Waves Vienna Conference 2021 – Recap

What's up, Germany? Music Festivals beyond the Mainstream, hosted by Initiative Musik (c) Alexander Galler

2021 saw the 11th edition of the Conference at Waves Vienna, co-organised by Austrian Music Export and Waves Vienna.  Inspiring panel discussions, fascinating talks and exciting presentations were all part of the program. Which conclusion can we draw from the panels? Which problems are we facing currently in terms of gender equality in Europe? How are Gen Y music professionals changing the music scene in Ukraine? Who is behind German festivals such as Immergut and Fuchbau? And what have Slovakia and Brno to offer?

Day 1


What's up, Germany? Festivals Beyond the Mainstream

What’s up, Germany? Festivals Beyond the Mainstream

What’s up, Germany? Music Festivals beyond the Mainstream, hosted by Initiative Musik (c) Alexander Galler

Initiative Musik hosted the first panel on day 1 of Waves Vienna Conference at WUK and put the focus on “Music Festivals beyond the Mainstream”. Neus López, head of the department Export Grants & platform projects, invited representatives of four German festivals; Alex Härtel (Summer Breeze Open Air), Florian Zoll (Taubertal), Christoffer Horlitz (Fuchsbau Festival) and Friederike Tesch (Immergut). Whereas Summer Breeze Open Air and Taubertal are located in Bavaria, Fuchsbau and Immergut take place in the northern part of Germany. In terms of genre, history and size, the four festivals are vastly different.

Taubertal and Summer Breeze will celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2022 – what has changed during the past 25 years? “25 years ago, nobody was interested in showers at a rock festival!”, Florian Zoll jokes. “In all seriousness, though, a huge change is that music genres are not as relevant any more. You can be a metalhead and also enjoy a hip-hop concert. The audience became more diverse in that regard, and every year, we have new people in the audience”. Alex Härtel, representing the metal/rock festival Summer Breeze Open Air, nods agreeingly, but adds that the number of regulars that come every year and have been fans since the first edition is also high.

What’s up, Germany? Music Festivals beyond the Mainstream, hosted by Initiative Musik (c) Dino Rekanović

Diversity

When it comes to diversity, the festivals have different approaches. “We want a really diverse program, we want people from different background and with different vibes – it’s an important issue for the whole team”, Christoffer Horlitz says emphatically. Florian Zoll, on the other hand, claims that gender does not play a huge role in their booking, the music quality is more important. Summer Breeze even asked their audience in a feedback survey whether gender equality matters to them. The general answer was that they only care about the music. As Alex Härtel admits, though, the audience is 65% male. Therefore, the question remains whether the survey is conclusive.

According to Härtel, their line-up tries to be diverse not necessarily in terms of gender, but in terms of nationality: “In 2018, for example, we had a band from Malaysia perform at the festival, because they were so eager to play! They did not even want money or a hotel, they just wanted to play!”. Immergut Festival, on the other hand, has always been concerned with the topic of diversity and strives not only for a diverse line-up, but also diversity within the team behind the scenes, in organization, production as well as the tech crew.

Networking

For music festivals, especially for smaller ones, networking is a crucial topic. Friederike Tesch introduces the initiative Höme for Festivals, which wants to foster connections between festivals all over Germany. In fact, Höme invited in the past 80 festivals to organize a festival together, and they also hold workshops for festival teams about topics such as sustainability and diversity. “Especially during Corona, festivals got together and asked ‘How are you doing this? Where’s your funding coming from?’ and exchanged ideas, so there’s definitely something happening here”, Christoffer Horlitz further elaborates.

What’s up, Germany? Music Festivals beyond the Mainstream, hosted by Initiative Musik (c) Alexander Galler

The pandemic showed that there is a need for a comprehensive health and hygiene concept for festivals. With this in mind, Alex Härtel, his team as well as health experts developed a safe approach of how to organize events in times of a pandemic. The result is an infection-prevention-concept (“Infektionsschutzkonzept”) that can be applied to all kinds of events of various sizes. There seems to be nothing in the way of a great festival seasion 2022!

