For nearly 24 years the Schweizer Musikzeitung (Swiss Music Newspaper, SMZ) has been in circulation – a long time during which the media landscape has changed radically, keyword: internet. So you ask yourself: Why do we still need this newspaper which is still printed on newsprint paper nine times a year despite having an online presence? Or, to put the question differently: How would you argue that there is a necessity for this trade journal if it didn’t exist yet and you wanted to launch such a project?
Katrin Spelinova, who has been running the SMZ since 2007 as its editor-in-chief, does not hesitate for a moment: “We need a voice for music in Switzerland which is also heard outside the world of music.” She alludes to the fact that politicians wish that there was only once voice for all music associations.
The foundation of the SMZ does indeed have a link to the Federal Office of Culture (BAK). “In 1998, the BAK changed its strategy and cut financial contributions to the music associations”, explains Katrin Spelinova. “One argument was that the music associations should merge their magazines and newsletters.” That is how it was done. In the meantime, the SMZ has become an official notification channel for 12, even 30 music associations when you count the sub-organisations. SUISA is connected to SMZ as a partner and uses the publication channel in order to additionally disseminate its topics in connection with copyright in musical works and the cooperative society.
Katrin Spelinova highlights that the SMZ does not receive any subsidies from the BAK. “We used to be supported by Pro Helvetia, however, when we modernised our online appearance with the relaunch in 2013. Apart from that, our business is carried by the associations and advertising which is very important to us.” The type of financing by associations has remained the same since the relaunch in 2013. “It is a two-tier financing model. Associations require a side package which matches their needs, usually five, nine or 18 pages per year. The amount to be paid does not just depend on the number of these pages but also the number of the registered subscribers of association members.” In which case you need to add that the maximum price for such an annual association subscription only amounted to five Swiss Francs which just about covered the postage. “This income makes up 25-30% of our total income, the remainder stems from advertising and normal subscriptions which cost CHF 70.00” The main share of the roughly 18,500 subscriptions (WEMF 2021) goes to the associations.
Roughly 16 to 20 pages of the associations per issue which are aptly referred to as “basis” are no handicap for the credibility of the SMZ. On the one hand, they are clearly separated from the cover parts by the editors. On the other hand, they do not just contain the usually rather dry association news but also gripping articles such as about tradition and the importance of music reviews (issue 5/2021) or the adorably describe “Don Juan stupor: Russian pianists – gendering not necessary and the paraphrasing about Mozart operas by Liszt” (issue 6/2021).
Katrin Spelinova also points out: “In the cover parts produced by the editors, we are trying to remain as neutral as possible.” The cover parts are split in a self-explanatory manner into “focus”, “reviews”, “resonance”, “campus” and “service”. The filet piece of the printed issue is the theme focus (“focus”) which is not published online. Here, you can read several in-depth texts on the topics such as “Hausmusik”, “wallet”, “voice”, “animas”, pause”, “Corona”, “supporting characters”.
Content without any style boundaries
What is central to the content is the alignment with the target group. Katrin Spelinova: “With this, we clearly refer to the active musicians whether professionals or amateurs, whether from orchestras or bands, including teachers and parents of music students, also people who are generally interested in music.” What’s decisive for picking the topics is that the Schweizer Musikzeitung is meant to be the platform for the Swiss Music Scene. “We report on everything which affects the music in Switzerland, whether that be education, performances, sound recordings or the life of music creators, and not just the life of stars which is already covered in other media types.” We would like our readers to be able look behind the scenes and to receive impulses to think about music in a rather general manner.”
In the last few years, the stylistic spectrum and therefore also the target group were increasingly expanded towards jazz and pop/rock. Katrin Spelinova wants to stick to this expansion. “It is also an experience of the music schools that you cannot make any progress with pigeonholing, i.e. to categorise into classical music, jazz, pop/rock, world music etc. And that is not least because the styles are merging.” This distinction is still made online in order to simplify access. “I do hope that this way of pigeonholing will cease to exist one day and that we will simply talk and write about music and what is associated with it.”
Katrin Spelinova does, however, confirm the impression that the SMZ is well-known in the classical music creation sector but much less so in the pop/rock and jazz sectors, despite editorial efforts with stories from these areas. She is still optimistic: “Due to the merger between the Schweizer Tonkünstlerverein [Swiss Sound Artist Association] with the Verein Musikschaffende Schweiz [Association Music Creators Switzerland], we now have more readers from that sector and expect that this is going to continue to increase.”
