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As one of Europe’s major international touring markets, trends in France have repercussions across the continent.
The market prognosis in 2022 is very much a mixed bag. Recovery from Covid after long periods of shutdown was beginning to happen only to crash headfirst into growing energy costs and a mounting economic crisis in the country.
There are plenty of things to be optimistic about in the sector, but the severe challenges impacting live music cannot be ignored. As in most European markets, the international heavyweights in France are Live Nation and AEG Presents.
International touring acts it brought in during 2022 include Jack Harlow, Sting, Chainsmokers, and Lil Nas X, with Bring Me The Horizon, You Me At Six, The Vamps, Lizzo, and Sam Smith booked for 2023.
Live Nation runs Lollapalooza and Afropunk festivals in the capital, as well as I Love Techno Europe and Main Square. International touring acts it brought in during 2022 included The Rolling Stones, Jack Harlow, Sting, Chainsmokers, and Lil Nas X, with Bring Me The Horizon, You Me At Six, The Vamps, Lizzo, and Sam Smith booked for 2023 as well as stadium shows in Paris with Beyoncé, Metallica and The Weeknd.
AEG Presents runs the Rock en Seine festival, and acts it booked for 2022 included Suede and Olivia Rodrigo. Acts confirmed for 2023 include Tom Brennan, Yungblud, and Celine Dion.
Bookings this year include The Amazons, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, and The Libertines, with We Are Scientists, North Mississippi Allstars, Circa Waves, and The Slow Readers Club booked for next year. Corida Group (incorporating Corida, Super!, The Talent Boutique. and Pi-Pôle) is the live music arm of the Because Group and acquired a 50% stake in the Pitchfork Paris festival promoter Super! in 2018. Super! also runs the Villette Sonique
Alias Production brought acts such as Courtney Barnett, Mogwai, Confidence Man, Franz Ferdinand, and Youssou N’Dour to play in 2022. Its bookings for 2023 include dEUS, The War on Drugs, Yo La Tengo, Lewis Capaldi, and Robbie Willims.
“Unlike other countries, we were lucky enough to benefit from government subsidies during most of the pandemic, which has protected companies and saved many jobs, so there hasn’t been too much damage across the industry,”
“Unlike other countries, we were lucky enough to benefit from government subsidies during most of the pandemic, which has protected companies and saved many jobs, so there hasn’t been too much damage across the industry,” says Emma Greco, promoter at AEG Presents in Paris.
“However, the French political climate is heated as we’re facing new challenges with the rise of energy prices, shortages of gas, and the high cost of living, all causing new waves of protest and strikes.” She says touring costs are shooting up, with transportation
costs in particular up 20% this year.
There is also a skills and equipment shortage, caused in part by the pandemic, as infrastructure companies closed/downscaled and skilled workers were forced to leave the business and seek work elsewhere. As more acts race to get back on the road in France, there is still not enough staff or enough equipment to go around.
“All the sound and lighting providers were out of stock in recent months, meaning we have sometimes had to turn to our EU neighbours,”
“All the sound and lighting providers were out of stock in recent months, meaning we have sometimes had to turn to our EU neighbours,” explains Greco. Jean-Louis Schell, promoter at Take Me Out, believes there is also an oversaturation in the market. He says that 20 years ago, around 150 international acts were touring in France each year; now it is over 1,000.
“We have the same number of venues, maybe more small clubs with free entry, but there are the same number of people buying tickets and inflation is increasing; even if it is less than in other territories, 5.6% is still huge,” he says. “Students and young people generally have less money.”
Arnaud Meersseman, general manager of AEG Presents and programmer at Rock en Seine, says increases in ticket prices and acts touring too frequently are causing severe problems in the market. “Large venues with more than 5,000 capacity have seen ticketing go up by 19% compared to 2019, but small venues have seen a drop of 38%, and medium venues have seen a drop of 26%,” he says.
Arnaud Meersseman, general manager of AEG Presents and programmer at Rock en Seine, says increases in ticket prices and acts touring too frequently are causing severe problems in the market.
“Those medium and small bands that are in the middle, they’re all touring at the same time. They are probably not that new, they’ve probably been around for a while, people have seen them, and they’re on their second or third record. If you miss them this time around, well, that’s
fine; you can see them the next time they come around.”