Introducing: Brno

Introducing: BRNO

Introducting: BRNO (c) Alexander Galler

The legendary, if not lesser-known city, just 1 and a half hours from Vienna, is Brno. With its population of nearly 400,000 and its lively student scene, including 145 different nationalities, the 2nd biggest city in the Czech Republic offers a great deal, and quite certainly much more than the global cultural sector actually knows. This is what the live audience and behind-the-screen streamers learned from the “Intro – Brno” panel at Waves. The scope of the city’s cultural reach was both affectionately and passionately described by five members of the Brno scene (Petra Braddock (Fair Prize Music), Marek Fišer (Councillor for Culture Brno City Municipality), Martin Kozumplik (Kabinet múz / SMILE Music), Lukáš Stara (FLÉDA), Milan Tesař (Radio Proglas), as moderated by Márton Náray (Czech Music Office/SoundCzech).

DIY alternative music scene

Among the abundance of info and highlights delivered by the panel, probably the biggest takeaway was the strength of the DIY alternative music scene in Brno. Noteworthy was the number of clubs which house not only a great deal of interesting and off-the-beaten-path music, but also provide community spaces with the aim of bringing artists and audience members, as well as locals and visitors together, at multiple levels. For example, Martin Kozumplik of Kabinet múz explained their community building efforts, in which they try to attract people not only from Brno, but from the entire region. Besides being a venue, they have also created a record label, as well as an in-house record store, which has aided vinyl sales for the musicians. Even more, they have also opened a vegan restaurant in the club, which has proven to be very popular. The innovation and vision are palpable.

Although everyone seems to agree that Kabinet múz and FLÉDA are the most important clubs in the city, there are plenty of others, secret or public, fixed or pop-up, all adding to the rich flavor of the city. Moreover, surprisingly some positive effects occurred via the corona crisis. That is, large, alternative spaces opened up to host events in order to provide safe conditions for concerts. And, as well, even some festivals were born out of the circumstances, which programmed only local artists and turned out to be highly successful.

Introducting: BRNO (c) Alexander Galler

Community

Brno also boasts a large number of coalitions and collectives. The sense of community runs deep in this little cultural mecca. The Ava Kollektiv is one which focuses on ambient and electronic music and tries to find venues in alternative spaces, as well as seek out international artists. Another is Resistor Sound Sessions, combining concerts with live recordings. Finally, a fairly new and highly successful initiative of the city is BACH (Brno Association of Music Clubs), comprised of 13 members, founded in 2019, acting as a communication vehicle between Brno music clubs and the city council. This has proved not only crucial, but pivotal in the efficiency and effectiveness of workflow between the two “sides”. Quite the inspiration.

Beyond coalitions and alternative music, Brno carries a notably strong tradition in classical, jazz and big band music. The first jazz university was founded not in the capital, but in Brno. The renowned Jazzfest Brno occurs yearly in the city. World Music Charts Europe (the oldest expert panel of world music) recently moved from Berlin to Brno. These are just a few examples of what makes Brno the cultural hub that it is, and as well, why it was named the UNESCO City of Music in 2017.

The panel ended with a quote delivered by Marek Fišer, the Councillor for Culture Brno City Municipality: “We say, Prague is the UNESCO city of literature because they are good at reading and writing. And Brno is the UNESCO city of music because they are good at drinking and singing.” Cheers to that.

Slovakia: The Music Scene Outside of Bratislava

Slovakia: The Music Scene Outside of Bratislava

Slovakia has a strategic position, located on the Danube – for a touring artist it is perfectly on the way from the west to east. This time, we skipped Bratislava and talked about what is happening outside of the capital city. What are the current venues, who’s behind them and what are they doing? Michal Klembara, host of the panel and chairman of ANTENA, network of cultural centers and organizations, invited three representatives from cultural centers all over Slovakia: Robert Blaško of Stanica Žilina-Záriečie, Patrik Richtárech of Klub Lúč and Milan Slama of CNK Záhrada.

