Czech music influenced European and world history in the past, yet after 1989 the influence has been rather insignificant. Despite the state of affairs, Czech music has managed to become professional and offer many distinctive artists. The year 1989 was an important milestone for Czech music. And, of course, not just for music. The Velvet Revolution has brought political, economic, and social changes. Music has undergone key changes as well. We will briefly describe the development in the totalitarian era to better understand the context. In the early times of the communist regime, music was one of the propaganda tools of the state. The gradual easing in the late 1950s allowed the development for professionals and amateurs at multiple levels. International music started to be more frequent in Czechoslovakia, genres like jazz and swing experienced their renaissance, but also rock, folk, and country were becoming popular. The peak of the revival was in the 1960s, associated with the resurgence of independent authors, the emergence of many key artists, as well as clubs and festivals.
Before the 1989
The relaxed and creative years that were not associated with music exclusively were halted by the Warsaw Pact Invasion in August 1968. The communist party regained the supervisory ideological role over music. The politically unsuitable people vanished from music. The artists, whose work did not correspond with the establishment’s idea, interrupted their careers or became dissidents. Official music turned into a propaganda tool and was usually designed for unambitious listeners with no radical opinions. Although music was a guarded territory of the authorities, culture in the communist country could not avoid mirroring the arrival of new genres, such as punk, new wave, and metal.
Mapping the development
The revolution in 1989 has changed everything. The music industry was separated from state authorities. Artists could work and spread their music freely. Music labels like Panton and Supraphon became independent from the authorities, but many private labels like Monitor, Bonton, and Popron emerged and international labels like Sony, EMI and BMG established their branches in our country as well. Private radio stations specialized in popular music and music programs on private televisions emerged. The media managed by the state, such as television and radio, prevailed and were later transformed to public operation.
The first private clubs (Rock Café, Lucerna Music Bar, Bunkr) arose and became harbors for fringe music genres. Many music festivals came into existence as well (Trutnov Open Air, Rock for People, Benátská noc). Financial support for popular music has changed. The Ministry of Culture started to support music through grant procedures and popular music was supported by private agents.
Euphoria from the regained freedom dominated the period after 1989. Artists, who were banned in the communist regime or were forced to emigrate, sold out the halls in the early 1990s. Music underground was in the spotlight again and it was rather common for fringe artists to release their records with commercial labels. The years after the revolution were characterized by the desire for any music. Anything could be published in great volumes. However, many stars of the communist regime fell into oblivion (some of them had their comeback several years later).
The international music trends came to the Czech Republic, yet none of them has dominated the scene enough to be seen as a phenomenon. The 1990s offered a wide range of music trends, but each of them absorbed the music scene only partially. Generally speaking, the more the trends were delayed, the longer they resonated. One of the popular genres was Britpop, which was – in Czech understanding – basically any music based on guitars. The local scene featured electronic music as well as was not afraid to experiment, rap was also immensely successful. Metal, punk, oi! and hardcore had a good background, too.
The importance of Czech music after 1989 in the international context is rather insignificant. Czech music does not set the pace or rhythm in global development for various reasons. Some artists have been successful abroad. What we now call alternative music has become a very successful genre as well. The success lies in the original interpretation of traditional genres or real originality in music. The local underground scene has produced some international cult metal bands.
Czech music developed further with the arrival of the new millennium. Whereas music labels were the screening devices for setting the quality in the past, self-help production increased along with the technological development after 2000. English won its way in Czech music in indie-rock bands, ska, punk, and metal. However, rap was the exception as it is associated with Czech only. Czech music is currently distributed in many genres. The Czech Republic responds to international music trends with delay, but it keeps track in general.
Professional music organisations
The field of music has developed recently to a greater extent and has become more professional. As far as genre festivals or technological companies are concerned, the quality has reached international standards. An integral part of the development is the establishment of many professional organizations and associations, which aim to support musicians and music professionals at various professional levels. Ochranný svaz autorský (OSA), Intergram or Svaz autorů a interpretů (SAI) also support interests of (not only) Czech authors and performers. Sound designers have their association as well (OAZA). Music Managers Forum Czech Republic, the Czech branch of the international concept from many countries in the world, associates professional music managers in the Czech Republic. The music festivals united and established the festival organization Festas, yet there has been a similar organization called ČAF (Czech Association of Festivals) for quite some time. The musical instrument makers have their umbrella organization – The Association of Musical Instrument Makers). The local clubs in Brno, for instance, associated in one organization BACH – Brněnská asociace clubové hudby. Having been inspired by European music offices, the Czech version of the official music agency SoundCzech was founded in 2017 and it is part of the Arts and Theatre Institute, funded by the Ministry of Culture.
Music education has had a long tradition in the Czech Republic. The network of music schools ranks among the densest ones in Europe. Conservatories take care of high school education. You can get a university degree in Musicology and Musicotherapy at the Olomouc University, Arts Management at the University of Economics and Business, or the Academy of Performing Arts.