Music Moves Europe : Barbara Gessler Interview

5 min read

Music Moves Europe : Barbara Gessler Interview

While the European Union mostly gets headlines in the music press with the ongoing copyright reform and its impact on the Great YouTube vs. The Music Industry Battle, people working in the European music industry certainly know at least a few initiatives, platforms, networks funded by the Creative Europe programme of the EU. Perhaps the most well-known is the LiveEurope platform that helps up-and-coming artists to cross borders.

But, in the next few years, the EU may get even more involved in music. In 2015, Creative Europe started a series of dialogues with people from all parts of the music business: labels, authors, promoters, festival organisers, managers, start-up founders, etc. (Europavox is also part of those dialogues.) And that in itself is something to celebrate, as a lot of them don’t normally talk to each other. The aim of these dialogues is to see if there’s a need for more involvement in the music industry at an European level, and, if that is the case, then help to identify the points of action and the tools needed for it.

The name of this series of dialogues is Music Moves Europe, and on its website you will find, for example, The AB Music Working Group Report, the summaries of meetings held from December 2015 to June 2016, covering topics like data and metadata, education and professionalization, mobility and support for start-ups, each with a set of problems and also ideas for “the EU toolbox.” It’s recommended reading for anyone interested in the music industry. If you take a look in the start-up section and you will find the idea of “a sandbox of rights”. An idea that wants to concentrate music rights in one place for a limited time for start-ups to test their business models. That same idea popped up more than one year later in a report on blockchain by Music Ally.

Music Moves Europe is presented at various music industry events, conferences, showcase festivals. It had a four-days programme at Midem in Cannes, where I attended a few talks and panels. The idea that spending the taxpayer’s money in a way that is really useful is not revolutionary (and it really requires a lot of thoughtfulness and preparation), but it really was impressive to see it work in reality. I even skipped some (presumably quite energizing and colourful) start-up pitches to hear people talk about the complexities of accounting with participants from different countries with different rules for VAT payment.

I also interviewed the head of Creative Europe, Barbara Gessler, about Music Moves Europe, starting the most basic question.

What is Music Moves Europe?

Music Moves Europe is a series of dialogues that the European Commission launched when it started to realize that, while with the current instrument that we have, Creative Europe is potentially reaching many music organizations, there’s still a lack of targeted intervention that would help the music industry develop its already existing or recovering strength. In the dialogues with the stakeholders in the sector, we wanted to see if there are gaps that would be relevant to tackle at the European level, to support the music industry further. Because we believe it’s our instrument for cultural diversity, the representation of our cultural richness, but it’s also a very interesting economic sector, with many jobs, that is also at stake in Europe. This is why we started this dialogue at the end of 2015. There were several working groups that tackled various issues.

So can we expect a new funding system, maybe with the same name?

We are trying to find out if there’s a need, and if there’s a political willingness to launch a more targeted sectorial instrument for the music industry. On our side, this willingness certainly exists. I personally think that the title “Music Moves Europe” is quite nice, because it also speaks to your emotions (“moving” in terms of emotion). Music is something that speaks to people’s hearts. At the moment there’s a momentum for this, because people are a little bit alienated from Brussels, we can see that, and with music we could actually recreate links with the citizens, as it’s very close to people’s hearts and minds. At the same time of course we can’t forget the economic impact of the sector. So it could be potentially the name of a new of the program, but we have yet to see if such a program would see the light of day.

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What were the specific things – like maybe some inefficiencies – that made you think you should start this dialogue?

The music sector has been recalling that the Media program that is aiming at the film industry is now in its 26th year. That’s a specific industry-related instrument at the European level. The music sector has been highlighting this towards the Commission, and also towards their other institutions. We can also see that, at the national levels, more and more governments are developing initiatives in favour of their music sector, because they also see what we can see: the music sector’s economic and cultural and cultural impact.

So in these dialogues we tried to bring together the people of the sector, which I think they were quite grateful for. A lot of different the players that  talked to each other don’t necessarily always do that. The music sector is one which is organized in a very industrial logic. There are certain interests at certain points of the creative value chain.

So far, Creative Europe hasn’t intervened in specific areas. At the moment, the focus is on cooperation, on partnerships across borders, it’s still very much bottom-up. There are many good, innovative music projects that we are able to fund, tackling priorities like, for example, audience development, crossborder mobility, capacity building, the development of new business models. So we have these projects and also platforms that already exist, but we don’t have an instrument that intervenes in a targeted way at certain links of the creative value chain.

