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Monsieur Musique: Arnaud Meersseman’s 20 years in music

Born in the southern French city of Montpellier, Arnaud Meersseman had something of a nomadic upbringing. “My father worked in computers and changed companies all the time, so at first we lived in Montpellier before moving to Geneva for two years, then two years in San Francisco,” he recalls.

“Then it was one year in Amsterdam, two in Lyon, and then two years in Boston. And then I moved back to France because I didn’t want to live in the States anymore.”

With such an international background, Arnaud’s decision to pursue a career as a diplomat seemed natural and that career path seemed assured when he was accepted into the prestigious Sciences Po university in Lyon. “Sciences Po schools get you into high-level public office, and the one in Lyon specialises in foreign affairs, which is what I wanted to do,” he explains. However, his love for music found him running a student radio show, and the lure of the ministry of foreign affairs was swiftly replaced by a desire to find a career in music.

“Arnaud was studying political science, so from our first meeting we talked about Daft Punk and The Cramps”

“With hindsight, it seems like the same thing, now,” he laughs. “At the end of my second year, we had to find a three-month internship. My girlfriend at the time’s mother was a physiotherapist and looked after a French rapper who was signed to Pi-Pole in Montpellier, and that’s how I got my foot in the door. I engineered a meeting with Pi-Pole’s founder, Pascal Sanchez, and I interned over summer 2002. The following year I needed a six-month internship and Pascal took me back. After that, he hired me.”

P-Pole chief Sanchez recalls, “Arnaud was studying political science, so from our first meeting we talked about Daft Punk and The Cramps, but also about Chirac who was our lazy french president then. In fact, I found it fascinating.”

Determined to finish his degree, Arnaud used his diplomatic skills to persuade both Sciences Po and his new employer to bend the rules. “It was a bit complicated, but the university was pretty accommodating – they put all my classes on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Midday Wednesday, I’d go to work at Pi-Pole. But I’d also worked during classes and did classes during work. It was hectic, but I finished school and kept my job.”

“[Arnaud] has proved that one can be at the head of AEG while being a fan of music and without having studied economics”

Working at Pi-Pole with Sanchez changed Arnaud’s life. “Pascal has a great ear and he’s an amazing A&R guy, so he taught me how to listen to stuff,” he says of his former boss for whom he promoted numerous electronic artists before gradually introducing acts like The Rapture, MGMT, LCD Soundsystem, and TV On The Radio to the Pi-Pole roster.

Sanchez believes Meersseman’s curiosity was a major factor in his evolution as a promoter. “As I don’t really have the sense or the patience for management, Arnaud was responsible for his own development,” notes Sanchez. “I helped him a little by giving him work with international bands. That allowed him to work with UK agents, but as he was the only French promoter to speak English, things came easily.”

Still a firm friend of his former employee, Sanchez adds, “I’m proud to see how far he’s come. He has proved that one can be at the head of AEG while being a fan of music and without having studied economics.”

City of Lights
After six years at Pi-Pole, Arnaud got itchy feet, and the bright lights of the French capital caught his imagination. “I just got really bored, and I wanted to go to Paris.” Having discussed options with the likes of the late Gérard Drouot and Sarah Jane Richardson, Arnaud eventually met Nous Productions chief Salomon Hazot. “In terms of his roster, I felt more in place with Salomon, who also had Rock en Seine, and that made up my mind: I quit Pi-Pole and moved to Paris in March 2010.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. Loyalty is a key element of Meersseman’s persona, and his relocation to Paris involved a significant step back. “Salomon wanted me to bring my Pi-Pole bands with me, but I did not want to do that to Pascal, so I started again from scratch.”

Some of the early additions to Arnaud’s Nous Productions roster were Lana Del Rey, The Weeknd, and Major Lazer

That fractious start set the tone for the relationship between Meersseman and Hazot. “Salomon is an amazing businessman, and he taught me how to do business. But at Nous, I basically
started without a roster, so I don’t think he was very happy with me at first.”

That situation quickly changed. Among some of the early additions to Arnaud’s Nous Productions roster were Lana Del Rey, The Weeknd, and Major Lazer. “I was doing all of James Rubin’s stuff like A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$, Run The Jewels, and Wiz Khalifa. So I really started expanding out of indie rock and electronic music into more generalist stuff.”

Arnaud’s knowledge also grew in other areas. “The last one in at Nous Production got to do all the metal shows, so I was very proficient in doom metal, thrash metal, stoner metal – I knew all the genres,” he laughs. However, he pays tribute to Hazot, who quickly involved him in the decision-making side of the business. “Salomon put me forward very much more than most of his other employees,” he tells IQ. “He really pushed me, which definitely helped me to grow.”

