Hannes Tschürtz, CEO of Ink Music, and co-founder of Swimming Pool, Austria’s first sync and licensing agency, tells usabout the ups and downs of following a push strategy on the cluttered and ruthless music market
“When it comes to the Austrian music business, there is still a huge need to catch up.” Hannes fiddles with the magic marker I gave him to draw a timeline tracing the history of his newest venture – Swimming Pool. He is a pioneer of the industry, a small and merciless market as anyone from the scene will confirm. Starting out as a festival promoter in the 1990s to later manage Austrian indie heroes Garish, Hannes’ engagement with the music business evolved out of benevolent but also slightly egoistic motives: “When I first started out, my intention was to promote artists that I personally liked. I wanted them to be heard and seen, I wanted people to buy their records, so, that they would have enough money to spend their time making more music – so that I could listen to it.”
From the start, Hannes had to assert his right to exist, as far as his career choices were concerned. Music management, as he explains, “is still a pretty uncommon thing in Austria. I always said it’s like trying to build a water power plant in the desert”. Yet, he managed to create a small oasis for the Austrian alternative scene, as more and more bands sought his professional support. In 2001, he founded his own booking agency: Ink Music. From that, a label and a publishing company of the same name evolved in 2006. Other labels, such as Wohnzimmer Productions, Siluh and Sea You followed his example, in that way establishing a small but vibrant independent music scene in Austria.
Hannes Tschürtz is a pioneer of the Austrian indie music businessDiscovering an untapped market
“In the noughties, we had to counter the prejudice that it’s not OK, let alone possible to make money with indie music”, he elaborates on his difficult pioneering days. Since then, he has been on a mission to proving the disbelievers wrong. As part of that process, he founded Swimming Pool with Lisa Humann in 2010. Originally, the sync and licensing company was established as an add-on to enable the Ink Music artists to earn some extra money by getting deals with the advertising and film-music sector. Soon, it turned out that Ink Music’s artist pool was too small to meet the demand of the film and advertising industries. With an additional team member on board – Magdalena Aichinger, who is in charge of brands and advertising – Hannes decided he had to think bigger. “What if there were a company, which would take care of the sync and licensing rights of all the small labels that are confronted with one and the same problem?”
He got other Austrian music labels and publishing companies to join the club and applied for financial support from departure, the city of Vienna’s creative agency. This was not an easy venture. When presenting their business plan to the agency in 2010, which they were only given a few minutes for, they were confronted with doubts. “They questioned the potential of the market – which was justified – as well as the qualifications of the people involved.” However, with the argument that the project was mostly about developing an untapped market, Swimming Pool received the funding of about 140.000 euros to cover half of the costs over the following three years.
If the market’s too small, find a niche
Swimming Pool soon expanded its repertoire, also through access to the artist pools of international partners like the British City Slang label. While varietywas not the problem anymore, “It turned out that the Austrian market is just too small for a company to specialise just in sync and licensing – there’s a lack of demand, because we only have a few film companies, who don’t have much money. When it comes to advertisements, the situation is the same.”
Again, Hannes had to think bigger: Swimming Pool had to broaden its concept. The main idea remained the same – to work as a service provider at the intersection between the music (authors, composers, labels, publishing companies) and the film-and advertisement sector. What was new is that Hannes and his team added “Supervision & Clearing” and “Bands & Brands” to their portfolio: they advise film producers and marketing companies on their musical choices and also take care of getting legal permission to use songs.
People don’t take music seriously
According to Hannes, the biggest problem Swimming Pool has to face is that people don’t take music seriously. Many agents in the local film and advertisement business don’t feel the need to hire a professional to choose the music for their films. “Just because I have Photoshop, that does not mean that I’m a professional graphic designer.” Hannes says. “Same thing with music. Every lightning engineer, every assistant director in Austria gets paid by trade agreements. But for people, who specialise in music supervision or even composition there’s no such thing. It would increase the appeal of Austria as a business location if it caught up with international standards. We fight for a professionalisation of the business.”
To make people aware of this involves a lot of networking at film premieres, business events and panel discussions. Moreover, Swimming Pool hosts a yearly music film festival – the Poolinale http://www.poolinale.at/. Although the Poolinale was initially intended as a B2B event – a get-together for musicians, film and marketing people – the festival became a crowd favourite among movie buffs during its debut last year. It also gave Swimming Pool publicity and is living proof to their claim: If you doubt that there are people who take music in films seriously, if you doubt that there’s a demand for music supervision – just ask the people in the front row of the cinema at any given day of the Poolinale. Next year, they plan to add a music video award to the program. “In general we want to position ourselves as ‘the people who know about music’: “Whoever you are, whether you work in the event business, marketing, film production, if you need good advice on music we can give it to you.”
The evolution of Ink Music and Swimming PoolAnd yet, it moves
“When I look back to what my goal was at the beginning of my career – to enable musicians to make a living out of what they do, I have to admit in all honesty: I’ve failed. We do have a company with committed employees, a good reputation and a lot of experience and know-how, but we’re far from being a commercial success. And most of our clients still can’t live on their music. We’re not there, yet.” But Hannes won’t give up. “Maybe it’s stubbornness that keeps me going. I want to show the world that I’m right. I want to be able to say ‘And yet, it moves’ like Galileo.”
He is convinced that there is still a lot of potential in the Austrian music market, that there are a lot of fields that have yet to be claimed and cultivated. Especially in music management or when it comes to sound design. Since you cannot study music business in Austria and there is a lack of academic research in the field, startups have to teach themselves.
Stay hungry,stay foolish
With funding expiring at the end of this year, Hannes sums up that while 140.000 euros is a of lot money, particularly considering that Swimming Pool is a mainly human capital intensive startup, they have not yet reached their objectives. After adapting their original business model, they continue to evaluate their approach. As for next year’s prospects, Hannes remains secretive – after all, your rivals don’t rest.
Hannes’ advice to other young entrepreneurs: “Like Steve Jobs once said: ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.’ Don’t be naive, but never loose your ingenuousness – Don’t listen to people who say that your idea will never work. And keep it simple. The best pop songs are the ones that everyone can easily hum along to. I think, to have a simple idea is the hardest thing – but if you have one: Go for it.”