Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Europe’s music scene – A mosaic of talent united by one language (part 1)

By Emmanuel Legrand

It’s never been easy for European artists to find their own market in Europe, and it is certainly not getting any easier.

That’s what I have discovered by spending the most of the past three months preparing a 120-page report on the circulation of European repertoire within the European Union, to be unveiled Jan. 12 in Groningen at the Eurosonic Noordeslag conference/festival. (The report can be downloaded the EMO web site)

During my years at Music & Media (and way before my time), we were constantly monitoring and documenting the way local talent throughout Europe was crossing borders – there even was a specific chart for that, the Border Breakers Chart, which eventually led to the creation of the European Border Breakers Awards, also a fixture at Eurosonic Noordeslag, but that’s another story. What the Border Breakers showed were attempts from European artists to build careers in Europe, alongside Anglo-American acts that usually ruled the charts.

There has been a great period, from the late 80 to the beginning of the new Century when European acts were capable of crossing borders in a grand scale. It was the era of the Ramazzottis, the Manu Chaos, the Cardigans, the Daft Punks, and of the various waves of Eurodance and Europop acts.

But if European talent still shines (just have a look at this year’s winners of the EBBA Awards), market conditions have changed. Record companies – especially majors – do not have the incentive to push European acts since the financial rewards can be minimal when the required marketing costs are still high. And indies have scarce resources.

So this report was borne out of the frustration of not being able to correlate what we intuitively knew about the way the European market operated and facts documenting the situation. The European Music Office and the folks at Eurosonic Noordeslag – in partnership with research company Nielsen – have teamed to finance and present this study researched and written by yours truly.

Since we did not have the resources for full-scale report on Europe, what we did here was to select six countries – France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden – that would represent the various parts of Europe and analyse the state of European repertoire in these country over a period of a year.

The data we used was supplied by Nielsen in the form of the Top 200 most played songs on radio and the Top 200 most downloaded tracks in each country too, plus the Top 200 most played songs and downloaded tracks on a pan-European scale. This is obviously selective and does not represent the full picture, since a lot takes place at the fringes, but we thought that it would quite appropriately represent the songs most heard on the radio and the tracks consumers voted for through their wallets by downloading them on legal platforms.

Each track was tagged with the artist’s nationality, the language of the song and the label distributing it. Then I proceeded to identify the various repertoires country by country and on a pan-European level. For each country (and for the pan-European data), the analysis includes:
Ø   Share of local repertoire
Ø   Share of EU repertoire
Ø   Share of EU repertoire excluding local repertoire
Ø   Share of US repertoire
Ø   Share of local language
Ø   Share by record company
Ø   Number of different countries featured in each country’s Airplay and Digital charts
Ø   Presence of EU countries in the Airplay and Digital charts in the countries surveyed.

The picture it paints is on one side quite positive – overall, European talent tends to take over 50% of these tracks – and on the other side one that is not so positive – once you’ve taken out domestic repertoire and UK repertoire out of the equation, there is not much going on from other European artists.

In fact, Europe as a single music scene, where any artists from Spain singing in Spanish would find a similar welcome in Sweden as to the one they receive in Sevilla or Salamanca, does not exist – but Europe does exist as a single market for English-language repertoire.

Europeans remain strongly attached to their own national cultures and this applies to the music they listen to. There are also regional or national idiosyncrasies – Spain continues to support a busy flamenco scene, France’s chanson is mostly for local consumption, Germany has a healthy schlager business (and so does the Netherlands) – that re-enforce such feeling.

The picture painted through this survey shows that in each country there is a solid local market for domestic artists, and most of these artists do not cross borders, especially if they sing in their local language. There are very few chances for artists singing in French, Italian or Spanish – let alone Swedish, Polish or Finnish – to cross borders. These artists will see their musical playground limited to their own borders, regardless of the music genre.

For cultural as well as historical and sociological reasons, Europeans do not embrace their neighbours’ cultures when they are expressed in their national languages. This trend is strengthened by the way radio operates – it is a medium of instant gratification: listeners who like the music stay, others leave. One “wrong” song can mean a loss of audience. Hence the tendency for radio programmers to go for songs or artists already having a tested market and coming in a fully compelling package.

The direct effect is that it tends to favour Anglo-American repertoire, especially the one from the US which crosses the Atlantic with an impressive, already tested marketing and creative clout. As a result, Europe as a music market is a one-language region, plus local languages.

As the survey shows, the only truly pan-European successes are (if we exclude this year’s phenomenal success of Adele and the ubiquitous French DJ David Guetta) imports from the US. For the period concerned by the survey (2010/2011), the top of the charts were dominated by Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Lady GaGa and Black Eyed Peas, among others. These are artists whose songs travel and cross borders.

