Artist manager Michael Lambert gives a 'younger' professional's view on the importance of live shows and the way we approach the most essential people: the fans
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Having been shut down by the coronavirus, Italy’s live music professionals have been more eager than most to resume business
By Adam Woods on 20 Oct 2022
Having been shut down by the coronavirus for longer than many of its European neighbours, Italy’s live music professionals have been more eager than most to resume business. Adam Woods reports on their mixed fortunes.
In a market known for passionate and frequently litigious extremes of competition, the breadth of the coalition that met the press at Milan’s San Siro stadium last September was striking.
Under the banner of promoters’ body Assomusica, the heads of Friends and Partners (F&P), Vivo Concerti, Live Nation Italia, Vertigo, D’Alessandro e Galli (Di & Gi), BPM, DNA, and others sat shoulder-to-shoulder to insist on a full live restart at full capacity.
“We have lost 99% of revenue,” said Live Nation’s Roberto De Luca. “Only with 100% capacity can we start again.”
They didn’t get their wish until April this year, and a rollercoaster year has been the consequence – stuffed with shows, not all of them successful, but bringing relief, to the top end of the market in particular.
“We saw huge growth in 2022, both for international artist and local artists”
“We saw huge growth in 2022, both for international artist and local artists,” De Luca tells IQ, almost exactly a year on from the San Siro showdown. “Talking only about big events in the summer period, we produced 22 stadiums, with 1.24m tickets sold; two big open-air shows, with 105,000 tickets sold; and two festivals – Firenze Rocks and I-Days. We sold 309,000 tickets for those.”
The biggest shows, of course, give an impression of health that doesn’t necessarily carry right through the market.
“The trouble with this summer is there were too many offers,” says Vittorio Dellacasa of Milan-based staging and production specialist Delamaison Productions. “In a normal season, a venue might have ten shows a month, and now they have 29 on a monthly basis. The big events work very well – like, capacity of 20,000 upwards. But the medium to small events, it’s tough for them.”
Italy was hit particularly hard and exceptionally early by Covid. In the live business, the resulting restrictions meant two long zombie years, and as with most other markets, the ramifications of those and other disasters are taking time to unravel.
“I’m pretty sure it will take another two or three years before we come back to the pre-pandemic level”
“After two years of pandemic and the Ukrainian crisis, we are all living a very difficult period,” says Vertigo CEO Andrea Pieroni. “I’m pretty sure it will take another two or three years before we come back to the pre-pandemic level. It won’t be an easy challenge, in my opinion, but I’m here, and I’m ready to rock.”
Pieroni says he didn’t draw his inspiration from his home market for his recent novel, È solo rock‘n’roll (It’s only rock’n’roll), set in the international live music business. But anyone who wanted to create a soap opera around a real-life live music industry could do worse than basing it in Italy, where passions run high and lawsuits rain down with remarkable regularity.
Last year, CTS Eventim’s TicketOne was fined almost €11m by the country’s competition authority Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM) over allegations of abusing a dominant position in the Italian ticketing market, though the conviction and fine were repealed in March 2022.
Over the course of the case, back in 2019, venue group and promoter Zed Entertainment’s co-founder Valeria Arzenton, who had publicly decried the practices of TicketOne and Eventim-owned promoter F&P, was threatened by the Eventim side with a defamation suit.
This year, Viagogo was dramatically fined €23.5m for breaking Italy’s rules on secondary ticketing. And in February 2019, De Luca and other Live Nation and Viagogo executives, as well as Di & Gi’s Mimmo D’Alessandro, were cleared of wrongdoing by a court in Milan, having been charged with profiting from inflating ticket prices using the secondary market between 2011 and 2016.
All of which paints a picture of a wild and interesting market, and one that remains proudly unique in numerous ways.
“The main difference between Italy and other markets is that around 70% of the business is in domestic acts”
In an industry where international talent typically makes the world go round, Italy remains remarkably self-contained. Italian stars still rule the roost on home turf, and big touring acts can often find themselves feeling rather less famous and successful in Italy than they do elsewhere.
“Probably the main difference between Italy and other markets is that around 70% of the business is in domestic acts,” says Pietro Fuccio of Rome-based independent promoter DNA Concerti. “When I speak to an international agent, he doesn’t understand why his artist, big or small, doesn’t get the same attention in Italy as he gets everywhere else – and it is because they are smaller here than they are everywhere else.”
The difference in recent years is a significant shift towards younger artists, spearheaded by performers such as stadium-filler Ultimo, Milan’s Rkomi, Vicenza’s Sangiovanni, glam-rockers Måneskin, Bergamo’s indie-rockers Pinguini Tattici Nucleari, and hip-hopper Sfera Ebbasta.
