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The New Bosses 2022: Sönke Schal, Karsten Jahnke

The 15th edition of IQ Magazine’s New Bosses was published in IQ 114 this month, revealing 20 of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international live music business.

To get to know this year’s cohort a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2022’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success.

Catch up on the previous New Bosess 2022 interview with Seny Kassaye, agent at Fort Agency in Canada. The series continues with Sönke Schal, head of people & culture at Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion (DE).

Sönke made his first contact with the music business back when he was 18 years old and playing the drums in a band with his friends in Hamburg. As tasks needed to be divided within the band, the drummer was assigned to book the shows.

Despite playing a few festivals and believing [they were on the verge of] a glorious breakthrough, reality kicked in when his voluntary year at the local library came to an end and his family started asking about future plans. Luckily Google was there to help. After typing in “concerts+hamburg+apprenticeship,” Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion (KJ) showed up as the first result.

After 2.5 years at KJ, the apprenticeship was completed and he started working as a full-time promoter. In that time, he worked with artists such as Peter Gabriel, The Cure, and Sean Paul alongside his boss Ben Mitha. Along the way he started building his own roster, which includes artists such as Sticky Fingers, Men I Trust, and Hinds, and took over the curation for the boutique Way Back When Festival. Shortly before the pandemic hit he began to study business psychology on the side. In 2022, having reached his ten-year anniversary at KJ, he was promoted and now also manages the company’s HR activities.

You started booking shows when you were a drumming librarian. How did you learn to do that, and who did you turn to for advice?
Actually, it was a means to an end. Our singer was already located in Hamburg, so the voluntary year at the library was my ticket to move to the city. Getting a gig for our band itself was a lot of trial and error. The Internet was the place we turned to for advice as we didn’t know any people from the music business. From creating an alias “manager” to contacting all the [email protected], I think I went through the same struggles and [made the same] mistakes a lot of up-and-coming artists still have to deal with today. It definitely made me realise that landing a show for a newcomer act requires a lot of persistence and persuading.

What did being an apprentice at KJ involve? Did you spend time in every department at the company?
It started off with going on tour with Sean Paul. Mostly because my boss didn’t have a driving licence and needed a chauffeur. I guess life’s not easy as an apprentice. But actually, I’ve enjoyed the 2.5 years of getting to know the company a lot. I was able to work in our touring, PR/marketing and local department. Of course, every department has grown and further developed in the past years, but I still find it very helpful today to know how the departments operate. The vocational school also offered a one-month internship in London. Thankfully, Isla Angus took me in at Nomanis agency back in the day. I was able to go to a lot of gigs, take part in meetings with festival bookers, and get a little glimpse of the agent world. Also, I had to set up several IKEA shelves, but I guess life’s not much easier as an intern either.

“It started off with going on tour with Sean Paul”

You’ve now been at the company for ten years. What has been your biggest highlight so far?
There were many highlights, of course, but one thing that left a big impression was Karsten’s 80th birthday party. To see international superstars like Peter Gabriel, Herbie Hancock, and Gregory Porter sending very personal congrats videos or even performing at the event in Hamburg in person, showed me that an honest and loyal business relation can turn into a respectful friendship between artist and promoter.

Who would be your ideal three headline acts for Way Back When Festival?
Does it need to be realistic? Harry Styles? I guess ideal headline acts would be something like Girl in Red, Idles, and King Krule. I could very well live with that.

You’ve been studying business psychology. How has this helped your everyday work life or is it more about being able to be a better negotiator for deals?
I think many business decisions and issues have a strong psychological level. It really helped to learn about different scientific models and approaches. What I’ve found most interesting were the questions about how to create a motivating work environment or how to enable people to reach their full potential. So I hope that my work as a promoter, as well as my additional new tasks in the fields of HR, can benefit from that knowledge.

“Listen to younger colleagues who can anticipate much more precisely which artists are the next big thing”

As a new boss, what one thing would you change to make the live entertainment industry a better place?
I’d love to see more young professionals in responsible positions earlier on. The live market is in a constant transition and artists these days break in various bubbles. Only five-ten years in age can make a big difference. From K-Pop to artists going viral through Netflix series or TikTok, it becomes increasingly important to listen to younger colleagues who can anticipate much more precisely which artists are the next big thing.

You’ve just taken on the role as head of people and culture at the company. What would you like to see yourself doing in five years?
Celebrating my 15th company anniversary, hopefully… But more importantly I’d love to see KJ establish its status as the biggest independent promoter in Germany whilst also being an exciting and productive place to work. If I can help to shape that future as a part of the team, I’d be in a very happy place.

“I’d love to see KJ establish its status as the biggest independent promoter in Germany”

Having a good bond with agents and artist managers is crucial. How did you maintain contact with people during the pandemic, and do you feel that the working relationship between agents and promoters has changed over the past couple of years?
I’ve really missed seeing everyone at the annual conferences during the Covid pandemic, so it was a relief when restrictions were finally lifted. During that time, I had many calls with agents and managers. For me, it felt like these were on a more personal level than before by sharing common experiences and worries. Today the business seems to be running faster than ever: more shows, additional issues, etc. So, unfortunately, we tend to stick to old working routines instead of implementing new ones, but I’m sure this will change slowly but steadily.

