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The Solutionist: Anna Sjölund’s 25 years in live

In November 2023, it was announced that Anna Sjölund was to leave Live Nation – where she’d spent her entire career until then – for ASM Global. In a move dubbed “seismic” by one exec, Sjölund swapped her widely regarded career as a promoter for a gig in the venue business. And while the latter is new territory for her, it’s a kind of homecoming for the European director.

The 45-year-old Swede has returned to her old stomping ground of Avicii Arena, where she cut her teeth (and broke her foot) as a production assistant in the earliest throes of her career. It was in the carpark of the arena, then known as Stockholm Globe, where she first met ASM’s SVP Operations Marie Lindqvist after their cars ran into each other.

Decades later, Sjölund is set to spend many more working hours at Avicii, now ASM Global’s Sweden office, with Lindqvist at the helm. “I’ve lived these venues, and I know the people very well… I’m having a full-circle moment,” says Sjölund.

High school dropout
Sjölund spent the lion’s share of her youth in Lund, a province at the southern tip of Sweden best known for its prestigious university. Ironically, this is where Sjölund’s education was put on the back burner when she got her “lucky break” in music. “When I was in the seventh grade, I slipped into a group of older kids and ended up taking part in this EU-funded youth project at Mejeriet, a venue in Lund,” she tells IQ.

“We put on events for young people, like parties, viewings of 90210, and concerts,” she remembers. “We took tickets at the entrance or cleaned or did the coat check. When I started working at the big gigs, I realised I didn’t want to do anything else, so I dropped out of school.”

Sjölund had been attending a sports school, where basketball was her focus – “I wasn’t very good, but I was pretty tenacious,” she admits. A leg injury sustained in her first year prompted her to spend more time at the club, before she quit school altogether.

“I never really went back after that,” she said. “I would cycle from the club every morning to the record store Folk & Rock where we sold tickets, count the stubs and report back. Then I’d do the same at the other resale shops in the city. That’s basically what I did for a year.”

“I would cycle from the club every morning to the record store Folk & Rock where we sold tickets, count the stubs and report back”

Not entirely done with education, Sjölund relocated to the US to take her senior year of high school, only to return to the club a year later with renewed ambition. “I started this little side company, and we worked as stagehands and riggers and crew for extra cash,” she says. “Some of those were EMA Telstar shows – Thomas Johansson’s company. When the Stockholm promoters had shows down south, they would call me and ask for crew. We would put together a group of friends and build the stage for them.”

Sjölund’s work then took her as a production assistant to Hultsfred Festival, where her path again crossed with staff from EMA. Soon after, EMA enlisted her for Tina Turner’s Twenty Four Seven tour in 2000 at Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg. “I was 20 years old, and that was my first stadium show,” she says. “Seeing the audience on those shows was amazing, and I just loved working in a venue. I had so much fun [that] I woke up the night after the show with Elvis tattooed on my back.”

Sjölund went from strength to strength with EMA, and the firm offered her a three-month stint at the then Stockholm Globe, working under then head of operations Tor Nielsen. In addition to working on concerts, Sjölund had a hand in producing an NHL game – sparking her lifelong passion for ice hockey “I didn’t go outside for three months, and
I loved it,” she says. “I wore Harley Davidson boots every day and walked so much that I broke the bones in my foot. It was the kind of fracture that people in the military service get.”

Nielsen says that Sjölund made a strong impression from the get-go: “From day one, you could see there was something special with Anna. She was smarter than all the guys around her and with lots of energy and curiosity. From day two, you saw a coming leader in our business.”

“I thought my job was to go out there and beat up the promoter… I was so tough with settlements and riders”

EMA Telstar founder Thomas Johansson had a similar feeling: “I knew that she was going places because she was very determined to work, and she spent a lot of time getting it right… she’s very thorough at her job.” Unsurprisingly, EMA offered the wunderkind a full-time position, which Sjölund accepted, but first, she had to deliver on a promise she’d made.

A year earlier, Tobbe Lorentz, an agent and longtime friend of hers, was in need of a European tour manager for Norwegian rock band Gluecifer, and 21-year-old Sjölund agreed to step in, despite lacking any experience in that role. “She was hesitant at first, but I assured her it was an easy job,” says Lorentz, who now works at UTA. “What could possibly go wrong with these hi-fuelled garage rockers from Scandinavia in the early 2000s?” he laughs.

Gluecifer turned out to be the least of his worries. “I thought my job was to go out there and beat up the promoter,” laughs Sjölund. “I was so tough with settlements and riders. And then I learned that it’s about cooperation. It was a real learning experience.” Sjölund had spent five weeks on the road and though she was the only woman among 16 men, she loved the band so much that she agreed to a second tour with them, postponing her move to EMA. Ultimately, Sjölund says it was clear that tour managing was not for her.

“I always wanted to work as a promoter, though I didn’t necessarily know whether I would be a production person or promoter,” she says. “I love being a facilitator. I want to provide the best possible set of scenarios for the artists, for the audience, and for the staff. The thrilling thing is to help other people get their vision across from stage.”

That passion for producing was only reaffirmed upon her return to EMA Telstar: “After a month at the company, I decided I would never do anything else,” she says.

“Even in the early days, [Anna] came across as knowledgeable and well-informed about her market”

Promoter’s prerogative
After a handful of years working full-time at EMA Telstar as a production assistant and booking agent, Sjölund made the jump to promoter – but it wasn’t an easy bridge to gap at first.

