It's one of the great debates at Popkomm, the music industry fair in Berlin this month. The fear is that Anglo-American music, which has long drowned out German music on the airwaves, has caused irrevocable damage. It's a discussion that Brit Pop and Black music enthusiasts have been having in the UK too.
Music industry officials estimate that only 10 percent of German radio's play lists is sung in German, falling way short of France, Italy and Spain's 50 percent native language ratio. That's why a chorus of music industry leaders have gone to the German parliament to sing the praises of a law, like France's, which would make sure their sound keeps getting pumped around the nation. However, the government is cautious.
Cultural minister Christina Weiss was reluctant to say whether it's a good idea. She said it's important to have a debate about a German music radio quota, and she hopes that the debate will lead the government to a clear agreement with public radio stations.
But the public stations, naturally, don't want to be told what to do. The head of Bavarian public radio, Johannes Grotzky, reportedly denied it's the state's job to support feeble branches of the economy. Germany has one of the world's five biggest music markets. But its industry has suffered a downturn since 1997, with turnover dropping 40 percent. Only 55 percent of the country's best-selling artists are German.
"It is often said that whoever makes good music will get on the radio, but that is just not true," said Björn Akstinat, president of the German music export office during a seminar at Popkomm. And Micha Rhein of German band In Extremo told reporters: "Our record was at number three in the charts for weeks but our promoters had to fight to get the song played on the radio -- it's a cheek."
Konrad Kuhnt, chief editor at Berlin-based Radio Fritz, said his station could only succeed if it chose the best music. "It is not true that we wouldn't play the music. We wish we had the material to present to our listeners when they say they want more."
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Tim Renner, former head of Germany's Universal Music division Tim Renner from record label Motor Music and former head of Universal Germany backs the idea of supporting local acts, but is leery of a legally mandated quota. "I get mixed feelings when I hear the word quota," Renner told DW-WORLD.
"They'll tell you there's not enough good stuff out there. That's not true. They need to promote the cultural diversity, but any quota will mean they've failed to find a radio concept."
More than 500 artists have signed a petition against what they dubbed the ‘scandalous under-representation’ of German-speaking artists in a radio format carved out of ‘the Anglo-American mainstream and the usual oldies.’ Supporting them was Jacques Toubon, the former French culture minister, who pioneered France's music quota system.
He said that thanks to his law, French music sales had picked up and new French artists were no longer ‘trees falling in the forest that nobody hears’. Record industry executives from around the world warned a quota wasn't a cure-all - especially those from non-English speaking countries.
The head of a Danish record label was quoted as saying the law would make it that much harder for music from Denmark - which isn't exactly breaking through the charts right now - to sell in Germany.
German pop music, unlike French and Spanish, has always had trouble selling abroad. If Germans don't buy it, it might never be made. There's no spiral effect, where more sales means more money and thus higher quality music. Some commentators say that supporters of a quota want to set that spiral in motion
Many in Germany's troubled music industry hope that having a quota for the radio airplay of homegrown talent will help the sector redefine itself in an age of plummeting CD sales and surging digital downloads.
The German government and the music industry are in favour of a quota for German language songs on public radio in an attempt to revive the popularity of mother tongue artists and boost the creative economy.
Is the Anglo-American domination of music really the reason few German artists make it internationally? Or is it that the appeal of German music – post Beethoven, Wagner, Handel and Bach, when it dominated European popular culture – just not wide enough today?