What’s the value of a song?

German and American musicians on TTIP
German and American musicians on TTIP | Johannes Kreidler, Foto: Leowee Polyester | Lou Mallozzi, Foto: Sandra Binion | Ryan Muncy, Foto: Chelsea Ross | Angelika Niescier, Foto: Arne Reimer | Michael Thieke, Foto: Eric Schaefer

The ratification of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the anticipated consequences for the cultural sector cause headlines and controversies in Europe, especially among artists. In the United States, however, TTIP is hardly talked about. We asked German and US musicians and composers about their thoughts.

The German musicians and composers are concerned that the quantitative focus on market share, sales figures and financial value might outweigh quality and diversity if culture is treated as a commercial good within TTIP. This could lead to more power and business for big companies and production firms and threaten the current opportunities, market access and conditions. The United States are a big music market and the country of origin of a comprehensive musical repertoire that is in high demand internationally.

In a joint resolution, the national umbrella music organizations of Germany, Austria and Switzerland point out the potential consequences of the transatlantic trade and investment and Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) for the music industry, and culture in general. In late September, Professor Christian Höppner, Secretary-General of the German Musikrat stressed in an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel that the “deregulation of the markets has to end, when goods and services for the public welfare are concerned”. The German Musikrat criticizes the lack of transparency in the negotiations. The Musikrat also condemns the European Commission’s and European Parliament’s lacking acknowledgment of the “cultural exception”, i.e., cultural goods and services are non-negotiable. In Europe, promoting and financing culture is primarily understood as a public responsibility which is supported through public funding. Public funding, under the terms of TTIP, would be considered a distortion of competition.

American and German musicians and composers Johannes Kreidler, Angelika Niescier, Michael Thieke, Lou Mallozzi and Ryan Muncy share their thoughts on TTIP with us.

Will TTIP put an end to creativity? Are you worried about a potential trend towards mainstream – only music that sells will be produced, and niche genres die out?

Johannes Kreidler: Yes, I am afraid this might happen.

Angelika Niescier: TTIP certainly does not mean the end of creativity. However, the situation of non-mainstream art is difficult enough and will get worse. A very important part of culture risks being marginalized, which could affect the vitality of niche genres.

Michael Thieke: Of course TTIP won’t put an end to creativity. The question is, though: under which conditions will artists produce? In the US, there is a higher tendency to evaluate culture from the perspective of commercial viability. Regardless, the cultural scene produced a large and interesting diversity, beyond the mainstream, often under tenuous conditions, for over a century. Europe’s approximation of US conditions could result in creative productions under significantly worse financial conditions. We certainly don’t need more artists that have to get by on odd jobs, in Europe or the US.

Could the TTIP controversy trigger the development of a different financing model in Europe?

Johannes Kreidler: I don’t see the need for it – especially under these circumstances.

Angelika Niescier: Without being able to offer a concise answer – there needs to be an alternative to support non-mainstream art and artists in Europe.

Michael Thieke: Creating alternative financing models beyond public support due to Europe-wide cuts in the cultural sector inspired by the supposedly more effective US system is already a reality. But I don’t think that true alternative private financing models compensating those cuts have emerged. I don’t expect any new, positive ideas to result from the TTIP controversy, rather the opposite. It is absurd to speak of a distortion of competition generated by public funding in Europe vis-a-vis the primarily privately financed US model. Let’s look at the programs of festivals and concert series in the field of new/experimental music and jazz: European and US artists alike benefit from public subsidies: they are invited by mostly publicly funded presenters. American colleagues very rarely receive public or private support from their own country. In the US, the presentation of European culture is often possible thanks to the funding of European national cultural institutes, such as the Goethe-Institut. So, who is distorting what? Ironically, the US should, on behalf of its artists, be very interested in maintaining Europe’s current publicly subsidized system. Cuts in public funding as a consequence of TTIP will affect European and US artists alike, albeit, to a different degree.

Could the European model of financing culture and music through public resources work in the United States?

