The musician’s lawyer – what the VUT does for you as an artist!
recordJet in an interview with Jörg Heidemann from the Association of Independent Music Entrepreneurs
The VUT is a very important organisation for musicians. Never heard of it? We headed off to Berlin Charlottenburg, to have a chat with the managing director of the Verband Unabhängiger Musikunternehmer*innen (Association of Independent Musicians and Music Companies – VUT), Jörg Heidemann. It was a very intense interview about the relevance of music created without the pressure of the mainstream music industry and what the VUT is doing to ensure that it stays that way – and much more importantly – gets better. Let’s start with part 1 of the interview.
Jörg, what exactly does VUT mean?
We started as the “Verband unabhängiger Tonträgerunternehmen” (Association of Independent Audio Media Companies). Since September 2019, we have been called “Verband unabhängiger Musikunternehmer*innen e.V.”. But at the time the VUT was a non-profit association dedicated to indie labels, publishers, distributors, producers and also musicians and music companies. Our aim is to think about the music business from top to bottom. Our smallest members are the primary focus of our efforts; nowadays there are lots of self-marketing musicians, which is why we changed our name – we want to specifically target these musicians. Previously, our members were more classical labels and publishers. But in digital times these traditional institutions are less and less necessary. Today an artist is often everything in one: musician, label boss and publisher. In addition to our main office in Berlin, we also have voluntary regional groups. This gives our members the opportunity to contact others in their region and, for example, organise regular groups or knowledge exchanges.
Are there any acceptance criteria? What is important to you?
Any independent musician and music company can become a member, if they feel we are appropriate for them or they need our help. That’s why we are here! Major or mainly major- dominated companies are unfortunately not accepted. We also offer information, networking and if necessary, mediation between GEMA or other performing rights societies. The preservation and strengthening of copyright law is also very important to us. Thanks to Google, there has been some confusion there.
What do you do for musicians?
Our range of services comprises the following key points: networking, representing the interests of members, training opportunities, advice of any kind, many discount services and lastly our best service, providing model contracts.
In detail, we explain to musicians how things work, answer complicated questions and offer consultation to companies. We have a kind of music Wikipedia on our website visible to all our members which is very helpful. For example, we point out the tricks in dealing with “Bandcamp”, who are very much on trend right now.
But many musicians don’t know that Bandcamp has no official company address. This means you cannot negotiate contracts with them. If you’re a musician, all you have is a “take it or leave it” number. But there are also other practical tips on our website, such as why is there a silver sticker on all audio media in Italy if you want to sell a CD, for example? These are practical questions that you won’t find in the music business manual. The sticker comes directly from the Italian performing rights society. They want to prevent pirated copies.
It’s also important to mention our legal assistance. We have a lawyer who has prepared all contracts, whether artists’ contracts, band contracts or others, as annotated contracts, and has provided them for all members. They are very easy to download. All the possible pitfalls which a layman may not know are explained. In addition, we also offer free legal advice by telephone from Monday to Friday, 17:00-18:00. Anything our lawyer can answer directly on the phone is free of charge, but ongoing, individual advice is not. As a general rule, our lawyer can always categorise a query.
Also important, especially during Coronavirus, is our huge range of webinars. Among the topics discussed are copyright and performance protection rights. We invite representatives of GEMA and GVL and agencies that deal with artists’ performance protection rights to participate in the conversation with our members. If necessary, we work as a mediator if the artist is having trouble with GEMA or GVL. We also have great discounts for our VUT members, e.g. for hotel costs, rental cars or newsletter tools. We also have a special agreement with GEMA for the production of audio media. Instead of the 13.3% a musician has to pay, a member of the VUT only has to pay 8.5%.
Where can we see you or your colleagues from the VUT in the flesh?
In general you can come visit us in Hardenbergstraße in Berlin. Please arrange it in advance. We always have coffee, a lovely courtyard and at least two open ears! Otherwise, you can see us at our VIA Awards and the VUT Indie Days, e.g., at the Reeperbahn Festival or the c/o pop Convention. With the VIA Awards, we want to offer musicians another form of publicity and celebrate their independent magnificence. We do this through the prize money (each category gets about 1500 Euro) and the chance to be seen and do some networking. Our headquarters at the Reeperbahn Festival are the “Indie House” in “sanktpaulibar” on Spielbudenplatz in Hamburg and we try to be a network point and focal point. We also curate up to 10 panels and knowledge exchanges, such as workshops, etc. at the festival. It is worthwhile visiting in any case. I think this is also our great strength: opening up. Perhaps that is why we have advanced so much in Germany. We have the largest indie association in the world, with more members than any other.
What are your goals in the next 10 years?
We have a strategy meeting once a year. At this meeting we look at our medium and long- term goals. We have just reached a long-term milestone. In summer 2020, we became minority shareholders of the GVL and so have some input on the producer side of things. For us, this is a great thing, because we have for years criticised the GVL in particular regarding payment criteria and participation. In the past, the producer side of GVL was dominated by majors, but now we are in the mix and want to make our criticisms with the aim of providing solutions. Get into the system and shake it up from the inside, as it were.
And we have also achieved another medium-term goal, for a problem that many don’t even have on their radar. Over the years, many rights holders have lost control of their meta data. The distributors or aggregators and performing rights societies have the meta data more or less clean, but all of the lone wolves are still playing around with old Excel spreadsheets. The VUT’s idea is a comprehensive database solution, hosted by the VUT and promoted by Initiative Musik – and without economic interests, which allows the rights holders to decide for themselves what happens with their own data. Kind of like a private cloud. If this feasibility study is positive we will be a lot closer to our goal.
A very central point, if not the most important point over the last few years, especially for individual musicians, is the implementation of the European Copyright Directive into German law. Unfortunately, we must conclude that the contribution to the discussion by the Ministry of Justice does not at all correspond with what the EU had planned, i.e. to take responsibility for the platforms so that there will ultimately be more money for the artists. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
Thank you for the interview Jörg.
About Jörg Heidemann
Jörg Heidemann’s CV is full of apparent detours and gut decisions – what luck. The graduate psychologist, who was so good at his part-time job in a record shop that he ended up taking over the shop, stands out due to his turbulent CV. He started out as an export manager at “EFA Medien GmbH”, one of the largest independent distributors in Germany. During a short detour at Universal Music Deutschland he and two friends fulfilled his dream: to have their own international physical distribution company.
Starting in 2010, he worked as a freelance project manager in the field of economy at the VUT, which now has 1200 members. Since December 2014 he has been managing director. In addition, among other things, he sits on the advisory board of the “Musicboard Berlin” and is a member of the “Charts and Marketing Committee of the BVMI”. He is also an international member of the “IMPALA Management Board” and “WIN Director”. At the Reeperbahn Festival he organises VUT panels and creates networks within the music world. As per his motto “get into the system and shake it up from the inside”, he and his colleagues have been properly shaking up the music industry for a long time.