this is tehran

Hamburg-based label 30M Records was founded in 2020 by Matthias Koch with the aim of helping Iranian musicians to release their music globally, at a time when economic sanctions mean artists and labels there cannot deal directly with digital music services in the US or Europe.

The label’s first compilation album ‘RAAZ’ came out last year, and this week its second release drops. ‘This is Tehran?‘ focuses on current Iranian composers and musicians working across a range of genres, from classical and jazz to electronica.

“I am totally convinced that the overwhelmingly rich musical heritage is a great source and inspiration for contemporary artists, both Iranian and international,” Koch told Music Ally on the eve of the release.

“The instruments, sounds, tonalities are something special on one hand and quite appealing on the other. Streaming services are a great way to get that message out to the world.”

He cited the recent success of artists like Altin Gün and Liraz as evidence of a demand for music from the region, and suggested that western music fans’ ears are more open than ever before to new sounds.

“Society, in general, is changing all over the world and as much as conservatives on one side try to turn back the wheel in terms of freedom and culture, people are opening up to different cultures and expand diversity. Exploring different music scenes and sources is an important part of this diversification,” he said.

Koch prefers not to think of Iranian music in terms of scenes, but rather in terms of sounds, instruments and different tonalities.

“It is rather the uncommon sounds of instruments like the setar, which sounds in a way common again, as it is related to the violin. Or the tar, which is the ‘bass version’ of a setar,” he said.

“The dance beats coming from Kurdistan are a pure joy to re-discover in contemporary music! It’s fast and wild and would be well placed in every cool club in London or Berlin. The rather Arabic sounds from traditional Baluchistan, south of Iran, combined with electronics from Tehran – another wild result of musical melting pot modern Iran!”

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Another reason why Koch founded 30M Records was a problem he saw for Iranian musicians: that the sanctions situation had spawned some services offering to help those artists get their music on western streaming services, but overcharging them hugely for doing it.

“It is a massive problem and I wouldn’t see progress possible in tackling it, as long as primary and secondary US economic sanctions against Iran are in place,” he said.

“Those sanctions make business or money transfer from Iran to the outside world, and vice versa, impossible, thus musicians in Iran have no legal way of registering for paid services in the West.”

Hence 30M, and now ‘This is Tehran?’, putting that music on the global DSPs in a way that does not rip off the artists. As a keen observer of the music world inside Iran, Koch has also been following the evolution of the country’s own music ecosystem.

“There is a kind of local streaming platform where people can release their music after a check on religious conformity. The platform is not so very popular, as it does not carry an international repertoire,” he says – another effect of the sanctions.

“It is mainly only used inside the country, which makes the reach not too big, and the streaming not very profitable. And musicians want their music on the ‘real’ platforms from the West.”

There are some big global digital services accessible inside Iran, however, and Iranian artists are making use of them to build their followings.

“Music is shared massively on Instagram and IGTV, as it is the only platform that is not blocked by the government inside the country. So musicians can reach their fans, but not monetise their music,” said Koch.

“There is a small local market for CDs, but people would rather stream music for free,” he added, noting that Iran does not currently have a copyright association, nor did it sign up to the Berne Convention international copyright agreement.

30M’s new compilation, he hopes, will introduce listeners around the world to some of Iran’s brightest talent, while helping those artists to sustain their careers.

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