“Nobody would pick up my calls,” she remembers. “I had a list of agencies, and I kept calling them.” Ever determined, the promoter’s perseverance was eventually noticed by the likes of John Giddings, Rob Markus, and Tony Goldring.

“It didn’t matter how late at night I called Anna; she would always pick up. Unlike us mortals, she didn’t seem to need sleep to function,” laughs Goldring, with whom Sjölund worked on concerts such as Rihanna’s first show in Sweden in 2008 and Alicia Keys headlining Way Out West.

“Even in the early days, she came across as knowledgeable and well-informed about her market. When there were issues, we always found solutions together, and when I needed
more money, which was always, she tried to help but was clear when she couldn’t.”

A quick glance at the testimonials accompanying this feature will tell you that Sjölund is renowned for such problem-solving skills – and she’s the first to admit she’s “at her best” when there’s a crisis – but it’s something she’s learned the hard way.

“I’ve made numerous fuck-ups,” she laughs.“Very early in my career, I once forgot to book a venue for a confirmed show, which was bad when it was announced. It was a shock to everybody, especially since the date wasn’t available.

“Sometimes you make the wrong call or miss something, that’s the nature of the business”

“I also misjudged one of my first arena shows,” she continues. “I loved the band so much, I thought it was going to be a hit, but I only sold about a third of the venue, and we lost a fortune. I’ll never forget the feeling of losing money for the company or seeing those empty chairs. I didn’t sleep for weeks.”

But these days, Sjölund is matter of fact about mistakes and says she rarely gets upset. “Sometimes you make the wrong call or miss something, that’s the nature of the business,” she says. “You’ve just got to figure it out and solve the problem. Owning your mistakes and trying to learn from them and not repeat them is a part of this. Tony [Goldring] once said that we’re judged on how well we solve problems, and I’ve always thought about that.”

The Prague years
After a decade of working as a promoter at EMA (which by then had become Live Nation Sweden), Sjölund decided to take advantage of the firm’s international footprint and accepted a job as vice president of operations Central and Eastern Europe for Live Nation.

“It was a huge step up… I had no clue what I was doing,” she laughs. “I was 32, a female in a very male-dominated business, and I had moved to a country where I didn’t speak the language.That experience taught me how to be humble. I was very excited about doing everything and wanted to come in and change things, but there are cultural considerations. Every European market is different, and I didn’t realise that until I came to Prague.”

Though the secondment was challenging, Sjölund speaks fondly of her time in Prague, where she made “friends for life” and oversaw some of her most “challenging and fun” shows, including Madonna and U2 in Istanbul, Lady Gaga in Budapest, and Depeche Mode in Prague.

“I also did a lot of special projects like Linkin Park next to the Red Square in Moscow, which was an MTV-broadcasted show for the premiere of Transformers 3,” she muses.

“If you get asked to be the MD of a company you worked for since you were 20, you’re going to say yes”

“Doing a show like that in Russia, at that time, and with a movie premiere connected, was crazy. Plus, my daughter was ten days old, and I was gone for a week.” The VP also spent months in Baku, working on concerts connected to the UEFA’s Young Women’s Championship and the Formula 1 Grand Prix. And though the country’s live music market was relatively underdeveloped at the time, she worked on concerts with the likes of Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, and Shakira in the Azerbaijan capital.

“She put Mariah Carey on at the Grand Prix one year and Pharrell Williams the next, providing ‘internal transport’ – as requested on the rider – in the form of a sunseeker… Respect!” says John Giddings, Solo.

Sjölund adds: “It was incredibly interesting to do big shows in a market where there had been no big shows like that. We had to start from scratch. I’ve always liked working in other markets. I’ve always wanted to learn more – that’s what excites me; new things and challenges.”

A corporate detour
But there was one challenge Sjölund didn’t enjoy. In November 2017, Thomas Johansson enticed the Swede with a job as co-managing director at Live Nation Sweden – the most senior position of her career until that point.

“If you get asked to be the MD of a company you worked for since you were 20, you’re going to say yes,” she says. But climbing the corporate ladder was never on the promoter’s agenda, and the role took her away from doing what she loved the most.

“It turned out it just wasn’t for me,” she says. “I had too much to do with running corporate stuff and didn’t have time to do what I love – being a promoter. There’s no time for both. I want to work with the creative and the content; I realised that’s the part I felt passionate about.”

“Being a woman is a challenge that I felt many times”

Becoming the co-managing director of the Swedish branch of a multinational company at the ripe age of 38 is impressive by anyone’s standards but even more so for a queer woman in a notoriously male-dominated industry.

“Being a woman is a challenge that I felt many times,” she says. “I don’t know how many times people have told me to ‘focus on my family’ – nobody ever tells a man that.” Sjölund hastens to add that fortunately many of the men she has worked closely with, such as Thomas Johansson and Tor Nielsen, have been “fantastic” champions and lifelong friends, but admits that there were “countless times where the boys’ club has been annoying to handle.”

Having spent the majority of her career as “the only woman in certain rooms,” Sjölund says gender equality in the industry has come a long way but that there’s still more work to be done.

“If you compare now to 15 years ago, it’s fantastic,” she says. “You’ve got amazing women like Emma Banks, Lucy Dickins, Kim Bloem, and Kelly Chappel ruling the business, but I wish there were more of us. It’s unbelievable to me that we don’t manage to bring more women into senior positions.

