Buma Cultuur: 60 years of commitment to Dutch music

The Buma Cultuur team (see image below for detailed caption) / Photo: iMediate | Steven van Kooijk

Buma Cultuur has existed for sixty years. The organization committed to Dutch music celebrates the anniversary in a characteristic way: in the background.

Text: Jasper van Vugt

Frank Helmink, director of Buma Cultuur, is not eager to give an interview. “Can’t we put up a number of composers? After all, we don’t do this work for ourselves”, is the answer to the request to look back with EB on sixty years of involvement in Dutch music. His message: show the success of the organization based on the results of the people it is intended for: the members of Buma/Stemra.

It was the copyright organization that founded Buma Cultuur sixty years ago with the aim of ‘promoting Dutch music copyright both in the Netherlands and in the main export markets for Dutch (not necessarily Dutch-language) music.’ Little has changed in that regard, says Helmink. “It has expanded. The only constant in the early years was the presentation of the Golden Harp music prize. Since the 1980s, the corporate structure has changed and more has happened than the awarding of grants. It was also the period when Peter Smidt came from Groningen to work with Eurosonic Noorderslag. Since then it has slowly but surely grown into what it is today.”

Frank Helmink / Photo: iMediate | Steven van Kooijk


Helmink has worked at Buma Cultuur since 2009. Under his care, Buma Cultuur has expanded the range of different projects. In 2022, Buma Cultuur will be there for all kinds of music. This is expressed in various projects, from Amsterdam Dance Event (dance) and InJazz (jazz) to Annie MG Schmidtprijs (theatre songs), Buma Music in Motion (music for pictures) and Buma Music Academy (music education in junior high schools). With a total of eleven events or projects for accompanying music genres, various prizes, training courses, project grants and a counter for export opportunities, a lot is happening under the banner of Buma Cultuur.

We are there for the more than thirty thousand members of Buma. We try to facilitate them.

“We are there for the more than 30,000 members of Buma. They make all kinds of music. We want to be everywhere”, explains Helmink. “We try to facilitate them, from bringing young people into contact with music during the Buma Music Academy and the first steps towards professionalization at Musicians’ Day, to creating a global marketplace through trade missions. It works reasonably well. An important part of the question of whether this is successful lies in the organization. For example, we had to let go of Amsterdam Dance Event and Eurosonic Noorderslag; they continued as independent organizations because they became so large and successful that they suppressed other events within Buma Cultuur. It gave us more space to tackle other projects properly.”


Creating opportunities for Dutch composers and publishers, the members of Buma, happens in different ways. Creating awareness for the creators’ work is and will be an important task. Like linking composers and publishers to foreign parties, in order to be able to exploit Dutch work abroad. At exhibition festivals where artists perform, or in smaller settings. Helmink: “We are the link that introduces people to each other at a party. It can be one to one during a trade mission or with six thousand to six thousand, such as at ADE. For this you need a network within which you can introduce composers to parties that need music. In this way, you hope that these parties, whether for a festival or a commercial, will use Dutch music. Because if they see and hear Dutch music, they are more likely to use it. Within that, you try to bring questions and answers together as well as possible.”

We are the link that introduces people to each other at a party.

Even after sixty years, the finale and showing what happens during a project is the biggest challenge for Buma Cultuur. “It is not that difficult to organize an event. It’s harder to expand into something that has an impact. It takes time and requires patience. The first time ADE was for a hundred people in De Balie. The last normal version attracted half a million people. Equally well, an event does not have to be that big to have an impact, as long as you bring relevant parties together. At ADE, the challenge is again to ensure that Dutch music is given priority.”

The Buma Cultuur team. From left to right: Marga Poen, Didre Siebers, Saskia Hoekstra, Frank Helmink, Mark van Schaick, Yasmine Harmsen and Maartje Glas / Photo: iMediate | Steven van Kooijk

Digitization battle

The corona crisis presented another challenge. Thanks to a greater digitization effort, many projects could still get underway. Buma Music In Motion, the event for publishers and composers who make music for pictures, grew during that period. New parties were also found to work with, such as the Dutch Film Festival. “More and more people are realizing that Buma Cultuur can be of value,” says Helmink, who indicates that he would like to show more of what his organization does. Still, the effect is often difficult to measure, he believes. “You have to measure, but in a way it is impossible to measure the effect. See Eurosonic Noorderslag. A performance during the showcase festival is always a radar in a system. Such a performance must be part of an overall plan, a separate performance usually does not give anything immediately. At ESNS there is now a tool, the Radar. From that, you can see that artists grow after performing at the event in the country where it was broadcast.”

More and more people are realizing that you can benefit from Buma Cultuur.

Rolling stones

His influence on the organization can be seen most clearly in the quality of the organization and the way it works for Dutch music. Helmink: “After working here for thirteen years, it’s nice to see that we can do twice as many things with the same money. It’s not that hard to spend money. Spending on what is useful is another story. Almost every year we give part of our budget back to Buma. We are getting better at organizing and collaborating with other parties. It is important that a project stays with us; if you sell it to a commercial party, an event will be irrevocably different and people will no longer trust the setup. As Buma Cultuur we have no interest, we try to facilitate everyone. We work with the pebble principle: if you push the pebbles, they roll faster. Nothing happens to a stone that is still.”

It’s not that hard to spend money. Spending on what is useful is another story.

Photo: iMediate | Steven van Kooijk

The value of music

Buma Cultuur’s future ambitions go further than increasing the opportunities for Dutch composers at home and abroad. Increasing the number of venues for jazz musicians in the Netherlands is also an ambition. Showing the Dutch population the value of music is another important ambition, as is a stimulating role in the talent development chain. An example is Buma Music Academy. In addition, children in secondary education receive music lessons.

The message is that music has value.

Helmink: “The basis of music is learning to listen, both from musicians and from listeners. That way, you can let children experience what it’s like to make music. Hopefully, a number of children who would not otherwise have chosen music will move on to the top, just like in top sport. You also show children that making music is not something, anyone can just do it, and that it is not always made by the person you see on stage. The message is that music has value. Hopefully it will then succeed in letting the realization sink in a little bit, that the authors of that music will also be compensated for their work. It is important for all musicians, especially in the Netherlands. We want to keep our finger on the pulse and see if what we are doing makes sense.”

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