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Meet Me at the Messe, Meet Me at the Fair

Some call it Messe, others call it fair, but every February music people from all over the world converge on Frankfurt for what is regarded as the music industry's most important annual showcase.

To get some idea of the music fair's scope, the visitor might do well to get a birds-eye view of the enormous complex which makes up the Messe Frankfurt. Situated on a 4 million square foot tract of land near the center of town, the grounds hold ten great exhibition halls, six pavillions, an assembly hall, press center, and administration building. So large is it that a "Via Mobile" —a weather-protected connection with moving sidewalk—is under construction to replace the jitney buses which now transport people from the entrance ways to various points within. Building, in fact, has become a by­word to the Messe's administrators who realize that Frankfurt must keep pace if it is to retain its historic role as one of Europe's chief commercial hubs.

And Frankfurt's commercial history does span an impressive arch of time and events. Despite the tumult of the Thirty Years War and during its very progress, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden was heard to say in 1632: "So long as the Main continues its path, so long as its waters flow, there shall be no stopping of commerce in the City of Frankfurt." The Main, of course, is Frankfurt's river and it continues to run just as it did in 1227, the year of the oldest extant document testifying to the fairs of Frankfurt. The modern Messe stems back to 1907, when the city council authorized its establishment. It is funded by the City of Frankfurt (60%) and the Province of Hessen(40%) and, with the exception of a few ceremonial buildings, its entire facilities have been rebuilt since the end of World War II. It offers well over two million square feet of exhibition space, and a communications network which dazzles the most cosmopolitan urbanite. Its services include its own travel and hotel agency, a variety of large and small restaurants, its own post, telegraph and telephone offices, a press center, and a busy administrative staff whose sole responsibility it is to make sure that the professional and personal needs of their visitors are served.

In 1983, 2.5 million visitors and exhibitors attended a broad spectrum of fairs, the most widely known of which are the international consumer goods fairs (spring: 3000 exhibitors, fall: 2750 exhibitors), the semiannual fairs of fabrics for clothing, and annual fair of fabrics for home use, the music fair, the fur fair, and the book fair. There are also a number of lesser known or more widely spaced fairs and, when the present master plan is brought to fruition, two or even three fairs may take place simul­taneously. During each fair day, a bilingual (German/English) newspaper, Messe Daily, keeps visitors informed about items of general interest to that particular trade, or of special news pertaining to the fair itself.

The Musikmesse, the largest of its kind in the world, is largely organized by the German music industry council, instrument manufacturers and music publishers. At its beginning in 1950, music was displayed within the framework of the International Spring and Autumn Fairs, and from 1954 to 1979 it was limited to the Spring Fair. But each year it grew and grew. By 1965, the number of foreign exhibitors equalled that of German firms and since then there has been an increase each year in the number of international businesses which have chosen to display their wares in Frankfurt.

The growth of the music industry itself has been so vast, owing in part to the world's internationalization, and in part to the rapidly expanding technology of our day, that an independent music fair was called for and first held in 1980. At the 1984 fair, all of Hall 8 and the brand new Hall 9 were used to accommodate exhibitors, along with the connecting Galleria, a huge atrium under a domed skylight which lends itself to public spectacles or television productions but also affords the visitor some moments of respite from the surrounding din. (The final day of the 1984 fair featured, in the Galleria, a spectacular mixed-media extravaganza with specially composed music, mime amd mise-en-scene, created specifically on the theme "Music and Architec­ture." The considerable cost of this production was jointly borne by the City of Frankfurt and the Messe Frankfurt, Ltd.) Display space is organized by product line according to the following categories: Large musical instruments (Mechanical = harpsichords, pianos, organs, etc.; Electronic = keyboards, string machines, synthesizers); Small musical instruments (string, wind, harmonicas, percussion, down to hurdy-gurdies and barrel-organs); Amplification (stage, studio and lighting equipment); Music accessories and spe­cial furniture; and Music publications.

