The mdw recently hosted the tenth edition of the Vienna Music Business Research Days. A jubilee report in keywords.


It all began with a blog on issues pertaining to research on the music business started by Peter Tschmuck (now head of the mdw’s Department of Cultural Management and Gender Studies) in 2009. The strong response generated by this blog pointed to an unexpected amount of interest and the need for a format where interdisciplinary exchange could take place: the result was the first Vienna Music Business Research Days (VMBRD) conference, which took place at the mdw in 2010.


“The music business is relevant to a great many of the research fields represented at the mdw,” says Dagmar Abfalter, deputy head of the mdw’s structured doctoral programme. This conference therefore provides space for aspects relating to music education alongside classic industry themes as well as musicological themes with business angles. While conferences for various branches of the industry as well as a wide range of networking formats do exist, the Vienna Business Research Days are unique for being a solidly research-based conference on the music business that also strives to include the world of actual practice.


Music business research is relevant to a large number of people. Accordingly, the active VMBRD community includes representatives of various disciplines: musicologists, popular music researchers, and media scholars, as well as sociologists, cultural scholars, and individuals who view things from the perspective of economics. People engaged in actual practice are likewise represented. “It takes ten years for such a community to establish itself,” says Peter Tschmuck, adding with a laugh: “We’re not the cardiologists in their tens of thousands, but we’re growing and have come to realise that the establishment of this format really was necessary!”


“I like the diversity of VMBRD topics, perspectives, and participants, all of which creates a space for interdisciplinary discourse,” says a pleased Dagmar Abfalter, and Peter Tschmuck is likewise happy to have succeeded in “bringing research and practice into a single discourse that includes opportunities for conflict. We want to have all positions represented.”


It’s not just the music business that’s international; so is the research community. Tried-and-true cooperative arrangements with American universities already exist, and there’s also a special degree of interest from Australia, where a music business research society is soon to be established. What’s more, Erasmus University Rotterdam recently signalled its interest in hosting a conference in the future, reports Tschmuck—who does indeed think it may be an option to take VMBRD to other countries, passing on the know-how accumulated over the past ten years: “It’s time to also initiate something in countries that aren’t exactly music industry centres.”


Thematically, the past ten years were dominated by the major markets of the music business—these being, alongside the USA, above all Western European countries such as Germany, Great Britain, and France. But the focus for the coming years will shift to include other countries, as well: “Interesting new markets are developing in China, India, Latin America, and also Africa,” says an enthusiastic Peter Tschmuck. “So we need to break out of our Euro- and US-centric view and learn how these other markets work, markets like that of China. They’ve given birth to new forms of consumption—and it’s what’s going on there that will shape the music industry during the next few years.” Tschmuck believes that an important responsibility of VMBRD is to accompany such developments from the perspective of research by pioneering new focuses.


VMBRD was quick to institutionalise: 2015 saw the establishment of the International Music Business Association at the IKM, and there’s also the International Music Business Journal as well as—by now—two book series published by Springer-Verlag, one in German and one in English.

Papers & Scholars

“Academic discourse can’t go all that deep in such a broad-based format,” says Dagmar Abfalter, who consequently implemented the Conference Track Day at VMBRD in 2014 and has since coordinated this sub-format along with managing its call for papers and organising its peer review process. And from the very beginning, another important concern at VMBRD has been promoting early-career researchers, which is why the conference has included a Young Scholars’ Workshop—which provides mentoring to young researchers in closed workshops—since 2011.


The first ten years of VMBRD have witnessed the discussion of a broad spectrum of topics: filesharing was already on the agenda in 2010, with streaming and download models discussed in 2011, and “New Consumption Behaviour” was the topic in 2012 followed by “The Future of Music Financing” in 2013. Various focuses on the music business in the digital age were seen at the conferences between 2015 and 2017, followed by the motto “Music Life is Live” in 2018 and nothing less than the “Future of the Music Business” as such in 2019.


“The mdw has not only made a valuable contribution to the IKM, here, but also helped to establish an internationally visible focus on music business research at the University that’s since grown into its own new field,” says Peter Tschmuck, who’s quite pleased with the conference’s great international renown.


The first ten years of this conference have been eventful, in some respects legendarily so: lectures have brought forth bold visions, conflicts have played out, and hypotheses have been hotly discussed. Tschmuck will always remember a particular discussion on streaming, for example: “You can still listen to a lot of those lectures today via the mdwMediathek. Back in 2011, we were already discussing the environmental consequences of streaming models, and we now see even films being streamed—which, environmentally speaking, is a catastrophe. So we haven’t seen the last of this topic.”


The Vienna Music Business Research Days’ ten years of success look set to continue in the coming decade! Dagmar Abfalter hopes that an even greater number of critical contributions will be submitted in the future on matters such as gender justice, inclusion, health problems, and the financial situation of musicians—”and that it will become easier to find women from the music business for keynotes and panel discussions; this hope does, of course, also stem from a desire for structural changes in the industry.”

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