“The people responsible for the lack of women in high positions are the men who never leave those high positions. Everybody needs to move around a little to create new opportunities… you’ve gotta make room for the Kim Bloems!” she says.

While her experience as a woman in the industry has, at times, been rocky, she says her sexuality has “never been questioned.” In fact, Sjölund recounts Live Nation adjusting its employee benefits so she and her partner could start their family.

“Lolla Stockholm will always be our baby”

“The wait time for two women to have assisted insemination in Sweden was two to three years, simply because there were not enough donors,” she explains. “But we didn’t want to wait to start our family, so we decided to go private, and you could only do that in Denmark. That wasn’t included in Live Nation’s benefits and when I mentioned that, it was immediately adjusted so we could get the same type of support as any other couple that needed additional help to start their family. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of an employer.”

Home is where the heart is
Ensuring Sweden remains attractive as a market keeps Sjölund awake at night. Throughout her career, she has been a fierce advocate for her home country and its value to the international live music industry.

“It’s a unique market,” she says proudly. “If you look per capita, Sweden is a pretty small country, but if you go to a festival anywhere in the world, you’ll likely see Swedish artists on stage, and you’ll definitely hear songs played by headliners that are written by Swedish songwriters and producers. Plus, we have a great set of venues, Spotify is Swedish. It’s sort of a music centre.”

It was that kind of impassioned pitch that saw the exec bring US festival brand Lollapalooza to Stockholm in 2019 – one of her proudest achievements. “It was my dream to do that, and I could not have done that without the team headed up by Frida Riklund,” she says. “Lolla Stockholm will always be our baby. It was the first time we had something like that in the centre of Stockholm – at least on that scale.

“Plus, I loved seeing the approach C3 Presents take with festivals and combining that with the European approach to promoting.”

A major source of Sjölund’s pride with Lollapalooza Stockholm was creating an event for all ages – an impressive feat in a country where the age limit is 13 due to sound limits. “We worked with the authorities to find a way to let kids of all ages attend with their parents,” she explained.

“The vibe that created – seeing people of all ages having fun – was something I hadn’t seen before in Stockholm. I loved seeing my kids [Magda and Holly] in Kidspalooza playing around, and then going to watch Billie Eilish, who exploded that year.

“I bought sheep… I had to keep myself busy, so I looked after them and learned to cut them”

“I think it’s really important for the growth of the business to get people enjoying festivals and concerts early. And due to Covid, there’s a whole generation of people that missed a few years there. So I think it’s even more important that you get that opportunity.”

Sjölund is equally proud of developing the relationship between Sweden and the National Hockey League (NHL) – a project she worked on from her first days at Live Nation to her last.

“Sweden has the third most players in the NHL after Canada and the US – that’s pretty cool, being such a small market. Working with the NHL has been a real high point of my career.”

Coping mechanisms
The high of launching Lollapalooza Stockholm was abruptly followed by a low – the pandemic. “Can you believe how unlucky it is to work on a project for so long, launch it, and then the pandemic comes?” says Sjölund, who latched onto some weird and wonderful distraction techniques.

“I bought sheep,” she says. “I had to keep myself busy, so I looked after them and learned to cut them. It was a little bit impulsive,” she admits. “I didn’t think about the fact that not every summer would be like a Covid summer, so I had to restructure a little bit after that.”

When she wasn’t shearing sheep, Sjölund was putting her energy into teaching the Swedish government about the music industry and its value to society, alongside ASM’s Marie Lindqvist.

“There is always an itch in me… I was at the point in my career where I was thinking should I do something else?”

“I think we both found a way of channeling our passion for this industry into something constructive during these miserable years,” says Lindqvist. “Anna turned out to be a natural
talent in lobbying; she could probably also go into politics if she wanted. Very passionate, informed, and convincing!”

The pair regularly met up to walk and talk during that period, forming a strong relationship based on shared values in work and in life. “We share a view about events and about taking care of everyone involved – the audiences, promoters, and artists,” adds Sjölund. A few years down the line and it was that shared vision – plus good timing – that ultimately prompted Sjölund to leave the company she’d spent 25 years at.

“As ASM Global grew in Sweden with more venues and expanded into Finland, it needed someone that could head up the programming team and help us to develop our strategies and content in the growing portfolio of venues in Europe,” says Lindqvist. “I think the stars were aligned, I picked up the phone, pitched the role, and luckily it turned out to be the right time and place for Anna.”

Sjölund adds: “There is always an itch in me… I was at the point in my career where I was thinking should I do something else? There was no reason for me to be a promoter anywhere else – I had an incredible ride at Live Nation, and I’m so grateful for all the folks there and the great opportunities I’ve had. It was time for a new challenge.”

“I’m really excited to see what I can bring to the venue business”

A new chapter
If there’s one thing Sjölund’s colleagues, old and new, can agree on, it’s that she’s going to take the venue business by storm. “I think it’s going to be very good for the venues,” says Johansson. “I think the biggest advantage she has is that she’s been a promoter for 24 years. She knows the problems we have, whereas a lot of venue people have no idea what it is to be a promoter.”

“In the ASM office, we joke that I’m the promoter interpreter,” adds Sjölund. “I think it’s exciting to go from one part of the business to the other. In the end, we all want the same thing – to put on a great show.”

