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Open To Question: Musikmesse's Michael Biwer answers YOUR questions

Laura  Barnes
Open To Question: Musikmesse's Michael Biwer answers YOUR questions

MI Pro’s Open To Question interviews series is back, and this time Musikemesse’s Michael Biwer is in the hot seat.

For this instalment you, the MI Pro readers, have put forward your burning questions to Musikmesse’s new group show director…

Rupert Bradbury, JG Windows: For me to think it is worthwhile visiting Messe, all our key suppliers from the UK need to be there. Ideally, I'd rather the public weren't, but accept that this may be a compromise that helps make the show viable. How can you ensure all suppliers do attend? Also, can you significantly reduce the cost for UK suppliers to attend the show?

MB: Attending a fair, like any other marketing tool, is always linked with a certain financial investment. That is due only in part to the stand rent – which at Musikmesse, by the way, unlike many other fairs, has not gone up for a couple of years. Factors such as staff costs, travel, or accommodation weigh equally heavy. However, in Frankfurt over the last few years the number of rooms overall, and thus also those in hotels of the cheaper categories, has risen considerably. If you book in good time, you will find rooms in Frankfurt and the adjacent area at very reasonable prices.
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For 2017 we have taken comprehensive action to offer attractive solutions to providers. We want attendance at the fair to be affordable for small businesses and innovative start-ups as well as attractive all-inclusive offers in which stand construction, furnishing and further services are included. This will considerably reduce advance planning costs and costs of transport.

For the major brands of drums and guitars we wish to provide the best possible support. As part of the new 'Brandworld Concept' it will be possible for businesses to show their products on complete and high-quality stands in the best locations. As the organiser, we take care of all arrangements – branding, catering, hostesses, stand cleaning, stand security, and more. In this way it is also possible to keep staff costs, and everything connected with them, to a minimum. To put it simply, the only thing that exhibitors basically need to do is to bring along their products, and they can concentrate fully on receiving their customers and potential customers.         

But what is equally important is that we are taking more measures than ever before to bring the exhibitor together with exactly the right interested parties. By providing programmes for qualified music industry retailers and top buyers or focused attractions for all musical communities, we want attendance at the fair to be worthwhile for our exhibitors and we intend to create the best possible conditions to allow that to happen.

Ricci Hodgson, KORG UK: Against the backdrop of California and the timing of the New Year, which a winter NAMM show has on its side, what can Frankfurt Messe offer UK dealers and distributors to make the trip worthwhile?

MB: Nowhere else in Europe do retailers enjoy such a comprehensive range of new products and services for the musical industry or meet such a high number of international players in the sector. Some exhibitors, and a large part of the trade visitors, can be met only in Frankfurt, since they do not attend events held outside Europe. Thus business opportunities arise which are good arguments for participating at Frankfurt.

Contact between businesses, dealers and distributors form the central focus at Musikmesse. To ensure a high B2B quality, existing measures for noise reduction in the halls are being extended – for instance, by acoustic barriers between product groups, which we are installing jointly with specialists in acoustics. In addition, Hall 11.1 – focussed on trade visitors – will be a low-volume sound area for business conversations. The testing of instruments will not be allowed there.

Moreover, Musikmesse offers a high-quality programme for retailers and distributors. This includes a seminar series, 'Business Academy inspired by SOMM.' Here experts from business, law and marketing will explain market trends and present model solutions for future challenges. All talks will be available in German and English by simultaneous translation. The 'Musikmesse Insider' programme will likewise be continued. It will offer free entry for music industry retailers from the whole of Europe and a series of exclusive services. In addition there will be a matchmaking programme, helping retailers to get in contact with precisely the exhibitors who are relevant to them.   

So we are doing our best to bring Musikmesse, as an international trading platform, into line with the diverse needs of the music industry.

Paul McManus, MIA: Trade shows around the world in most industries are either consolidating or closing, what long-term trends do you anticipate for our overall industry?

MB: Hardly ever has it been so difficult to make economic forecasts as it is at the moment. The trend for the sector varies considerably in the different markets. Also in Europe there has been a volatile development in recent years – and we cannot foresee the consequences of Brexit – yet.

However, there are some general social and economic trends which characterise the international music industry, and will continue to do so. The continuing digitalisation and globalisation of retail trade are examples of this. They are indisputably leading to an immense pressure on profit margins – but on the other hand also reduce obstacles for people taking up instruments, from which the industry in turn can benefit. Anyone can now buy a beginner’s guitar for a price that is no more than pocket money and learn initial chords in an online tutorial – to name but one example.

It is important that we get young people enthusiastic about making music and show them that it’s fun to learn an instrument, form a band and swap ideas and experiences with other musicians. We want to make our contribution to this, in line with the industry.

I often hear that children or young people have decided to take up an instrument after visiting Musikmesse or our 'Music4Kidz' area. If you enjoy the instrument, you will invest further – turn to premium brands, take lessons from a professional, maybe also learn other instruments.

The consumer is supplied with a wealth of information – and of offers – to an extent never before available. In this respect the consumer’s position today is stronger than in the past. They are getting more discerning, they want to purchase, learn and seek advice from providers who serve their personal requirements. No matter whether they find them at their own front door or with a mouse click on the other side of the world.

Dave Bamford, Symphony Music: In the 21st century connected world, what compelling and unique value is a trade show able to offer dealers, distributors and consumers that isn't available otherwise?

MB: There is no question about it, in the digital age we are faced with a gigantic information deluge – manufacturers‘ websites, social media, emails and information services, forums and blogs, podcasts and video clips. To these must be added the 'classical' channels, such as trade journals and manufacturers‘ magazines.