Slovakia: The Music Scene Outside of Bratislava (c) Dino Rekanović

Stanica Žilina-Záriečie, former synagogue and railway station, is located in Žilina in the northwest of Slovakia. The cultural center organizes around 300 events every year, of which 40-50 are music concerts. West of Žilina, in Trenčín, Klub Lúč has been a center for live music since 1968. Finally, CNK Záhrada can be found in central Slovakia in Banská Bystrica. Similar to Stanica Žilina-Záriečie, CNK Záhrada hosts 350 events each year, 15% of which are concerts.

Now, what is the difference between cultural centers and music clubs? “Music is simply not the main focus, our most important objective is to build and support the community”, Robert Blaško states. Milan Slama adds: “We are also more of a community center. We promote a wide variety of arts. There’s also a difference in funding; music clubs are usually able to sustain themselves. We are funded by the Slovak art council”. Klub Lúč, one the other hand, is a center for performing arts, mainly music and theater.

Programming Diversity

When it comes to programming, the three cultural centers are rather similar. Each center has around five people who are responsible for booking artists. This leads to a big diversity in the program – at least up to a certain extent. “We really want to provide a diverse program, but it’s hard to build the audience for some genres, like experimental music”, Milan Slama admits.

CNK Záhrada thus has two different programs. One is designed by the center’s own booking agents, the other one relies on renting the center out to bands. “This way, we can gain the money to be able to book more independent, alternative artists”, Milan continues. For CNK Záhrada, it is crucial that artists coming to the center take the time to connect to the audience. “We would like the artists to not only share their performances with the audience, but also their time – for example by holding workshops”. A refreshing approach

Gen Y of the Ukrainian Music Industry

Gen Y of the Ukrainian Music Industry

Unique electronic festivals, emerging labels, revitalized music venues, online music marathons – it seems like gen Y industry professionals are profoundly changing the landscape of Ukrainian music industry. Let’s find out how ‘these millennials’ are becoming the game-changers.

Gen Y of the Ukrainian Music Industry (c) Dino Rekanović

Host Dartsya Tarkovska, co-founder of Music Export Ukraine and founder of the music consulting agency Soundbuzz, invited four representatives who work alongside her in establishing and supporting a young and vibrant music scene. Alisa Mullen is the CEO of Strela Agency for electronic music projects whose goal is to develop a European infrastructure of interactions between the actors in the Ukrainian electronic scene. Ivanna Havliuk is a member of the Closer team and the Bitanga Blood label. Serge Synthkey is a musician himself, but also the founder tutor and curator at “Module Exchange”, an innovative school for electronic music. Finally, Yurii Bazaka founded an underground cultural agency, kontrabass promo, and is the co-founder and executive producer of Intercity Live Festival.

GEN Y & the Zoomer Generation

“We are wearing a lot of hats and doing so much different work”, summarizes Dartsya Tarkovska after an introductory round. And she is correct. Instead of doing one job as it used to be the norm, the representatives of this generation, Gen Y, are involved with various projects in different capacities. If this generation of Ukrainian music professionals managed to change the scene to offer more exciting opportunities for electronic musicians and their fans, what is to be expected of the generation that is following? “Let’s face it, Zoomers are coming!”, laughs Dartsya, “what are they bringing to the table?”

Gen Y of the Ukrainian Music Industry (c) Dino Rekanović

Yurii Bazaka, avid fan of hyper-pop and trash-pop, claims: “It’s not necessarily about age, but more about the approach.” Ivanna agrees wholeheartedly: “They don’t care about norms and standards, they’re not afraid to do stuff differently!” What unites Zoomers, according to the speakers, is thus a certain DIY-aesthetic, lack of prejudices and an endeavor to break free from conventions. How they will change the music scene remains to be seen, but exciting times are ahead, that’s for sure!