While she admits it’s sometimes still strange to be on the other side of the business, she is also fully embracing the change of scenery. “There’s more room for being long-term and strategic, whereas promoters have to solve problems right now.”

Though there are fewer late-night crisis calls, there are still plenty of urgent problems that need solving… “Avails, avails, avails – that’s the biggest issue,” she laughs. “I want to create more days in certain months. In some of our arenas we have a lot of sports, so there’s a juggle to accommodate home teams and all the artists that want to come and play.”

As she looks to the next phase of her career, Sjölund’s ambitions in the venue business are far from small: “I’m really excited to see what I can bring to the venue business. I want to see more great sports in our arenas, and I’m excited to work with both small venues and big venues, and all the opportunities that brings for new types of content – the sky is the limit. I want every promoter, artist, and fan to leave our venues feeling like they have had a great experience – that’s what I take pride in.”

 


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Coming out: IQ’s Pride Takeover edition arrives

IQ 127, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine, is available to read online now.

The May/June 2024 issue marks the fourth annual Pride takeover edition, supported again by Ticketmaster.

At the forefront of the issue is the LGBTIQ+ List, announced yesterday, which profiles 20 queer pioneers making an impact in the international live music business and beyond.

Issue 127 also sees the return of the Loud & Proud playlist and feature, in which our agency partners spotlight 12 queer stars to note.

Elsewhere, Pride editor Lisa Henderson profiles LGBTIQ+ List finalist and ASM Global heavyweight Anna Sjölund, charting the trajectory of her 25 years in the business.

Meanwhile, Gordon Masson talks to executives about putting diversity, equality and inclusion strategies into practice in the live music industry.

For this edition’s columns and comments, Zoe Maras shares her experience of being asexual in the industry and RuPaul’s Drag Race star Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 details the ramifications of proposed anti-drag and LGBTIQ+ legislation in the United States.

Beyond the Pride-specific content, DJ Mag editor Carl Loben examines the trends shaping the global electronic music scene and Adam Woods visits some of the diverse territories that make up the vibrant, ever-expanding Latin American tour circuit.

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 £8 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:

 


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ASM Global veteran Tim Worton to leave industry

Tim Worton, group director of arenas for ASM Global (APAC), has announced his departure from the industry after 33 years.

The veteran executive leaves ASM after 25 years at the firm – 19 of which were in his current role – for a role as a full-time student.

In 2025, he will attend Moore Theological College in Sydney for 12 months, with the aim of securing a pastoral, chaplaincy or ministry role.

The announcement was made at the 31st Asia Pacific Venue Industry Congress at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre (BCEC).

“The company has given me amazing opportunities that I will always cherish”

“Tim has been a great ambassador for our organisation,” says ASM Global (APAC) chairman and chief executive, Harvey Lister AM. He has made an admirable and life-changing decision to follow his faith and we applaud his decision and wish him well.

“Tim’s leadership and executive management of the arena portfolio is demonstrated by the continued growth of the Group’s arenas through innovation and ongoing development of entertainment content for audiences.”

Worton comments: “The company has given me amazing opportunities that I will always cherish. Harvey has been incredibly supportive of my decision to go in this vastly different direction, allowing flexibility in my role and I am very grateful for his support and encouragement. Rod Pilbeam [ASM Global APAC founder] has been a great mentor to me over my 25 years with ASM Global and I am indebted to him for the important role he has played in my life.”

Reflecting on the highlights of his career at ASM, he adds: “Helping to ensure there is plenty of live content and the company’s arena network is operationally and financially successful is a key part of my role. What I have loved most about my career is supporting and mentoring colleagues, helping to create opportunities for future development.”

 


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LGBTIQ+ List 2024: This year’s queer pioneers unveiled

IQ Magazine has revealed the LGBTIQ+ List 2024 – the fourth annual celebration of queer professionals who make an immense impact in the international live music business.

The list is once again the centrepiece of IQ’s annual Pride edition, sponsored by Ticketmaster, which is now available to read online and in print for subscribers.

The 20 individuals comprising the LGBTIQ+ List 2024 – as nominated by our readers and verified by our esteemed steering committee – are individuals that have gone above and beyond to wave the flag for an industry that we can all be proud of.

The fourth instalment comprises agents, promoters, venue directors, bookers, consultants, sustainability experts, talent buyers, managers and sound engineers from across the world.

In alphabetical order, the LGBTIQ+ List 2024 is:

Anna Sjölund, EU programming director, ASM Global (SE)
Ary Maudit, sound engineer/producer, RAK Studios/Strongroom/Saffron Records (UK)
Buğra Davaslıgıl, senior talent buyer, Charmenko (TR)
Caterina Conti, operations manager, 432 Presents (UK)
Chris May, general manager, BC Place Stadium (CA)
Dustin Turner, music marketing agent, music touring, CAA (US)
Emma Davis, general manager/agent, One Fiinix Live (UK)
Gwen Iffland, senior marketing & PR manager, Wizard Live (DE)
Jason Brotman, founder, Five Senses Reeling (US)
Joona Juutilainen, Booking Assistant, Fullsteam Agency (FI)
Luke Mulligan, director, Circa 41 (AU)
Paul Lomas, booker, WME (UK)
Pembe Tokluhan, production/founder/diversity consultant, Petok Productions (UK)
Priscilla Nagashima, VP of engineering, DICE (UK)
Rhys France, corporate & private events booker, CAA (UK)
Rivca Burns, acting head of music, Factory International (UK)
Ross Patel, green impact consultant & board member, LIVE/MMF (UK)
Sam Oldham, venue director, The O2 (UK)
Sam Booth, director of sustainability, AEG Europe (UK)
Zoe Maras, founder & artist services, Joyride Agency (NZ)

Throughout Pride Month (June), IQ will be publishing full-length interviews with each person on the LGBTIQ+ List 2024.