For his part, Hazot recalls, “What surprised me most about Arnaud was that he was always listening to music. If I saw him in the street, he would be listening to something; when he was going home at night after a show, he would be listening to music. He wasn’t thinking about the money – music always came first.”

Among Arnaud’s greatest allies in those early days at Nous, were Rubin, Cris Hearn, and CAA chiefs Emma Banks and Mike Greek. “Through them I learned about the proper agency world, not just the electronic music stuff,” says Arnaud.

“[Arnuad] wasn’t thinking about the money – music always came first”

Meersseman’s remit at Nous also introduced him to Rock en Seine – the festival he now programmes. “In the first year, Salomon had me just keep the grid and look out for the Rock en Seine offers. But pretty quickly I was included on the booking calls. Salomon and Doudou [Christophe Davy] were essentially booking the festival but allowed me to share my opinions. They gave me a seat at the table, which I’m very thankful for.”

Bataclan
By mid-2015, the writing was on the wall for Arnaud’s time at Nous, when talks of a corporate takeover began to leak. That prompted Meersseman to start pondering other options, but before he was able to put any plans into action, the unthinkable happened. “It was more than rumours that Solomon was speaking to Live Nation, and at no point did I feel I wanted to go work with them, so that was worrisome. But then, obviously, Bataclan happened,” he says.

Meersseman was promoting the Eagles of Death Metal show at the venue on 13 November 2015, when the terrorists struck. He was sitting on the terrace in front of the venue with friends when the gunfire started, and within seconds he had been hit by a bullet and gravely injured. In coordinated attacks across Paris, terrorists murdered 130 people – 90 of whom were in and around Bataclan – and injured more than 400.

“It’s a massive trauma to me: really massive,” he tells IQ. “First off, I’m very lucky in what happened to me: getting shot in front of the venue and not inside, so not being in the middle of bodies and things like that – it was lucky. But it’s very violent, and while physically I got much better – I remember being surprised at how quickly the body can heal – rebuilding myself psychologically was a long, long process in terms of just getting over being dissociated, because I was essentially in this fog the whole time.

“Just getting rid of the insomnia and getting confidence back in life and stopping thinking about what happened, replaying it over and over… that took a lot of work in terms of psychotherapy, hypnosis, and things like that.”

“[The Bataclan attack] is a massive trauma to me: really massive”

He adds, “It’s strange how the brain works. My real breakthrough came when a memory that I had completely suppressed materialised through a combination of hypnosis and rapid eye movement therapy. It was seeing one of my friends getting shot in the head right next to me. Once that came out, suddenly I felt I could start to move forward.”

Arnaud’s determination to get back to work also brought its own traumas. “I felt I needed to be back in the office, symbolically, to coincide with the first date back of Eagles of Death Metal, which was mid-February when they played L’Olympia. But that was way too quick. I remember taking the metro to the office, and there was a loud bang on the train. I had to run back home because I was just scared shitless.” The work environment was also surreal. “It took me time to realise that I was not ready to be back in the office. And then on top of that, the Live Nation move was happening. So, I decided I needed to get out of there.”

Finding a New Home
Looking to start the next chapter, Meersseman had discussions with Emmanuel de Buretel about joining his Corida division, which was in the process of acquiring Pi-Pole. But the chance to establish his own operation was more enticing, both professionally and personally. He found that opportunity at FIMALAC group, whose promoting division, MIALA, specialised for the most part in domestic French talent. “I’d never really worked with domestic acts, but FIMALAC backed me to do international stuff, so I moved to MIALA with a remit to grow the international roster.” But the move soon unravelled. “I felt like they had no idea of what our job was. And worse, agents did not understand what we were doing or how it was structured.”

Determined to find a solution that would allow him to take on the growing might of Live Nation when it came to attracting international acts to France, Arnaud took matters in hand. Having
discovered that AEG was looking to acquire Rock en Seine, he relentlessly pursued senior management about the idea of creating a Paris office.

But it was Arnaud’s longstanding friendship with then WME boss Marc Geiger that proved to be the catalyst. “Geiger was in Paris for Lollapalooza, so we met, and I outlined my idea of a French AEG office. He took it up and the next morning I got an email from him saying that he had spoken to [AEG chairman and CEO] Jay Marciano, who wanted to talk to me.”

In January 2018, Arnaud’s living room became AEG’s inaugural French headquarters, with a staff of four

As a result, in January 2018, Arnaud’s living room became AEG’s inaugural French headquarters, with a staff of four. With others gradually joining the operation, that arrangement lasted for around six months before the AEG France team could find a proper office. “I never invoiced AEG for the rent of my living room,” laughs Arnaud.

With French law decreeing that a promoter’s licence is essential before being allowed to sell tickets, Arnaud tells IQ, “It took a full year to be fully operational, and by the time December 2019 came around, we were poised for a very big year in 2020. And then, we all know what happened.”