Gender Equality in East & West Europe

Gender Equality in East & West Europe hosted by MEWEM

The panel hosted by MEWEM (Mentoring Programme for Women Entrepreneurs in the Music Industry) – “Gender Equality within the Music Scenes, in Comparison: East vs. West” – turned out to be one of the most riveting of the conference. Starting out examining the qualities specific to Eastern Europe with regards to gender (in)equality, but quite quickly steering into broad discussions on feminism, sociopolitical influences, empowerment and equity (or lack there of), the conversation was heated and impassioned, and raised a great deal of difficult, yet important issues and questions.

Gender Equality in East & West Europe (c) Dino Rekanović

Moderated by Itta Francesca Ivellio-Vellin (mica – music austria), the first set of questions invited the panelists – Nina Jukić (Musician/Don’t Go/AT/HR), Mascha Peleshko (Artist/AT/UA), Iulia Pop (Overground Music/RO) – to consider and express how their roots and experiences connect to gender-based issues, and if these geopolitical distinctions (East and West) are even relevant when it comes to such areas of discourse in 2021. When asked if the they consider themselves Eastern or Western European, there was more or less a unanimous “no”, with Nina Jukić putting it most eloquently: “the vision of East vs. West is maybe a bit obsolete. I see myself as both.” (As her statement travelled around the room, one wondered if it wasn’t echoing in many people’s minds about themselves or people they know, especially in a city such as Vienna, with a conference centered round the “Danube Region”.)

Gender Equality in East & West Europe (c) Dino Rekanović

The question of feminism

To the question of how feminism plays out in the panelists’ countries of origin, Mascha Peleshko heavily referenced the region’s history – especially the cold war, painting a picture of how the present is undoubtedly influenced by the past. She explained, “… looking at gender roles, they are still present. A performance of masculinity and femininity is still strong, and everything else is considered deviance.” Moreover, she continued, “There is still a negative connotation to ‘feminism’ in Ukraine. Because they (note: women) say, ‘but I don’t feel oppressed’,” indicating a perceived offensiveness to the term, itself, among women, themselves. She ended with a quote: “If you want to find out how misogynistic a man is, you just have to disagree with them respectfully and see how he reacts.”

Iulia Pop added, “During communist times, women had to wear so many different hats. They had to be mothers, go to work, be social, etc. Even though communism is over, this is still true today. The patriarchy has not forgotten all the things that women did. All the boxes that women should check have become even more.” She continued, giving the example that in the music business, she doesn’t see women who have both a really successful career and a family.

Nina Jukić affirmed the others, explaining in Croatia, “it’s the same story.” She added, however, another layer. Namely, music education – explaining that there were no pop, rock, jazz, electronic, etc. music schools in Croatia when she was still there (about a decade ago). Only classical music education was available. That being said, since the early 2000’s, the Croatian music scene started to change. “Women started doing more and more of their own things. Indie started to really come up. Things are getting better.”

The question of quotas

All the panelists agreed that having role models in the field are highly important. The example of “certain instruments being gendered”, like drums and music production or sound engineering, and thereby inhibiting non-males to choose them for their musical paths was poignant one. Itta Francesca added how important the role of education is here, as well as dealing with monopolies over boards, juries and institutions who ultimately decide who gets funded and who doesn’t, for what roles and which capacities. Not surprisingly, the question of quotas and their value was raised. To that, Nina’s response was once again on point: “We do not need such measures in an ideal world. But we are not in an ideal world.”

Gender Equality in East & West Europe (c) Dino Rekanović

One of the final remarks came from an audience member, taking note that although this discussion is great, unfortunately, looking into the audience he noticed there were very few male participants to witness it. This was a sobering remark and its echoes rolled despondently through the room. Simultaneously, however, there was a sense of empowerment with it as well. That the space created here was one of honesty and proactivity, and that one can only win a battle if they know what they’re up against.

The panelists and audience members alike left the room feeling inspired, invigorated, and ready for change, while, simultaneously, knowing the fight is long, tough and messy, and will continue to be so. If there is one takeaway from the talk it’s that: the struggle is as real as it is universal, but so is the progress and the will to fight.