As a barometer of Italian music’s health at home, every one of the Top 20 best-selling albums of last year was by an Italian artist, and for the first time ever, the same was also true of the year’s Top 10 singles.
“In the last five, six years, Italian music has got big exposure,” says Eric Bagnarelli of Live Nation-owned promoter Comcerto. “There are a lot of new acts that are getting good results, and they are a huge part of the market now.”
“You can do very well from touring just in Italy”
The 71-year-old Sanremo Music Festival – the inspiration for Eurovision – retains a remarkable power to guide the musical mainstream. Over the years, Sanremo has launched the careers of numerous Italian acts, including Andrea Bocelli, Laura Pausini, Eros Ramazzotti and Zucchero, but it has neatly pivoted towards younger, edgier talent in recent years. Måneskin won the contest in 2021, and 2022 winner Blanco this summer sold out all 350,000 tickets of his 27-date Blu Celeste national tour in hours.
But while Italian acts may be superstars at home, it is relatively rare that they have made it big else- where. Often, they have been brokered by powerful booking agencies who fulfil a management-style role, with little attempt at an international plot.
“It is still difficult,” says Attilio Perissinotti of booking agency BPM Concerti. “There are more Italian artists that now play Europe because in the last ten or 15 years a lot of people have left Italy and gone to cities like Barcelona or London. But usually Italian acts sing in Italian. It’s a barrier, you know?”
“You can do very well from touring just in Italy,” notes Christoph Storbeck, head of the conference programme at Linecheck, Italy’s leading music conference, “so a lot of artists don’t see it as natural or mandatory to go out into the world.”
Måneskin have made a piece of Italian history by becoming a genuine international act on the back of their Eurovision 2021 win. Will Italian stars start bursting the country’s borders in greater numbers? Vivo Concerti’s managing director and co-owner Clemente Zard, isn’t convinced.
“I think this is an exception,” he says. “They obviously sing in English, and they came out in a very, very strong way, but to say it will now happen to a lot of other Italian artists – no, it won’t happen. But definitely, Italian music can have success in other countries.”
“There’s not much room for indie promoters, although sometimes even indie promoters can do some big names”
Italy represents a particularly heated battleground for the international corporates, with Eventim in the box seat as the majority owner of promoters Vivo Concerti, Di & Gi, Vertigo and F&P, as well as ticketing market leader TicketOne.
“The reality is that now there are only two big groups: Live Nation on one side and Eventim on the other,” says Pieroni at Vertigo, which broadly leans towards rock, both domestic and international. “There’s not much room for indie promoters, although sometimes even indie promoters can do some big names. But in general, if you are not part of a big corporation, things will be very hard.”
Vivo Concerti finds itself in a particularly strong position as the booking agent and promoter for many of Italy’s most successful new acts, including Ultimo, Blanco, Måneskin and others.
“We promote a lot of international acts, and we are growing on that side, but we did €120m, €130m revenues this year and 75%, 80% is from local acts,” says Zard.
“We are lucky because we are the promoter for practically all of the major new Italian artists. This summer we did 22 large-scale events, between stadiums and big arenas including Circo Massimo. And we are still growing because we are a young company – I am 32 years of age, all my employees are pretty young. We understand how things are moving because we are part of the generation that is moving them.”
“It was a good summer with big numbers, although most of the shows were postponements from 2020, so those tickets were sold a long time ago”
One of Vivo Concerti’s innovations is the incorporation of a 13-strong booking department. “That is very unusual for a promoter in Italy – Italians are not famous for being the most modern in the business.”
Vivo Concerti and F&P recently pooled their resources for the launch of a new media company, Friends & Vivo Multimedia, which aims to assist brands eager to capitalise on the power of live music. The venture defines the two companies’ reach as 3,000 shows per year and an audience of 5 million, with a combined 140 Italian artists, 50 international ones, and 45 DJs represented.
Of the other Eventim siblings, Vertigo reports a fitfully strong summer, flanked by a testing spring, and a potentially barn- storming autumn.
“It was a good summer with big numbers, although most of the shows were postponements from 2020, so those tickets were sold a long time ago,” says Pieroni. “Regarding shows we announced in early 2022 to happen in the summer, unfortunately the situation was not so good. On the other hand, we announced several arena shows to happen in the autumn, and those have sold incredibly well.”
Di & Gi, meanwhile, finds the market “in very good health right now,” according to promoter Enrico D’Alessandro, who reels off big shows: the Stones at the San Siro in June; Elton John’s final Italian performance at the same stadium a couple of weeks earlier; six dates for Roger Waters next year in Milan and Bologna.