As the Paris operation had grown to ten people, the need for bigger premises was also necessary. “I signed the lease for a 400-square-metre office, moving in early April 2020… Great timing.”
However, AEG’s attitude toward the Covid situation was exemplary. “We were worried that they might just shut us down, but the company was amazing – we even got bonuses at the end of 2020,” reports Arnaud. Generous government subsidies also helped. “The government essentially picked up the tab for all the employee salaries for a year,” he adds.

Slowly emerging from Covid restrictions, the stop-go activities of 2021 complicated matters, but this year has seen AEG France get back on track, albeit with familiar challenges. “We were faced with the same thing as everybody else: we were doing the same number of shows that we did in 2019, plus 40%, often with less staff. On top of that, we had our very first big shows – the Rolling Stones and the Hella Mega Tour – so there was definitely added pressure.”

Looking forward, Meersseman is determined to exploit some of the untapped potential of the French market, as the majority of international acts tend to only visit Paris on their European tours. “With domestic stuff you can probably play 200 shows in France because every single mid-level city has its own venue, often run by the city or the state.”

“The government essentially picked up the tab for all the employee salaries for a year”

Citing The Cure’s current tour as an example of how A-list international acts can properly tour France, Arnaud says, “The Cure really put in the time and everything’s sold out. There’s great business to be done in the regions.”

Future Plans
As the busiest year in history for live music speeds toward its conclusion, AEG Presents’ French office currently numbers 22 employees, while 2022 has also seen the company ink a new agreement that reunites Arnaud with his mentor Hazot’s new company, Solani Productions.

Hazot comments, “When I was looking to set up Solani, I called Arnaud and it was very emotional because he told me that he owed a lot to me. We share the same birthday – September 15 – and we’ve always been in touch on that day, so I’m very glad we are working together again.”

Meersseman agrees. “Striking that deal with Salomon will increase our show count and bring some amazing artists to the roster,” says Arnaud, citing the likes of Ed Sheeran, Metallica, Rammstein, Iron Maiden, Katy Perry, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. “It feels good to be working with him again.”

Asked about his 2022 highlights, he responds, “I was very proud to be able to work with the Rolling Stones. It’s always a great one to put on the CV. Also, Rock en Seine was a kickass bill this year.” He continues, “The festival is getting amazing support from agents now – we’re almost done with 50% of the bill for 2023 already because people really want to play Rock en Seine.”

And while confessing that he’s “terrible” at HR – “I really suck” – Arnaud’s track record to date isn’t too shabby. “I’m a bit overwhelmed, but I do have a great promoter team in place now – people like Emma Greco who is a really good young promoter. And I also brought in Laurent Castanié who has a very solid roster, from the Dropkick Murphys to Chemical Brothers to Flaming Lips.”

He concludes, “We’re in a good place right now. I’ll probably hire another one or two promoters next year and keep on building. We want to also grow the festival footprint at some point, but we’ll see – we’re talking to a couple of people who are thinking about creating new events with [AEG European Festivals CEO] Jim King. There’s still a lot of room for AEG Presents to grow.”

 


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IQ 115 out now: ILMC 35 preview, The Cure, Germany

IQ 115, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine, is available to read online now.

The November edition includes a sneak preview of the various events and gatherings set for the 35th edition of the International Live Music Conference, which will be held at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London from 28 Feb – 3 March 2023.

In addition, Gordon Masson goes behind the scenes as The Cure resume their live career with their biggest ever European. In his latest market report, Adam Woods discovers Germany’s live music industry is enduring challenging times, while James Hanley examines the high-flying business of air charter.

Elsewhere, we celebrate AEG Presents France general manager Arnaud Meersseman‘s 20 years in music and profile 20 forward-thinking companies developing live music metaverse worlds.

For this edition’s columns and comments, AXS director of ticketing Paul Newman outlines how the Covid standstill allowed his team to reimagine its ticketing delivery systems; and Music Managers’ Forum CEO Anabella Coldrick details the various challenges facing the live music business.

Plus, four years since IQ’s agony aunt, Wasserman Music’s Alex Hardee, last shared his wisdom with those in need of guidance, it’s time once again for Auntie Alex to dispense some sage-like advice…

As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.

However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ from just £6.25 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:

 


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AEG Presents France teams up with Salomon Hazot

AEG Presents France is partnering with renowned promoter Salomon Hazot on exclusively representing, producing and distributing his artist roster.

Hazot is a stalwart of the European live music business, having previously created and managed Garance Productions, Nous Productions and Paris-based festival Rock en Seine.

Previously, he was vice-president at Live Nation France and more recently teamed up with Olympia Production.

He is said to have been instrumental in the success of many international artists in France, establishing the likes of Björk, Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, Bruno Mars, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ed Sheeran, The Weeknd and Robbie Williams in his home market.