See the full list of 2022 New Bosses in IQ 114, which is available now. To subscribe, and get access to our latest issue and all of our content, click here.


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Indie promoters talk challenges, post-corona recovery

The latest IQ Focus virtual panel, The State of Independence: Promoters, checked in with independent concert promoters in the UK, Europe, India and South America to discover how these entrepreneurs are preparing for the live industry’s return to normality.

Hosted by agent Emma Banks (CAA), yesterday’s session welcomed British promoters Anton Lockwood (DHP Family) and David Messer (DMP), Munbir Chawla from India’s The Wild City, Melanie Eselevsky from Argentina’s Move Concerts and Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion’s Roman Pitone to discuss the current difficulties unique to their sector, as well as the opportunities and challenges of a post-Covid-19 world .

Speaking about emerging concert formats such as drive-in shows, Pitone said Karsten Jahnke has done a number of drive-in events in Germany over the past few months. “Overall, they went well,” he said, but enthusiasm has declined over time as fans increasingly miss ‘real’ shows: “You could see when we started it that people were really eager to see shows [in some form] again, but it slowed down as time went on as people realised it’s just not the same.”

He added that the company is only breaking even on its drive-in and other socially distanced events. “With the income, we’re just paying for what we’re doing,” he explained. “This is just to keep doing something that is our passion and our livelihood, until we can do something [else]…”

In India, where live music is still invariably sponsored, brands have realised the coronavirus crisis isn’t going away and are spending less on live events, creating a headache for promoters, said Chawla. “The brands have realised they’re in it for the long haul, and cultural marketing spend is now being put back into marketing the products” directly, he commented.

“I want to remain independent. It’s not all and gloom”

“Unlike a lot of other scenes, the Indian scene is pretty reliant on brands. So, with the brands spending less money, that will also affect shows and the scale at which they can happen.”

Giving an overview of the situation in countries where Move Concerts operates, Eselevsky brought panellists up to date on the latest developments in Latin America, from the furlough scheme in Argentina to ticket vouchers in Brazil and drive-in concerts in Puerto Rico.

She also touched on the challenge of organising concerts in Argentina when the value of the local currency fluctuates so often: “Three years ago, the exchange rate was 18 pesos [to the US dollar],” she said. “Now it’s 75 pesos.”

Banks described her own experience of playing Argentina, relaying how one of her acts once oversold a show in Buenos Aires and still didn’t break even. “Try explaining that to the manager!” she said.

Turning to 2021, Messer said he’s “finding that because so many things have been moved into next year, things are fully booked” for late 2021 already. “So it’s very hard to know what you can book – the dates are going very quickly, but you can’t book the artists” because the situation around international touring is still so unclear.

“People are talking a lot more to each other … We’re all in the same place”

Lockwood said he can understood why many artists, especially American ones, could be reluctant to travel internationally well into next year, even if it’s a “depressing” thought. “Imagine the nightmare of being a US band,” he explained, “you get to the border of Spain and Portugal, and your bus driver gets a cough and you have to quarantine for 14 days. So, your whole tour’s just gone.

“Whereas, at least if you’re a US band and you tour the US, you won’t get caught in that.”

While the crisis has thrown into sharp relief the vulnerability of the independent sector, none of the panellists responded in the affirmative when Banks asked, tongue in cheek, if they wish they’d sold to Live Nation before coronavirus hit.

“It’s not all and gloom,” said Chawla, highlighting the quality of the music being released and the increasingly global nature of the industry as among the bright spots, while Messer praised how “people have come together” to mitigate the impact of the concert shutdown.

“People are talking a lot more to each other – people from different sides of the industry,” he said, in a sentiment echoed by Banks. “We’re all in the same place, and luckily everyone’s helping each other, which we have to do. We all need each other – we’re not going survive unless we can all exist.”

For more discussion and debate, including on ticket pricing, refunds and vouchers, ‘Swiss-cheese touring’ and much more, watch the session back on YouTube or Facebook now.


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Indie promoters in spotlight for next IQ Focus

Continuing the weekly series of IQ Focus virtual sessions, State of Independence: Promoters will see independent event organisers from across the globe come together to discuss the specific obstacles facing their business.

The tenth panel of the popular IQ Focus series, the session will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube on Thursday 16 July at 4 p.m. BST/5 p.m. CET.

Across the touring world, independent promoters are facing a similar challenge when looking ahead to a post Covid-19 business.

While this current period presents many unique challenges for this creative and entrepreneurial sector, it’s one of many pressures they face. So what’s the state of play in Europe, South America and India? And what alternative show formats, and business models are independent promoters adopting to stay ahead?

CAA’s Emma Banks hosts the session to ask, as the industry emerges from its current crisis, where the opportunities might lie?

