Austria market report: Schnapps, castles and pop!
Consolidation and corporate takeovers have transformed the Austrian live entertainment business in recent years, forever changing what was an indie-dominated landscape. Adam Woods discovers a buoyant market, but where grassroots events and club shows are increasingly relying on last minute marketing strategies…
The last time IQ published a dedicated Austrian market report, back in 2018, it was a different world: no pandemic, no war in Ukraine, inflation at 2.0%. We all know what happened with those first two things, and as for the third, Austrian inflation hit 11.5% in January, giving the country the highest rate in the EU.
It wouldn’t be right to say that these have been profoundly troubled years for one of Europe’s wealthier and sturdier economies: Austria remains wealthy and sturdy, and even the inflation doesn’t seem to have greatly stunted consumer spending – at least not on the biggest shows. And yet, times are subtly changing.
Five years ago, the Austrian live music business could still talk about its legacy of independence in the present tense, the big groups largely present in Vienna as challengers. Now, the weight has shifted, the market-leading Barracuda selling to CTS Eventim in late 2019 and Good- live going to Live Nation last year. FKP offshoot Arcadia Live completes the Live Nation vs Eventim field, and suddenly, although the old faces remain, the market doesn’t look quite as homegrown and independent as it did before.
Such is the way of things. Nonetheless, the market, predictably rampant last year, remains hot – albeit perhaps patchily so – even in the face of inflation and other worldly concerns.
“2023 has definitely begun differently compared to the last two years,” says Arcadia Live managing director Filip Potocki. “Finally, we can pursue what we enjoy doing again, which is organising concerts – largely without any restrictions. Bigger shows are doing really well, and many of our concerts with higher capacities are selling out well in advance. Having said that, it is more difficult with smaller club shows, which have become real last-minute topics.”
“So far, we see strong and healthy sales, but we have to keep ticket prices as reasonable as possible”
Sitting in a mountain range – the Eastern Alps, which covers nearly two-thirds of the country – and with a population approaching 9m, of which around a fifth live in the capital Vienna, Austria is historically a sustainable and sensible live market.
It also has significant geographical strengths. Bordering Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein,Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, it remains formidably well situated, on the cusp of both west and east, with the result that a well-placed show in Austria can often draw much of its crowd from elsewhere.
But, like everywhere, Austria faces a challenge in grappling with the vagaries of the modern world.
“Inflation remains at a high level in Austria for various reasons,” says Goodlive’s Silvio Huber. “Accordingly, we have had to increase ticket prices, as costs for staff, energy, and venue rents increased massively. It’s a vicious circle, so I would flag this as a main challenge for our industry in 2023. So far, we see strong and healthy sales, but we have to keep ticket prices as reasonable as possible.”
Anecdotally, between 70-80% of all tickets sold are for shows in and around Vienna, though there are decent secondary markets, too, from Graz to Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck.
“Austria has a lively scene and has been convincing in recent years, especially on the German market”
In terms of talent, too, Austria is in a good place. Stefan Penz, manager of Tyrolean psych-rock band Mother’s Cake – who have supported Iggy Pop, Anathema, Alice in Chains, Pentagram, Limp Bizkit, and Wolfmother and play between 50 and 120 shows a year – namechecks 5KHD, Manu Delago, My Ugly Clementine, and Takeshi ́s Cashew as bands to watch on the rock front.
“Austria has a lively scene and has been convincing in recent years, especially on the German market,” says Penz. “Bands like Wanda and Bilderbuch left their mark. In the electronic segment, you have Camo & Krooked, and Parov Stelar, who are booked worldwide. The quality of the bands is very high. I’d say you can find world-class talent in nearly every genre.
“Touring-wise, we are of course a small market, but since the club landscape is partly subsidised, the conditions for artists are certainly better than in Germany or the UK, and the clubs are very well equipped. Festivals like Nova Rock and – despite decreasing numbers – we have a lot of small- and medium-sized festivals with extremely dedicated promoters.”
Elsewhere, there’s a new arena on the way in Vienna – the 20,000- cap WH Arena, in the city’s emerging Neu Marx regeneration zone. And in the ticketing sector, Eventim’s Oeticket remains the clear market leader, with Ticketmaster, the City of Vienna’s Wien Ticket, and Myticket.at also in the race.
Like most developed markets, Austria has inevitably become part of a much bigger corporate competition in recent years, most of its former indies now a part of one international network or the other.
Arcadia Live was created in 2015 on the back of Filip Potocki and Bernhard Kaufmann’s full-service Arcadia operation, with backing from German players FKP Group,, Four Artists Booking Agency, Chimperator Live, and KKT.
“With a network like the one FKP Scorpio offers, a lot of issues are tackled much more easily”
Today, imminent Arcadia Live shows include Johannes Oerding, Eros Ramazzotti, and Idles, as well as the forthcoming Lido Sounds Festival. In October 2021, it also absorbed the live division of local indie Ink Music, incorporating Nada Surf and local bands such as My Ugly Clementine, Mira Lu Kovacs, and Garish into its roster, among others.
