from the other events.

What are the plans for the ‘Berlin Music Week 2014’? What can we expect?

Besides the themes for the WORD conference and the well-known music events I mentioned earlier, we are all very excited and curious about a new format: First We Take The Streets is an open stage festival that builds on a trend from the past few summers. Today’s best concerts and parties are happening in the streets of Berlin and are often spontaneous events. This is exactly the atmosphere we will bring to Berlin Music Week on Thursday and Friday when we set up several open stages between the Postbahnhof, O2 World and the clubs in Kreuzberg, where singer-songwriters, beatboxers, boomboxers and other mobile music innovators can perform. 

Why is it an absolute must for every professional to attend the festival?

Because Berlin Music Week is where they can experience the future of music.

How do you want the ‘Berlin Music Week’ to develop? What are your future plans? How could it look like in 2020?

We would like to develop Berlin Music Week in both directions: it should be both local and global at the same time. Our goal is to make the most important artists, companies and media in Berlin excited about Berlin Music Week so that they will be motivated to do their own projects, events and concerts during the event. Because when Berlin pulls together – which is not exactly easy in a city where the competition for attention and putting on the most memorable parties is fierce – we can create an event with a global reach, which, almost automatically, will make a big stir.

by Sara Shirazi

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