Meersseman says he’s “so happy to reconnect and accompany Salomon and his outstanding artist roster”

The new partnership sees Hazot reunited with AEG Presents France MD Arnaud Meersseman, who previously served as a booker, promoter and A&R at Nous Productions.

Speaking on the new collaboration, Meersseman says he’s “so happy to reconnect and accompany Salomon and his outstanding artist roster”.

Hazot adds: “We have such a special relationship with Arnaud and not only because we share the same anniversary date! I’m really excited.”

Newly announced Robbie Williams (Accor Arena) and Pixies (Olympia) shows in 2023, as well as forthcoming gigs of Alt-J, Massive Attack, Queens of the Stone Age, Sigur Ros and The Offspring are among the first artists to be named as part of the deal with AEG Presents France.

Hazot’s current roster also includes Björk, Black Eyed Peas, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Chance the Rapper, Cypress Hill, Dead Can Dance, Deftones, Ed Sheeran, Eminem, Erykah Badu, Iron Maiden, Janelle Monae, M.I.A, Moby, Nine Inch Nails, Pet Shop Boys, Pixies, Portugal the Man, Raphael Saadiq, Rita Ora, Sum 41, The Roots, Wiz Khalifa and more.

 


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France’s Rock en Seine embarks on new era

Rock en Seine GM Matthieu Ducos and AEG European festivals boss Jim King have previewed a new era for the French festival in an interview with IQ.

The extended 18th edition of the 40,000-cap event takes place in Domaine National de Saint-Cloud, Paris from 25-28 August with headliners Arctic Monkeys, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Tame Impala and Stromae.

“From an AEG perspective, we see Rock en Seine as being as important to our global portfolio of festivals as Hyde Park, All Points East, Coachella and everywhere else,” says King. “It’s equal in every measure to the other festivals that we operate in any market around the world.

“It needed some attention; it needed resource and support and we needed to allow the team to realise their ambitions. But it has the potential to be one of the world’s leading city-based festivals and we certainly feel it’s on its way to achieving that.”

AEG acquired Rock en Seine in 2017 in partnership with media investment group LNEI, but King suggests the event’s return from its Covid-enforced hiatus marks something of a reboot, as it is the first edition to be held since the launch of AEG’s European Festivals division in three years ago.

“It had not had its best years, but it is a well respected event with a great history, and a great site in the centre of Paris”

“It allowed us to bring some specialist overview to Rock en Seine, which is a very long-standing and established festival in Europe,” he explains. “It had not had its best years but it is a well-respected event with a great history, and a great site in the centre of Paris.

“With the Covid shutdown, it enabled all stakeholders this extended review on how to make it better. It allowed us to reset the team locally, build a stronger relationship and, from that platform, provide whatever assistance – and I need to underline assistance – to that team to realise what their vision of it was.

“What you’re seeing now is the realisation of the outlook and the vision of the team in Paris. Our role has been able to provide that framework and at times just some guidance and resourcing to allow that to be achieved.”

AEG’s London concert series All Points East, which was held in May pre-pandemic, has been pushed back to the same weekend as Rock en Seine, enabling Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Tame Impala to headline both events.

All Points East, which kicks off tonight with Gorillaz, runs in Victoria Park over two weekends – 19-20 and 25-28 August.

“Festivals live and die on artist bookings. We can say otherwise, but it is essential to it”

“The one thing we did centrally was reposition All Points East to the same weekend, which would then allow Matthew and also Arnaud [Meersseman], who runs AEG’s Paris office, to work much more closely with the booking teams from All Points East and establish that new culture,” says King.

“Festivals live and die on artist bookings. We can say otherwise, but it’s essential to it. So the idea was to start building that platform where agents could see a strengthened end of the summer window, with two great shows which they could then support with their artists.

“Those foundations have then been picked up by Matthieu, and what we’re seeing now is the best line-up Rock en Seine has ever had. That’s creating more ticket sales and a higher gross than Rock en Seine has ever had, and more sponsors and sponsorship gross than Rock en Seine has ever had. So it’s just success, on success, on success.”

Ducos backs up King’s assessment.

“Moving All Points East to the same weekend as Rock en Seine was a huge step,” he tells IQ. “I agree we have the strongest line-up we’ve ever had, so it’s great to start this new version of Rock en Seine after a two-year stop.

“Usually, about 60% of the festival-goers come from the Paris region and 40% from other regions of France and abroad. We will have more people from abroad than usual, that’s for sure, because we have some bands that are doing only a few shows in Europe, like Arctic Monkeys, so people are coming from far away to see them.”

“We have great ambitions that it will continue to grow”

With the festival expanding from three to four days for the first time this year, King elaborates on the ambitions to grow Rock en Seine’s international appeal.