However, subscribers can read the full Pride edition now. Click here to subscribe to IQ from just £8 a month – or see what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below.

Check out previous Pride lists from 2023, 2022 and 2021.

 


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Legends installs ex-Meta executive Dan Levy as CEO

Premium experiences specialist Legends – which agreed a deal to acquire ASM Global last year – has appointed ex-Meta executive Dan Levy as CEO.

Levy, who joined Legends last month as interim president, served at Meta/Facebook for almost 15 years, latterly as VP of business messaging, before departing the company in 2023.

First reported by Sports Business Journal, Levy’s appointment will see former Legends’ CEO Shervin Mirhashemi transition to the position of vice-chair at the company.

“We are poised to take Legends to new horizons at the forefront of sports and entertainment”

“You have my commitment that this next chapter of Legends’ growth trajectory will be the most impressive yet,” Mirhashemi told employees in an email. “With Dan as CEO, together with [co-president and COO] Mike Tomon and the rest of our seasoned management team, we are poised to take Legends to new horizons at the forefront of sports and entertainment.”

Levy’s recent arrival at Legends coincided with the departures of multiple Legends executives, including former co-president and chief corporate officer Curt McClellan and longtime president of hospitality Dan Smith, who moved into a senior advisory role. The firm named Tom Funk as president, hospitality, in January.

Legends’ reputed US$2.4 billion acquisition of ASM Global was announced in November 2023 and is currently awaiting approval from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

ASM Global, which was formed in 2019 following a merger between arena operators AEG Facilities and Onex’s SMG, operates buildings including ICC Sydney Convention Center, Avicii Arena in Stockholm, OVO Arena Wembley, Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai and State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

ASM equity holders AEG and Onex will sell their ownership interests as part of the agreement, while ASM will continue to serve existing and in-development AEG venues.

Founded in 2008, Legends is backed by global investment firm Sixth Street. The company’s fully integrated retail and merchandising vertical solution spans e-commerce, in-venue retail, large-scale live events, brick-and-mortar store operations, licensing and customer merchandise.

Its clients include prestigious brands such as Real Madrid, SoFi Stadium, Dallas Cowboys, FC Barcelona, New York Yankees, and Ryder Cup, as well as the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, PGA of America and FIFA World Cup.

 


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Earth Day 2024: Live’s sustainability priorities

A range of industry figures have shared their sustainability priorities for the live music business to mark Earth Day 2024 – an annual event highlighting the importance of environmental protection.

While the sector continues to raise its game on green issues, there remains plenty of room for improvement. It was announced earlier this year that a comprehensive study of the live music industry’s carbon footprint is being conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-funded by Coldplay, Live Nation and Warner Music Group.

The report will suggest practical solutions to reduce the environmental impact of live music events “at every level,” from pubs and clubs to stadiums.

Last week, meanwhile, The O2 in London revealed that more than 545.9 tonnes of carbon were extracted across The 1975’s four headline concerts in February. The shows marked the world’s first carbon-removed arena events and took place in collaboration with carbon removal experts CUR8 and sustainable event specialists A Greener Future (AGF).

“This year is all about firming up our path to net zero,” AEG Europe director of sustainability Sam Booth tells IQ. “After the success of our recent pilot series of carbon removed arena events at The O2, we now need to undertake some detailed work around our general gas usage, as well as figuring out our approach to dealing with fan travel and continue working with brand partners to address the emissions of the products we sell in the arena.

“Education is also an incredibly important area of focus, so we’re rolling out training to all our employees to ensure they know how to make more sustainable choices in their day-to-day roles.”

“How sustainable we can be with our power, transport, water, food, etc, all depends on policies, legislation, taxes and subsidies that make better choices possible”

Elsewhere, in January, sustainability initiative Vision:2025 and Julie’s Bicycle launched a 12-month pilot with 10 local authorities to test how the Green Events Code of Practice (GECOP) can be used to embed sustainability within local authority processes.

“We’re all looking for a simple answer to the question: What does good look like?” Vision:2025 chair Chris Johnson, co-founder of the UK’s Shambala Festival, tells IQ. “Our priority for 2024 is to test the new Green Events Code of Practice with local authorities, and take steps toward establishing an acceptable minimum best practice for sustainability across the UK that promoters, supply chain and local authorities understand.”

AGF (A Greener Future) recently hailed “significant areas of improvement” in festival sustainability after surveying more than 40 European events. The sustainability not-for-profit released its Festival Sustainability Report, comprising data analysis on mobility, food & drink, water & sanitation, power & fuel use, waste & recycling, and carbon emissions at events on the continent.

“In 2024 the largest number of the global population will be called to vote,” says AGF co-founder Claire O’Neill, who organises the Green Events & Innovations Conference (GEI). “How sustainable we can be with our power, transport, water, food, etc, all depends on policies, legislation, taxes and subsidies that make better choices possible. We need to have governments in power who will understand and support a just transition to a green economy.