We realized that maybe something would be needed to support this economy which is particularly relevant in Europe, because it consists of a lot of small and medium enterprises. Of course we have a certain dominance of certain global players, that’s not to be denied, but the core business of Europe, and the power of Europe, is in small and medium enterprises, not only in the music sector, but in lots of other areas as well. And we believe that the industry could gain even more strength with targeted boosts here and there, and with the current program in its current form,  this potential can not be used. This is why we believe that there may be this window of opportunity now to develop a specific music program that targets the music sector, just like we have one for the film sector.

Can you tell me a few of those areas identified so far that needs targeted intervention?

One thing is obviously would be the area of distribution. If you look at Europe, we still have a very fragmented market – that’s true for culture in all its aspects. We don’t use the full potential for the market, that we have 550 million potential listeners for music. We have to make sure that there’s the European added value, which is always helping crossing the border, so the audience would be able to listen to artists from an other country, and the artist to develop audience in another country.  We already have the European Border Breakers Award, that the European Union has been funding for a long time now, which helps emerging artists, just successful artists to cross borders.

But that is just one part. We are also looking at distribution from the point of view of technological developments, in terms of streaming, the discoverability of European content. It’s still difficult to discover European music outside your country. You tend to listen to the music of your own country, and, of course, you will listen to the Anglo-American repertoire that we all know. These are also the things that you’re automatically led to. So we think there’s something to be done in this respect. But we don’t want to forget either the live distribution, which is a more personal and human access, a more immediate, emotional way of creating a relationship between the artist and the audience.

There’s also the aspect of talent development. We believe there’s a lot of talent in Europe that could use some boost. There’s also the aspect of development and capacity building and training. How do you help artists to construct their business in the music industry, how do you help them to find their ways — always with a European perspective. We’re not there to do what other levels can do, at a local, regional or national level, we always have to look at what does Europe have to do. We’re acting in the area of what we call subsidiarity, that’s to say we can only do at the European level what is not better done at any other level. This is why we have to always make sure that the element of mobility, of crossing borders is always there. And of course we also want to look at the international dimension, because Europe has something to show outside Europe. We are already broader now, in the Creative Europe program we are open to other countries outside the EU. But we believe there are also other markets in the proper sense that could be developed. We are now in the legal phase of this, we have the text at the European level that recognizes the power of culture in international relations. Music is a very fine instrument to promote this European aspect.

But these are just elements at the moment that we’re trying to explore over the next years, before we have to make a proposal for the future generation of programs.

Can you give me a timeline for the coming years?

Our current program runs until 2020, so we’re talking now about 2020-21 and onwards. The Parliament launched the request for the preparatory action, and the decisions about that will take place in the Parliament in the autumn. Then we will see if we get the possibility to develop something further. By the end of 2018, we will probably have to have the text ready, because then the institutions have to go through the decision-making process, and it takes time. If you want to be ready by 2020, you need to calculate backwards. Not everything is clear at the moment, there are a couple of challenges that may challenge the timeline.

The next two and a half years are decisive, because now we have to see where can we help step up certain positive developments that are already happening, or address certain gaps where we need intervene on the European level. In the next year and a half, or two years, we will have to decide exactly how this will look like. We need to develop what what we call the intervention logic: how do you do it, do you give grants, do you work with financial instruments… We know there’s still the threat to all creative industries that banks don’t understand the way the sector works, because it’s often immaterial ideas that you can’t see, it’s not something you can put on the table, saying “this is what I wanna do”. We already do this, we have the financial guarantee instrument, and I think we also need to develop this further, using the leverage effect of investment via loans and guarantees. So developing certain intervention is crucial to make this really a useful program.

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Christian Ehler (member of the European Parliament) said in his introductory speech that creative industries provide the key to the competitiveness of the European market. He used the example of a French bag: you buy it not just because it serves its purpose effectively, but also because you want to express yourself. How does music come into this framework? It seems to have a more indirect effect on the markets (outside the music industry itself, of course), than for example fashion.

Yes, of course, because you can’t touch it. A dress is based on creativity and design, but in the end it’s something that you will wear. Music is also a product, as we all know, but it’s also much more than that. It’s a reflection of a certain culture, a tradition, and you’re right, it’s more indirect. But we believe music has a certain power. It’s organized in a more industrial logic, at least the rock and pop sector, also maybe jazz, a little bit less the classical music – but it’s true that it’s more immaterial. But it speaks to people. Everybody listens to music, so there is something there that we need to grasp. And we believe there’s so much that we don’t know, outside of our national borders, that we would like to help people getting to know each other. At the moment Europe is not in a perfect shape, and having something that speaks to people, particularly to young people, is important. If you look at the thousands who flock to festivals, that’s really impressive, and they don’t need to ask each other “where are you from”, they will get to know each other, and what unites them is this common interest for music and for these bands, and the enthusiasm they share.