“You look at some of the other successes around mainland Europe where they have become destination festivals for a multinational audience, and for whatever reason Rock en Seine had lost that, or was not that,” he says. “But I think it certainly is developing into that and we have great ambitions that it will continue to grow because Paris is such a great city and so easy to travel to. Once you’re there, there’s so much to do. So why only do it for two days or three days?

“The ability to attract great talent is based on many things: the offer, the routing, but obviously where you’re going to and what we were able to do with Rock en Seine is to be more ambitious with the acts that we wanted to attract and then, with that, be more ambitious with the audience that we want to attract to see those acts.

“I think you’ll see great developments in the range of people – and the countries they originate from – coming to Rock en Seine over the next five years.”

In a setback for organisers, a planned standalone date on 30 August, headlined by Rage Against the Machine, with support from Run The Jewels and Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, was scrapped last week on “medical guidance” due to an injury sustained by RATM frontman Zach de la Rocha.

Nonetheless, Ducos suggests AEG’s backing puts Rock in Seine in a strong position as it looks to enhance its reputation year-on-year.

“Paris doesn’t have a history of iconic, pop/rock music festivals,” he says. “We’ve been there for 18 years now and we did a great job, but I think we can go further and become an iconic festival in this great city. I’m quite confident about our power and attractiveness to book the rock, pop, but also electro and hip-hop acts we want in the future.”

 


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The New Bosses: Remembering the class of 2021

The 14th edition of IQ Magazine‘s New Bosses celebrated the brightest talent aged 30 and under in the international live music business.

The New Bosses 2021 honoured no fewer than a dozen young executives, as voted by their colleagues around the world.

The 14th edition of the annual list inspired the most engaged voting process to date, with hundreds of people taking the time to submit nominations.

The year’s distinguished dozen comprises promoters, bookers, agents, entrepreneurs and more, all involved in the international business and each of whom is making a real difference in their respective sector.

In alphabetical order, the New Bosses 2021 are:

Subscribers can read full interviews with each of the 2021 New Bosses in issue 103 of IQ Magazine.

Click here to subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:

 

 


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Touring business on alert after Omicron warning

The global touring business is on high alert following the detection of the new Covid variant Omicron.

While it will take two weeks for definitive data to emerge, an interview with Moderna chief Stephane Bancel in today’s FT – in which he predicted existing vaccines would be “much less effective” at tackling Omicron than earlier strains of the virus – has raised alarm bells across the industry.

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant],” said Bancel. “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data.”

Global stock markets have fallen following Bancel’s warning. Live Nation’s share price, which rocketed to an all-time high of $125.88 earlier this month on the back of the company’s glowing Q3 report, fell to $98.92 on Friday in the wake of Omicron’s discovery in South Africa. At the time of writing, it was down 1.26% for today to $106.77.

Elsewhere, shares in CTS Eventim have declined 1.5% (-6.28% over five days) to €57.64, Eventbrite was down 1.85% (-11.03%) to $14.84 and Madison Square Garden Entertainment dipped 4.8% (-1.51%) to $65.42.

It’s not looking good, but it’s still early to tell

Ozzy Osbourne rescheduled his long-delayed UK and European dates to 2023 earlier this week “due to the unprecedented and ever-changing situation”, but there have been no other reports of postponements.

Speaking to IQ, AEG Presents France head Arnaud Meersseman concedes the fresh developments have caused consternation among the live community and cast plans for at least the first quarter of 2022 into doubt.

“I think it’s not looking good, but it’s still early to tell,” he says. “We’re already seeing a lot of requests of acts in Q1 asking to move their shows – the problem is we have nowhere to move them.”

The UK government has re-introduced measures including wearing masks within shops and on public transport in England, coupled with more stringent border controls.

Michael Kill, boss of the UK’s Night-time Industries Association (NTIA) describes the new variant as “hugely concerning” but says he is “encouraged” by the government’s decision not to mitigate against hospitality and night time economy settings. All adults in England will be offered a booster jab by the end of January.

“Although somewhat tentative about the coming weeks, [we] need to be clear that the sector is still extremely fragile and will not survive further trade inhibiting restrictions or a potential lockdown,” says Kill.

“The current baseline mitigations within businesses across this industry have been extremely effective. Coupled with the vaccination programme we must remain confident that we are in a stronger position to deal with variants than many other countries across the world.”

Thousands of businesses, sole traders and artists are at the mercy of new strains

Down Under, Australian live music and entertainment industry bodies have responded to Omicron by reiterating calls for a government-backed insurance scheme.

“The emergence of this new variant on the heels of Delta and the rapid global response to limit its spread is a salutary reminder that this is not over yet,” says the alliance, which comprises AAM, AFA, ALMBC, AMIN, APRA AMCOS, ARIA, PPCA and Live Performance Australia.

“Thousands of businesses, sole traders and artists are at the mercy of new strains and the ongoing threat of more government lockdowns and reimposition of restrictions.”

