WAVES VIENNA CONFERENCE 2020: REVIEW (PART 1)

Waves Vienna Conference (c) Alexander Galler
Waves Vienna Conference (c) Alexander Galler

In September the WAVES VIENNA CONFERENCE 2020, organized by Waves Vienna and Austrian Music Export, took place for the 10th time. National and international music experts, label owners, bookers, and musicians met online and at the SAE institute Vienna for lectures, discussions and networking events. The article summarizes the panels “The Future of the European Music Eco System hosted by EMEE”, “Music Cities hosted by Vienna Club Commission” and “New ways of audience participation in music presented by Music Participation Days 2020”, that happened on 10. September 2020. 

PANEL: The Future of the European Music Eco System hosted by EMEE

“The COVID-19 crisis has a huge impact on the music eco system, that will certainly need a lot of support and smart ideas. EMEE, the European network of music export offices, invited representatives of the European Commission and the most active music networks to hear about their evaluations, ideas and initiatives.”

Speakers: Jake Beaumont-Nesbitt (IMMF/UK), Didier Gosset (Impala/FR), Susanne Hollmann (European Commission/DE), Corinne Sadki (Le Bureau Export/EMEE/FR), Elisa Thoma (Live DMA/FR)
Moderation: Franz Hergovich (Austrian Music Export/EMEE/AT), Nuno Saraiva (Why Portugal/EMEE/PT)

Kicking off with the kind of stop-start conference-call technical-problems the entire world has gotten used to in 2020, a talk questioning ‘The Future of the European Music EcoSystem’ couldn’t have felt more relevant. The drops in sound and lagging feeds are something they perhaps left out of Star Trek and Star Wars, but it’s a very real part of the struggle to get connected during the year of COVID-19.

Waves 2020 (c) Alexander Galler
Waves 2020 (c) Alexander Galler

Though it was the 10th edition of WAVES, “it feels like the 15th”, stated moderator Franz Hergovich (Austrian Music Export/EMEE) – the sole panellist physically present in the room. Hergovich explains how everything at this year’s WAVES had to be changed due to the pandemic, and lessons were quickly learned about how to present new acts under these alien new conditions. With that, an esteemed panel of 5 industry experts dotted around Europe – along with co-moderator Nuno Saraiva (Why Portugal/EMEE/PT) – beamed down from the projected Zoom chat behind Hergovich, and got the conversation rolling.

Representing the European Commission representative Susanne Hollmann opened with a detailed statement explaining the various ways in which the European Union is looking to support the music industry ecosystem, recognising it as one of the hardest hit during the unpredictable crisis of 2020. The Commission recognised that problems were endemic in the industry long before the pandemic anyway – this is a “chance to become more resilient”, said Hollmann; a chance to “partnership for creativity”. Projects such as Music Moves Europe (link: https://musicmoveseuropetalentawards.eu) are pumping cash into a wide variety of projects aiming to make the industry itself more resilient and future-proof, but the key focus is on supporting cross-border opportunities and to remove barriers for musicians wishing to work between nations.

A mixture of panic about the present and hope for the future persisted throughout the talk. According to Elisa Thoma of non-government musical network Live DMA, we are in “survival mode”, with her going on to emphasise the vital lifeline of government assistance to help poorly earning artists with the fixed basic costs of living. Didier Gosset of indie label network Impala reported from a side of the industry whose activities have barely let up during the pandemic (recorded music had no reason to halt, in comparison to live shows). “Labels have not stopped activities”, explained Gosset, yet they’re nonetheless suffering after an expected boom in streaming during the pandemic simply did not come. “The pandemic showed how the music sector is completely interlinked.” Elsewhere, Jake Beaumont-Nesbitt of the International Music Managers Forum described the imbalanced effects of hard times on new artists, while old artists can simply sit back and milk royalties from aging catalogues of cash cow hits. A lack of long-term asset security should put new artists right at the front of the line when assistance is given out.

