On the morning of March 22nd, 22 music professionals boarded a Zurich-bound train at Vienna Hauptbahnhof. It an early start for some of them, no doubt, but it was worth it: they were on a mission. And so began Building Bridges: Mission Switzerland – an Austrian Music Export pilot project in cooperation with m4music and the Waves Vienna Conference & Festival. The goal: making contact and building long-term partnerships with the Swiss music industry.
En route to Zurich and m4music
The plan was to spend a day exchanging views with the group’s Swiss counterparts on the similarities and differences between the music markets in Austrian and Switzerland. What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a small country, with a larger (same-language) neighbor next door? We think immediately of Germany, but in Switzerland’s case this also applies to France and Italy. How do musicians and music professionals deal with the automatic impulse to gravitate focus on those bigger markets? What means, opportunities, and assistance for local growth are available? What role do national media play in this context, and – in contrast – what are the international agendas? What effect is the ever-increasing influence of multinational corporations having on the live market; how are they affecting smaller labels and their artists?
With this catalogue of questions, the travel group gathered in a train car shortly after the departure from Vienna. Moderated preliminary discussions were conducted, helping to define each participant’s relevant issues and questions. Seats were traded, and the group broke into four subgroups: “live”, “management”, “publisher”, and “label”. As the train rolled westward, the conversations got going.
The travel group included Anna Marboe (Anna Mabo), David Stecher (Little Big Beat Studios), Stefan Penz (Mother’s Cake / Little Big Beat Studios), Manuela Rauhut (Remise Bludenz), Benjamin Leingartner (Super Plus Records), Sarah Gerstmayer (Waves Vienna – Festival & Conference), Johannes Stöckholzer (unserallereins), Rebecca Zaradic (echopilot), Hans Zoderer (vulkanmusic) Stefan Weinöhrl (Waves Vienna – Festival & Conference), Magdalena Holczik (Medienmanufaktur), Paulina Parvanov (soda. mit himbeer), Antoine Perret (Off the Record) Katharina Glück (Feber Wolle), Theresa Langner (Morinoko), David Buder (Matches Music), Jürgen Distler (Bue Jay Music Publishing), Bettina Schöll (Öst. Musikfonds/Austrian Music Export), Franz Hergovich (Austrian Music Export), Ruth Ranacher (mica – music austria / Austrian Music Export), Hannes Tschürtz (Ink Music/Austrian Music Export).
The Music Market – Austrian & Swiss editions
10 a.m., Club Exile in Zurich: The smell of strong coffee and an atmosphere of anticipation were in the room as the Austrian delegates met their Swiss counterparts. After a round of introductions, Franz Hergovich (Austrian Music Export) offered an overview of the Austrian music industry and the value of music as a cultural commodity in the Austrian economy. Austrian Music Export, he said, is dedicated to the idea that art and business are not mutually exclusive – there is a clear interest in sustainable, high-quality culture production.
Jean Zuber from Swiss Music Export began his address by noting that “export” and “import” are intertwined concepts, making his point with concrete numbers: the populations of the two countries, for example, are very similar (though Switzerland is close to breaking the 9 million mark). The levels of cultural subsidies in the two countries are also comparable, and although Switzerland is generally more expensive, the retail price for LPs in the two countries is similar (25-35 Swiss francs to 20-25 euros; for more information on these subjects, see the study by the Zurich Centre for Creative Economies, a research center at the Zurich University of the Arts (https://creativeeconomies.com/).
Finally, as a non-EU member, Switzerland has a special status in Europe. Since Brexit, the divisions between EU and non-EU countries have become more sharply defined: Switzerland is excluded from the Creative Europe and Horizont programs, as well as from the Erasmus+ student exchange network – according to Zuber, these are clear disadvantages for Swiss culture production and research.
The Swiss delegation included Fabienne Bruttin (Universal), Patrick David (Two Gentlemen), Christian Fighera (Two Gentlemen), Claudia Jogschies (Musikbüro Basel), Claudia Kempf (SUISA), Stoph Ruckli (Other Music Luzern/Stoph Bjornson), Fabienne Schmuki (Irascible), Jannik Till (Tillride Music Management), James Varghese (Quiet Love Records), Jean Zuber (Swiss Music Export).