“The regular exchange with our colleagues at FKP Scorpio all over Europe is important and very helpful, even if the markets differ from country to country,” says Potocki. “Whether it is booking, cross-border marketing, or questions concerning festival productions, with a network like the one FKP Scorpio offers, a lot of issues are tackled much more easily.”
Through its FKP connection, Arcadia ultimately falls under the banner of CTS Eventim, as does Barracuda Music, which sold Eventim a 71% stake in December 2019 – though the directors are adamant that the new association hasn’t generally been transformative.
“Nothing has changed in the way we work,” says Barracuda founder and CEO Ewald Tatar. “We are running the business the same way we did in the past 15 years, with a very strong footprint in the Austrian festival market and a leading role in the arena-show business.”
Always a big-hitting independent – formed in 2016 from leading Austrian indies Skalar, Red Snapper, and NuCoast Entertainment – Barracuda had perhaps the best year in its company history in 2022, say its directors, and this year looks highly unlikely to kill the buzz.
“For 2023 we expect another strong year, with less stadium shows but more sales on our festivals”
“For 2023 we expect another strong year, with less stadium shows but more sales on our festivals,” adds Barracuda co-managing director Richard Hörmann. “The final result will be similar to what we had last year, with around a million tickets sold on more than 350 events in Austria. Among our major upcoming shows are Pink, Robbie Williams, Muse, Måneskin, Machine Gun Kelly, Bryan Adams, Björk, and Van Morrison.”
Goodlive, meanwhile, became the latest addition to the global Live Nation family in September 2022, alongside its Berlin-based festival, booking, and services-focused parent. “We work independently,” says Huber, “but, of course, we are in a close exchange when it comes to strategy, artists, and upcoming projects. Time will tell, but we are looking forward to working with many great and experienced colleagues. I think a constant ex change of knowledge and experience will help us to overcome obstacles and stay strongly competitive in the market in coming years.”
For now, the prospects are good, Huber adds. “Actually, 2023 has kicked off pretty fabulous to be honest,” he says. “Lots of pending shows got confirmed, sales are strong in general, and after a challenging 2022, it’s a relief that we can now fully focus on our core business.
“A few weeks ago, George Ezra played Vienna, and personally, I’m delighted that our show with The 1975 has been upgraded as sales went through the roof,” says Huber. “It’s always a unique and matchless moment when you accompany an artist’s journey from clubs to arenas. And we are looking forward to welcoming Cigarettes After Sex, Tove Lo, Paolo Nutini, and emerging talents like Brutalismus 3000 and Isabella Lovestory later this year.”
Live Nation, of course, has its own Austrian presence – Harry Styles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (all at the Ernst Happel Stadion); Depeche Mode (at 28 Black Arena in Klagenfurt); Macklemore, Ricky Gervais, Louis Tomlinson, and Blink-182 (all at the Wiener Stadthalle) are among those on the way this year.
Against such displays of global power, independents are suddenly in short supply in Austria, though Alex Nussbaumer of al-x is one who is in it for the long haul. Long-term promoter of Iggy Pop, The Cure and, until recently, Peter Gabriel, Nussbaumer says he remains optimistic – though largely because he believes a globalised, corporatised approach to live music will ultimately disenfranchise a large part of the audience.
“I can only advise the artists, their management, and their agents to build their community, to take care of their fans, because they are the ones who are financing everything in the end”
“The problem is that the diversity will be gone,” says Nussbaumer. “That is not new, but it does serious damage. If companies like Live Nation or the others are dictating what the audience will see, cultural diversity is the thing we will lose. And it’s not only Live Nation – it’s Scorpio with Eventim behind it, and Eventim is a serious competitor to Live Nation.”
Nussbaumer is evidently stung by the recent loss of 15-year client Peter Gabriel to Live Nation. “It’s a shame, but it’s reality, isn’t it? It’s the zeitgeist. But I am still optimistic. It will take time, but I can only advise the artists, their management, and their agents to build their community, to take care of their fans, because they are the ones who are financing everything in the end. And I think the audience, the punters, are fed up.”
Another staunch independent of a different kind, boutique artist agency Georg Leitner Productions, has been in operation for 44 years now, with an international footprint and a strong line in legends, tribute acts, exhibitions and family entertainment. “We started the company in 1979, so I guess we are one of the most established companies in Austria,” says CEO Georg Leitner.
On GLP’s roster this year are artists including Julio Iglesias, Foreigner, The Jacksons, Luis Fonsi and Wyclef Jean, as the agency capitalises on a busy post-pandemic period. “All in all, we are very happy about how things have developed,” says Leitner.
Barracuda assumes a powerful position in the festival market with its Nova Rock and FM4 Frequency events. The former drew 225,000 to Nickelsdorf over four days in June, with Muse, Placebo, and Volbeat atop a rocking bill; Slipknot, Disturbed, and others are booked for this year.
Frequency, meanwhile, in the north-eastern city of St. Pölten, draws around 140,000 a year for a dance, rock, and hip-hop fusion – Imagine Dragons, Die Ärzte, and Macklemore are among the 2023 headliners.