In overall agreement that streaming is no replacement for live shows – either experientially or in terms of revenue – the panel clearly earmarked quick development of online streaming, and transparency around how to make it profitable, as the way forward. We need to think of music holistically, to think of it as a major part of the economy, to consider it as more than just performers, but as a sector of venues, taxi drivers, bars, clothes, and so on. It’s an area wildly different even from other cultural sectors, such as the movie industry – think of the one single stakeholder for a movie (‘producer’) versus the dozens if not hundreds of backers behind even a single musical project – thus new research is required, and brand solutions must be found. Pay-per-view? Direct artist sponsorship? Government supported artist income? The future of the music ecosystem is unclear, but as this panel agreed, it’s time to find out how to unlock it.

PANEL: Music Cities hosted by Vienna Club Commission

“Every city has a music scene. Each music scene defines a city. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Sound Diplomacy has developed a 9-point plan on how cities can strengthen this aspect. Setting focus on Vienna we will discuss about how music creates better cities and urban development for all of us.”

Speakers: Carmen Fischer (MA 7 /AT), Susanne Kirchmayr (Musician/AT), Johannes Piller (Booking Manager/Musician/AT), Shain Shapiro (Sound Diplomacy/CA)
Moderation: Martina Brunner (Vienna Club Commission/AT)

TED Talk alumnus Shain Shapiro is one of the leading voices when it comes to the subject of positioning music as a key function of the organisms that are cities. This talk titled ‘Music Cities’ went straight ahead with an introduction to the CEO of Sound Diplomacy, an organization at the forefront of advising cities as to how music and the ‘night time economy’ are key assets for cities to encourage, rather than necessary cultural activities to merely accommodate. “If we think differently, we can create a future that enhances our cities with music,” said Shapiro. To nutshell it, “a lot of people dancing means a lot of people working.”

Waves 2020 (c) Alexander Galler
Waves 2020 (c) Alexander Galler

The way Shapiro sees it, turning the tables on the music industry, recognising the value of the sector, and taking necessary city-level measures would benefit us all – music industry or otherwise. The sector’s current ‘victim status’, in a constant cycle of pleading for help, is simply not a viable long-term solution. It remains to be seen the extent to which digital solutions developed during the COVID-19 pandemic for musicians – live streaming concerts mostly – will persist in the future, but such solutions barely change the landscapes of our cities And besides, as Susanne Kirchmayr (aka long-serving Austrian techno artist Electric Indigo) put it, without the physical world of the music business the “happy accidents” simply are not happening. Practical solutions and smart thinking represent the path forward, such as multi-purpose music venues, with beneficial uses during the daytime to boot.

Johannes Piller, who has long worked as a booking agent for key Viennese clubs such as dasWERK, is insistent that the Austrian capital so clearly has so much more to offer than just the hight culture of opera and classical music for which it’s world renowned. Promoters, clubs, small venues, looking beyond the virus, Piller suggest they deserve all the help they can get from city authorities, attracting as they do countless tourists and visitors hungry to pump their Euros into the city’s nightlife. Removing blockages and providing protections for the work of promoters like Piller will surely only provide a net benefit to cities vying for the attention of hungry culture vultures scanning Europe for their next city break?

Waves Vienna Conference (c) Alexander Galler
Waves Vienna Conference (c) Alexander Galler

Representing the city of Vienna’s Cultural Department (MA 7), Carmen Fischer painted a picture of a City Authority itself grappling with the major crisis – but was quick to acknowledge the music sector’s special status. The city’s mayor is releasing additional packages to support clubs, and the opera and similar arts continue to get city support – in short Fischer assured the panel that in the short term, they’re being heard. “We need however” she said, “to make the scene more resilient. The role of tomorrow’s cities in nurturing rich, vibrant, and livable music scenes is taking shape – and Austria’s capital could be a great place to start moving forward.

