Music News

Warner Music Central Europe co-presidents on what it takes to break an act

Warner Music Central Europe co-presidents Doreen Schimk and Fabian Drebes have spoken to Headliner about the launch of the company’s new Berlin creative hub, as well as what it takes to break an act in today’s market.

“It’s been a very busy time,” Fabian Drebes exhales with a smile as he and Doreen Schimk take their seats either side of a long desk inside one of the pristine new meeting rooms at Warner Music Group’s new Berlin creative hub. It’s the day of the grand opening and Headliner has been invited for a chat with the co-presidents of Warner Music Central Europe a few hours before the doors officially open to a raft of senior executives from across the business, press from around the world, and numerous artists from its roster.

There’s a frenetic energy in the building as the final touches are applied to the various offices, communal spaces and listening rooms. An hour before we sit down with Drebes and Schimk, we were also granted an audience with Lars Karlsson, MD, Warner Chappell Music Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and Scandinavia, and Natascha Augustin, VP, Warner Chappell Music Germany, as the pair discussed at length the publisher’s domestic dominance and A&R culture (read here). Each pair of leaders have accumulated multiple decades’ worth of experience at Warner, something which they all cite as an essential component of their vision with regards to the company’s recorded music and publishing arms, as well as the creation of the new Berlin space.

“We took over leadership in 2021 coming out of the pandemic and facing questions of how we want to work and the work environment we wanted to create,” Schimk says of how the idea for a Berlin hub came about. “And it seemed obvious to us that we wanted to have a bigger space in Berlin. Germany is a very de-centralized market, it’s not like the UK where everything happens in London. In Germany it’s Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, and over the last 20 years Berlin has become one of the most exciting spots when it comes to start-ups, tech, and the creative scene. So it was obvious we needed to have a bigger footprint here. We wanted to provide a space where you can have songwriting sessions, where people can come together and be part of the creative scene here.”

Between them, Drebes and Schimk have built a vast network of global connections and relationships, which has laid the foundations for where they want to take the company over the coming months and years.

“We completely live the DNA of Warner Music Group,” says Drebes. “And of course, it helps when you know exactly what the brand stands for. We both built our internal networks in the company, and we are super-fast when it comes to global collaboration. That is a huge benefit for our people and our artists. We can move things globally in a second because of the robust network and relationships we have. I’ve been here almost 20 years and have had many roles, from video promoter back when MTV was big, to product management, marketing, and before this, I was overseeing the international marketing in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.”

“And I’ve been with Warner now for 12 years,” adds Schimk. “And Fabian and I have known each other for a long time, so it’s a privilege for us to write this new chapter together for Warner Music.”

In this complex world things change fast, and you have to be ready to evolve. Fabian Drebes, co-president, Warner Music Central Europe

So what precisely will the new space offer the business?

“Having a new space in Berlin will attract a lot of new talent and it helps us to expand our network and create more opportunities for collaborations,” says Schimk. “It’s a win-win situation. The entertainment industry has always been a people business and it always will be a people business, and Berlin is huge for networking and relationship building, both domestically and internationally.”

With the German music market enjoying a rich vein of form at the moment, particularly on account of a booming domestic rap movement, the key for Warner is to continue growing its business on home soil, as well as exporting its talent around the globe.

“We are making great steps here,” says Drebes. “If you look at Spotify on the Top 200 our domestic share moved up from 5% last year to now over 30% which is amazing and a great job from our artists and our teams. On top of that, it is of course a big priority to export music into the world. We did a deal with Stefan Dabruck Management, which is the management company behind the biggest EDM stars, like Robin Schultz, Alle Farben, HUGEL, and we have a partnership with them where we can deliver value for EDM artists with the potential to go global.

“It’s not easy,” he continues. “The world is getting more and more complex and that’s where we see more and more value in Warner Music Group. Our fast-moving network allows us to support artists and every market is different, so you need that local expertise – what is engaging with audiences, what are the drivers to grow reach? That’s where we see ourselves as a great partner for new artists. We can provide a lot of expertise and skills to help make sure you cut through the noise and reach your target.”

With artists increasingly exploring DIY approaches to launching their careers, is there a risk that majors might lose some of their appeal amongst the next generation of talent? For Schimk, it’s simply a matter of providing a more tailored service.

“There are so many different possibilities and options for artists,” she states. “That’s where we come in, whether it’s analysing data, content strategies, it’s like an a la carte menu where artists can select what kind of service they need and what kind of support they require. Every deal is customised now, every partnership is customised.

“We are seeing a trend of a lot of younger artists taking a DIY route and maybe working with some partners but reaching a point where things aren’t happing for them. They may have uploaded several tracks but are just stuck. That’s where we can make the difference.”

As for how Warner is able to make that difference, they key is forging ever closer bonds with the various scenes and genres that continue to arise and evolve.

“You have to be in the scene; you have to understand the scene,” says Schimk. “You can’t be a generalist. You have to understand the culture, the roots and the people in that scene. And of course, you have to understand the data. It’s not everything, but it is a part.”

“We have to bring people in from each scene who know what’s going on,” adds Drebes. “There are micro trends going on in each scene and you have to be there to understand them and understand the audiences. Data helps you but in the end you need to find excellent talent to cut through the noise.”

Schimk continues: “It’s very important these days that from an A&R perspective that you have an idea for how to create a sustainable brand and really have a sense of holistic thinking. It starts the minute you begin working with someone – you have to understand what their USP is, what is their vision, how does that become a sustainable brand?”

With hectic schedules calling, we’ve just enough time to ask what tips they have for any new artists looking to embark on a career in music.

“Take care of and make time for your fans, even if it’s just 10 people listening to the music,” says Drebes. “If you do that right and keep making great music, then having a great team around you will bring success. And never stop growing. In this complex world things change so fast, and you have to be ready to evolve.”

“Great storytelling, engaging with your fans, and of course having the right work ethic,” Schimk concludes. “Don’t think it’ll happen by accident.”

The Berlin hub comes a year after Warner Music Spain and Warner Chappell Music launched The Music Station in Madrid. Also designed as a creative hub, it consists of performances spaces, studio facilities, performance areas and more. Find out more here.