“In the UK, voters now have to use photo ID to vote, which is a hurdle for many. We’re supporting #JustVote24 to help young and disadvantaged people to get their voter ID if they don’t have a passport/driving license or old persons bus pass, and to then get them to vote. The music campaign is called #crashtheparty and we urge everyone in live music to get behind this and local equivalents.”

Germany-based Holger Jan Schmidt, who heads up pan-European think-tank GO Group (Green Operations Europe) and is  general secretary of the European festival association Yourope, points out the latter organisation has adapted its approach a little of late.

“The focus today is less on honouring the spearheads of sustainable festivals and more on making the sector future-proof at large”

“Although we continue to present the Green Operations Award, the focus today is less on honouring the spearheads of sustainable festivals and more on making the sector future-proof at large,” says Schmidt, speaking to IQ. “Yourope today offers freely usable tools that enable every festival out there to position itself accordingly, train the team and benefit from the great expertise of the frontrunners. Examples of this are our European Green festival Roadmap 2030 and the Future Festival Tools with self-assessment tool, e-learning course and best practice guide.

“For this purpose, our association works with both the expert organisations in the live entertainment industry and with the festivals directly in order to identify their needs and develop tailor-made measures.”

In a further notable development, six Spanish music promoters – Advanced Music, Bring The Noise, Centris, elrow, The Music Republic and Sharemusic! – have inked strategic sponsorship agreements with Madrid-based global energy company Repsol to jointly promote the use of different multi-energy solutions and reduce their CO2 footprint.

The agreement initially covers 77 events managed by the firms in Spain and Portugal, rising to 89. Festivals such as the FIB, Arenal Sound, Sonar Lisbon and O son de Camiño will use 100% renewable fuels, among other solutions, to reduce their CO2 emissions.

Meanwhile, venue management company ASM Global, which operates more than 50 green certified venues, has marked Earth Month 2024 by naming Lindsay Arell as chief sustainability officer as it ramps up its efforts to convert its 400-strong venue portfolio to “the most sustainable on earth”.

After founding her own company, Honeycomb Strategies, Arell led the development of the ASM Global ACTS sustainability plan and is a past chair of both the Events Industry Council Sustainability Committee (EIC) and ASTM Venue Sustainability Standard. Arell’s new role forms part of ASM’s sustainability goals, announced in 2023, which include the elimination of single use plastic.

“Sustainability should be the cause of our lifetime in our industry”

“I’m thrilled at the chance to spearhead ASM’s sustainability initiatives working alongside our teams and communities across our over 400 global venues.” says Arell. “By providing our venue teams with the necessary knowledge and resources, we can accelerate the progress of our programme significantly.”

Just last week plans were announced for ASM to join with reuse platform r.World to rapidly introduce reusable service ware in venues throughout ASM’s portfolio.

Fellow venue giant Oak View Group (OVG) welcomes the world’s second carbon-neutral arena this month in Manchester’s Co-op Live, following the firm’s Climate Pledge Arena, with UBS Arena slated to follow. Speaking at ILMC 36 in London, OVG chief Tim Leiweke said: “Climate Pledge can’t be the only carbon-neutral arena in the world or else [the industry] has failed. We as an industry should lead this charge… sustainability should be the cause of our lifetime in our industry.”

He added: “We as a company are going to continue to build these arenas and make sustainability a priority and a way of life in our culture and then hopefully, it will inspire our industry to come along with us.”

OVG COO Francesca Bodie agreed: “Sustainability is part of our core DNA and we want to make sure that we’re not only championing but challenging our industry to get better.”

In addition, REVERB, which partners with artists, festivals, and venues to reduce their environmental footprint, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Working with artist partners like Billie Eilish, The 1975, Odesza, Harry Styles, Dave Matthews Band, Boygenius, Jack Johnson, The Lumineers, Dead & Company, Tame Impala, and many more, REVERB has created and executed comprehensive sustainability and fan engagement programmes on over 350 tours, 60 festivals, and 7,000 concerts.

Positive impacts to date include neutralising 375,000+ tons of CO2e, raising over $12m for environmental causes, hosting over 5,000 NGOs in fan-facing Action Villages, and preventing the use of over 4m single-use plastic bottles at concerts.

 


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ASM Global appoints Matthew Lazarus-Hall as EVP

ASM Global has announced the appointment of entertainment industry specialist Matthew Lazarus-Hall as the group’s executive vice president, entertainment & content.

A well-known face in the Asia Pacific region, Lazarus-Hall has been working in the live entertainment business for more than 25 years, and is the founder and CEO of Square Circles Creative Solutions, an Australian-based company focused on providing consultancy in event strategy across touring, festivals, exhibitions and sport.

He was previously senior VP, Asia for global entertainment company AEG overseeing all concerts, festivals and sporting events across the Asia Pacific region. Prior to that, he had been CEO of Chugg Entertainment for 13 years, one of Australia’s preeminent promoters. Indeed, under his leadership, Chugg was recognised as the sixth biggest promoter in the world in 2010.

Before Chugg, from 2000-2004, he was operations director at Australia’s largest ticketing agency, Ticketek, where he oversaw ticketing for major marquee events such as the Sydney Olympic and Paralympic Games, the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and thousands of other events, concerts and theatrical productions.