Day 2

Hungary: Gender Equality in the Hungarian Music Industry

Hungary: Gender Equality in the Hungarian Music Industry

The second day of Waves Vienna Conference 2021 started with the same topic with which the first day ended: Gender Equality. This time, however, instead of discussing the broad subject of gender equality in east and west Europe, the panel focused on Hungary. It isn’t an exaggeration to claim that gender disparities and underrepresentation of women are deeply embedded in the structure of the Hungarian music industry. Beside the Western European pioneers, Hungary is a latecomer with no more than vague notions of the problem. In this panel, outstanding professionals shared their first-hand experience and proved that minor but conscious steps can one day add up to a balanced and inclusive music scene.

Hungary: Gender Equality in the Hungarian Music Industry (c) Dino Rekanović

Host of this panel was Lucia Nagyová from Hungary’s music export office Hungarian Oncoming Tunes (HOTS), who invited Vera Jónás (Vera Jonas Experiment/HU), Balázs Varga (Fekete Zaj Festival/HU) and Judit Vincze aka Zsüd (imPRO School/HU) as speakers.

Right at the start of the panel, the speakers emphasized the importance of discussing gender equality in Hungary, a country in which politicians promote and support traditional values and beliefs. “I grew up in a very progressive household and was always told that I can do anything”, claims musician Vera Jónás. However, when she decided to become a musician, she had to realize that the creative field is not one that makes it easy to succeed as a woman.

Hungary: Gender Equality in the Hungarian Music Industry (c) Dino Rekanović

Balázs Varga agrees, and adds that the same is true for the business sector of the music industry. There are two music business schools in Budapest, at which many women study, but rarely do they become decision makers.  One of the reasons is that men do not take women in the music business seriously – they often even refuse to talk to female representatives, according to Lucia Nagyová.

Lack of respect

“Female stage managers are frequently ignored by musicians and the tech crew – they often call me when they have questions although I don’t know anything about stage stuff!”, says Balázs, who regularly has to redirect musicians to the (female) stage manager. “People always call me secretary”, continues Judit Vincze – they can not imagine a woman in a different professional position.

One way to change the current situation would be to include quotas, especially when it comes to festival programming. However, all the participants of the panel agree that Hungary is not ready for quotas. “It’s too early for Hungary – there are not enough female musicians, yet”, Balázs comments. Judit even claims, that she would not want to be booked solely based on a quota that needs to be fulfilled: “I want to be booked because I am a great musician, not because I happen to be female!”

Instead of quotas, what is needed in Hungary is more communication, more support and more feedback and evaluation. Mentoring programs would also be very welcome according to the panelists. Most importantly: “Don’t copy and paste your line-up! Diversify it!”

Fair Streaming – the Artist Growth Model, hosted by VTMÖ

Fair Streaming – the Artist Growth Model, hosted by VTMÖ

The UK-Austrian panel, “Fair Streaming – the Artist Growth Model” hosted by Alexander Hirschenhauser of VTMÖ (Association of Independent Labels), was centered around the notion of fair splits when it comes to streaming income. The key concept, around which the discussion cycled, was a distribution model founded in the UK called: the “Artist Growth Model” (AGM), which redirects parts of streaming royalties from the most successful artists in the direction of up-and-coming ones. Paul Pacifico (AIM CEO –Association of Independent Music/UK) presented this model by first painting a picture of the status quo and why it needs changing. As he argued, “We live in a tale of two music industries,” by which he means that just as the discrepancy between rich and poor continues to widen in most economies around the world, so is the case in the music business. Big companies have never made such astronomical profits, and the small players (emerging or middle-level artists) have never had a harder time even making ends meat. The dichotomy is disastrous, as he explained.

The “Robin Hood model”

Given this, he proposes a “Robin Hood model” – that is, taking approximately 1% off the top of earnings, thereby allowing more revenue to flow to lower earners. Essentially, some form of a ‘musicians’ tax,’ as Michelle Escoffrey (Singer/Songwriter, PRS for Music Members’ Council/UK) aptly noted. And, from the perspective of a musician herself, the comment came with explicit skepticism, expressing real concern about the idea that she, a hardworking musician, and many like her, would have some of her hard-earned profits taken unfairly away. Moreover, she expressed, “I want to know that this is really going to help musicians, increase diversity, help niche artists, etc. What part of that pie is the singer-songwriter going to get? How does this benefit songwriters and composers in the end?” Christina Bachler (Artist, Music Management Specialist, Activist/AT) had similar questions, challenging the concept on how it is really a “Robin Hood” model and a genuinely socially effective initiative.

