Economy and Social Matters in Germany – Panorama

Mannheim – One-time Working-Class City, Now An El Dorado For Music

Musikpark Mannheim; © Stadtmarketing MannheimMusikpark Mannheim; © Stadtmarketing MannheimAlthough Mannheim might have been considered a “dirty, old town” for many years, the face of the city has in fact changed considerably over the last few years. Mannheim has spawned a lively music scene that goes beyond the big names like Xavier Naidoo, Söhne Mannheims, Laith Al-Deen or Mardi Gras.bb.

Mannheim as a city of music however can look back over a long history. It enjoyed its first heyday under Elector Karl Theodor back in the 18th century. The Mannheim School became one of the leading orchestral and composition schools and greatly influenced the music of Viennese Classicism that focused, among others, on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Even when it comes to more recent musical history Mannheim was in on the scene, for example, at the beginning of the 1990s Mannheim’s Milk! club paved the way in Germany for the “drum n’ bass” style – a form of electronic dance music from England. Incidentally one of the bouncers at the Milk! Club was German pop star, Xavier Naidoo – he worked there until 1992.

Over the last few decades Mannheim has, like many other industrial cities, undergone structural changes. Many jobs were lost, so the city had to try to re-establish itself as an attractive location for service providers and media companies. The promotion of a lively cultural scene was also viewed more and more as an important location and development factor. For quite a few years now the emphasis has been on the systematic promotion of music.

From deprived district to musical stronghold

University of Popular Music and Music Business; © Stadtmarketing MannheimThe district of Jungbusch is situated on the edge of Mannheim’s commercial port. It used to be famous for all the immigrant families living there, its high crime rate and sleazy dives like the “Onkel Otto Bar”. It was here of all places that the Baden-Württemberg Pop Academy decided to open its doors in 2003. One year later, right next-door, the first start-up centre for the music scene in Germany was set up in the form of the Musikpark Mannheim. Furthermore since 2001 the city has prided itself in having a Commissioner for Music and Pop Culture. This type of municipal promotion of pop has become known as the “Mannheimer Modell” (Mannheim Model) and is famous way beyond the boundaries of the city.

The Pop Academy offers two Bachelor’s degree courses: Music Business and Pop Music Design. Music Business is a business-related course that also covers the increasing digitalisation of the music business. The Pop Music Design course trains people in all the various musical styles ranging from Funk to Hip Hop, even to Punk. The aim here is to convey musical content and the fundamentals of the music business.

In the meantime Mannheim has become a “global hub in the field of training for the world of pop music”, according to Professor Udo Dahmen, one of the two directors at the Pop Academy. In order to keep it like that the Pop Academy intends to remain innovative and carry on growing. At a cost of over 6 million euros the building is being extended on its commercial port side and two more storeys are to be added. This enlargement will make it possible to introduce two completely new courses – Master’s degree courses.

For Sebastian Dresel, the present municipal Commissioner for Pop, the “annual influx of creative minds over the last few years has led to a tangible change in the level of the city’s pop culture, both in what it has to supply and what is in demand there.” Many stimuli emanate from the Pop Academy that are reflected in the overall public life of the city. Within the framework of the pophochdrei project Pop Academy students perform in various outlets in the city, be it a sweet shop or a sex shop.

What happens after the Pop Academy?

Final concert summer 2010, on the left Academy President Udo Dahmen; © Popakademie MannheimNone of the Academy’s former students however have actually made it big on the pop scene up to now. In 2006 Daniel Nitt was one of the first graduates and is one of the most successful alumni. In 2009 his song “Sleepless” was part of the film score for Til Schweiger's box-office hit Zweiohrküken (Rabbit Without Ears 2). Michael Rückert, another graduate, won the 2010 “MySpace Featured Artist” competition with his Brit-Pop band, Polo, and was invited to perform at the industry’s Popkomm trade fair. According to Professor Hubert Wandjo, the Pop Academy’s other director, it is not in fact the Academy’s primary objective to produce pop stars. The aim is to get the students to learn more about how they can realise themselves artistically and to get ahead in the music business. “Musicians as such are start-up companies in themselves – if they want to make a living out of it, they have to play the market with whatever they can do, with the talent they have and with what they have learnt here.”

The fact that the Pop Academy still has not produced any stars is also due to the nature of the music business itself, as was said by Florian Körber, who graduated in Pop Music Design from the Academy in 2008. “The business cannot be regulated, it is capricious – you can never say who will be successful.” He went on to say that it was in particular difficult for Pop Academy graduates, because it is just “not cool to be a student of music – people want the exotic types, authentic and freaky.”

Musical career or fashion label?

International Summer Camp 2010; © Popakademie MannheimMany of the graduates from the Pop Academy do in fact earn their living with music, maybe not as a star, but as a studio musician or in a tour band, as a lecturer, as a producer of advertising jingles or as a live musician in their own band. Florian Körber is happy with his decision to become a musician, “I have already done playback gigs, I have seen, so to speak, the absolute pits of the music business, but I always think that I am a thousand times happier doing this than working in some humdrum office job.”

If for some reason things just do not work out with a career in music, the students can put all the creative thinking and project realisation that they learned at the Pop Academy to good use in other sectors. Peter Kling is the perfect example of this. He studied Music Business, but then became the co-founder of a company that operates its own fashion label – “EVAW-Wave”.

Holger Moos
was born and bred in Mannheim and did German studies and history at the University there.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
November 2010

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