His initial focus will be the Kai Tak Sports Park in Hong Kong

In his new role with ASM Global, his remit will be working with ASM’s growing portfolio of venues in Australia and the Asia and MENA regions, providing support regarding the strategic direction and development of entertainment and other content. His initial focus will be the Kai Tak Sports Park in Hong Kong, with its 50,000 seat domed stadium and 10,000 seat indoor sports and entertainment arena opening in mid 2025.

ASM Global (APAC) chairman and chief executive, Harvey Lister, notes Lazarus-Hall’s depth of experience and proven track record is key to the new role. “We have worked closely with Matthew over the past 20 years, and he comes with great respect across the whole entertainment industry,” says Lister. “He will bring different perspectives to our organisation, and we look forward to the contribution he will make to the ASM Global family of venues.”

Lazarus-Hall comments, “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to the continuing growth and development of ASM Global both in Australia, the Asia Pacific and the Middle East North Africa regions, fostering client relationships and helping to drive further engagement, unique incremental content, and ultimately allowing everyone to enjoy the experience of live entertainment.”

 


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First Direct extends Leeds Arena rights deal

ASM Global has announced that banking group first direct has extended its naming rights deal for Leeds arena for a further seven years.

Located in the city centre of Leeds, the building has been known as first direct arena since it opened its doors in 2013, and won the award for Best Naming Rights Sponsorship at the UK Sponsorship Awards in 2018.

Financial details of the new deal were not disclosed but the partners say the extended agreement “builds on first direct’s reputation for outstanding customer services with more benefits for first direct customers at the venue.”

During its first decade, first direct arena has played host to a wealth of internationally-renowned artists. The 13,780-capacity venue boasts a unique “super theatre” style configuration, designed to enhance the arena experience, with high-quality acoustics providing a world class sound experience.

Forthcoming dates include Peter Kay, Keane, Romesh Ranganathan, Take That, Texas, Niall Horan, and Girls Aloud

“We are thrilled to have extended our partnership with first direct,” says first direct arena general manager Martin McInulty. “They have been the definition of a true ‘partner’ since before the venue opened its doors over ten years ago and have played a huge part in the arena’s ongoing success.”

Sloane Cross, head of marketing at first direct bank, comments, “Since the partnership began in 2013, first direct arena has hosted some of the best international talent in the world. It is one of the main landmarks of the city and we are incredibly proud of this sponsorship, which also means we can offer our customers additional perks for choosing to bank with first direct.”

While the venue has hosted the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Sir Elton John, Ed Sheeran, Cher, Prince and Drake, its calendar of events in 2024 includes dates with Peter Kay, Keane, Romesh Ranganathan, Take That, Texas, Niall Horan and Girls Aloud.

“We are excited to take this partnership to the next level over the next seven years and continue to support one of the best entertainment venues in the country,” adds Cross.

 


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TEL panel breaks down ‘The State of the Nation’

Industry leaders in live entertainment production gathered to kick off ILMC’s inaugural Touring Entertainment Live (TEL) and share their thoughts on ‘The State of the Nation’.

Chaired by Imagine Exhibitions’ Tom Zaller, the panel — which included guest speakers Liz Koops (Broadway Entertainment Group), Jenny Sirota (RoadCo Entertainment), James Harrison (ASM Global) and David Pitman (Cirque du Soleil) — discussed topics such as booming demand and higher costs, technological advancements, an over-reliance on established IP, and a lack of venues.

Zaller started by bringing up the effects of a post-Covid environment.

“Consumer demand is booming in certain areas, and inflation is causing issues for some of us in certain places,” he explained. “We’re also seeing different types of ticketing deals and dynamic pricing, but we’re also seeing production, operational, and labour costs rise.”

Koops, whose Broadway Entertainment Group has established itself as a key player in the Middle Eastern market with their productions of Disney classics, reckoned that while the increasing interest in the Gulf states is always a positive (“Doing 77 shows of Shrek across the region and within three cities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai, and Qatar was phenomenal!”), there was still a problem affecting the burgeoning territory.

“The touring world and circuit is getting smaller, unfortunately”

“There’s been genuine interest in developing the market, but while there are many more opportunities nowadays, there aren’t enough venues to accommodate the increasing demand,” she said.

That sentiment was shared by Pitman, who referenced certain geopolitical factors to explain dwindling availability in territories Cirque du Soleil used to sell out in.

“We used to tour Russia for 12 weeks, which isn’t going to happen for a long time now,” he said. “Prior to Covid, we held our ice show Crystal in Ukraine, the big venue in Helsinki [Helsinki Halli] is still shut, and there’s the situation in Israel as well to consider. The touring world and circuit is getting smaller, unfortunately.”

Another major point of discussion was the reliance on familiar IP, which the panel agreed made it difficult for original productions to get booked.

“There’s been such a massive spike in ideas being developed and everyone wants to get stuff out there, but especially after Covid, people crave the big IPs more,” explained Sirota. “It’s “comfort food”, they want to buy tickets to something they recognise,” adding that while the US doesn’t share the same experiences with venues as other territories, it’s still difficult to book fresh programming at present. “Especially with costs going up, it’s a real risk for producers to book anything that’s not heavily branded right now.”

“Customers tend to respond more in secondary and tertiary markets because it’s something different for them. There’s not as much competition”

Sirota also expressed concerns over heightened travel costs and a lack of transport availability.

