Belgium punches above its weight with a music market that’s as heady as its beer. As IQ discovers, it’s not about how big you are, but where you’re located…
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With multinational corporations now chipping away at market share, Austria's live music landscape is changing rapidly, learns Adam Woods
By IQ on 15 Feb 2018
Sitting in a mountain range – the Eastern Alps, which covers nearly two-thirds of the territory – and with a population of 8.7m, around a fifth of whom live in the capital, Vienna, the country of Mozart, Mahler and Falco these days draws music from everywhere.
For instance, at the time of writing, the calendar of Vienna’s alternative art complex Arena Wien is a multicultural stew featuring Franco-German reggae-punks Irie Révoltés, US hip-hopper Joey Badass, Finnish rockers Sunrise Avenue and German electro-poppers Lali Puna, along with Austria’s own Julian Le Play. And when the Ernst-Happel-Stadion prepares itself for blockbuster shows, it’s for the likes of Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Robbie Williams and German star Helene Fischer. Yet there’s still something distinctive about the Austrian music business, where highly individual independent festivals remain the norm, and where “you can still develop things based on quality rather than quantity,” in the words of veteran indie promoter Alex Nussbaumer.
“Austria is a very sensible market,” says Nussbaumer, who operates as al-x, with offices in Vienna and Bregenz. “I often liken it to Switzerland because it has the same, very healthy scene, whereas in Germany, you don’t really have the middle range anymore. My experience here has always been that you can really develop an artist from scratch with touring.” However, times change, as Nussbaumer concedes, and it’s possible that the Austria of the near future will be different from that of recent decades. Like Switzerland, Austria was built by indies and has only lately attracted the undivided attention of multinational operators.
Live Nation and FKP Scorpio/CTS Eventim are now a couple of years into their respective Austrian ventures, and though Barracuda (the 2016 amalgam of leading indies Skalar, Red Snapper and NuCoast Entertainment) remains the biggest player in both shows and festivals, it is safe to say the gap has closed
“To be the only big, independent player is not easy when Live Nation, DEAG and CTS all have offices in Vienna,” says Barracuda CEO Ewald Tatar, whose recent projects have included the Rolling Stones at Spielberg; Robbie Williams in Vienna and Klagenfurt; and the perennial Nova Rock festival. “But for us,” he adds, “business is still very, very good.”
“You can definitely play one big arena or one big stadium. For the second or third show, you need to be really careful”
For now, this is a view more or less shared by indies and multinationals alike. Austria may not be huge but it’s in reasonably good shape, especially after the festival market pulled back from the edge of saturation a year or two ago.
“In general, it’s been a pretty good year – possibly the best year ever,” says Arcadia Live head of booking Silvio Huber. “The Rolling Stones pulled a massive crowd; there’s been a significant rise in stadium shows in Vienna; and, of course, a steady growth of club and arena shows. It seems we have not reached a critical peak in Austria yet, but we should be aware that no business grows endlessly.”
Nestled beneath Germany with borders into Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, Austria has always been a well-connected sort of place, part west and part east, so a well-placed show in Austria can often draw part of its crowd from elsewhere.
A show such as Barracuda’s 95,000-capacity Stones show, for example, which took place in September at Red Bull Ring in Spielberg bei Knittelfeld in the central part of the country, is only an hour or two by road from the borders of Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Croatia.
Nonetheless, Austria is a relatively small country, and its ticket-shifting powers have limits. Roughly 70–80% of all tickets sold are for shows in and around Vienna, and though Austria has many fetching cities, from Linz and Graz to Salzburg and Innsbruck, acts of any size can’t hope to play more than one or two of them.
“Basically, in Austria you can definitely play one big arena or one big stadium,” says Tatar. “For the second or third show, you need to be really careful. Outside Vienna, the other cities in Austria are not big. We play arena shows in Linz or Graz but you can’t do both – you need to decide if it’s Vienna and Linz or Vienna and Graz.”
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