“We are in the very comfortable situation of having solid festival brands in perfect locations at still very comparable ticket prices”
“Especially on the festival market, we are in the very comfortable situation of having solid festival brands in perfect locations at still very comparable ticket prices,” says Tatar at Barracuda. “Nova Rock and Frequency Festival have some of the best line-ups in Europe this year, at a very competitive price; same with our smaller festivals that we promote at the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt and Clam Castle. We just recently sold out Volbeat there within two days, which is a very positive sign that people are still willing to run and pay for a good act.”
Austria’s capital city will get its first major hip-hop festival this summer, also courtesy of Barracuda and local hip-hop specialist Beat the Fish. Not Afraid Festival will take place on 27 June 2023 at The Donauinsel, an artificial island parallel to the Danube in central Vienna. US superstar Machine Gun Kelly will headline the day, alongside Viennese rap icon Yung Hurn, German hip-hop legend Sido, and Berlin’s Kontra K.
“Hip-hop, including German hip-hop, has become stronger and stronger in the past few years, with sold-out arenas at a level that we did not have five years ago, so the time is certainly right,” says Hörmann.
Over in Linz, Arcadia Live debuts its new Lido Sounds series this year. “That is our new major project, and we are really proud of it,” says Potocki. “Not only because we have put together a line up that attracts attention internationally, with artists such as Florence & The Machine, Alt-J, Phoenix, Interpol, Arlo Parks, Anna Calvi, and many more. But also because Lido Sounds has been welcomed with [open arms by] press and fans nationwide and is being celebrated as the new and only option for indie-alternative lovers.
“This is also reflected in presales, and we are very optimistic that we are able to take advantage of the daily capacity of 30,000 guests. So, we are looking forward to the first edition and also its continuation and establishment in the years to come.”
“Our festival market is in constant change, and the almost monopoly from earlier years is nearly gone”
Other key Austrian festivals include Revolution Event’s EDM-focused Electric Love at the Salzburgring in Plainfeld, which celebrates its tenth birthday this year with a 180,000-ticket edition; the free Donauinselfest (Danube Island Festival); the arty Elevate in Graz; and the punky SBÄM Fest in Linz.
“Our festival market is in constant change, and the almost monopoly from earlier years is nearly gone,” says Huber. “This will ultimately benefit the audience, artists, and the market in general because competition, as they say, is good for business.”
Vienna’s multipurpose Wiener Stadthalle is Austria’s largest arena, with a schedule that reflects its prominence: Sam Smith, Eros Ramazzotti, Avril Lavigne, Måneskin, Sting, Hans Zimmer, and The 1975 are among those heading for its 16,000-cap Halle D in the next few months. Halle F is there for those with a need for a 2,000-cap room.
Among Austria’s other key arenas are the 14,520-cap Stadthalle in second-city Graz – part of a multivenue complex that includes Messe Graz and Messekongress – and the 6,700-cap Salzburgarena, whose music shows include September’s Lake Rock Festival, headlined by Bullet For My Valentine. A new 20,000-cap arena is also planned for the capital, though dates are not yet confirmed.
For stadium shows, Austria offers the roughly 55,000-cap Ernst Happel Stadion, which accommodated nearly 70,000 when U2 brought their 360° Tour in 2010; Springsteen, Styles, and the Chili Peppers are coming through in July. Also busy is the 28 Black Arena in Klagenfurt down south, sometimes known as the Wörthersee Stadion. Depeche Mode, Sting, and Andrea Bocelli will all be there in high summer.
“It is not new that people will spend without limits for the flagship shows, and of course the middle range and the new and upcoming will completely suffer”
As a cradle of classical music, Vienna has plenty of high-class venues, including the Konzerthaus, the Burgtheater, and the Staatsoper, all between 1,200 and 2,000 capacities. The Arena Wien, meanwhile, has various options, the largest of which is a 3,000-cap outdoor space. In a similar bracket is the 3,500-cap Gasometer B. In Linz, meanwhile, the Posthof is one of the largest venues for contemporary culture in Europe, with a busy schedule of international and Austrian music.
Among Vienna’s clubs are the 800-cap Simm City, the 460-cap Szene Wien, and 250-cap bars including the Viper Room and Chelsea. The club sector is, of course, a challenging one, owing to the pandemic-accelerated consumer drift towards big-ticket shows at the expense of all else.
“It is not new that people will spend without limits for the flagship shows, and of course the middle range and the new and upcoming will completely suffer,” says Nussbaumer.
Last-minute sales are the saving grace of many smaller shows, says Potocki, though he concedes that driving smaller shows is a stiff challenge for the business.
“I don’t think there is a best-practice way of dealing with smaller club shows in post-Corona times,” he says. “We look and listen closely, observe the market even more specifically than we already had been doing, and select our artists and marketing measures in a more targeted way. And we try to remain patient and get used to the modified buying habits without panicking four weeks ahead of the show date – keyword: last-minute-buyers. Nevertheless, we face changed buying habits due to inflation, the increased cost of living, and a feeling of general insecurity.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.