The chance to enjoy the look and feel of products, to test them and to experience them in action, however, is something that players in the industry will find mainly at trade fairs. In the music industry, in particular, this factor is of particularly high importance. The sound of an instrument, its surface structure, the way it handles and plays – none of all that can be reproduced on a data sheet, however detailed. Anyone walking the show floor in the exhibition halls will certainly discover innovations there which he didn’t yet have on the radar. I think our senses are invoked differently when visiting a trade fair that when leafing through a magazine.   

But, above all, the right contacts are on the spot immediately. No matter whether you want to ask questions about a product or get into a business discussion straight away. It is precisely in a networked world that face-to-face business still has powerful advantages.

But it is not just the direct line to the manufacturer which is important for many fair visitors; networking with colleagues in the industry from various parts of the world is also valuable, to exchange ideas and gather inspiration for one’s own business model. At the end of the day, many are facing similar challenges. In the case of Musikmesse a further component must be added: here retailers and distributors find, in a direct way, which new products are particularly attractive to end consumers, and they are able to draw conclusions. This is marketing research without detours. The comprehensive seminar programme, demonstrating approaches to solutions for future challenges in the MI industry.

I must not pass over another factor: of course a visit to a trade fair can and should also be fun and remind us that we love what we are doing. That is particularly true of Musikmesse with its more than 1,000 events – including concerts by well-known musicians on the open-air stage and on medium-sized and smaller stages. These are greatly enjoyed not just by musicians but also by retailers and suppliers. More or less everybody who works in the industry also has a strong personal relationship with music or with an instrument, and in hardly any other industry are business and emotion so closely linked like in ours. This emotional component defines Musikmesse – and means that the event draws international attention to the joy of playing a musical instrument.

Jason How, Rotosound Strings: Can you see a time when the show will revert back to a trade-only audience, or is embracing the public key to the future success of the show?

MB: Our aim is clear: we want to offer a platform which meets the demands of the industry in the best possible way and for this purpose are actively engaged in dialogue with companies, associations and visitor groups. Or, to put it more simply: what Musikmesse will look like in future will depend on the interests of the industry.

It is in the nature of things, however, that different players in the industry will have different demands and different goals. The strategic line-up of Musikmesse is thus always a common consensus.

The fact is that Musikmesse is a unique trading platform in Europe. As such, we also wish to strengthen the event further in future. This is the top priority for us, and will remain so. For the industry agrees it needs a platform of this kind in the middle of Europe.  

But it is also a fact that tens of thousands of musicians come to Frankfurt every year – with open minds, full of enthusiasm, and intending to discover new products. For businesses these are their present and future customers. I myself can well remember a time when I visited Musikmesse not as part of the team, but simply as a passionate musician. The impressions which I gained there were often decisive when it later came to purchasing – or establishing a long-term emotional bond with a brand.   

That the fair attracts so many visitors every year proves that there is a demand for a comprehensive information platform for all those who are interested in making music. The question is: are we doing the industry a favour if we exclude this target group?  

For us, the organisers, the task is therefore to find the right balance. In this context, the individual days of the fair will differ in their programmatic emphasis. On the first two days in particular the focus will be on addressing the important target group of the international retail trade. On these days we will be providing attractive seminars and workshops, matchmaking opportunities, and VIP events for qualified music industry retailers. And on Friday we will be incorporating increased offerings for music students and educational institutions.     

On Saturday the main focus will be on events and emotions; here the visitor can expect an extensive programme of musical highlights. In addition, on Friday evening and Saturday there will be reduced ticket prices – which will make this period particularly attractive for musicians and visitors interested in taking up an instrument. On the first days there will remain greater ease for the music retail segment. However, we are not excluding any visitors on any day of the fair. Anyone visiting Musikmesse will have an opportunity on all days to do business and to experience the emotional aspects of music making.   

Of course, we shall continue to listen closely to the industry and to find out precisely which target groups businesses mainly want to reach by visiting the fair.

Julian Marsden, As you already know most English visitors to Musikmesse are very poor at speaking German. What support can you offer those English visitors who would like to integrate further with Musikmesse by speaking more German?

MB: I am glad to hear that someone is really daring enough to take on our fine but complicated language.

May I say beforehand that Musikmesse is an international event, with exhibitors from over 50 countries and visitors from over 100 countries – no-one should have problems here in finding their way round in English. This applies also to the Academy programme for music industry retailers, which will have simultaneous translation or will be held in English. Moreover the city of Frankfurt is a real melting pot of the most diverse nations, so that with English you can manage well in the whole city.   

Otherwise, if you want to learn German, you will need German contacts – and you will find these at Musikmesse. It can really be an icebreaker for a meeting with German business partners at Musikmesse if you start by wishing them 'Guten Tag' – Germans appreciate this courtesy. If you can then say a 'Vielen Dank' without breaking your tongue, then the business partner will certainly remember you. 

By the way, in Frankfurt, as in most of Germany’s other regions, you usually order a 'Pils' if you want a beer. And if anyone has a further interest in the country and its people, I recommend, after a day at the fair, a visit to one of the many ‘Apfelwein-Kneipen’ in Frankfurt’s old part of the town – typical local pubs, where Frankfurt’s speciality drink, 'Apfelwein' or 'Ebbelwei' and regional delicacies are served at very reasonable prices. You can do that very easily in between your day at the fair and visiting a concert as part of the Musikmesse Festival, for Frankfurt is a city with short distances.

Find out more about Musikmesse Frankfurt at

Tags: musikmesse , Interviews , open to question , Michael Biwer

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