Fair enough questions.

Heeding the concerns respectfully, nonetheless, Pacifico went on, stating that he believes the AGM is one that indeed will create a clearer and fairer scenario for musicians and the market, and genuinely help diversify it. “This model is one you can sit on top of any other system.” In defending the “Robin Hood” aspect, he said, “I am actually a fan of taxation. I believe the rich need to pay into the system so we have equity in society. And there is no difference in music society.” He provided evidence to the alternative. “We looked at publishing and how the AGM could potentially fit into it. With publishing, it’s an all or nothing model. Either earn on a hit, or don’t. And yes, you deserve to get paid for your work, for your hit. But what about the 10-20 years that led up to that hit?” Essentially, how to do we bring financial support to the people making their careers, not just the ones who have made it.

Supporting diverse artists at diverse levels

With this model, Pacifico is interested in moving away from the current monoculture, led by monopolies, but rather, creating an ecosystem where more diverse artists at diverse levels are supported and welcomed. He went on to explain that there are so many funnels which take away big chunks of artists’ revenues. Who are the real winners in the current system? Who are the losers? And is it a healthy balance? Pacifico would argue: categorically not. “We have to find a way for the top 1 % to pay back more because they are taking away too much from the system. I would say, the current situation is “fair”. It’s winner takes all. But there are different definitions of fair.”

In closing, Pacifico admits, “We don’t have all the answers yet,” for example, the right dose of ‘compression’ or taxation amounts to make it work. To the question, “Will it make everybody happy?”, he confesses, “No of course not. But I think it will make more people happy. There is no silver bullet to cure the music industry. We do believe though that the AGM would add diversity, and support up-and-coming artists.”

Croatia: Global Festival Promoters vs. Local Music Scene

Croatia: Global Festival Promoters vs. Local Music Scene

For the panel discussion entitled, “Croatia: Global Festival Promoters vs. Local Music Scene,” with speakers, Sanja Ajdinovski (Outbox j.d.o.o./HR), Vedran Meniga (Pozitivan ritam/HR), Morana Periša (Fortress of Culture Šibenik/HR), led by the moderator, Edo Plovanic (muzika.hr/HR), many interesting questions about the local markets and international exchanges were raised, and insightful answers were provided. For example, given that many festivals in Croatia are run by international companies focusing mostly on international audiences (tourists), how has this impacted the local scenes? Do local players see these events as competitors taking away opportunities from their home market, or do they cooperate with the international events and benefit from it? Did these events help in shaping a positive image of Croatia as a (dance-) music country, or help in building an international network? And how is the infrastructure for local acts to go abroad, and for international acts to enter the Croatian market?

Panel Discussion at Waves Conference 2021
Croatia: Global Festival Promoters vs. Local Music Scene (c) Alexander Galler

When it comes to working with international partner festivals and corporations, Vedran Meniga of Pozitivan ritam explained, in Croatia you can either sell yourself as a service, or keep your position as an equal partner. He and his company have chosen the latter, wanting to remain independent and run the festivals 50/50, “which is, of course, the harder way. But it’s better for the local scene.” When asked about his collaboration with UK partners working with him on his own turf, for example, Meniga explained, “everyone has their roles and their knowledge. For example, the UK festival has much more experience, however, in the UK, everything is flat and soft. But in Croatia, everywhere is uneven and hard.” A tangible example of how local knowledge is vital when it comes to export and import, and how expertise must be respected and exchanged in order to heed the best results.

