Farah Nanji 0:00
Thank you so much for joining us today on the show. It's a pleasure to have your mission makers. We're almost at the end of ADE. So how has this year been for you? And what have been some of the goals going into this year's conference?
Ralf Kollmann 0:37
Yeah, thanks for having me. This year was a special year after a long first break due to the pandemic, and it was really good to reconnect with people and, check what's going on in the industry. You also don't really know your actual value, even as a label manager, but also as an artist and it was very difficult to figure out, where do we stand. So that was the most important for me, and also my artists who came to ADE to get a feel for that. And also, what kind of feedback and response do we get for the work that we did in the past two years, especially?
Farah Nanji 1:35
Yeah, it's definitely been a key common denominator amongst everyone we've spoken to about the ability to reconnect, there's also uncertainty going into this winter, so we don't know what we don't know. Right. And the gratitude for conferences, like ADE to be able to hold a space, where we can all kind of come back and reconnect.
Ralf Kollmann 1:57
Absolutely. We are coming out of a crisis. And we thought we can restart now fresh, but it looks like we are facing the next crisis already. We did a lot of postponed gigs from two years ago and it was challenging for us to tour this year. Let's see what 23 looks like. I think a lot of promoters, festivals, labels, and the whole industry, in most countries in Europe, especially got government support. And in 23, nobody's getting that. So maybe some of the leading promoters survived by that. That doesn't mean that they survive in 2023. And on top, we now have an energy crisis, we have a war in Ukraine, and we have inflation. So let's see how that affects our industry and our societies. Do the people have enough money in their pocket to buy festival tickets for 23? For example, promoters' costs for production are doubling, tripling up. That means you need to also increase the festival or club entrance tickets and so on. So let's see where we are we are facing in the next year, it's going to be very, very challenging. So yeah, that was why I’m here and it seems nobody really has a clear answer.
Farah Nanji 4:03
It's very interesting because I've also observed similar discussions and something that could have cost $10,000, a year, two, or three years ago is like $60,000. And you can't pass that cost on to the consumer, they're not going to pay, and also what I think a lot of us probably thought in this industry was after being suppressed for two years, then there's got to be this insatiable appetite to go dancing again. And promoters take the risk of maybe three days of a festival instead of two to make up their money. But actually, that demand wasn't there. And it's very difficult right now to survive in this ecosystem.
Ralf Kollmann 4:38
I'm very surprised about a few things, especially that some of the big artists increased their fees. I expected that everybody's fees went down a little bit and that this is also kind of a reset moment for the industry, focusing on local talents and residents and so on. Every crisis also offers a chance to change things and fix things. But it's the other way around and I don't know how, especially promoters, are dealing with that. And maybe hopefully, they are strict and say, I'm sorry, maybe then we just take half of the headliners for a festival and fill up the rest with new talents.
Farah Nanji 5:44
It's very disappointing to hear that because you would think that after going through the pandemic, especially the bigger artists, would have had it easier to survive if they had saved their fees in the past.
Ralf Kollmann 5:54
One of the reasons that these problems are occurring in Europe specifically, is because some of those big artists are getting high fees in other continents and want to adapt that to the European scene. So maybe that's a possible explanation. And I must admit that the North American market and South American markets are so strong. it's also a big advantage for us at the moment, especially for the artists I'm representing like Rodriguez Jr. So we are very lucky that he's touring a lot in the United States with a little bit of independence of what's going on in Europe, although of course, it's still one of our strongest and most important markets and it’s important to make sure that we are represented here as well.
Farah Nanji 6:56
And so let's talk a little bit about Mobilee, because of course it was launched in 2005 by you and Anja Schneider. And it rapidly took off in Berlin. It has since become one of the most iconic labels in dance music. So what has that leadership journey been like running something so huge? I’m curious about this evolution in your leadership journey.