Earlier this month, the Victorian government announced plans to launch a 12-month pilot scheme that will insure up to AUS$230 million (€148m) of events.

“For this scheme to truly work, however, the industry urged the prime minister to develop a national scheme that reflects the industry’s national economic and employment footprint,” the statement continues. “We again call on the federal government to step up and coordinate a co-contribution scheme shared with the states and territories.

“The Australian live music and entertainment sector has long argued that a government-backed insurance scheme is crucial to allowing the sector to rebuild, maintain employment and rapidly restore its critical economic and cultural contribution to the nation.

“The industry calls on all levels of government to come together and establish a partnership approach with industry, delivering a government-backed insurance scheme and ongoing support.”

 


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AEG Presents France head on ‘patchy’ ticket sales

AEG Presents France head Arnaud Meersseman has told IQ he is hopeful of a strong summer ’22 for the touring business, despite warning of an “iffy” next few months.

As countries across Europe tighten limits on live shows amid an alarming rise in Covid cases, the French authorities went against the grain  last week by lifting capacity restrictions on standing at indoor concerts following a campaign by French live music association Prodiss.

Meersseman says a scheduled meeting of the government’s defence counsel on Wednesday (24 March) could lead to new measures being introduced, but does not expect the country to follow Austria’s lead and return to a full lockdown.

“We’ll see what comes out of it, but cases are rising,” he says. “I think the booster campaign needs to get into gear. Plus, if we get some nice weather from March, April onwards, then summer feels OK. The start of spring feels a bit iffy. Between the booster shot campaign and fair weather returning, it’s going to be iffy from now until March, basically.

“You can see that the weather definitely has an impact. If you look at Spain, Italy and Portugal; on top of having extremely high vaccination rates, they’re having very nice weather and their cases aren’t rising. It’s as soon as you get people back inside, basically, that the cases are rising again.”

Some shows are doing very well, some are doing slow. It’s hard to get a read on the market

The Paris-based promoter says the domestic live circuit has been hard to get a handle on up to this point due to “patchy” ticket sales across the board.

“Some shows are doing very well, some are doing slow,” he says. “It’s hard to get a read on the market. You get weeks where you get huge bumps and you have no idea what it’s due to.”

Meersseman jokes: “I’ll always tell agents, it’s due to my amazing marketing, but it’s really weird. It’s not understandable.”

AEG Presents opened Paris office in 2018, expanding into what it referred to as “one of Europe’s most important and vibrant markets for live music”, and hired Meersseman, formerly of Nous Productions and Fimalac/Miala, as general manager and VP.

Speaking as part of IQ‘s recent feature investigating the impact of the latest Covid surge on the European live business, Meersseman said it was worrying that countries with a similar vaccination rate to France were battling new coronavirus waves. Demonstrations and violence broke out in Belgium and the Netherlands over the weekend in protest at fresh restrictions.

“There is some worry, there is some anxiety,” he said. “We were at 12,000 cases a day a week ago, and now we’re at 20,000. So it’s getting to that point where it trickles and then suddenly, boom, it becomes exponential.

“I don’t think we’ll go back into full lockdown. But in terms of our business, well, there’s not much going on anyway – even for domestic acts – in November and December. I think there could be some impact there, we’ll see. But I’m not very positive about it and I’m not feeling super positive about January/February either.

“Domestic tours, maybe they go ahead in February/March. But for international tours, it feels highly unlikely that anything happens between January and March because you start losing territories like Holland and Germany and suddenly your tour isn’t viable economically anymore.”

 


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Top Euro promoters speak out on new Covid spike

A handful of top European promoters have spoken to IQ about the impact the latest Covid spike is having on the continent’s live music business.

Record daily infections have been reported in Germany and the Netherlands, while Austria and Belgium have introduced new measures. In the UK, Northern Ireland is following Scotland’s lead in introducing Covid passports to gain entry to venues.

In France, however, the government has just lifted capacity restrictions on standing at indoor concerts following a campaign by French live music association Prodiss.

“France is always different to everywhere else,” laughs Paris-based promoter Arnaud Meersseman, who says he senses “clouds on the horizon”.

“There is a general sense that whilst Germany and Austria have rather low vaccination rates, it is very worrisome that countries such as Belgium and Netherlands – that have a vaccination rate close to ours – are in the situation they are in. So there is some anxiety,” he tells IQ.

Meersseman suspects new rules could be introduced at a government meeting next week after president Emmanuel Macron fired a “warning shot” in a public address earlier this month.

You start losing territories like Holland and Germany and suddenly your tour isn’t viable economically anymore

“We were at 12,000 cases a day a week ago, and now we’re at 20,000,” says the AEG Presents France head. “So it’s getting to that point where it trickles and then suddenly, boom, it becomes exponential.