Croatia: Global Festival Promoters vs. Local Music Scene (c) Alexander Galler

Global Music Awareness

A significant topic of the discussion was about festivals in Croatia in general, which have really brought the country into the spotlight of global musical awareness. Moreover, Croatian festivals play a very important role for export, in their promotion of Croatian artists who could potentially play abroad. Finally, the question arose about the feelings of Croatians towards music tourism and the tourists themselves. To this, Morana Periša answered: “It depends. But mainly they are happy to have this exchange.” Meniga added, “Ten years ago the locals were super angry at festivals for coming in and invading their towns. But they learned that it also benefited them. They earn very good money with them. And they feel they are part of the festivals, as well.” The business opportunities that music festivals offer to Croatia and the economic impact they have cannot be underestimated.

Croatia: Global Festival Promoters vs. Local Music Scene (c) Alexander Galler

To the audience question on how international figures can collaborate with the panelists, Meniga answered, “Well, with three decades of experience, I have hosted many international bands.” Periša affirmed that it’s about the long-term relationships formed over time. Meniga added that, “often we’ve done international exchanges – 1:1. We take international bands and send Croatian ones over. We just had the problem that we don’t have the same economic standards in Croatia, and therefore we couldn’t pay as much.” This brought us to another real issue with regards to music export, import and exchange in Croatia, and that is: money. Vedran continued, “The economic circumstances (of Croatia) have to be accepted by the artists and bookers.” Not an easy scenario. However, as Edo explained, “some festivals or events invite stars. They can’t offer big fees, but they can offer Croatia. They can offer a holiday and the experience in this beautiful country.” There’s no question, Croatia does have a lot to offer. And the creative and strategic solutions the music market has found to work with its resources, is something every country and market could learn from.

Serbia: Introducing

Serbia: Introducing

The panel, “Serbia: Introducing,” carried out by Milena Nikitović (Serbia Creates/Music Export Serbia/RS) and Martin Cuff (Advisor to the Prime Minister for Creative Industries and Tourism/RS) gave a thorough and wide-ranging overview of where Serbia’s culture and arts sector once was, where it currently stands, and how far it’s come. As presented, Serbia is known for its love of live music. Quite remarkably, the creative industries contribute 7.4% to the Serbian GDP. This figure has grown a lot in the last years. Notably, women and young people make up a large part of that number.

The presentation also focused on music education, which is a pilar of the music industry in Serbia. Music education is free across Serbia, demonstrating the high value put on equity in the country. As explained, there is a fantastic network of music schools with high quality faculty which, in large part, accounts for the strength of musicians in Serbia.

As further explained, the Serbian music industry has many strengths, including having export-ready music acts in various genres, diversity in products and services, a thriving alternative scene, strong English skills, music education as a growing industry, TV talent shows which provide work for musicians, a good number of music festivals, and, in general, a very strong live sector with lots of venues.

Small market with great potential

Still, as was presented, there is room for improvement. For example, music expertise is a new field in the country and needs tackling. There are lots of music production studios, but their quality can at times be lacking, and songwriting skills also need support and improvement. Moreover, in many instances, music is treated as a hobby, not a real job. The music market is small, and there are weak representative bodies for musicians. There are plenty of associations, but they need to be more effective.

Martin Cuff, the Advisor to the Prime Minister on the Creative Industries and Tourism, is the force behind the program “Serbia Creates”, launched in 2018. The platform serves many purposes, some of which are: to allow creatives of all kinds to be able to make money and live a good life, provide export services, promote new messages, conduct mapping and statistics, create networks and alliances, provide infrastructure, support policy and legislation, enhance tourism, empower regional connections and development. He spoke about the importance of branding and emphasized the need for a platform which harnesses the nation’s creative power, which was previously lacking. Moreover, he convincingly argued the potential for the arts and culture sector to be driving forces of the economic health of the country at large.

The picture was clear: there is a great deal of exciting things happening, and a lot more to do in Serbia when it comes to music and culture. Let’s see what unfolds in the near and distant future.

 

To watch the recorded live streams of all the Waves Conference events in full, go to the Waves Vienna Youtube channel.

Arianna Fleur Alfreds & Itta Francesca Ivellio-Vellin