The Alpine Super League
Fresh back from the lunch break, the Austrian and Swiss delegates met up again in Club Exil. The big questions: what did they need to know about one another in order to successfully navigate the other country’s music market? How does business culture work in Switzerland, in Austria and globally?
The afternoon was spent in intensive discussion in four sub-groups. In each group, the question arose: why had there been so little exchange between the two countries to date? Might it be now possible to build a network for mutual support in music export? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to tap into local knowledge about the respective music scenes? It was very clear that both sides are interested in such a cooperation – but let’s let some of the delegates speak for themselves…
“‘Building Bridges: Mission Switzerland’ gave us a brief but intense look at the Swiss music scene. Despite the countries’ similar size, their music markets are different in a lot of ways. But there are also similarities, parallels, and a lot of the same strategic pitfalls – information that we should use in the future to foster a closer symbiosis.” – Jürgen Distler, Blue Jay Music Publishing/Ink Music
“The discussions showed that small indie labels like us and other music business representatives all face the same challenges. It’s sad, but also inspiring: so many people choose this profession, in spite of everything, because we all have the same passion: music. Personally, the dialogue gave me new ideas and helped me replenish my strength and motivation. We have to stick with it, be courageous enough to try out new things, and – most of all – work together with our colleagues to find ways to continue to pursue our passion for a long time to come.” – Rebecca Zaradic, Echopilot
“I’m really glad I was a part of ‘Building Bridges’. I found the many revealing discussions with colleagues from Austria and Switzerland particularly great. The showcase by Anna Mabo was of course an absolute highlight – it was wonderful for her, for me as her manager, and for everyone present that she had the chance to perform on the eve of the renowned Swiss festival m4music in Club Exil.” – Magdalena Holczik, Medienmanufaktur Wien
“The exchange with the Austrian delegates was also interesting and paved the way for possible collaborations, or even just for better connections within the branch. I returned to Vienna with a fascination for Swiss music culture, new friends…and a bit of a sleep deficit.” – Hans Zoderer, vulkanmusic
“The contact and exchange mission was a successful ‘getting-to-know-you’, but it remains to be seen whether this first date will lead to a relationship. That requires time and care from both sides.” – David Stecher, True Peak Sounds/Little Big Beat/Poolbar
How such a network could be structured and what is required will be the subjects of the next meeting, at Waves Vienna 2023. But the cooperation did result in a working title: say hello to the Alpine Super League!
Swiss Feedback Club & Austrian Heartbeats Showcase
After the successful round of discussions, the meeting progressed to the next stage: the Swiss Feedback Club, devoted to the exchange between labels and management. The participants were eager to compare notes, so the opportunity was ripe for professional discussions between equals…and over drinks after the presentations, the conversation began to flow.
The atmosphere grew more convivial as the afternoon turned to evening; it was growing dark as the group left the Feedback Club and returned to Club Exil, where the Austrian Heartbeats showcase was ready to kick off. Anna Mabo, BERGLIND, and Lou Asril performed their music before an audience of music industry professionals; at midnight, Lou Asril celebrated the release of his new EP with the remaining guests.
The next evening – Friday, March 24th – the m4music festival began in earnest; the program included the Austrian bands Leftovers and the “supergroup” My Ugly Clementine. People were lined up outside Club Exil, waiting for the concert. It looked like it was going to be a good night.
Waves Vienna was along for the ride! In 2023, the festival turns its spotlight on Switzerland: Austrian Music Export looks forward to welcoming our Swiss colleagues in September to the Waves Vienna Festival & Conference 2023. So look for the Swiss Music Export “Business Mixes” in the Waves 2023 program…and say hello to the Alpine Super League!
The decision to travel by train from Vienna to Zurich was a conscious one. The CO₂ consumption of our 22-person delegation was 471 kg; if the delegation had flown to Zurich, the trip would have generated an additional 2318.8 kg of carbon dioxide.
Translated from the German original by Philip Yaeger