Pascal Bernardin of Encore Productions lays out the scale of the challenges as he sees them. “I’m lucky that my business is outside France,” he says of the state of the domestic market. “If I look at promoters, it’s been hard, and I’m not sure when it will come back. Festivals did okay, and the big ones did very, very well. A lot of smaller festivals did not do so well. A lot of people complain about the cost, which is getting higher.”
What this all means is that smaller acts and acts in the middle are struggling the most, with Schell suggesting audiences are increasingly waiting until the last minute to buy tickets. “It forces the promoters to increase their promo expenses, so the breaking point becomes more difficult to reach,” he says. “Stadiums and arenas are filling – or at least most of them are.”
“Stadiums and arenas are filling – or at least most of them are.”
And, of course, the impact of Brexit on British acts touring in France (and elsewhere in Europe) remains an issue. “The ATA carnets are a pain for young bands,” says Schell, “so we mainly look for venues and festivals providing backline.”
For the biggest acts, their popularity insulates them to an extent. Meersseman points to Blackpink and other K-pop superstars as creating their own centre of gravity in the French market. “We find that it is doing exceptionally well with very high ticket prices,” he says, especially with regard to upsell options.
“If you get the full VIP package and you’re two people, you can be spending up to €2,000 on the show.” Meersseman also suggests the average ticket price for major shows in France is €120-130, and that means big acts scoop most of the money, and consumers cannot afford to go
to more shows more frequently.
Meersseman also suggests the average ticket price for major shows in France is €120-130, and that means big acts scoop most of the money,
“Once you spend that times two, you’re not going to be spending much on tickets for the
rest of the month,” he says. Meersseman also feels there is something of a touring arms race happening at the upper levels at the moment that will greatly impact on the future shape of the market.
“The competition is so intense because of the volume of touring that acts need to bring in bigger and bigger shows – but everything costs more and more,” he says. “To bring in a bigger show costs a fortune, therefore you raise ticket prices. Other acts think they should raise ticket prices and bring in a bigger show. It’s a vicious circle, and I don’t think it’s leading to anything very good.”
The processes of breaking acts across France are, however, beginning to change, even amid the market uncertainty outlined above. “We start off with a club show or a tastemaker event,” says
“Agents love putting all their acts through Primavera and then having a soft launch for all the acts at the same time in June.”
“Agents love putting all their acts through Primavera and then having a soft launch for all the acts at the same time in June. We try to avoid that if we can. From there on, we’ll usually give them a good slot at our festival, Rock en Seine, to try to build them up from there. Then we’ll try to get them back in for a bigger Paris show. After that we will try to get them back for some regional shows and regional festivals. France is such a centralised country, that if you don’t break Paris, you’ll never be able to venture into the regions. Paris is the key to opening up everything.”
Greco says that breaking Paris is only the start and that promoters really need to be thinking and acting locally. “I think it’s important to build an artist outside of Paris – whether it’s through festivals or regional shows,” she says. “There’s not always time for it, but I believe it’s an important step when building an artist in our market.”
International acts that have performed well in terms of touring are varied. Schell mentions Peter Doherty and Kasabian as recent successes, adding that French hip-hop acts are now selling tickets on a par with some of the biggest international acts, suggesting an interesting domestic/foreign split in the live market. Greco points to Fred Again, who sold 1,600 tickets in two minutes for his show at Elysée Montmartre, and Olivia Rodrigo’s first show in France at the Zenith in June 2022 exceeded expectations.
Meersseman says, beyond a range of K-pop acts and major international stars like Robbie Williams and Tyler, The Creator doing well, there is a revival of interest in pop-punk from the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Meersseman says, beyond a range of K-pop acts and major international stars like Robbie Williams and Tyler, The Creator doing well, there is a revival of interest in pop-punk from the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Hella Mega Tour (featuring Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer) sold out the 35,000-capacity La Défense Arena in July 2022.
Meanwhile, The Offspring have sold out the Zenith in Nantes and were already close to selling out the AccorHotels Arena in Paris, with both shows not happening until May 2023. Parts of the market are struggling and other parts of the market are over-indexing.
This dynamic looks unlikely to change for a while, with suggestions that, with many postponed shows running into next year, it might not be until 2023 that the live market in France fully recalibrates itself.