“Like everywhere else, increased costs have affected our work, and this problem will not decrease in the near future”
Live Nation Italia, meanwhile, has all the international strength you would expect, as well as a fast-growing ticketing contender in Ticketmaster. De Luca rates development of local artists as a key priority for Live Nation over the coming years, though he notes that there are plenty of existential challenges in these tricky times.
“Like everywhere else, increased costs have affected our work, and this problem will not decrease in the near future,” he says. “On top of this there was, and there is, a shortage of personnel, as many left their usual jobs due to the lack of shows during the pandemic. We lost a lot of professional people, and we need to train new ones, and it will take time for that.”
Of course, there are independents that thrive, including Trident Music, with its affiliated booking agency BPM Concerti.
“We are one of the last big independent groups in Italy,” says Perissinotti at BPM, which holds a roster of around 50 Italian acts such as Pinguini Tattici Nucleari, Luchè, Paky, Nayt, while also taking care of Italian gigs for international artists such as Jethro Tull, Yes, Tokio Hotel and V**gra Boys. Trident handles Jovanotti, Sfera Ebbasta, and Tiromancino, and events including the Jova Beach Party’s recurring summer tour of Italian beaches.
In July, Milan-based independent Radar Concerti sought the comfort of a larger group when it became the latest member of the Nordic All Things Live collective.
“I was with Live Nation for ten years, and I was missing the information,” says Radar Concerti’s Fabrizio Pompeo. “Now we have a lot more of that, a lot of colleagues sharing what they know about different markets. Being part of a bigger company means having a different strategy – bigger shows, maybe festivals.
“When you’re a smaller independent, you try and grow some new artist, and then when things start to happen they come and say, ‘Sorry, we went to Live Nation. Thanks, you did a great job.’ But already, I think people are treating us differently.”
“Some very good medium and small shows are suffering on the sales, and production-wise, all of us in Europe have lost a lot of personnel”
Under veteran Claudio Trotta, Italian pioneer Barley Arts also forges on, bringing Queen + Adam Lambert, Deftones, and others to Italy this summer and selling 170,000 tickets for three Bruce Springsteen dates next May and July at the Parco Urbano G. Bassani in Ferrara, Rome’s Circo Massimo, and Monza’s Autodromo Nazionale.
“2022 has seen ups and downs,” says Barley Arts head of booking Marco Ercolani. “There was a slow spring, a hectic and way too busy summer, and a difficult fall.”
For obvious reasons, including rising touring costs, squeezed disposable income, market saturation, and other knock-on effects from Covid and the Russo-Ukrainian War, Ercolani and Trotta predict a difficult time to come.
“It’s going to be tough,” says Trotta. “Very tough. But for now we are having a very good year. We are back working, we are doing shows and tours that have been rescheduled five, even six times, and we are doing some new shows as well, with some great successes. But some very good medium and small shows are suffering on the sales, and production-wise, all of us in Europe have lost a lot of personnel.”
“I tried a couple of times to do multiple-stage festivals and camping, but the ticket sales remained the same”
Festivals mean something a little different in Italy than elsewhere. Multi-stage events are rare, as is onsite camping, so the typical Italian festival is more akin to a concert series, often spread across several weeks, with a handful of acts and one clear headliner each day.
“We don’t have a festival with multiple stages and a 60,000-70,000-capacity,” says Bagnarelli. “We don’t have anything that is comparable to Glastonbury or Reading and Leeds.”
It is an issue that has dogged the market over the years. “I tried a couple of times to do multiple-stage festivals and camping, but the ticket sales remained the same,” says Pieroni. “So why spend more money? We also have to consider that June and July in Italy are the hottest months. It’s not like northern Europe where you have 22 degrees during the day and people feel like they are in heaven. In Italy, they would feel like they were in hell.”
Among the most recent attempts to challenge the paradigm was the eclectic pop and rock event Home Festival, initially in Treviso and latterly in Venice, which appeared to signal a new dawn in Italian festival habits, drawing 80,000 at its peak in 2018. But its Treviso-based promoter Home Entertainment fell on hard times after a troubled tenth edition in 2019, and the following year the company went into liquidation.
For his part, Zard is convinced festivals are another area of the market ripe for modernisation. Having brought on board Daze Events’ Alessandro Ravizza as senior promoter and head of festivals development, Vivo Concerti is involved in Florence’s two-day, multi-stage electronic festival Decibel Open Air, for which Zard predicts bigger and better things – just as he does the market at large.
“It’s important for Italy to have festivals in a proper way and not only headline shows”
“It will take some time, but I’m sure we will achieve this result because it’s important for Italy to have festivals in a proper way and not only headline shows,” he says. “In the coming years, we will surely invest more in festivals we have at the moment, festivals we will acquire, and festivals we will start ourselves in the coming years.”