“Trucking is incredibly expensive, and in terms of availability, buses for tours are booked up from 10 to 100 weeks,” she said, adding that it’s highly unlikely they’ll reduce their fees due to fuel prices anytime soon. “There’s so many shows nowadays, and there should be more trucking and bus companies to keep up with such demand.”

The panel soon moved on to entering new and developing territories. While Asia and the Gulf states have been her company’s bread and butter, Koops also stressed the importance of established markets that are smaller by comparison.

“We found that working with local promoters in the Eastern European markets has been incredibly successful for us,” she said, citing high demand in the likes of Croatia and Slovenia that enables her to develop multi-week touring opportunities.

“You don’t necessarily need to be in the A+ markets like London, Paris, or Berlin to have a successful touring production,” added Harrison. “Customers tend to respond more in secondary and tertiary markets because it’s something different for them. There’s not as much competition, so there’s more opportunities for fresher productions.”

To close out the panel, Zaller asked each guest for a one-word answer on what they’d like to change the most: Pitman responded with logistics, both Harrison and Sirota wanted more original shows, while Koops wished for more venues.

 


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ILMC 36: The Venue’s Venue: New Frontiers

Experts in venue operations, events strategy and promoting convened at ILMC 36 to analyse the potential of new arenas in emerging and established markets.

Moderated by IQ Magazine’s special projects editor James Drury, The Venue’s Venue: New Frontiers panel featured Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, Co-op Live’s Gary Roden, D.Live’s Daniela Stork and ASM Global’s Marie Lindqvist and Tim Worton, who discussed what the developments mean for customers, existing venues and touring routes.

Drury kicked off proceedings at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel by citing several findings from studies conducted by the European Arenas Association (EAA) and the National Arenas Association (NAA). Both indicated that overall attendances grew by 16% in 2023 (27,991,247 people) when compared to 2022 (24,224,783). Due to increased post-pandemic production and touring costs, average ticket prices also rose by 7% in 2023 (€62.04) when compared to 2022 (€58).

According to Worton, those figures were also reflected in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region.

“We came out of Covid a lot later than other territories, so our 2022 numbers were lighter compared to the rest of the world,” he explained. “However, our 2023 numbers were in line with or slightly higher than in 2019, which I credit towards a pent-up post-Covid demand to finally go out and watch live entertainment.”

“I’ve already sold out five new shows in January this year. I can’t remember the last time that happened”

Worton also confirmed a new multi-purpose facility opening up in Bangkok, as well as the 50,000-capacity Kai Tak Sports Arena in Hong Kong.

“2023 was a very strong year for us in general,” noted Lindqvist, referencing the fact that several European markets didn’t register full years in 2022. “‘23 has been a great year for stadium shows in particular.”

“I’ve already sold out five new shows in January this year,” added Bowdery. “I can’t remember the last time that happened.”

Roden has been overseeing the development of Manchester’s Co-op Live, which is scheduled to open in April, and is looking forward to what the venue can offer from a business and entertainment standpoint.

“At 23,500 capacity, it’s going to be the biggest indoor arena in the UK, and given Manchester being a huge regional market, the city can definitely take a second arena,” he said, adding that this year’s MTV Europe Music Awards will be held there in a collaborative effort with Manchester City Council — further emphasising how governmental organisations are waking up to the value of using music as a city attraction.

“Our energy costs went up by 50% last year. Staffing costs have also gone through the roof”

Another point of discussion was the new types of “concert content” being advertised and played in arena shows. Worton praised the rise of Asian and Indian pop shows, while Stork elaborated on the importance of working with less established acts and promoters.

“We always attempt to build and foster relationships with promoters who haven’t had a long history in the business, and we try to go the extra mile to help them set up shows in our venues,” said Stork, who added that D.Live has a great track record with specialty bands who aren’t associated with their regular shows.

“It’s challenging sometimes, but it’s also good fun because it’s something really different,” she said.

The panel also reached a unanimous agreement when it came to discussing the most significant cost challenges. “Our energy costs went up by 50% last year,” said Worton. “Staffing costs have also gone through the roof.”

However, Lindqvist stated the rise in energy bills enabled her team to “make all the necessary investments for reducing energy consumption that ensure environmentally-friendly standards”.

“It’s a very clear trend in all the markets… People want to upgrade their experience, and it’s something that we’re accommodating towards”

When quizzed about the increasing size of production sets and whether a reduction in the number of trucks artists require for their shows, Bowdery stated that such acts are mainly “thinking about their fans” while admitting that their concerts will only get bigger.

“They’re artists, so they want to make sure that everyone enjoys their shows,” he said. “It’s a sign for our times.”

The panel further commented on the shifts in consumer trends when it comes to a preference in premium VIP experiences over general admission tickets, despite a marked increase in the global cost of living.

“It’s a very clear trend in all the markets, which is why we’ve also shifted towards a more B2C model,” Lindqvist said. “People want to upgrade their experience, and it’s something that we’re accommodating towards. This trend is shaping up how we’re going into the market and how we engage with our customers around those different opportunities.”

In closing, the panel explored the role sustainability plays into their operations, which has become a top priority for them. Examples included the banning of single-use plastics, constructing washing stations, selling reusable cups, and more.

“Our buildings have been running on renewable energy for a few years now,” said Stork. “I think everyone from fans to artists have the right to expect that we try our best to be as sustainable as possible.”

 


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