“I don’t think we’ll go back into full lockdown. But in terms of our business, well, there’s not much going on anyway – even for domestic acts – in November and December. I think there could be some impact there, we’ll see. But I’m not very positive about it and I’m not feeling super positive about January/February either.

“Domestic tours, maybe they go ahead in February/March. But for international tours, it feels highly unlikely that anything happens between January and March because you start losing territories like Holland and Germany and suddenly your tour isn’t viable economically anymore.”

He adds: “You can see that the weather definitely has an impact. If you look at Spain, Italy and Portugal; on top of having extremely high vaccination rates, they’re having very nice weather and their cases aren’t rising. It’s as soon as you get people back inside, basically, that the cases are rising again.”

Rock Werchter founder Herman Schueremans explains that, with Belgium entering a semi-lockdown this weekend, concert-goers for Saturday’s performance by Bazart at Antwerp’s Lotto Arena will be required to wear masks, whereas those attending the band’s first show tomorrow night will not.

“It’s a bit of a strange situation,” remarks the Live Nation Belgium boss. “But even though we know a percentage of the audience will not show up, we’re happy that our sold-out shows in November and December can all happen at full capacity. It’s key for the artists and their teams, and the venues, suppliers, security teams and crew, as well as our team.”

People don’t trust the shows in the near future will take place

Pascal Van De Velde of Greenhouse Talent reports that ticket sales for concerts in Belgium over the next two to three months have been “decimated” by the worsening situation.

“People don’t trust the shows in the near future will take place,” he says. “And people don’t feel like going anymore, as they think it’s no fun with the masks, etc.”

It is a similar state of play in Austria, where Goodlive Concerts MD Silvio Huber describes the current picture as a “mess”. Proof of a negative PCR test will be needed to attend concerts in Vienna from tomorrow, with a return to a full lockdown in the coming days looking increasingly likely.

“Restrictions are going to change every few days,” says Huber. “In the federal states of Salzburg und Upper Austria, the situation is out of control. Shows have been cancelled there already, and hospitals are getting their teams ready for triage as they are running out of intensive care beds slowly, but surely.

“Furthermore they have just announced there will be will a lockdown in Salzburg und Upper Austria from Monday onwards. We will see tomorrow if the rest of the country will join them. I’m pretty sure we will see a nationwide lockdown.”

Scores of shows in the Netherlands were postponed earlier this week after the Dutch government imposed a new partial lockdown. A capacity limit of 1,250 has been imposed on venues, with restrictions due to last until 4 December at the earliest.

We had to cancel or postpone all shows above 1,250-cap

“We had to cancel or postpone all shows above 1,250-cap, at least for three weeks and even beyond those dates,” says Jan Willem Luyken of Mojo Concerts. “Indoor, fixed seated shows can still happen with limited capacity, with proof of vaccine, negative test or [natural immunity from a previous positive test]. Bars and catering need to be closed from 8pm, so it’s a very complex situation indeed, and we’re still figuring it out.”

In light of the fresh measures, Luyken says the Dutch government has announced an extension of support programmes for the live event industry and cultural sector.

Germany’s Event Management Forum (EMF), which consists of five major organisations including live music associations BDKV and LiveKomm, has urged the German government to meet with music industry representatives before imposing new restrictions on the business. Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel has called the country’s current Covid situation “dramatic” and said a fourth wave of the virus was hitting Germany with “full force”.

BDKV chief Jens Michow earlier laid bare the stark financial impact of the pandemic on the business.

“In the 20 months of actual lockdown, the loss of sales for concert, tour and festival organisers alone was around €3.5 billion by the end of last year,” he said. “By the end of 2021, the loss in sales will add up to at least €8.5bn.”

 


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The New Bosses 2021: Emma Greco, AEG Presents France

The New Bosses 2021 – the latest edition of IQ’s annual celebration of the brightest young talent in the live business today, as voted for by their peers – was published in IQ 103 this month, revealing the 12 promising promoters, bookers, agents, entrepreneurs that make up this year’s list.

To get to know this year’s cohort a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2021’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success.

Catch up on the previous 2021 New Bosses interview with Will Marshall, agent at Primary Talent/ICM Partners in the UK here.

After internships at the likes of Aiken Promotions in Ireland, and Nuits de Fourvière festival in Lyon, Emma Greco joined Le Periscope in her hometown of Grenoble, France, in 2015, having graduated with a BSc in economics and a Masters in culture from Grenoble University.

Working as a booking agent, she handled domestic acts such as Baden Baden, Joyce Jonathan and Fréro Delavega across Latin America, Asia and Russia, as well as working on productions from small clubs to arenas and festivals throughout France.

In 2018, she moved to Paris to become a promoter at Super, working on both domestic and international acts.

