Panos Panay is the founder and CEO of Sonicbids, the website that helps bands connect with people who book or license music (full disclosure: Sonicbids sponsors MIDEM Talent). Here, a few days from MIDEM, he argues for the creation of a US Secretary of Culture…
I’ve been going to MIDEM for years and I’ve always been impressed by the enormous presence that various government-funded offices have at the tradeshow. The UK, Norway, Denmark, Spain, even small Switzerland all have big booths promoting music, musicians and music companies from their countries. I assume all of them spend major money because they realize that music is a viable and profitable exporting good (or is it a service)?
Can you really separate music from the culture that created it? Bjork is quintessentially Icelandic; ABBA is every bit as Swedish as SAAB; and every artist that’s ever come out of the UK, sounds, well… British.
At the Sonicbids showcases at Magic Mirrors we have music from 10 different countries ranging from the Faroe Islands to South Africa. I can assure you that every one of these artists carries with them a part of their cultural identity that is embodied in their music.
That cultural identity not only shapes our perception of the music that we hear, but also our perception of the “brand” of the very country that the music is originating from. In marketing parlance, this is called “brand transference”. Michael Jordan is Nike; and Nike is Michael Jordan. The Beatles are British; and 1960’s Britain is the Beatles.
Conspicuously absent from MIDEM in an official capacity is the USA. There are plenty of American companies attending of course (including Sonicbids) and there is an “American” stand at A2IM, but nothing really “official”. It’s the elephant that’s not in the room.
That’s because the US government has always been blind to what makes the USA, American. No, it’s not the economic or military might that this outgoing administration has brandished unabashedly over the past eight years. For millions of people (including me, growing up in Cyprus), America is pop culture and music. It’s Elvis, and Springsteen, and Miles Davis; it’s Madonna, and Nirvana and Tupac and yes, Britney Spears (I could go on and on).
It’s amazing to me that even though millions of people’s perception of the US is shaped by American pop culture, the US government has historically chosen to all but ignore music and the arts as a strategic imperative. There are few official programs that young American bands can tap into to help export their music to another country. There is almost no assistance provided to emerging American music companies that can help them compete in what is an increasingly global marketplace.
So, if music and culture are so darn important for brand America, why has the US Government all but ignored it? My guess is that like with many other “nuanced” issues, it gets caught up in all kinds of political wrangling. Brushed aside as too mushy or too fuzzy or too lefty.
Maybe the incoming Obama administration — one that I am hoping is more astute and more sensitive to what makes American culture and music so prevalent and so beloved – will finally give American music the prominence that it deserves in US foreign policy.
A US Secretary of Culture anyone?
You can follow Panos’ blog at www.sonicbids.com/PanosBrew.