I think we can help create a little bit more togetherness and a common social basis. Our director-general, Martine Reicherts uses the phrase “European Renaissance.” We will have to look again a little bit more at the citizen’s aspects of our policies. Education and culture are the things that make people develop.

At the Tallinn Music Week panel that you were part of, somebody from the audience asked about reaching out not just to the urban, hip, young audience, but also to people outside the usual target groups of music. I think it’s a very important question. He also used the example of the demographic of the Brexit vote.

Of course we hear this. We should not forget that we’re not talking only to the young, urban, mobile, hip elite, there’s also people that have other needs and other concerns. We are in contact also with organizations like the European Festivals Association, and they, and many stakeholders, are aware that this is a challenge to not only talk to those that have the means to travel, who are open. We have to talk to those who are maybe more in the rural areas, and are also maybe a little bit older. There are certain minorities that you can’t reach immediately. But maybe music is the way to reach those people, easier than say theater or modern dance, for example. I love modern dance but it doesn’t speak to everyone, whereas music is potentially something that everybody’s interested in. It can be different kinds of music, and this is why in the music sector particularly there’s the possibility of going in this direction.

We have this notion of audience development which means developing audiences beyond who’s usually there. Bringing people to cultural institutions like opera houses, via other means. For example, one of the projects presented at Midem, the Opera Europa platform that is funded by the Creative Europe, has millions of hits and clicks, because it brings opera to an audience that would maybe not normally go the opera. Maybe they would, but they’re too far from Brussels or Vienna or Berlin, but via this platform they can access it. Accessibility is something we are definitely focused on as well, because it’s about inclusion, and not exclusion. I think we have to be careful not to create new silos.

But I can’t tell you right now our answer to that challenge, that happens at every political levels, also on the local and regional levels. It’s not a purely European phenomenon. We have to continue and deepen our dialogue, and also we need the music sector to tell us what can be done to solve this. You know, we are the Eurocrats, we’re not the experts on that, the sector itself needs to help us.

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The music business is complicated, so it most likely needs a complicated and large funding system, that runs for seven years. But the music world also changes in a fast pace, especially the technological side. How can you reconcile the large scale and complexity with the flexibility needed?

As I have said, we haven’t defined our intervention logics as yet. If you look at the Media program for example, they also constantly have to adapt their funding mechanisms. The broad picture may remain the same over the years, because this is what the democratic decision makers have decided — there is a whole democratic legislative process that lead to it. But in the end, there’s space for fine tuning: how and what will we support, who we will be opening up to, what kinds of organizations and where at the value chain. This is probably something that we have to consider. That it needs to be potentially very flexible, in particular with technological development going so fast. When we drafted the Media Programme, there was no such thing as Netflix. Now it has taken over the audience’s habits in a storm. In the music industry we are experiencing similar phenomena, particularly in distribution, but also in content creation. And, of course, there are links between the music and the film industry.

We have to see how we remain flexible without betraying the legal base, and, also, at the same time, we want to have continuity in the funding program. You can’t change every year, because those who get the funding rely on it, they have to know what do they need prepare for. Our experience shows that a certain continuity is really helpful. But certain kind of adaptations have to be open. I can give you an example: Two years ago, we had this massive refugee crisis, and Creative Europe was able to react quickly by earmarking some money to help specifically projects aiming at the integration of migrants and refugees. There we proved that we are actually pretty flexible.

How do you choose people and organizations who join the dialogue? It’s a specifically relevant question in the Eastern parts of the EU, where in a lot of countries the music industry is less organized.

It’s true that it’s better if you have a national umbrella organization either for the whole sector or specific sectors, and it’s true that it doesn’t exist everywhere. But of course, as we are in the area of subsidiarity, this is not up to the European level to say what should be done at the national level. That’s not our mission, not our mandate. But we can help people meet and learn from each other in practical terms. I think we’re quite good at this actually. We have what we call the open method of coordination. One of the added values of the European policy is that it helps create and facilitate the exchange of experiences. The whole idea is that member states can learn from each other, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

People who participated in the dialogues for the past two years have told us that we have managed to get to the table different segments of the industry that don’t normally and naturally talk to each other. All of them have very clear interests, and that’s normal.

Of course our natural partners would be networks or European associations, and I know full well that these associations always have to make compromises. It’s not the strongest member who decides everything for the weakest member. We also have Creative Europe desks in the respective culture ministries, and we brief them on our policies and our ideas, and their main purpose it the promotion of our programmes. They also meet regularly and see how this is working at other countries, and they have bilateral and regional exchanges. This is a very practical and down to earth kind of sharing of expertise and knowledge.