European artists can achieve cross-border activity too, but it is less of a given, even if the songs are in English and the acts British or Irish. Besides, the question is whether it is a one-off or the building of a career. Adele is obviously the prime example of an artist who appeals to all European audiences. Fellow Brits Taio Cruz and Tinie Tempah seem on the same path as they are building pan-European following. French superstar DJ David Guetta is now in the same league as US artists, with global releases and sales in the millions.

Once in a while, a hit single can come from any parts of Europe, cross borders and reach the top of the charts (Spanish DJ Sak Noel’s ‘Loca People’ is a good example). Recently, there has also been the addition of Romania as a source of European repertoire. With acts such as Alexandra Stan, Inna and Edward Maya, Romania has graduated to the top of the music charts. The coming years will tell if they will be able to sustain a career at this level.

Caro Emerald
But for most European artists – even the ones singing in English – building a pan-European career is often a one-market-at-a-time effort. Caro Emerald developed out of her native Netherlands to neighbouring countries, and eventually reached the UK. Belgium’s Selah Sue has used France as the launch pad for her international career, and after setting up a good following in continental Europe, she is now turning her attention to other markets such as the UK, Japan and the US. In France, ZaZ and Ben L’Oncle Soul have become two of the hottest Gallic exports, which is all the more exemplary since they both sing in French.

What unites Emerald, Sue, ZaZ or Ben L'Oncle Soul is not that they have had instant hit singles, but that they built up from the buzz around them, and have reached out directly to their audiences through live appearances, wherever it was possible.

There’s always a way!


Below is the Executive Summary of the study (which will be available for download on EMO’s web site from Jan. 13). In a second blog post I will go more into the findings of the study.

"Music Crossing Borders -- Monitoring the cross-border circulation of European music repertoire within the European Union"

Executive Summary

The study on the circulation of European repertoire within the European Union was commissioned by the European Music Office and Dutch conference and festival Eurosonic Noordeslag. Its purpose is to analyse the flow of repertoire between EU countries, based on statistical data on radio airplay and digital downloads.

The main findings are the following:
  •    European repertoire fares quite well on a national level with local repertoire but the number of European artists capable of transforming a local success into a cross-border success is quite limited.
  • The only music that crosses borders without limitations is US-based repertoire.
  •  Even UK repertoire has difficulties crossing borders, as few British artists achieve pan-European success.
  • Countries from Southern and Eastern/Central Europe are less likely to have cross-border successes than countries from Northern Europe.
  • However, Romania is becoming a significant source of repertoire.
  • In each European country, English-language repertoire heavily dominates the airwaves and digital downloads, with shares of local language music varying by country, but never over 25%.
  • European music genres that cross borders are usually in the Dance and Pop fields. US acts that fare well on a pan-European basis are in the R&B, Hip-Hop, Dance and Pop field.
  • Rock, as a music genre, is almost non-existent in the European listings.

Whilst these findings do not come as a surprise, the study highlights the difficulties for European repertoire to travel within the continent at a scale previously unnoticed.

Whereas radio stations are the gateways to the European mass market, live music is the key to reach new audiences and so is the new digital media landscape.

We would recommend policy-makers to focus their attention on the following policies:
  • Support for the live music sector, with a special focus on new talent and on festivals.
  • Financial schemes to support cross-border promotions and marketing campaigns.
  • Create incentives for radio stations to broadcast and promote EU repertoire.
  • Build awareness on European repertoire through viral digital campaigns.
  • Create a European Observatory of Music to monitor on a constant basis the state of European repertoire. 


  1. Espérons que les pouvoirs publics européens tiendront compte de ces 5 recommandations de bon sens et se donneront les moyens de les mettre en oeuvre.
    Il n'est que grand temps de construire l'Europe de la musique, avec les créateurs, avec les répertoires, avec les musiciens et les artistes.

  2. Having just seen ZaZ perform at globalFEST sunday night, my educated belief is that the only way she and other non-English singing artists cross over in Anglophone countries (and in Europe) is with lyric translations, authorized and monetized. Of course commercial radio generally won't play "foreign language" music, (other than in English), if their listeners can't understand the songs. But with HD +internet radio and with meta-data of authorized translations served in all digital mediums, this situation can (and should!), change, so the best of local songs can be understood across language boundaries, (other than English.) That's what is starting to happen in China on the mobile carriers with potentially huge upside for the international music market. If it can happen in China, it can happen everywhere and artists, publishers, labels and fans will benefit.

  3. I believe the whole music industry have missed the boat by not expanding the various music of the world to the world. Being that music is universal, it should be exposed to many cultures and enjoyed. Today, with all the translation options, perhaps we can include a translation of the language you desire
    inserted with the purchase of the song. Like publishing a book in many languages.


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