Bernard Kobes

‘We need to make a digital effort now, or problems will occur in future’

The Sound Vision of Bernard Kobes

Sound Vision by SoundAwareThe world we live in at the moment is quite difficult, with the pandemic and the measures taken to stop the spread of the virus. For everyone, regardless of their age, where they live or the industry they work in. Of all industries, the cultural one might have been hit the hardest. Where some sceptics talk about ‘those few gigs and festivals that were cancelled’, it actually affects millions of artists, actors, musicians, production - and other staff who’ve been out of work and income, all over the globe, for months. That’s why we thought it was time for an update, coming straight from the people in the industry. This episode of Sound Vision: Bernard Kobes, chairman of the board of directors and CEO of Buma/Stemra.

Written by Kylie Fletcher

New Energy

When Bernard Kobes starts as the chairman of the board of directors and CEO of Buma/Stemra, late 2019, his job there starts almost at the beginning of the Covid-crisis. He has mostly been occupied with crisis management ever since. The cultural industry has been hit hard, since the ‘arrival’ of Covid-19. As part of the cultural industry, Buma/Stemra, a Dutch organisation advocating for music copyrights on behalf of Dutch composers, writers, poets and music publishers on music copyrights, has seen some bad times this past year, too. ‘The Covid-situation obviously dominates our business at the moment,’ says Kobes. Together with Marleen Kloppers, he is responsible for the daily management of Buma/Stemra. Paying funds quicker, partially compensating lost revenue for composers and writers to put a financial bandaid on the pain for entitled parties, are a few of the measures Buma/Stemra has taken to help their members out. The past year, 2020, has not been easy, and it hasn’t simply had its influence on the organisation itself, but also on partners of Buma/Stemra. 

Besides crisis management due to Covid, Kobes and Kloppers have been busy making plans for after the crisis, making sure that Buma/Stemra, in cooperation with users, partners and entitled parties, can put some fresh energy into the world of music, post-covid. ‘With every month extra with the country in lockdown, we’re losing 5 million on invoices. And without an actual end date, this crisis has an open end. It’s a thought phase we have to get through. I do however see Covid as a temporary disrupter and hope this time next year, we’ll be back to the old, new normal, with lots of fresh, new energy. A ‘new’ normal where everyone profits,’ he explains. 

New horizon

‘The past year, we’ve mostly been busy redefining our future. As an organisation, we’re going a different route in comparison to where we’ve been going the past years. With that, we’ve defined a few important trends. Firstly, digitalisation within our industry. The consumption of music is happening differently now, compared to before. Changes have been occurring within our industry for the past 100 years, but we are now seeing a massive change with the arrival and implementation of new media. Where before, we were mostly active only in the Netherlands, we’re now closing deals and licenses internationally, for our online users.’

«Our cooperation with SoundAware is essential»


‘In the past, we were the only organisation active in the Netherlands, and only active for the Netherlands. In the future, I see Buma/Stemra representing stakeholders all over the globe. The choice for a composer to join Buma/Stemra is less likely now than we would like to see. That’s why we’re going to investigate the criteria for people to join. The choice for Buma/Stemra should be an obvious one, due to our speedy payments, highly accurate information and data, ease of use and additional services. What extra information can we provide? The data component and complete insight into all of it has become increasingly important. To gather relevant and accurate data, our cooperation with SoundAware is essential. This is where we translate what we do to the composer and creator. The delivered data is the first identification. One that is and needs to be increasingly refined. It makes SoundAware an essential strategic partner in our service.’

‘We’re noticing that demands are higher nowadays. From our users, but also from upcoming tech companies and stakeholders. Is there any additional marketing information available? Because of the crisis, monetising the repertoires of artists is now even more important than before. To summarise, there are four trends we will be focussing on in the near future: digitalisation, globalisation, internationalisation and the higher demands of stakeholders. Despite Covid, which clearly messed up a lot, we still see these trends persevere. In part, Covid accelerated these trends. Online is growing even faster now, so that really is a lesson learnt. We’ve had to endure and see some hard blows within our organisation and the industry, like with the complete shutdown of the hospitality industry and the prohibition of events. But online just keeps growing.’

