Germany's Budde Music: For 70 Years, A Source of Hit Songs for Frank Sinatra, JAY-Z & More

A lot our conversations at dinner were about music business,” says Benjamin Budde, 31, growing up in West Berlin with his pioneering music publisher father, Dr. Rolf Budde, 61. He always knew his father was working with ­songwriters and musicians, says Benjamin, “and I thought it was super cool.”

Father and son today jointly run Budde Music, the independent German music publishing company that is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2017. With its headquarters in the leafy Wilmersdorf neighborhood West Berlin, Budde is the home songs that have traveled the world, including the original German version “Summer Wind,” whose English lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer; the mid-’80s dance smash “Rock Me Amadeus” from Austria’s Falco, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100; and “Forever Young,” a hit for the German band Alphaville sampled by JAY-Z for his 2010 track “Young Forever.”

Through seven decades, Budde Music has remained a family business. Founded by Benjamin Budde’s grandfather, Rolf senior, it was expanded by the family’s second generation, Rolf Budde and his brother Andreas. Now Benjamin, a third-generation music publisher, is reinventing the firm as a stronger source songs and artists for the international music business.

After launching during Germany’s post-war recovery in 1947, Budde Music started publishing German compositions, including light, pop schlager songs. It scored its first international success in the mid-’60s with German tunes that were adapted by English songwriters, not only “Sommerwind” but also “Du Spielst ’ne tolle Rolle,” recorded by Nat “King” Cole with different lyrics as “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days Summer.” In the ’60s, the company also started making subpublishing deals to represent the rights songs in Germany by artists like The Beatles and Elvis Presley.

Andreas Budde bolstered the creative side the company in the ’80s, developing and co-producing artists including Alphaville, whose “Forever Young” remains one Budde Music’s most ­valuable songs. By the early 2000s though, the company was known mostly for its subpublishing business.

Since Benjamin began with the company in 2008, Budde Music’s fice in Berlin has become a hub for international ­collaborations between its own writers and those the ­companies it ­subpublishes, including Downtown Music Publishing, SONGS and Big Yellow Dog Music.

Rolf, who focuses on the financial side the business, is also president the German Music Publishers Association and on the board the German collecting society GEMA. Benjamin is following in his uncle Andreas’ footsteps, signing writers and developing artists. After attending Berlin’s bilingual John F. Kennedy School through 12th grade, “and since I’m in the U.S. constantly,” says Benjamin, “people don’t see me as being from another country. In the music industry in Europe, where you can instantly release music ­internationally,” he adds during a Billboard interview, “a company like ours can make borders disappear.”

What drew you to the family business?

Our company represented some very cool catalogs while I was growing up — we went through phases when we represented Bob Dylan and The Beatles and Bob Marley through German subpublishing deals]. That pulled me into the business. When I was 15, my best friend and I built a studio ourselves with the few bucks we had, to record hip-hop. My parents weren’t happy, since they wanted me to focus on school. But those experiences with hip-hop artists made me want to learn more, so I did an apprenticeship at SMV Music Publishing in Hamburg].

There aren’t many music businesses that are still fully family-owned.

I’ve always known that Budde is unique. And I notice that more and more — with all the investors and private equity companies buying publishing catalogs, it’s really special that a company like ours still exists. It was my dad’s biggest dream that I go into the business. My three siblings never had an interest, although my sister Victoria went into the touring world — she works for the booking agency MSK in Berlin] — and we work together on Álvaro Soler whom Budde Music publishes and manages].

You’re now transforming the business. What has been your motivation?

I started as a new employee with no experience besides my studies, and I began analyzing the company to see what was missing. I felt that the creative side — which when I started in 2008 had one employee — needed to change. That had been my uncle’s role. When he joined the ­business, in the ’70s, he brought it to another level by developing acts and making recordings in-house; he co-produced Alphaville. We own the first album and licensed it to Warner Music.

By the ’90s, my uncle was no longer as interested in pop music in Europe, and by the early 2000s Budde had become more an administrative company. But I started placing songs and I just thought, “This is what I want to do with my life. I want the company to be creative again.”

What were some the steps you took?

We had to prove ourselves as a creative company, not just an administrative one. So we started ­signing writers. A few years later, when the gold and platinum plaques started coming in, we knew we had the right approach. Now we have 10 creative executives in Berlin, three in Paris, two in London, one in New York and one in Los Angeles.

Did you always focus on the global market?