The 1984 event drew 48,000 visitors and 748 exhibitors from 32 countries. West Germany, as might be expected, accounted for the greatest number (294), followed by England (89), Italy (71), the U.S.A. (70), France (51), Japan (37), and Holland (31). But most other countries were also represented, including the entire eastern bloc and mainland China, Brazil, India, Pakistan, and South Africa.

The Music and Architecture extravaganza in the Galleria

In the music publishing category, 113 firms—69 German and 44 foreign-—participated, and this includes only the number of publishers who actually displayed their editions. (Many more music people come from all the corners of the globe to mix and mingle, to renew old contacts, to see and to be seen.) It is estimated by a Messe spokesman that more than 10,000 titles were exhibited in the five days of the 1984 fair.

The statistical analysis for 1984 indicates that nearly 50,000 people attended the music fair. Who were these swarms and what led them to come to Frankfurt by road, rail and air, to pay the entrance fees (and often the extremely high hotel costs) for this music-industrial offering? In the answers lie some of the principal differences between the European music scene and ours in America.

It may be said that there is nothing in the U.S. to compare to the Frankfurt Music Fair. The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) does have an annual convention sponsored by and intended for the trade itself. However, this caters largely to instrument manufacturers and distributors with only a peripheral focus on other aspects of the industry. Missing almost entirely from the NAMM's meetings are the music publishers in general and the publishers of "serious" music in particular. This group, however, is one of the strongest and most vital components of the Frankfurt gathering. And for a very practical reason:

The role of the European music publisher, and most especially the German publisher, differs drastically from that of his American counterpart. The German music industry, with a tradition exceeding 200 years, is highly organized and is based on certain basic tenets which do not apply in the U.S. Chief among these fundamentals is the principle that the publisher never deals directly with the end consumer, but relies instead on two intermediaries, the Gross-Sortiment and the Musikalienhandlung. The former is a jobber, and there is only a handful of these organizations in all of Germany. Located in such centers as Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, these wholesalers buy music from all publishers for resale to the retailer. Although the retailer (Musikalien­handlung) is permitted to buy from the publisher directly, it is often more practical for him to place one order with a jobber than twenty orders with as many individual publishers. It is the retailer, the music dealer, whose sole prerogative it is to sell printed music to the user, be that user an individual or an institution. Thus, German schools, libraries, and performing organizations are used to obtaining their music exclusively from their local dealers. Unlike most American shops, which deal more and more in materials other than printed music, the German music merchant has maintained an extraordinarily high level of competence in publications matters. In fact, the time-tested principle of "apprenticeship" is still in evidence, and the German shopkeeper has passed a number of examinations certifying his qualifications as a purveyor of music and musical materials.

And it is in the dialogue, this symbiotic part­nership between the publisher and the music mer­chant, that the Frankfurt Fair takes on so para­mount an importance. This guaranteed February phenomenon is considered by publishers as their principal showcase, their opportunity to display their wares, both old and new, to compare notes with their competitors—intramural relations in the German music industry are unusually communal and friendly—and to interact with their customers and the market-at-large. For the dealer, the occasion is even more intense, serving the function of a five-day workshop dur­ing which dealers become acquainted with new publications and bone up on what is likely to sell.

So assiduously is the fair dedicated to trades­people themselves that the general public is officially excluded during the first four days­although the number of young faces attest to the ingenuity of some in gaining entrance to the re­stricted convention. On the final day, the doors are opened to all who wish to gawk, listen, doodle or strum—teachers, students, parents, lovers of music and musical gadgetry—and untallied crowds of amblers mill in unmistakable fascina­tion among the attractive display stands. Only after 6 p.m. of the last day are the exhibitors permitted to begin the dismantling process as 500 trucks and vans queue up outside to carry the merchandise back home again.

To buy and sell, to talk and listen, to teach and learn and to touch base with the totality of the world's music industry: this is the challenge and the triumph of Frankfurt's Music Fair.

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