Ralf Kollmann 7:20
In the beginning, we were quite naive. We had this idea and this passion for music, and read this opportunity to start a label. Anya and I, both went all in and develop it into a music entertainment company, running a booking agency, doing our own events, managing, promoting our artists, and helping them. And that was a very efficient model for a long time. But then the music industry changed, it became bigger and bigger. So this 360-degree mode didn't make sense anymore. Also, big booking agencies emerged and became super professionalized. Same with PR, event productions, and so on. So we couldn't really compete with that, it was important to adapt. Both of us were looking ahead and thinking about how can we adapt to changes in the industry, whether it’s embracing new technologies, new formats, and so on, we always tried to be one of the first to try out new things. Things getting bigger and more professional was, in a way, a positive effect on the growth of dance music worldwide. So then we decided to focus on the essentials again, remove certain parts, and make sure that we find the right external partners to work with. Over time I gathered a lot of experiences and insights into the complexities of the ecosystem, and I realized it’s equally as important to spend time teaching this to the new generations coming So I speak a lot on panels, I became a member of the Association For Electronic Music, which is an important platform we push education through. And so yeah these things have been an important evolvement.
Farah Nanji 11:18
Absolutely, it's very important. And also the new generations, the way that they're consuming music is completely different as we go into this rapidly evolving disruptive tech world. The pandemic has changed the relationship that fans have with the dance floor. As somebody who manages artists like Rodriguez, Jr. What would your advice be for emerging artists when they're looking for a manager when they are looking take it to the next stage? What are the key things they should be looking for?
Ralf Kollmann 12:00
I always say you don't need a manager if there's nothing to manage. So my general advice is to try and work as hard as possible on your own and try to understand the music business and the ecosystem as well as possible. Because even with a manager, a PR, and later a booking agent, you should be able to be the boss of your business. That means you also need to delegate your team and know when to say no. It's not like your manager is doing everything for you. And you need to know nothing about anything. A manager can only be as good as you are as an artist. Your job is to give him input and guidance, a manager can't do wonders. They can take most of the workload off you and make sure that all this complex stuff is, is managed properly when it comes to rights and stuff. And of course, it's his job to find opportunities for you, to grow your profile and your business, make money and take the right decisions. But in the end, you need to be a great artist and you need to deliver ideas as well, you need to be creative, and not only the music that you're producing but also the personality behind the artist.
Farah Nanji 13:58
It is a creator’s economy and fans want to know much more than the music, which has a very short shelf life these days, unfortunately. And so where do people go? Does it come to them organically? And how do they vet the quality of the manager?
Ralf Kollmann 14:29
This is of course the most tricky thing, probably. I think as an artist, you should give yourself a time limit. So, for example, I'm focusing on that now for two or three years. If it doesn't work out, then maybe I'll look into something else. Am I putting all my financial risk into this? It’s important to diversify your income source because otherwise, you are putting too much pressure on yourself to become a professional and it can be very difficult for your creativity, it can even kill your creativity if you are making too many compromises at one point just to survive somehow. As an artist, you need to invest in yourself a little bit, not only in making music, not only in your equipment and instruments, maybe also, before you have a manager, or a booking agent, invest in promotional activities, content, and so on to have a little package ready, before you approach a booking agent or a manager. And another important thing is that you should always start locally. Become the hero of your home city first, before you do the next steps. I think that's also a very important lesson,
Farah Nanji 16:23
That's some really good advice. I think, before you go all in, you should have that pressure point taken away of it all having to come through music, because even now, it's so complex to make money through music. Streaming is not a viable income source, for most for the most part, on its own. And I think the pandemic showed that because once performance fees are taken away you can't survive on what comes in, and the government is not equal in how they protect creatives around the world. And so being able to have something else that you're passionate about, is important and gives you that time to step away and also get inspired in a different way. Also as you say, creativity is something that you can't predict when it comes, but you need to be there every day for it to turn up, right? You need to have those habits and you need to kind of allow it to take place and you need to be in that right mental frame of mind for it to unfold and for you to be inspired every day.
So, talking about technology and the changing landscape. What are your feelings around Web3 and the metaverse?
Ralf Kollmann 17:40
So when this NFT Metaverse hype came up, we were looking at it, but we had the feeling it's not the right time yet. Maybe it’s okay to try something out for artists like Skrillex and Richie Hawtin, or whatever. But for the average artist, I don't really see a product or a platform that really makes sense to work with to pick up. We also had this virtual reality hype a few years ago. In the end, nothing happened. We're still waiting for it. So yeah, it's a big topic at the moment everywhere. But I don't see this like really taking off within the next two or three years at least not in a way that this is monetizing or making a significant revenue for the average artists you know. So let's see. Let's see how that goes.