From day one, I wanted to make international music. I was not interested in being lobbed in with the local music market Germany. We needed to use Germany as a base for the international ­business, and build on it.

You organize a lot co-writing sessions with your writers and writers from the U.S. and U.K. companies with which you have subpublishing deals. How important is it to have not just business, but creative relationships with those partners?

Our songwriters work with ­writers from all the companies we represent. I think music ­publishers want to be aligned with the most creative ­companies, not only the best administrators, because you want local expertise in terms ­setting up co-writes. We do them constantly for our partners, including Reservoir, Reverb and Big Yellow Dog. We had Big Yellow Dog writer] Chris Gelbuda co-write a song with German DJ and Budde songwriter] Alle Farben, “Bad Ideas,” and it was a No. 1 radio hit in Germany.

Has Germany’s place in music changed?

The importance central Europe has changed. So it’s now possible to break artists who are from the U.K. in Germany. For example, the Rag’n’Bone Man song “Human,” which was written by Reservoir songwriter] Jamie Hartman, broke in Germany and then became a hit internationally.

What about recording and management?

We signed Norwegian singer-­songwriter] AURORA and we had her co-write with different creators; together with her management, we helped her sign to Glassnote in the U.S. and Decca in the U.K. With Álvaro Soler, we helped him sign to Universal Germany, in a worldwide deal, and his debut single “El Mismo Sol”] was rerecorded with Jennifer Lopez in the U.S. He asked us to manage him and we said, “Let’s see if it works.” If creators are asking, “Can you release recordings? Can you manage me?,” it’s natural growth. As far as ­recordings, it can be a jump-start for an artist, but we’re more interested in ­partnering with a label.

How has your father’s role changed?

My father focuses on international ­business, ­subpublishing, streaming and market ­developments. He’s president the German Music Publishers Association and he’s on the board the German collecting society]. We’re not seeing a lot publishing] royalties from streaming, and he’s one the people fighting to make that better.

Publishing catalogs are worth more than they were a few years ago. What does that mean for the future the company?

It was always the idea to pass it on to the next generation, so I could never dare sell it. My ­grandfather founded the business, and my father and my uncle took it to another level. We needed to be proactive and creative. I feel like my ­grandfather would be proud. 


THE BEST OF BUDDE

Ten the company’s most notable copyrights from the 1950s to the present.

“Pack die Badehose Ein”

With a title that translates as “pack the bathing suit,” this pop schlager song about swimming in Berlin’s Lake Swansee was a hit in Germany in 1951 for teen idol Die Kleine Cornelia.

“Summer Wind”

Best-known as a 1966 single by Frank Sinatra — which reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the song was initially written as “Sommerwind” by Hans Bradtke and Heinz Meier in 1965.

“Din Daa Daa”

Written and recorded by Berlin’s George Kranz, this ­syllable-filled 1983 dance hit has been sampled ­frequently — most notably by Flo Rida (for “Turn Around (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)” and the Ying Yang Twins (for “Shake”).

“Forever Young”

Andreas Budde co-produced this 1984 song for the synth-pop band Alphaville. It reached No. 4 on the German pop chart, hit No. 1 in Sweden and was sampled by JAY-Z in 2009 for “Young Forever.”

“Rock Me Amadeus”

Budde controls co-writer/co-producer Rob Bolland’s share this 1985 song recorded by the Austrian artist Falco. The song topped the Hot 100 in 1986.

“El Mismo Sol”

Co-written by Álvaro Soler and Budde writers Simon Triebel and Alexander Zuckowski, “El Mismo Sol” reached No. 3 on Latin Pop Airplay in 1986 for Soler and Jennifer Lopez.

“Always on My Mind”

Budde in 1987 acquired the catalog Wayne Carson, co-writer “Always On My Mind.” In 1988, a new ­version the song by the Pet Shop Boys reached No. 4 on the Hot 100.

“Bad Kingdom”

This 2013 song from techno act Moderat — ­comprising electronic musician Apparat (Sascha Ring), whom Budde publishes, and the duo Modeselektor — was on its album II, a top 10 hit in Germany.

“Running with the Wolves”

Budde writer Nicolas Rebscher co-wrote “Running With the Wolves,” which became the debut hit in 2015 for the Norwegian singer-songwriter AURORA (Aurora Aksnes).

“No Roots”

Rebscher also co-wrote this song, which German-British singer Alice Merton sent to No. 19 on Alternative Songs ahead her first U.S. tour in November. 

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 28 issue Billboard.