Joining Banks are DHP Family’s Anton Lockwood, Karsten Janhke Konzertdirektion’s Ben Mitha, DMP UK’s David Messer, Melanie Eselevsky from Argentina’s Move Concerts and Munbir Chawla from the Wild City in India.

All previous IQ Focus sessions, which have looked at topics including the challenges facing festivals, diversity in live, management under lockdown, the agency business, large-scale venues and innovation in live music, can be watched back here.

To set a reminder about State of Independence: Promoters session on Thursday head to the IQ Magazine page on Facebook or YouTube.


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The New Bosses 2017: the final three

After shining the spotlight on (in no particular order) our first four New Bosses – Anna-Sophie Mertens, Zoe Swindells, Ryan Penty and Andrés Guanipa – in September, then Summer Marshall, Connie Shao and Matt Harrap earlier this month, the final instalment of IQ’s New Bosses 2017 wraps up our annual spotlight on the live music industry leaders of the future.


Sam Wald

Agent, WME (AU)
Age: 30

Sam worked in various capacities, including artist management, tour management, talent buying and promotion, before he started working at WME’s head office in Beverly Hills in 2010. He was recruited to the Sydney office as an agent in 2013, where his expertise in electronic music led to his appointment as the territorial agent for WME’s electronic roster in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. In addition to his territorial roster, Sam’s clients also include Broods, Elliphant, Gallant, Gang of Youths, Hermitude, Jarryd James, Julia Jacklin, Matoma, Marlon Williams, Middle Kids, Porter Robinson, Starley and Zhu, among others.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become an agent?
Get involved early and really take the time to learn as many different sides of the industry as possible. Don’t have any ego, and be willing to take on any tasks (big or small). There is a lot of competition, and not a lot of jobs. You need to make yourself a valuable asset.

Was it a difficult decision to move to Australia?
Not at all. I saw a great opportunity to move to Australia to work with many of the bands I loved, at an agency called Artist Voice. They had an amazing roster and were starting to push hard into Asia at a time when no one else in the region had the same foresight.

What’s the single best thing about being in Australia?
I get to hang out with my grandfather. I’m half Aussie, so grew up coming here as a kid.

What’s the best lesson that you’ve learned while at WME?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of really smart people at WME who have a wealth of knowledge and experience.



Christine Cao

Agent, Paradigm (US)
Age: 30

Christine Cao, Paradigm Talent Agency

Christine graduated from the University of Colorado and worked as an assistant at AEG Live and CAA before joining the Windish Agency in 2013. Her roster includes Grammy winner Daya, Grammy-nominated R&B singer Gallant, electronic pop phenomenon Alina Baraz and Nothing But Thieves, among others. With the majority of her artists hitting the road in support of upcoming releases, 2018 will be Christine’s busiest year yet.

What made you decide to become an agent?
I was promoting shows for my college and realised I had a massive passion for live music. I’m thankful to have learned that side of things, but I wanted to be part of an artist’s journey developing into various markets.

What’s the worst thing about your job?
If I get a chance to do this forever, I honestly can’t bring myself to think about the worst side of this gig. Maybe aeroplane food when you forget to grab something before leaving for an out-of-town show.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in equality during your time in the industry?
I grew up being told that being a minority both in my race and my gender was going to make things harder. A positive shift has occurred over the years, and I’m thankful for the mentors, both male and female, who have been so supportive and inspirational.

Where is your favourite festival, and which three dream acts would you like to see headlining it?
I had the chance to visit Ho Chi Minh City a few times, where my parents are from. That market is aching for live music, though electronic and pop thrive there. I’d headline my festival with the Backstreet Boys, The National and Ryan Adams.


Ben Mitha

MD, Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion (DE)
Age: 29

Ben Mitha, Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion

The grandson of legendary promoter Karsten Jahnke, Ben started promoting hip-hop parties during his school days in Hamburg, and founded full-service events company Digga Events while studying for his degree. In 2014, Karsten appointed Ben managing director and he now oversees a roster of 60 international acts, as well as domestic acts like Johannes Oerding, Max Giesinger and Michael Patrick Kelly.

How has your family’s legacy affected your industry relationships?
It was a gift at the beginning, but it also took quite a while to define my own profile and not be automatically related to Karsten’s musical profile in the industry.

Is there any practice that you would like to change, or introduce, to improve the way the business is done?
More loyalty and fewer global deals. I understand the financial dimensions behind it, but it’s always painful to lose an artist you have discovered early, invested in and helped build to a level where they arouse interest for a global deal and, all of a sudden, you’re out of the picture and there isn’t anything you can do about it.

Have there been any mistakes that have taught you valuable lessons?
I learn from mistakes daily – passing on an act in the early stages that takes off later on; miscalculating the market potential of an act and losing money; or not seeing enough potential in an idea or project that somebody else is later really successful with. I guess that’s just part of the business. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose…


Read the New Bosses 2017 as it originally appeared in the digital edition of IQ 73: