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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With the market fully reopen, Spain's live music professionals have been quick to re-establish its post-Covid momentum. Adam Woods reports
By Adam Woods on 26 Jan 2023
Spain’s ascension in the global live music league table, pre-Covid, was impressive. Now, with the market fully reopen, its live music professionals have been quick to re-establish that momentum, with new events and venues being launched and some of the most ambitious promoters on the planet driving international growth. Adam Woods reports.
In quick succession, around a month before Christmas, Spain’s leading festivals laid their claim to a share of what should, world events permit- ting, be another boom summer for live music.
Primavera Sound, with its mirror festivals in Barcelona and Madrid, showed its hand first, with a two-weekend bill featuring Blur, Halsey, Kendrick Lamar, Depeche Mode, Calvin Harris, local/global star Rosalía – and the list went on. Then came the sixth edition of Madrid’s Mad Cool, with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Liam Gallagher, Sam Smith, Lil Nas X, Robbie Williams, Lizzo, and others.
The message from Spain was clear: even in the teeth of a recession, a war in Europe and a pandemic hangover, all the big guns are going to be firing next summer, just as they did in 2022.
The shape of these past three years in Spain, of course, was the same as everywhere else: mountains of cancelled shows in the first two years of Covid, then mountains of rescheduled ones in the third. There are storm clouds on the global horizon, but there are also epiphanies from the watershed summer of 2022.
“Spain is now home to several world-class festivals, and the touring market is very vibrant”
“It feels really great to see the audience again being able to enjoy themselves without masks and other restrictions,” says Doctor Music founder and CEO Neo Sala. “I had been looking forward to that moment, and when it finally happened, I realised how lucky we are to do what we do.
“Nothing can substitute the experience of being at a live concert. So even though I do not know what the future holds, I can say without a doubt that I will keep on doing what I do for the rest of my life. Promoting concerts is what I truly enjoy and, as I am lucky enough to work in the industry that I do, I will never feel the need to retire.”
Helpfully, Spain is a remarkably fertile market, with getting on for a thousand music festivals a year, including renowned international destinations such as Primavera Sound, Mad Cool, Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, Sónar, and Bilbao BBK Live. It has plenty of sturdy promoters, a lot of its own music, a taste for international stars, and some flourishing live cities.
“I think the Spanish market has evolved incredibly over the last ten years,” says Barnaby Harrod, director of Madrid-based promoter Mercury Wheels, part of Live Nation Spain. “Spain is now home to several world-class festivals, and the touring market is very vibrant.”
Nor does that mean, as it might once have done, that every international tour simply stops at Madrid and Barcelona.
“We are seeing more and more bands who want to tour outside those main cities and include other great cities such Valencia, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Santander, Gijón, Zaragoza, Santiago, Vigo, La Coruña, Granada, Murcia, Palma de Mallorca…” says Harrod. “I would like to see this tendency maintain an upward curve and see more and more international acts doing longer tours in Spain.”
“Latin music is now the third [most popular] music genre in the world, and Spain acts as a bridge between Europe and America”
Like many markets, Spain was on the crest of a wave before the events of 2020. In 2019, 28m people attended 90,000 live music events in the country, according to Spanish music federation Es_Música, and live music income grew by over 14% that year to €382m [source: Asociación de Promotores Musicales]. Subsequent ups and downs aside, the core of that momentum remains.
“Spain has increasingly become a key market,” says Live Nation Spain president Robert Grima. “And I am sure we all agree that Spain is one of the best tourist destinations in the EU. So, for me it is clear that there is still a big path of growth, mostly in the so-called secondary markets: cities and regions that can combine music events with holiday propositions.”
It may not be a coincidence that the essential health of the Spanish live music scene coincides with the surging popularity of Spanish-language music coming out of Latin America.
“Latin music is now the third [most popular] music genre in the world, and Spain acts as a bridge between Europe and America and is the natural entrance and first stop for the internationalisation of Latin American artists in Europe,” says Eve Castillo, director of communications at Last Tour, the Bilbao-based promoter behind Bilbao BBK Live and others.
That said, Latin music is far from the only dimension to Spanish music tastes. “Urban and Latin music is definitely becoming bigger and bigger in Spain, but I am also feeling that there is a resurrection of rock and alternative music in our market,” says Grima. “Live music is very alive in Spain.”
“One of the challenges, apart from the market saturation, is to convince the public of the value of live music and to bet on it”
It seems likely, on current form, that 2023 will be every bit as challenging as 2022, and perhaps in different ways, as macroeconomic factors begin to bite in earnest. Live industry wisdom has it that concerts and festivals often buck a downturn as people stint on holidays and cars and reward themselves with comparatively low-ticket, spirit-lifting entertainment – though some express concern for Spain’s great festivals if foreign visitors are reining in their travel spending.
“Both for the acts to tour and for the punters to travel, we rely on the cost of fuel and that is affected by so many things that are completely out of our control. Who knows what will happen?” says Spanish artist manager Joan Vich Montaner.
It all points to a stiff test of promoters, suggests Martín Pérez, of Barcelona promoter Concert Studio. “One of the challenges, apart from the market saturation, is to convince the public of the value of live music and to bet on it,” he says. “We are now in a crisis situation, and we are seeing a high loss of purchasing power.”
Daniel Molina of Madrid-based promoter Just Life Music agrees. “We have seen a market with more shows than ever in a time where the economy has not been that strong,” he says. “I think we will still be struggling with ticket sales until at least spring 2023. There is a lot of instability and uncertainty in the global and local economy that prevents us from being optimistic until the winter finally ends.
“We expect to have a change in trend from Q2 onwards that could lead to a rapid growth in terms of ticket sales toward the summer season and the second semester of the year. Let’s see if 2023 truly is the year of recovery.”
Spain has plenty of all kinds of promoters – from big-hitting indies to corporate ex-indies, from festival-focused operators to regional specialists.
Barcelona and Madrid, of course, harbour the greatest numbers: Primavera Sound, Doctor Music, the Live Nation Spain HQ, and indies such as Producciones Animadas, Concert Studio, and The Project among those in the former; Planet Events, Mercury Wheels, and RLM in Madrid.
Then, across the country, Serious Fan Music and The Music Republic in Valencia, Last Tour in Bilbao, Zaragoza’s Siamm Producciones, and Just Life Music, Murcia rock specialist Madness Live!, Córdoba’s Riff Producciones, and Ground Control in Palma.
As it does elsewhere, the consolidation rolls on. The veteran Doctor Music, founded in 1982, sold a 63.5% share to CTS Eventim in May 2018. It remains a go-to for international and superstar acts – in partnership with Live Nation Spain, it was among the local promoters on AEG/Concerts West’s Rolling Stones tour for its stop at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano, with Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Williams, and Rammstein coming up in 2023.
Like veteran promoters all over the world, Neo Sala says the shift into a larger group was an inevitable consequence of the live music business’s long-term shift to a globalised model.
“2023 is looking to be possibly the best year for us. And the demand for shows and ticket sales keeps growing”
“It no longer made sense for us to continue as an independent player,” he says. “Eventim allows Doctor Music to face the challenges of this new scenario, while at the same time respecting our autonomy and the way we have worked for the past 40 years. Also, they were 100% supportive during Covid, so we did not have to let go of any of our team. We are really thankful and proud to be part of Eventim.”
As well as its own activities, Live Nation holds stakes in leading Latin promoter Planet Events and Mercury Wheels, and in 2017 set up a strategic partnership with Andalusian promoter Riff Producciones aimed at growing Spanish acts in overseas markets.
“2022 was the most challenging year I remember in my career, but it was worth it,” says Live Nation Spain president Robert Grima. “And now 2023 is looking to be possibly the best year for us. And the demand for shows and ticket sales keeps growing, which is a very good signal.”
Planet Events managing director Chen Castaño, too, professes himself pleased with 2022. “It was very good,” he says. “We finally managed to organise the Marc Anthony tour in Spain, which had been postponed from 2020. The public have been very loyal, and we did a wonderful tour.
“Trying to compete, to coexist with all the colleagues and artists who were touring in 2022, particularly with rescheduling, has been complicated”
“Trying to compete, to coexist with all the colleagues and artists who were touring in 2022, particularly with rescheduling, has been complicated, but I’m impressed with how the teams pulled through.”
Among Spain’s other significant promoters, artist management company RLM, whose CEO Rosa Lagarrigue was the force behind Planet Events before its sale to Live Nation, has returned to promoting in recent years, taking on tours for Ricardo Arjona, Alejandro Sanz, Raphael, and Rozalén.
Concert Studio chalked up record attendances at its summer festivals – the Festival Jardins Pedralbes in Barcelona and the Cerdanya
Music Festival in the Pyrenees – and now looks towards the 25th edition of the Banco Mediolanum Festival Mil·lenni, which takes place across Barcelona and will run from October 2023 to May 2024, and the boutique Icónica Sevilla Fest, which in 2023 marks its third edition.
Murcia-based promoter Madness Live! launched the new rock- and metal-focused Rock Imperium Festival in the city of Cartagena in June, headed by Scorpions, Europe, and others, and it will return next year across three days with Helloween and Deep Purple headlining. Madness Live! also has forthcoming shows with the likes of Iron Maiden, Bullet For My Valentine, Cannibal Corpse, and plenty of others.
“After the pandemic, the work of national artists is highly valued. In fact, they occupy a large part of the line-ups of our festivals”
Also doing good business in Spain, as well as other Spanish-speaking markets including Chile and Argentina, is Madrid-based La Sordera, which specialises in Venezuelan artists including, currently, Karina La Voz, Okills, and Funky Fresco.
“Ten million people have left Venezuela since 2012,” says La Sordera CEO Francisco Mendes, saying that the turmoil has created a huge Venezuelan diaspora in cities across Latin America and Europe. “It is a phenomenon,” says Mendes. “There’s some shows we can do 5,000.”
As in many markets, the Covid embargo on international touring talent has, to some extent, been a boon for local artists.
“Traditionally, promoters used to hire much more international artists, specifically Anglo-Saxon ones,” says Concert Studio’s Carlos Pérez. “However, after the pandemic, the work of national artists is highly valued. In fact, they occupy a large part of the line-ups of our festivals.”
Live Nation’s 27-date tour for Fito & Fitipaldis was Spain’s most popular tour of the year, and Grima says the development of local talent remains a particular priority, even now the big global tourers are back on the march.
“The gap between stadium/arena-level bands and club tours is becoming greater than ever”
“We have big tours coming up next year for Coldplay, Harry Styles, Muse, Blink-182, Louis Tomlinson, and Lewis Capaldi, but we are also putting a very strong focus on local talent, with national multiple tours of artists like Hombres G, Beret, El Kanka, and Rels B,” he says.
The great awkward truth of the post-pandemic period – that of an industry in which blockbuster shows sell out in seconds while many smaller tours struggle to scrape together a crowd – is as valid in Spain as it is everywhere else.
“The biggest events have worked better than ever, while medium-smaller bands, as well as emerging acts, have struggled to sell tickets,” says Molina. “That is why global numbers can’t really reflect what the situation really is. The gap between stadium/arena-level bands and club tours is becoming greater than ever.” And, as in other markets, working promoters report a softer demand for this year’s shows.
“We have experienced how festivals and tours that have been on sale for over one or two years have sold far better than expected, as was the case with Visor Festival or The Dead South tour, while shows announced during 2022 have had more problems to sell tickets in comparison with previous tours,” says Molina.
Whereas in some markets festivals are gradually stealing share from artist shows, for now Spain appears to have balanced demand for both – at least at the highest levels.
“The audience are looking at this from two angles,” says Pino Sagliocco, chairman of Live Nation Spain. “Headline artists are proving that they are stronger than ever, and at the same time, festivals that have a great on-site experience, together with a good line-up, are growing and consolidating their brand. Spain has a lot of festivals that are proving this point.”
“A lot” is right. Medusa Sun- beach, Arenal Sound, Viña Rock, Mad Cool, and Primavera Sound are among those that routinely attract cumulative crowds of between 200,000 and 300,000-plus, to add to hundreds of local and boutique events all over Spain.
Primavera Sound closed the biggest edition in its 20-year history in June, welcoming nearly half a million people to Barcelona after a two-year hiatus.
“As usual, since 2019, we have taken into account that it is a line-up with gender balance”
But perhaps Spain’s most distinguished festival brand made wider headlines this year with its adventures in other markets. Primavera Sound made an ambitious foray into South America in October and November, launching full- scale events and preliminary shows in Brazil (with Live Nation), Chile (with Rock Stgo) and Buenos Aires (with DF Entertainment), in addition to a first event in Los Angeles.
“We could not be more satisfied and prouder of our first editions in LA, São Paulo, Santiago de Chile, and Buenos Aires – they have all gone very well,” says Primavera Sound communications director Joan Pons. “Now it’s time to sit down with our local partners, make an evaluation, and consider together what we want for the future.”
In the meantime, Primavera Sound continues to lead the world in its deep-thinking approach.
“As usual, since 2019, we have taken into account that it is a line-up with gender balance,” says Pons. “Although every year we take more and more into account that there are many artists who do not identify with any gender, and that we would be wrong to pigeonhole them in a line-up with a binary balance. So, we also take into account the representation of these fluid identities.”
At the same time, Pons notes, Primavera Sound line-ups also need to be a representation of the musical zeitgeist of their year.