Founded in 1998, Di & Gi’s Lucca Summer Festival is the veteran of the scene, its 2022 edition the 23rd to grace the Tuscan city – this year across 15 nights in the Piazza Napoleone and on a site beside the historic city walls.
“We registered 150,000 attendees in this edition, and we had John Legend, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Zucchero, and a few other major Italian artists,” says D’Alessandro. “You could really feel the joy of the audience at being able to come back.”
Di & Gi’s latest festival venture was the six-day La Prima Estate in Lido di Camaiore in the province of Lucca, which had its first edition in June with space for around 5,000 and a range of daytime activities – yoga on the beach, cooking classes, trekking in the hills – to further sweeten evening line-ups headlined by Duran Duran, The National, Anderson .Paak, and others.
“It’s a 360-degree experience,” says D’Alessandro. “We realise that a concert is not enough anymore for this audience, so let’s do it in a great location where they can spend the day on the beach or having a lot of different experiences. We have 1,000 km of coast, but I don’t recall an Italian festival right on the beach.”
Rock in Roma, which was launched by Maximiliano Bucci and Sergio Giuliani as Romarock in 2002 in tribute to Rock In Rio and Coachella, this year chalked up its 19th edition, with Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers, Rkomi, Blanco, and others playing through June and July, again in the headline show format.
Firenze Rocks, with Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, and Metallica headlining across four days, leveraged Live Nation firepower in June, while I-Days did the same in Milan with Greta Van Fleet, Imagine Dragons, Rkomi, and Green Day once more.
Other Italian festivals include techno event Kappa FuturFestivalin Turin; drum and bass festival SUNANDBASS in Sardinia; Mi Ami in Milan; and indie event Ypsigrock in Castelbuono, Sicily.
Music Innovation Hub’s Linecheck, meanwhile, leads the line for industry conferences, taking place in Milan in November. “It’s the main conference in general,” says Storbeck. “We are happening within the great framework of Milan Music Week, so there’s stuff happening all over the city, more or less coordinated.”
“More than in the past, the national market is full of international artists… Italy is finally a global destination”
Valeria Arzenton of Zed Entertainment, the Padova-based venue operator and promoter whose ten buildings include the 2,500-cap Gran Teatro Geox, the 3,916-seat Kioene Arena, and 32,420-cap Stadio Euganeo in Padova and further venues in Brescia, Mantova, and Conegliano, found herself in the role of whistle-blower in 2019 when she gave anonymous testimony to an Italian TV show about abuse of a dominant position on the part of TicketOne.
The ensuing scandal was noisy and painful, but from Arzenton’s perspective it was ultimately worth- while, as the AGCM imposed on the market leader the obligation to open up to competing ticketing operators.
“In October, the final vote of the administrative justice will decide definitively the status of the trial,” she says. “In any case, from the first AGCM verdict, the market is irrevocably opened to other ticketing companies. In any case: goal achieved.”
Zed’s venues are carefully rising again after two full years of Covid, and Arzenton’s other projects include a musical based on the music of late Italian star Raffaella Carrà, which will debut in Spain in autumn 2023, but what Arzenton sees in Italy is an increasingly globalised market.
“More than in the past, the national market is full of international artists,” she says. “Also, promoters are more daring than ever with new venues, with festivals, with more dates. Festivals are becoming more familiar and more appreciated by the audience. Italy is finally a global destination.”
Evidently, other venue operators think so. Last year, Eventim announced plans to build a new multipurpose arena in Milan. Scheduled for completion in 2025, the 16,000-capacity MSG (Milano Santa Giulia) arena will be one of the largest in Italy and will also include an outdoor area of more than 10,000 square metres for open-air events.
The venue will compete with Oak View Group and Live Nation’s promised Santa Giulia Arena – which will, like the MSG, be used in the 2026 Winter Olympics – as well as the 12,700-seat Mediolanum Forum in Assago, near Milan, which has served the city since 1990 and is one of two Italian members of the European Arena Association (EAA).
Last year, ASM Global entered the Italian market for the first time when it secured the contract to operate the new 6,000-seat basketball arena in nearby Cantù, which is due to be completed in late 2023 and has potential concert applications.
Meanwhile, F&P’s Ferdinando Salzano is one of the movers behind the 100,000-capacity RCF Arena, the largest outdoor music venue in Europe, which opened in Reggio Emilia, near Bologna, just as Covid bit, but still sold out all tickets for its opening concert, featuring local superstar Luciano Ligabue. Harry Styles is booked in for July 2023.
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