Lou Mallozzi: Probably not. It is already eroding in Europe, so why should it become viable in the US? A large section of the US populace does not regard culture as highly as the European populace, so increased public support for culture is highly unlikely. Although it is absurd to consider cultural production exclusively as a market commodity that is precisely how most Americans think if they think about culture at all.

Ryan Muncy: That’s difficult to say. Adopting a publicly funded approach for the arts in the United States would require a significant shift in societal thinking – not just concerning art, but attitudes toward taxation and a general discussion of the government’s responsibility to support or provide critical services. As an artist, however, I would predict that colleagues and peer organizations would not be opposed to receiving leadership funding from public resources. Small arts organizations in the US place an emphasis on individual donations and private foundation support, which is perhaps a by-product of the lack of substantial government support. This is more of an observation than a criticism. Relying on one entity for crucial operational funding is risky for any organization.

Do you see a US cultural invasion of the German music scene as a real threat?

Johannes Kreidler: I don’t see the danger of a cultural invasion, but I do see Europe’s financing culture being threatened.

Angelika Niescier: In terms of content, I most certainly don’t predict a real threat. In a globalized world there is easy access to almost all genres and styles. That can be very inspiring. What I consider an actual threat is the possibility of claims and compensation demands that would circumvent our democratic system.

Michael Thieke: What should be crucial in the realm of culture is quality, not origin. “Invasion” is too martial a term for me. The cuts have already led – at least in my musical genre, which certainly doesn’t count as mainstream – to less rather than more US culture in Europe. Europe should not block US culture, but ensure that the domestic standards in cultural funding are not watered down and informed by neoliberal mainstream.

Lou Mallozzi: TTIP would make a difference in US musicians’ work and would only exacerbate a philistine situation. It is ridiculous that visiting musicians are seen in Europe as economic threats and that there are no visiting artist visas available.

Ryan Muncy: As a specialist in experimental music, I belong to a niche market (contemporary/experimental) of a niche market (classical music). While we have made great advancements in the last decade of expanding and engaging our audiences, it is still premature to imagine that we have the momentum to “invade” any international market. The TTIP and TiSA agreements will almost certainly benefit large US businesses and production companies. But perhaps this is no surprise, as the safeguard of large business is a defining characteristic of American policy.

What is your stance regarding the call for the “cultural exception” in the TTIP negotiations?

Johannes Kreidler: If TTIP has to happen, I am supportive of excluding cultural goods from it.

Angelika Niescier: While a “cultural exception“ will not solve the fundamental problem, it would take pressure off the arts and artists.

Michael Thieke: While there is indeed a need for conversation, for example regarding equal working conditions and permits, I don’t think that TTIP is the appropriate framework to discuss culture. The culture issue is too complex to be treated in a free trade agreement and should not be considered in economic terms only.

Lou Mallozzi: It is impossible to say what all US artists support. US artists vary widely on their opinions on copyright, markets, etc. However, it's probably safe to say that anything that moves away from a “cultural exception” and tries to turn cultural output into market commodities would be ill-received.

Ryan Muncy: The arts in Europe will almost certainly be negatively impacted without it. I think US artists would be supportive of the “cultural exception.” In many ways, this is what we want here at home.

Johannes Kreidler
is a composer of electronic music, concept and media artist and currently teaches music at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg.

Lou Mallozzi
is an audio artist in Chicago. He is the Executive Director of Experimental Sound Studio and teaches in the Sound Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ryan Muncy
is a New York City-based saxophonist who performs, commissions, and presents new music. He is a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and the former executive director of the Chicago-based new music collective Ensemble Dal Niente.

Angelika Niescier
is a German jazz musician (soprano and alto saxophone) and composer, who is interested in interdisciplinary cooperation with writers and visual artists.

Michael Thieke
is a Berlin-based clarinetist and composer. He recently extended his work in the context of rigorous improvisation into the realm of installations in which the instrument is expanded into space through multichannel playback.

Simone Kaiser
is an expert on the EU and EU cultural policy. She holds an MA in conference interpreting from the University of Graz, Austria, and an MA in European Union Studies from the University of Illinois. Her recent research focuses on the European Heritage Label.