Interview Götz Bühler15. July 2021
Hybrid Business | Co-Creating the Next Normal in Live Events, Conferences and Business Networking21. July 2021
Nationwide Study of Clubs by Initiative Musik –
The social, artistic and cultural significance of music venues in Germany
I nitiative Musik's ‘Clubstudie’ (study of clubs) is the first of its kind. It assesses the situation of all live music venues in Germany, taking a holistic approach. There are around 2000 venues nationwide, and a salient characteristic of them is how diverse they are: from tiny jazz clubs to venues which host live DJ sets with dancing for audiences of more than a thousand. In 2019 there were a total of 190,000 music events across a wide range of different genres. There are only very few venues which are focused exclusively on one style of music. For example, jazz has long since left the confines of dedicated jazz clubs, and is now a part of the music programming at around 50% of all venues.
It was important that the Clubstudie should find a means to capture the specificities, structures, strengths and challenges faced by individual venues, so the survey contained an option at the beginning for participants to choose between six different types of venue: music club, jazz club, music bar/café, event hall/concert hall, sociocultural centre/youth centre, ‘offspace’/art space. The existence of a separate rubric for "jazz clubs" is based on the assumption that music venues with a clear genre focus on jazz have fundamental differences in their operating structures and other economic and cultural characteristics when compared with other venues due to their history – they are among the oldest live music venues in Germany.
Despite their diversity, there are nevertheless certain core characteristics that all music venues have in common. These were shown by the Clubstudie to be fundamental, irrespective of genre. A definition emerged from the study which is as follows:
Music venues are establishments whose central purpose is the organization of live music performances by artists, especially up-and-coming artists, in front of an audience. They contribute to participation by broad sections of the population in cultural activity, and they promote social interaction and cohesion. The promotion of art and culture takes precedence over commercial interests. The programme changes continuously, and is curated in a way that confers artistic freedom in performance. In this way, music venues promote cultural diversity and represent an important component of cultural offerings in local communities.
This definition demonstrates that for all types of music venues – and the Clubstudie impressively demonstrates this to be the case – music venues are cultural spaces, and are by no means only to be found in metropolitan areas. Without the programming they put on, the cultural offerings in smaller cities and rural areas would be considerably poorer. Music venues permit artistic styles, scenes and communities to come into existence, to develop and take shape. Venues are crucial, therefore, as a means for young musicians to become better known: one in every three performances gives a young talent the opportunity to try out his or her skills on stage. A similar ratio also emerges from the survey of jazz clubs: 27 of approximately 100 concerts each year are performances by emerging artists.
Perhaps the most important recommendation for action that can be drawn from the Clubstudie is to give this valuable cultural development work by live music venues more public recognition in the future and to support them through subsidy. Subsidies for music venues invariably also has the knock-on effect of support for musicians, especially young up-and-coming talent.
Looking at key economic figures and funding structures, it is the jazz clubs which stand out. Of all venues, they devote the largest share (47.1%) of their expenditure to artists' fees. One possible reason for this is the way their staffing structures work: they have a high proportion of volunteers, and also the comparatively high proportion of funding (17.2% at jazz clubs compared to an average of 9.8% at all venues). Almost all of the jazz clubs surveyed have received funding at least once in the last five years (around 90%).
This makes it clear that existing funding structures are essential for all venues – and especially for jazz clubs – to continue to operate economically and shape their independent programming.
The Clubstudie also took a look behind the scenes and focused on the people who run music venues. These people are characterized by their strong level of personal motivation to create cultural offerings in their home region, and also to provide spaces for social interaction. In addition, the work of these people driven by their passion can also be seen in the venues’ operating structures. Often, forms of governance are based around individuals, and it is not uncommon for a small venue and its programme to be entirely dependent on one person. However, this backdrop also poses one of the greatest challenges for venues in Germany, and especially for jazz clubs: a large proportion of operators are either about to retire or will do so within the next ten years. The average age of people running venues across the whole sector is 48; in jazz clubs it is 60.
This leads to a further recommendation for action, which we derive from the Clubstudie: to provide support for music venues in this challenging phase of generational change, to form networks and to launch initiatives to bring old venues in to contact with young, highly motivated operators, and thereby to enable a transfer of knowledge and exchange among venues that welcome different genres of music.
For Initiative Musik, the results and recommendations for action form an important foundation to advance and to rethink the future funding of clubs. Our mission is and will remain to support artists, especially young talent, and to support and strengthen the diverse live music scene in Germany in a sustainable way.