Dieter Gorny

German Pop Finds its Groove

Felix jaehn pic alliance Schroewig
German DJ Felix Jaehn has stormed to the top of the U.S. charts, the first German musician to do so in 25 years.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    While it has exported some of the most successful DJs in the world, like Sven Väth and Grammy-nominated Paul van Dyk, Germany has had little international success with its mainstream pop acts.

  • Facts


    • Hamburg DJ Felix Jaehn recently conquered the American pop music charts, the first time in 25 years for a German performer.
    • Pop music as a discipline is getting more respect from colleges and universities, where well-known musicians and composers teach classes.
    • Royalties from streaming remain an issue for artists, but industry insiders say it still remains a small portion of all music purchases.
  • Audio


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As the chief executive of the German Music Industry Association, Dieter Gorny, 62, is the lead lobbyist for German pop music.

A trained composer and musician, he founded the Popkomm Fair in 1989 and launched the television music channel VIVA in 1993.

He was recently at the Pop Kultur music fair, the successor to Popkomm and Music Week, where he discussed copyright law with German Justice Minister Heiko Maas. He also took time out to talk about the power of German pop music domestically and internationally.


Has there ever been a better time for German pop music? 

Dieter Gorny: The charts show there is a big demand for music produced in Germany and for German-language music. That is great. However, there still are unsolved economic problems, such how artists make their income and the market entry possibilities for new musicians and bands. Within the past 15 years, sales in the music industry have nearly halved, and artists’ incomes have been scaled back accordingly. But the market is growing again. It is also because the industry has successfully learned to act digitally – the largest growth is currently in streaming.

What are the roots of these German chart successes?

They are the result of a years-long normalization and balancing-out process. By that I mean that we currently have well-balanced music markets in Europe, that function according to the 50-50 principle: 50 percent international, 50 percent national products. In Germany, it was not like that for a long time. There was a post-war dip; even by the 1990s, we had only about 20 percent domestic productions. The public values German-language music more as well.

In the charts, hip hop by Marteria ranks next to techno by Paul Kalkbrenner and the pop songs of Helene Fischer. Is there something that connects these genres?

If the Internet has created anything, it is the variety and democratization of access to music. What the charts reflect is the existence of various markets, various communities and various fan structures. What is interesting is that German productions today can hold their own internationally, even in electronic music, which before was an exclusively Anglo-American genre.

Is that a new phenomenon?

Earlier, the Scorpions or Rammstein enjoyed enormous success abroad, but in Germany, they faced opposition or ignorance. People said, “Wow, that song sounds good. Where is it from?” – “From Hannover” – “Oh my goodness.” Now, the careers of German artists in Germany are perceived much more positively and that is good for creativity. Pop music is now taught at universities, at the Mannheim Pop Academy and even at a pop course in Hamburg.

Dieter Gorny Daniel Reinhardt dpa
Dieter Gorny, music maestro and champion of German popular music. Source: Daniel Reinhardt/ dpa


Can music follow German soccer’s recipe for success, i.e. not to let any talent get lost?

It used to be said that pop music cannot be taught, one had to be born into it. The belief was that rock musicians lived in basements, had no money and fought the establishment with a guitar. All nonsense. In the meanwhile, it has become accepted that the tools of the trade, creating networks, communications and so on, are not cramping the creation of good music. Experienced and successful musicians often teach in academies. A good teacher can help the talent to save time, to avoid mistakes, to reach their goals more quickly.

Many hits come from TV shows like “Deutschland Sucht Ein Superstar” (Germany’s version of American Idol) or casting shows. Is television the most important marketing tool for the German music industry?

With casting shows, it is about big television emotions. And the stars from casting shows often find it hard to build sustainable careers. We have a fragmented music market, where it’s becoming more difficult to establish long-term careers.

After two years of sales increases, the German music market grew again by about 4.4 percent in the first half of 2015. Has the industry overcome its crisis?

It has developed business models, in any case, which are in demand. But in the face of the tremendous pace of technological change, I wouldn’t sound the all clear just yet. The sustainability of the current success won’t be visible for a few years because it also is dependent on the political framework.

Streaming is currently seeing growth of almost 90 percent, yet only small amounts go to the musicians. Is the growth of Spotify, Deezer or Apple Music good or bad news?

If you look at the percentages of the whole music market, you will see streaming is still relatively new and still comparatively small. We continue to have a strong physically dominated market, that account for almost 70 percent of sales. If streaming becomes the dominant distribution channel, as many media already believe, the framework conditions will adjust. As a counter movement, we are experiencing the comeback of vinyl with impressive growth figures, even though it’s a niche. Music in the future will be brought to people even more diversely than now.

Recently, the industry celebrated “Cheerleader” by Felix Jaehn, a German artist who conquered the U.S. charts for the first time in 25 years with his remix of a song by the Jamaican singer OMI.  One newspaper wrote, “The performance of the Jamaican participants was talked down and the contribution from Hamburg was exaggerated.” Does that sound nasty to you?

Yes, because it misjudges a completely new stylistic fingerprint originating from the reworking. Felix Jaehn did not invent the song, but he performed something in his genre that was pleasing to many people globally. Editing foreign pieces has been a component of the DJ culture from the beginning. With the consent of the original artist, a completely new piece develops and the royalties are split. The success of Felix Jaehn, who is just 20, shows German music can keep up in a stylistic environment with the international set. We have many DJ talents in Germany. Another example is Robin Schulz, who reached the top of the English charts last year with his remix from “Waves.”

Does the success of German music reflect a more complacent or self-sufficient country?

I disagree with that. Things that were not normal before are becoming normal through the success of German pop music. Due to our history in the pop market, we in Germany are far removed from noticing only our own music. We are, however, just starting to listen to German pop music as well.

Video: OMI – Cheerleader, a Felix Jaehn remix.


This interview first appeared in the Tagesspiegel daily newspaper. To contact the author:

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