‘What’s important now is that we stay focused on our mission. Thanks to our monetisation and funds, we can continuously help in the creation of new music. We collect funds and pay the makers and entitled parties. Nothing has changed there, except for the playing field. Buma/Stemra is at a crossroad. We’ve got a few strategic choices ahead of us. We need to customise our service for the future. The online streaming of music counts for billions of transactions globally and as CMO, you need to be ready to handle that. That’s why increasing our quality of service is a priority now.  We have over 30 thousand members, both small and big earners. All have contradictory concerns, but all with one common concern: collecting what’s rightfully theirs; money. That’s where we have to put our focus: on making a connection. But connecting and creating a connection is hard to measure. A great number of funds pass through our organisation. This money needs to be handled safely and we need to establish a trustworthy, open and transparent connection with our members. Not just our organisation, but also our customers, members, entrepreneurs in hospitality and events and the complete cultural industry are going through a really hard time. We’re all in the same boat and we have to make it out together. We need to make good agreements with other industry-wide organisations, also. It is a process of giving and taking: for all stakeholders.’

«Covid is a tough phase we have to get through»

Heck of a job

‘A pain point we’re facing now is our IT backbone. Because of the crisis, there is less money coming in, but at the same time, we really need to take some steps - digitally. If we don’t upgrade soon, major problems will occur. The necessity is clear, but it also comes with an increase in cost. It’s a tough phase we have to get through. And without an end date.. this crisis has an ‘open end’. What is the impact of lockdown? Our costs are pretty much set. But our revenue is dependent on the strength and the length of the measures taken by the government(s). New technology-wise, we’ve been looking at Blockchain. But first, we need to replace our existing infrastructure, to facilitate a new technical environment. That’s the phase we’re in now, and when that’s settled we can look ahead. It’s a heck of a job: these plans will take us two years.’

«We miss the connection with our members at the moment and that’s hard»

Temporary Problem

‘Since the start of this crisis, in March 2020, the whole organisation has switched to working from home. We’ve been working like this for over a year now. In the beginning, it was fine. Obviously, you have some minor issues when starting up, but it works in the short term. The long-term effects are now starting to show and we are seeing more and more of what this means for the future. We miss the connection with our members, partners and followers and that’s hard. We’re all just staring at a screen every day. In the end, you do miss a lot of communication and information. It is different now than before when you speak to people in person. Eventually, it really isn’t how you would want it to be. You need to make appointments for everything and go from one online meeting into the next. You get used to it, and it works, but it creates a whole other dynamic.'

«Streaming is nice, but it is completely different from actually attending a physical festival»

‘At Buma/Stemra we think this is something temporary though. We really hope that somewhere next year, we’ll get back to our old, yet new normal. Workwise, things will change a bit: I think we will be working from home more. More spread out. The last year has proven that you don’t need to be at the office 24/7. So we’ll be working from the office and from home in the future. Events wise, everything has been proved to work online, and it still does so. Eurosonic Noorderslag was a very good start, but a festival like that digitally.. it really is something else and nothing compared to the ‘real, live’ thing. Streaming is nice, but it is completely different from actually attending a physical festival. And I personally can’t wait to do so again, soon!’, says Kobes. 

Bernard Kobes & Buma/Stemra

Bernard Kobes

In November 2019, Bernard Kobes starts as chairman of the board of directors and CEO of Buma/Stemra. Buma/Stemra is a Dutch organisation advocating for music copyrights on behalf of Dutch composers, writers, poets and music publishers on music copyrights. Buma/Stemra is the working organisation of the Union of Buma/Stemra and foundation Stemra. In spring 2020, at the start of the first Dutch lockdown, Marleen Kloppers joined him on the board and in daily management as CFO. Kobes has great managerial experience in media and ‘Hilversum’. He was, amongst other functions, active at companies such as NOB (Nederlands Omroepproductie Bedrijf), Technicolor, DutchView, Ericsson Broadcast and the NLPO (Nederlandse Lokale Publieke Omroep).

Photograph: Annemieke van der Togt

Keen to read more ‘Sound Visions’? Take a look here​ for our others interviews in this series.



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