Geo Focus: The Netherlands

As the once choppy waters of the music industry in the Netherlands begin to subside, a number of trends have emerged. Here, Colby Ramsey discovers why those in the domestic studio and post-production sectors are now attempting to globalise their offerings more than ever.

Like in many countries, the music industry in the Netherlands took a hit following the financial crisis and resulting economic stagnation of 2007-2009, with a lack of healthy budgets struggling to keep the market in good shape.

Since then, the landscape has changed somewhat dramatically thanks to the increased availability of good quality, reasonably priced prosumer recording equipment and high speed internet in the Netherlands, as well as the emergence of new educational institutes for popular music and music recording, leading many new artists to decide that it would be wiser to record, produce and distribute their music themselves.

While the consumer side has also changed with the growing popularity of music streaming services – causing saturation of the market – Legacy Studios’ recording and mix engineer Joram Pinxteren believes that the waters have become calmer in the last two years, with artists, managers and record companies recognising the importance of remaining competitive in terms of their recording and production offerings.

“Electronic Dance Music (EDM) has been a fast growing and very successful branch of the Dutch music industry in the last decade, with many artists capitalising on this success,” Pinxteren explains. “I myself was asked to mix different international EDM and EDM-related productions because the client expected that a Dutch engineer ought to work on a proper EDM mix, and indeed, I think they were right since Dutch musicians are quite exposed to this kind of music.”

Others, like audio post and dubbing studio Creative Sounds’ managing director Patrick Ulenberg, believe the biggest change in the pro-audio and recording industries in the Netherlands has been the increased demand for more innovative and cost effective processes. “Today it’s not just about delivering your mix on a tape – studios are being asked to deliver according to all kinds of new standards,” he says. “Content needs to be delivered for traditional broadcast, VOD, OTT, home video etc. and in order to be able to do so, studios need to be innovative.”

Meanwhile, those in the post-production realm are continuing to enhance their workflows with linked servers, meaning audio can be imported and mixed often without any client being present: “All this makes production much more efficient, especially on bigger and more costly productions – and with constant cost-savings being asked for, this is a must,” notes United Post-Production’s head of audio Rob van Schoonderwalt.

Van Schoonderwalt goes on to explain that the implementation of the R128 norm for broadcast audio-mixing “really shook up the establishment,” with the legislation being welcomed by some mixing engineers and protested against by others, partly because some did not understand the motivations behind it.

Moving forward

Hilversum-based United has been investing heavily in new formats like 4K, 8K and HDR together with integrated workflows to demonstrate to potential clients what can be achieved and how it can be done cost-efficiently. This change in approach has lead to a boom in business for United, both with conventional and high-end post-production work from clients at home and abroad.

Pinxteren is also witnessing an increased interest in craft and quality as the music industry looks to explore advanced business models, along with an overall increased appreciation towards Dutch musicians. “People are understanding that skill and workmanship of all people involved in a project are important for success, so this could be an advantage for the Dutch music industry,” he remarks. “In the Netherlands the level of music education is quite high and there is some support in the form of subsidies. On the other hand, Dutch artists should be careful not to think about business and trade too quickly and focus more on inventiveness and originality.”

When it comes to Ulenberg’s specific line of work, he has noticed a shift away from subtitling and a step towards dubbing, and also continues to observe healthy growth. “If clients need more localised versions of the same show in different languages, chances are that the Dutch actually speak those languages. That gives an extra security of the quality that is being delivered,” he says. Despite this positivity, the Dutch market as a whole faces constant challenges, the most significant of which for Ulenberg are turnaround times and pricing. He asserts that being flexible is the only way to overcome and embrace this challenge.

Van Schoonderwalt adds that while it is important to join forces and collaborate with others as part of a post-production ‘family’, surviving alone in the market has become very challenging. For Pinxteren, the main challenge seems to be an over-abundance of the recording industry’s willingness to think big in terms of its scope. It is very attractive for Dutch artists to carry out their projects in big recording centres in the UK and USA, “therefore the biggest challenge seems to be able to keep the artists closer to home,” he observes.

With the majority heading for the music capitals however there is a risk of developing too much uniformity in the industry. To become noticed in a globalising world, and to avoid interesting clients disappearing, Pinxteren believes producers should “develop more skill, inventiveness, personality and involvement with their customers.”

This should not be a problem then for the Netherlands, with its lively and healthy music scene and its growing copyright business. “An ambitious artist has many possibilities to develop and many places and events to go to be inspired,” Pinxteren adds. “To become a little political, the artistic climate is a bit under pressure since populism has set its marks in Dutch society. I think the biggest threat for any industry is when there is no room for inventors to do their experiments.”

Despite being a rather small country compared with some of the European powerhouses, the Netherlands acts as the gateway to the rest of the continent, and continues to lead the way in pro-audio innovation.

Still work to do

Players from across the industry should still be mindful going forward, though. Post-production companies particularly may look to increase their chances of survival by investing in the latest technical developments, as well as collaborating and combining their expertise with those of different disciplines to meet client demand. While post work is as prevalent as ever in the Netherlands according to van Schoonderwalt, he believes that the overall quality of the work and the engineers/mixers has to be better if the industry is to maintain and expand on its strengths.

On the dubbing side, Ulenberg predicts that in due time all international shows will be available in spoken Dutch, reflecting healthy growth in the domestic market. “Whether it’s adult or children-based, the viewer wants the choice after all,” he affirms.

On the contrary, there is hope that there will be enough experimentation and originality in the Dutch music industry to uphold it as an interesting area to work in, with widely available high speed internet in The Netherlands having a significant impact on how music is consumed, and many telecom providers offering free music streaming bandwidth for their customers.

Pinxteren concludes: “Internationally I expect a more avant-garde music scene to develop in the coming years. At the same time, I see a future for festivals providing a broader experience for more specific subcultures and smaller audiences.”