How to break the German market? Treat it with respect

Germany is becoming the golden child of Europe’s music business.

The market’s recorded music industry grew yet again in 2015, according to figures from BVMI, up 4.6% in income terms to €1.55bn ($1.73bn).

As such, Germany is comfortably Europe’s biggest music sales market – and only behind Japan and the US worldwide.

In fact, the average German spends more than US $17 on recorded music each year, according to the IFPI.

This lucrative success, however, doesn’t always automatically translate for acts trying to break the market from other territories.


Germany is widely seen as one of the toughest territories in the world for foreign artists looking to make local headway.

Case in point: eight of the Top 10 bestselling German albums last year were recorded by local artists – a national record.

Yet according to experts in the German market, some acts simply aren’t giving the market the attention it deserves.

Stefan Struever is MD of [PIAS] Germany, and he’ll smile widely when you mention the name Matt Simons.

Earlier this year, [PIAS] released Catch & Release (Deepend Remix) by US artist Simons (pictured with the [PIAS] team) and it rushed to the top of the German singles chart.

“Ninety-five percent of the bands we see coming into Germany do the typical round of tour dates.”

Stefan Struever, [PIAS]

The track has now sold more than 300,000 in Germany alone.

Struever encourages managers and artists wanting to break the German market to think hard about how they approach the territory – and what they’re willing to commit.

Germany, he points out, has more than 50 cities with populations over 100,000 people. Fifteen of these cities contain more than 500,000 people each.

“Ninety-five percent of the bands we see coming into Germany do the typical round of tour dates in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Munich and maybe Frankfurt,” he says.

“But when I look at the success of local bands like AnnenMayKantereit and Wanda, an Austrian band, what really broke them was that they spent the time playing regional shows from the very beginning.”


A brief scan through Germany’s largest cities outside the ‘big five’ reveals the sort of areas in which these kind of bands are cleaning up.

For instance, Essen, Dortmund, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, Bremen and Hanover boast a combined population of around 3.5m people between them.

That’s more than double the size of Munich or Hamburg – and bigger than any of Madrid, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Food for thought.

“The audiences in those cities are even more hungry for shows than in Berlin, Hamburg or wherever,” points out Struever.

“You get much stronger support from radio programmes if you play a show in the region in which they broadcast.”

“And then when you reach those even smaller cities in which there are 200,000 to 300,000 people, they are starving!

“That’s how bands build real audiences here, investing time and effort in front of people who are desperate to see something exciting.”

Moreover, Germany has no single country-wide FM radio broadcaster – something which also favours artists who tour the country for multiple weeks.

These acts are able to give exclusive sessions and interviews to local broadcasters who, in turn, show loyalty in their airplay selections in the weeks that follow.

“You get much stronger support from these radio programmes if you’re confirmed to play a show in the regions in which they’re broadcast,” adds Struever.


Frank Stratmann, MD of Good To Go and Rough Trade Distribution in Germany, points out that many successful recent independent artists in the market haven’t needed to rely on radio at all.

“We’re seeing a lot of indie labels primarily promoting their releases via YouTube, social media and internet channels,” he says.

“You do not need a major label behind a record – just an [engaged] artist and a distribution partner who can get your physical product in stores.”

It’s an important point: Physical product is still a very big deal in Germany, with just under 70% of the €1.55bn generated by recorded music in the market last year coming from vinyl and CD.

Stratmann suggests that the ability for indie labels and artists to promote over platforms like Facebook and YouTube reminds him of the guerilla marketing pioneered by hip-hop labels like Tommy Boy in the 1980s – although it’s worth mentioning that artists looking to build a following on YouTube in Germany will need to be mindful of the long-running dispute between the platform and local collection society GEMA.


[PIAS]’s Struever hands out a readily apparent but no less useful tip to those artists looking to make the most of their popularity in Germany.

“We have revenue-based charts here, so every Euro people are spending on your records counts,” he says.

“Lots of hip-hop artists in particular in Germany have done very well with Top 5 records after heavily promoting deluxe editions of albums to fans – that’s something many of us have learned from.”

“A lot of local german artists are not ashamed of asking their fans to buy their record.”

Frank Stratmann, Good To Go / Rough Trade Germany

Stratmann agrees. “A lot of the local artists here are not ashamed of asking their fans to support them by buying the record,” he says.

“Hip-hop acts have been outstanding in that area in the past six or seven years, because they are really communicating directly to the fans – ‘here’s the Amazon link to the limited boxset’ etc.”

He adds: “What’s really changed in the past four years is that pre-orders for these artists don’t open four weeks prior to the street date – more like three months before.

“That allows these artists to collect as many limited boxset orders as possible.”


Struever is sympathetic to the fact that most international artists simply won’t have the time on a world tour to invest months of effort to reach Germany’s smaller cities.

But he encourages managers to follow the example of [PIAS]-signed Editors, who regularly return to Germany during a tour with a second run of dates after the release of an album.

“If you’re going to break Germany, you have to stay around,” he says. “Of course you have to cover the most important cities, but the management of Editors has been very understanding [of the value in playing smaller cities] – and that’s helped up tremendously to get the band to the level they are now.”

The proof’s in the pudding: Editors’ breakthrough debut, 2005’s The Back Room, never charted significantly in Germany.

Since then, the band have steadily climbed in popularity in the market, releasing a career-high No.4 album, The Weight Of Your Love, in 2013 – which landed at No.6 in their homeland of the UK. Follow-up In Dream scored a No.11 spot on the German chart last year.

Rob Whitaker, from Editors’ management company, Zoot Music, says that the band don’t give Germany special attention above any other market, but that “we try to treat every country with the respect it deserves”.

“You’re very lucky if you can break the us playing just [big cities]. Why would germany be different?”

Rob Whitaker, Zoot Music

He adds: “Like everywhere, you get out what you put in. You’re very lucky if you can break the US playing just LA and NY, so why would you think you can be successful in Germany by just playing Berlin, Koln and Hamburg?”

If artists want to break Germany, then, it appears their best bet it to focus on forming a meaningful connection with local fans dotted around the country – remembering that there’s no easy nationwide media with which to reach them.

In that respect, perhaps artist managers should begin thinking of Germany more like they do the USA – plotting long stays with a sustained approach to wooing local media and fans, piece-by-piece.

With the German market’s income continually creeping up these days, that’s looking like a strategy that will only become increasingly worthwhile in the future.