In 2019, Greco joined AEG Presents France and has developed the roster by signing new acts such as Rina Sawayama, Griff, Zoe Wees, Benee, Beabadoobee and Daði Freyr.


You found some amazing internships early on – what advice could you give to others on getting some good experience?
Getting an internship is not easy when you’re at university or when you’ve just graduated, but if you’re determined enough, you will get there. And when you do, make the most of it! Be curious, ask questions, seize every opportunity, talk to people, start building your network – it will take you places.

You’ve made the switch from agent to promoter. Was that a difficult learning curve?
I’ve had experienced colleagues to learn from and was given the freedom and trust to find my own place, which made the transition easier. It is important to have a good insight into everyone’s role in the industry, it has taught me to be more patient and understanding.

“It is important to have a good insight into everyone’s role in the industry”

Have you been able to do anything during the pandemic to strengthen your career credentials?
I had a career assessment toward the beginning of the pandemic and it really helped me work on strengths and weaknesses and set goals for the future, one of them being to make it onto the New Bosses list!

What do you see yourself doing in five years’ time?
Finding tomorrow’s best new artists and promoting arena shows.

What are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?
Finally seeing all the shows we’ve worked so hard on putting together. It has been so frustrating not to be able to see the results.

What one thing would you like to change to make the live music industry a better place?
I would like to see more women in leading positions. There’s still a long way to go but I believe we, especially the younger generation, have the power to change things.

 


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French industry reacts to new festival restrictions

France is the first major European market to deliver a framework for this summer’s festival season.

French festivals – both indoor and outdoor – are permitted to take place this summer but attendance will be restricted to 5,000 spectators, who must be seated and socially distanced.

The minister for culture, Roselyne Bachelot, announced the framework yesterday (18 February) along with a €30 million fund which will compensate organisers – both for losses incurred due to the implementation of alternative formats, and in the event that festivals are cancelled due to an increasing Covid-19 infection rate.

Bachelot has committed to a monthly consultation meeting with festivals to adapt the framework according to the development of France’s health situation but France’s live sector already has many questions that have gone unanswered.

“Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters”

AEG Presents France GM and VP, Arnaud Meerseeman, tells IQ:  “I feel it’s essentially an act of political communication to gain some time with the sector. The framework is very loose. There is no detail on the timeline of this decision: ie when does “summer” start and end, from what point does this apply? Does this cover festivals in August/September?

“There is also no detail on the protocol to welcome audiences and therefore the impossibility to cost the extra measures needed to welcome the audience. And finally, there is a big sore point of no food and beverage, which is quite problematic for an outdoor event!

“On top of that, all of this is submitted to a monthly revision in link with the evolution of the sanitary situation. All of these issues tend to point to another empty season. Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters. Smaller events, or different aesthetics (ie jazz/classical) or other disciplines (cinema/theatre) might be able to go forward. The positive issue is the financial mechanisms to support events that cancel or that want to adapt has been maintained and boosted,” adds Meerseeman.

“A seated event bringing together 5,000 people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival”

France’s trade union, the SMA (Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles), echoes Meersseman’s concerns, saying: “At the present time and under the conditions announced by [Bachelot], we cannot say that festivals will be held this summer because, for a major part of our audiences, our artists and our teams, a seated event bringing together 5,000 maximum people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival.”

“We are particularly awaiting validation of the authorisation to serve drinks and meals to festival-goers, an essential condition for welcoming our audiences in good conditions. This answer is crucial both from an economic point of view and in terms of user-friendliness. The issue of non-distancing between festival-goers, essential in organisational projections, must also be clarified.”

SMA has also expressed concerns that the €30m financial package will “insufficient” to support 6,000 French festivals of all disciplines.

“[Hellfest] makes the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against our DNA”

French metal festival Hellfest Open Air (cap. 60,000) broke the news to IQ that this year’s event is cancelled due to the uncertainty around the health situation and the government regulations.

Hellfest organiser Ben Barbaud tells IQ: “Unlike other festivals, we make the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against the very DNA of the festival. We owe our festival-goers consistency in the project we want to offer them and for which they have agreed to pay a high price.

“Hellfest was born out of a desire to gather all the “extreme” music lovers together in communion and a spirit of celebration. Living with the virus shouldn’t be giving up what makes us happy. The future of Hellfest is compromised and once again it is your trust and solidarity that will get us through this storm.”

The 15th anniversary of Hellfest was due to take place across three days in June, in Clisson, Pays de la Loire, with performances from artists including Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down. Barbaud says the festival will return in 2022.

While France may be the first major market in the northern hemisphere to make a decision on this summer’s festival season, it doesn’t necessarily mean other countries will follow its lead.

France’s vaccination rate is significantly lower than other markets inside and outside of Europe such as the UK, Denmark, Italy and other EU countries, and the government has been continuously criticised for slowing the pace.

 


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