Something that's pretty amazing right now is Dolby Atmos. And there are a few reasons why I think it's worth it to look into. First of all, it's potentially changing the creative process of music production. Secondly, it's a new listening experience for your audience at the moment via headphones. And that's one of the reasons why it's so interesting right now because before you needed a big setup at home. And now there's a technology that actually transforms that into a stereo format and with some compromises, you can experience that on your headphones right now. So it's accessible for everybody. And the third argument, why I'm supporting is my hope that this is also changing the streaming industry a little bit. Spotify is the market leader, but also has the worst deals. Now the payout for Spotify is not great compared to Apple Music, for example. So this now puts a lot of pressure on Spotify, because they have the shittiest quality you can imagine. But nobody knows that and I realized that especially the new generation, they grew up with that sound quality. They are buying headphones for 300 euros, but they're listening to crap compressed music, for free with their freemium, subscription at Spotify. And then on top, because with this new subscription, you get lossless, and on top, you get the Dolby Atmos, or spatial audio or immersive audio experience. %he content is there if you want to. So this modification maybe in a few years decides okay, we want to increase our quality right now because the competitors are doing that. And maybe we are losing a lot of our subscribers to them. So we are skipping the freemium subscription model. Now, this would be a big change in our industry, this will probably double up the streaming income for a lot of artists. So that's my little speech for Dolby atmos audio.
Farah Nanji 23:44
The final question I would like to ask you, talking about timelines and talking about change, what, in your opinion, is the single most important thing that needs to happen in the music industry one year from now, five years from now, and 10 years from now?
Ralf Kollmann 24:20
It's about the streaming industry, that has to change. It's very difficult to understand, even the publishers don't really understand what's going on there. Everybody gets a few micro cents here and there. But there are a lot of open questions. And I think that's significant for our industry on all the revenue streams, from streaming especially. So then the other thing is, money distribution, for royalties, that clubs and festivals are paying for the music that gets played. You would think that in 2023, we have technologies that are able to monitor the music that gets played in clubs, and at festivals automatically. And then ultimately, there's a track-by-track pay. If we get this income source on a transparent base, on track by track, monetization, this would also be a big change for rights holders.
Farah Nanji 27:02
And it's nothing compared to the fee that person the artist is getting paid.
Ralf Kollmann 27:07
It's about the correct distribution of that money to make sure that this is not going into the wrong channels, or to the wrong artists. And that's still very important. Another important thing is also what I mentioned before about education, you know. We have a problem with getting the right people in the right positions. There's so many jobs where you need special education or study. And we don't really have that educational system. Most of the people working in the music industry kind of started at one point and are improvising. But if we want to make a step forward and really want to have a certain quality, and all that stuff, we need to figure that out somehow. On the other hand, most of the music industry companies can't pay proper salaries. It’s a chicken and egg and it's all connected.
Farah Nanji 28:27
It’s true. II think education-wise, there's much more than there was when you know, even when I started, which was 15 years ago. In the UK, DJing and music production are part of our music GCSE system now and that changes fundamentally the way that kids experience music, even if they're not going to go off and become a professional DJ, they want to have the app on their phone and be able to do house parties, right. But then you have places such as Point Blank and many different institutes where they do offer these music industry management courses. I think part of it is also having the right mentorship, I think that's really, really important because it's a wild west somehow in this industry. And there's a lot changing, and there's a lot to navigate. And I think going back to web three as well, yes, it's a space where it's being defined as early adoption phase. But at least I think what everyone's excited about is a chance to create a better internet, a better place where some of the issues we've had in the past cannot continue in this manner. And how long will it continue before it breaks? We need to start something different and start something new. And it may take 10 years, who knows, this could just be like you said, the hype around VR, and nothing really ever happened. Scalability and adoption, but the more people that speak about it and contribute makes a difference. So it's incremental gains, right? Well, Ralf, thank you so much for joining us. It's been a pleasure to have you on the show and to hear your insights.