The newspaper format and the relatively plain and dry layout are a handicap with the younger readers who are mainly active on the internet and are used to a more attractive and colourful design. Katrin Spelinova is aware of that. “This is surely an issue which we must consider more and more in order to attract the attention of the students at music universities to the SMZ. We attempt to be present on social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. But if such a presence is really meant to convince, it requires an enormous effort.”
Print despite online presence
The question still remains why the SMZ still issues a printed edition despite enhanced online presence, is this not somewhat anachronistic? Katrin Spelinova emphasizes that you can also subscribe to the SMZ as an e-paper but this share was very small and amounted to less than a percent of the readers. “It is absolutely important that this newspaper gets delivered to the letterboxes so that readers are reminded nine times a year what their association is doing for them. With our enhanced cover section they also have the opportunity to read something about aspects which they would not actively look for on the internet because it is not even on their radar.” Add to that a business-related reason: “We cannot finance ourselves online. Advertising business still mainly runs via the print issue.”
As such you could ask yourself how the online and print versions differ from each other. Katrin Spelinova: “Since we only publish nine times a year, we can provide a current report in the summer break online, which would be too late in the next print issue in September. And what is also very important is that we can place teasers into the hardcopy for longer texts which no longer find space in it and then refer the readers with a QR code to the integral online version. This creates more room to manoeuvre for us.”
The chat page in the printed part where two personalities exchange their view on a topic is rather interesting. This is something with particular online potential. It could nudge discussions with an expansion of the chat as a presented online discussion platform which regularly presents a topic that is discussed by experts in a controversial manner and then could be discussed further by the readers. Katrin Spelinova also sees a chance here. “We have relatively little direct feedback, also not via the commentary function. Last year, on the occasion of the Beethoven anniversary, we presented a work each week and asked the readers to tell us their relationship to or their experience with said composition. But only very little happened, we could not feel much from our readers.”
Bridge function between languages and regions
Thanks to the online presence the news really is news. Here, the quality of the SMZ shows itself by a careful selection such as with notes on insights from music research. Katrin Spelinova mainly looks after the matters affecting the associations and is very well supported by Wolfgang Böhler who many people might still know from the online magazine “Codex flores”. “He has a very good overview over what’s happening in the cultural political arena in the cantons and the municipalities.” Add to that the news from Jean-Daniel Humair who looks after the French part of the SMZ in Lausanne; Pia Schwab also contributes as part of the editorial team. “But it is a capacity problem to look after the French part as extensively as the German part.”
Italian texts are therefore a huge exception even though the exchange between the regions and languages is held high. “We try it, because the bridge function of the SMZ is important. You must not forget: For music creators from the Ticino, it can be more interesting if a report about them is written in German so that they draw more attention in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. We therefore have reported about the Ticino as a peripheral region, this year, we will focus on the Jura, next year about Grisons.”
What would be desirable is to feature more reviews which are important for music creators according to Katrin Spelinova. “What’s decisive for us is that the CDs have a link to Switzerland and are not from superstars which are already present everywhere else. In addition, concert reviews should, if possible, reflect a flow or a phenomenon in several examples. Specifically in one of the last issues there was a text on nine string quartets of Swiss composers who were performed within two weeks in Brunnen and in Zurich. As such you can also convey a context which contributes more than a pure concert review.”
Music associations involved:
Eidgenössischer Orchesterverband (EOV), Forum Musik Diversität (FMD), Konferenz Musikhochschulen Schweiz (KMHS), Musikhochschule Kalaidos, Schweizerischer Jugendmusikwettbewerb & Arosa Kultur (SJMW), Schweizerische Musikforschende Gesellschaft (SMG), Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Musik-Medizin (SMM), Schweizerischer Musikpädagogischer Verband (SMPV), Schweizer Musikrat & CHorama (SMR), Schweizerischer Musikerverband (SMV), SONART – Musikschaffende Schweiz, Genossenschaft der Urheber und Verleger von Musik (SUISA) und der Verband Musikschulen Schweiz (VMS).
Surprising, fresh and always setting the tone: The Schweizer Musikzeitung can be acquired as a printed edition 9x a year delivered to your letterbox or as an e-paper. The latter is delivered as a pdf by e-mail or can be downloaded in the print archive.
The subscriptions include access to the digital print archive (Articles since 1998).
Annual subscription or e-paper, 9 issues: CHF 70.00
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