PANEL: New ways of audience participation in music presented by Music Participation Days 2020

“Four domain experts and the audience discuss new ways of audience participation in music.See www.musicparticipation.com for all information about the panellists and how to participate as audience member.”

Speakers: Susanne Kirchmayr (Musician/AT), Susanna Niedermayr (Ö1/AT), Peter Reichl (Universität Wien/AT), Christopher Widauer (Wiener Staatsoper/AT)
Moderation: Oliver Hödl (TU Wien/AT)

It might come as a surprise, but this panel was planned to take place long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of music fans to swap live streams for live concerts in 2020. It actually makes a lot of sense though – ‘New ways of audience participation in music’ have been in need of further exploration for years, if not decades. Moderator Oliver Hödl from TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology) explains how his department is studying such “new ways of audience participation”, excitedly introducing four esteemed experts all present in person to discuss the subject. Peter Reichl from Universität Wien presented a stark contrast to much of the assumed wisdom, telling of how lockdown sent him into a personal spiral of studying music at home, listening intently and playing for hours unplugged from the global network.

Waves 2020 (c) Alexander Galler
Waves 2020 (c) Alexander Galler

Techno legend Electric Indigo however (aka Susanne Kirchmayr), told of the ecstatic outlet she felt playing in an empty club for a live stream (United We Stream), and how the relief she felt in front of a true live soundsystem simply couldn’t be replicated at home, despite the huge wealth of streams that exploded into existence throughout this year. “As a consumer, it was overwhelming!” Nonetheless, the live experience – in this case meaning a recorded show streamed while Electric Indigo manned a chat room during broadcast, ready to interact with and answer the audience live – certainly felt like something new. “It was really nice to just see your friends popping up in the chat room!” grinned Electric Indigo. It remained however, no replacement for the ‘real thing’. Live performance and recorded music are both only a part of the experience. While an update in the paradigm is certainly only round the corner, no option minus live performance or recorded music lies ahead.

Waves Vienna Conference (c) Alexander Galler
Waves Vienna Conference (c) Alexander Galler

Far from the sweaty dancefloors of European clubs, radio presenter of adventurous music shows on Austria’s Ö1 station Susanna Niedermayr seemed invigorated by the wealth of time presented by the lockdown. Working exclusively from home has been both a blessing and a curse to many, yet with the ready availability of near-studio quality recording at home, radio presenters such as Niedermayr found themselves able to engage with audiences and work with guests in a more uninhibited fashion than ever before. With an audience well-versed in the shift in quality that comes with ‘e-contextualisation’, a more DIY, individual-led approach to radio programming opens up all kinds of possibilities and loosens expectations. Guests ‘phoning it in’ from around the world suddenly become an exciting global network rather than compromise during ‘unprecedented times’.

Waves 2020 (c) Alexander Galler
Waves 2020 (c) Alexander Galler

Most vigorous in his argument though – and perhaps most enlivened by the experience of 2020 – was Christopher Widauer from the Vienna State Opera. Having invested some half a decade ago in setting up a service to stream opera performances, the infrastructure really paid off in 2020, seeing an 100-fold viewership increase to some 3 million streams (1 million of which alone were in China). Outside of pandemic times, the archive was already an exciting new arena for the Opera to explore – perhaps 2020 is simply the moment the aging institution was forced into action? Unexpected benefits throughout the opera/classical scene also include a sudden influx of new concertgoers from traditionally disinterested backgrounds, attracted to the likes of the Salzburger Festspiele by cheap and readily available tickets to locals (driven by closed borders and vacant open-air theatre seats). “Do we even want to go back to this normal?” asked Widauer. “This has seen our audience open up to a hugely varied audience! Is that public not ‘better’?” Despite their varied backgrounds, the panel are most certainly agreed that it’s finally the moment the heterogeneous music scene in Austria and beyond fully wakes up to the possibilities of digital.

Tristan Bath

Links:
Waves Vienna
EMEE
Vienna Club Commission
Music Participation Days