“We have a lot of big festivals – actually more than ever”
“We often say that our way of building a line-up is to never lose sight of the fact that each day of the festival should provide each attendee with several possibilities to complete several different experiences: 1) a highly anticipated and desired artist; 2) their next favourite artist, discovered at the festival; 3) a show that will challenge them; and 4) a concert where they can have a lot of fun.”
In general, the most popular Spanish festivals are currently in brand expansion mode, notes Joan Vich Montaner, now of Ground Control Management but previously booker at FIB Benicàssim for nearly 25 years.
“We have a lot of big festivals – actually more than ever,” he says. “For a long time, it used to be Benicàssim, Primavera, Mad Cool, BBK, and Sónar, and now there are maybe five more just from those people, with Primavera doubling up, the new Cala Mijas Festival from BBK, and Andalucía Big.”
Since launching in 2016, the Live Nation-produced Mad Cool Festival in Madrid has grown from a 45,000 capacity to 80,000. In July, for its first event in three years, the festival add- ed a fifth day, and headliners included Muse, The Killers, and Metallica.
Andalucía Big, a new event from the team behind Mad Cool, debuted on 8–10 September at Malaga’s Feria Ground, with acts such as Muse, Jamiroquai, Years & Years, Glass Animals, Michael Kiwanuka, Wolf Alice, Franz Ferdinand, and Aurora. The Mad Cool Sunset festival in September, however, was called off after organisers were unable to find a replacement for Rage Against The Machine.
“Spain is a great tourist destination and it’s growing more and more each year, with good infrastructures, good weather, higher demand for live music, and great professionals to work with”
Bilbao has undergone a huge transformation in recent years, from an industrial city built on the iron trade to one in which art, culture, and tourism play an increasingly prominent role.
Bilbao BBK Live returned in July with more than 100,000 in attendance and LCD Soundsystem, The Killers, J Balvin, and the Pet Shop Boys on stage. Its organiser, Last Tour, also stages the Kalorama and BIME events, as well as the new Cala Mijas Festival on the Costa del Sol, Malaga, Portugal’s MEO Kalorama festival, and Colombia’s BIME Bogotá, but it keeps its faith in Spain, says Castillo.
“Spain is a great tourist destination and it’s growing more and more each year, with good infrastructures, good weather, higher demand for live music, and great professionals to work with,” she says. “And festivals are positively contributing to this with their very well-known positive effects in the territories where they are celebrated.”
Of Spain’s other festival specialists, The Music Republic, owned by brothers David and Toño Sánchez, promotes events such as Arenal Sound, Viña Rock, Granada Sound, and Madrid Salvaje and acquired Benicàssim Festival from Madrid-based Maraworld in 2019.
“It has been intense and busy but also successful… But the most remarkable thing was feeling our floor vibrating again. Silence is over”
By some distance, Spain’s most visited venue is Madrid’s 17,400-capacity WiZink Center, according to Billboard the 17th-busiest venue in the world this year for its size (15,001+), with 94 shows and 922,234 punters.
“It was a complicated year for programming and calendars because there were a lot of cancelled and postponed tours that had to share space with the new ones,” says general manager Manuel Saucedo. “It has been intense and busy but also successful.
“We had great nights with artists such as The Cure, Queen, Maluma, Harry Styles, Bon Iver, Rosalía, and, as usual, many local artists. But the most remarkable thing was feeling our floor vibrating again. Silence is over.”
KPMG recently estimated that the WiZink Center adds €220m annually to Madrid ́s GDP, indirectly creating as many as 2,000 jobs through its activity, and it is planning to create a few more.
“We are really excited about a new project that will create a small concert hall inside our venue for 900 spectators, intended for emerging artists and bands,” says Saucedo. “We want to open our venue to the new, make them noticeable, show their work to the promoters and managers, let them make their first recordings with us, and even teach them in terms of marketing and relations with the industry.”
Barcelona’s equivalent to the WiZink Center is the nearly 18,000-cap Palau Sant Jordi, which welcomes Michael Bublé, Duki, Roger Waters, and Robbie Williams in the first few months of 2023.
Valencia, meanwhile, is due a new arena in the shape of the Roig Arena, which is expected to be completed in 2024 with a capacity of 15,600 for basketball fixtures and 18,600 for concerts. The arena is the project of Mercadona supermarket billionaire Juan Roig Alfonso.
Another multi-sport arena, Nou Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona, is promised for 2026 on the site of the now-demolished Mini Estadi, formerly the home of FC Barça B and the club’s women’s team. The Nou Palau Blaugrana is expected to have a maximum capacity of 15,000 spectators.
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