Continuing a series of interviews with the 2022 New Bosses, IQ speaks to Steff James, international tour booker at Live Nation (UK)
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Continuing a series of interviews with the 2022 New Bosses, IQ speaks to Vegard Storaas, promoter at Live Nation Norway
By IQ on 10 Nov 2022
The 15th edition of IQ Magazine’s New Bosses was published in IQ 114 this month, revealing 20 of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international live music business.
To get to know this year’s cohort a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2022’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success.
Catch up on the previous New Bosess 2022 interview with Stella Scocco, club and entertainment manager of Södra Teatern in Sweden. The series continues with Vegard Storaas, promoter at Live Nation Norway.
Storaas started booking student festivals as well as being an agent for up-and-coming artists while in college. After college, he secured a job at Music Norway, an export office that helps Norwegian artists in international markets. In 2016, he joined Live Nation where he spent the first three years in a team with Martin Nielsen before becoming a promoter in 2019.
As a promoter, Storaas has worked on building the company’s portfolio of urban and regional festivals. One of the highlights has been NEON festival, a pop festival that started in 2022 that sold 18,000 tickets for each day.
From the very beginning at Live Nation, Storaas has looked to identify opportunities with unfulfilled potential in the market. One of these is country music, which is growing internationally and which punches above its weight in Norway. After two years of rescheduling, Storaas finally got to promote two arena shows for American country singer and songwriter Brad Paisley this summer, which sold 20,000 tickets.
At college, you were booking festivals as well as representing emerging talent. How did you learn those skills and who did you turn to for advice?
The short answer is I didn’t. It was learning by doing all the way. I picked up a few things from former students and the Internet (surprisingly there is a lot to learn from interviews and articles) and went with my gut. It felt a bit like steering a rollercoaster built by non-graduated students.
I had a teacher at university that I turned to for advice. He used to work in the industry as a promoter and manager so he knew a lot. He was good at pointing me in the right direction when I was in deep water, which by my (and probably his) recollection, was pretty often.
You worked at Music Norway for a while. Are there any areas where you think the commercial live music industry could work better with export offices?
Export offices like Music Norway use a lot of resources to help the industry build networks in the main export markets. That is crucial for success. Meanwhile, there are several commercial companies like Live Nation and FKP Scorpio that have offices across Europe and North America and close working relationship with colleagues in the most important markets.
Let’s say a major label and a global promoter in a small market such as Norway made a coordinated push on an emerging talent through its respective systems. If it happened simultaneously, I think chances are that this artist would break the surface and have something good to build on. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but I think there are some unfulfilled synergies that haven’t been really exploited in that space.
“We had a whole pandemic to come up with the plan [for Neon festival], now we have to prove we can stay”
Launching a pop festival like NEON in an uncertain marketplace was a risk. Just what made the event such a success?
Several factors I’d say. We had the festival on the first weekend of June, the same day as the last exam for students (Trondheim – where NEON takes place – is the most popular city in Norway for students). It effectively became the event that kicked off the summer. Our line-up was made up of only domestic talent, which was deliberate. With quarantine and different Covid rules in every country when we launched, our thinking was that it would feel safer buying tickets for domestic artists.
By on-sale, it had been over two years since the domestic artists that normally sell lots of tickets had played restriction-free shows. Naturally, there was extra demand in the market and this I think accumulated in NEON, being first out. Also worth mentioning is Karpe, our main headliner, who recently sold 110,000 tickets in Oslo. We had several great urban acts lower on the bill that together with Karpe created a strong package.
2023 will be like a second album; we had a whole pandemic to come up with this plan, now we have to prove we can stay.
Your shows with Brad Paisley prove that there is a strong demand for country music in Norway. Are there any festivals in the pipeline?
Can’t say I haven’t thought about it. There might be a market for it. But there are some challenges, too. Country music doesn’t have the same position in every European market. The interest varies significantly, and historically that has made it difficult to build a festival tour that makes sense for American superstars. The festivals that exist are spread out in period, size, and profile; some are domestic talent-leaning, others focus on Americana etc.
Many big country artists come to Europe to build a broader audience and want to play contemporary festivals rather than traditional country music festivals. So, even if there is a country festival, a wish-list headliner might want to do Glastonbury instead. Taking all this into account, country in Europe is not the easiest, but let’s see what the future holds.
“The live industry in Norway is a lot more than Oslo and new talent”
And what about other musical genres – are you looking at other gaps in the market for shows?
There is a running joke in the office that I have music taste as if I were in my late 60s. I laugh but it’s a bit true. Many of the artists I discovered while searching through my father’s record collection in my youth fascinate me as a promoter. First and foremost because it’s good music and great musicians but also because there is a market for these artists. Fans are loyal and have got purchasing power. The live industry in Norway is a lot more than Oslo and new talent, and while we remind ourselves of that, I think some of these legacy artists are left behind.
It’s been impossible to navigate this space without help from my very good colleagues, Rune Lem and Martin Nielsen, that I learn something from every day. If I could be half the promoter that they are, I would be happy with my career.
As a new boss, what one thing would you change to make the live entertainment industry a better place?
Free the music industry from TikTok! It’s a good question. The truth is that it’s probably several things that should be changed to make it a better place. Our peak season just passed, and there is no doubt that everybody has been working full speed this summer. We have been out of practice, which has required extra time and energy on the same tasks. It hasn’t come without a cost. I see many [people] are worn out and tired after these months.
During Covid our industry paused and many people started reflecting on their jobs. Some realised that they had been in a hamster wheel for too long, so they quit. The lifestyle wasn’t healthy. If the industry doesn’t create systems to avoid constant overload, where it’s not just about keeping your head above water, I’m afraid more good people with great skills will quit, too. Professional and highly qualified workers are key to any success. I think we all have seen recent examples from this summer where lack of experience led to disadvantages. We could learn from other workplaces and look at how more institutionalised industries do it. It’s crucial that we take care of our own.
“We could learn from other workplaces and look at how more institutionalised industries do it”
Having a good bond with agents and artist managers is crucial. How did you maintain contact with people during the pandemic, and do you feel that the working relationship between agents and promoters has changed over the past couple of years?
Pre-pandemic I travelled to the UK three or four times a year to meet agents, managers, and colleagues. For me, as a new promoter, these tours were very fruitful, and equally challenging when they suddenly stopped. Only rescheduling what was already in the pipeline didn’t help with the development [of relationships].
Now that we are back to normal, I am continuing where I left off pre-Covid as these relationships are super important. As a promoter, it’s about making the agents trust me as the right guy for their artist. But I don’t think the relationships between us have changed that much. It’s similar to how it’s always been: dealing, wheeling, beers, billing. That said, during the crisis, there was a rare feeling of companionship between agents and promoters, as we were all in it together. It would be fantastic if that kept going.
What one thing would you like artists to learn about coming to perform in Norway?
Norway is twice the length of the UK but has only half the population of London. We slide in at number 215 on population density and stand three metres away from each other while waiting for the bus. We love our freezing cabins with no plumbing and our dry humour. I guess we can be seen as a bit cold in the beginning. It takes time. It’s in our DNA. But once we warm to people, become friends and fans and you capture our hearts, there is a whole lot of love to give. Keep that in mind for next time. It’s not you, it’s us!
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