Let’s Dansk: Denmark market report
A pandemic has many unpredictable consequences, but no one could have foreseen that this one would catapult a 6’7” Kurdish-Danish pop singer to local stardom so dramatically that it made the New York Times predict an international breakthrough for Danish-language pop.
Last year, however, songs from Aarhus-born Tobias Rahim’s second album, Når Sjælen Kaster Op (When the Soul Vomits), topped Denmark’s singles charts for nearly 40 weeks, and in 2023, he capitalised with a headline show at Copenhagen’s 17,000-cap Royal Arena and prominent slots at key Danish festivals Tinderbox, NorthSide, and Roskilde.
“That’s kind of an Ed Sheeran-type story,” says Rahim’s promoter Brian Nielsen, CEO of DTD Group. “As a new artist, he went straight to arenas from airplay. With the way the audience is finding new music, primarily via streaming, the movement is so much faster. We’ve seen a big change with Danish acts playing bigger venues than they used to, and Tobias is a really strong example.”
Denmark, with a population of around six million, assumes a natural slot between Germany and Sweden on the European tour route. But when Covid forced the Danes to do without international imports for a while, domestic artists rose to fill the gap, and the signs are that they are sticking around.
Rahim is far from the only focus of a fresh wave of Danish talent that includes artists such as masked musician D1MA, singer-songwriter Andreas Odbjerg, Danish-Welsh star Drew Sycamore, funky pop foursome Blæst, and big-hitting homegrown rappers including Gobs, TopGunn, and Lamin.
“It’s golden days for Danish artists coming up. I don’t know if that hailed out of Covid, but the local scene is stronger than ever”
“It’s golden days for Danish artists coming up,” says smash!bang!pow! senior promoter Xenia Grigat. “I don’t know if that hailed out of Covid, but the local scene is stronger than ever. It doesn’t mean there isn’t room for international artists, but if you look at the top 20 tracks on radio or in the charts, it will probably be 80% Danish artists. And, of course, there is a high demand from festivals for those artists, but it also means that for [up and coming] Danish acts, there is a huge focus on trying to find the next big thing.”
In the increasingly standardised world of live music, such local colour is a welcome thing, especially when, in other respects, the story of the business varies so little from one market to the next. In Denmark, the other themes are familiar ones: high costs, big demand for the top-level stuff, soft in the middle and lower down.
“Live music ticket sales in total have bounced back in 2023,” says Kasper Busch Lund, CEO of Copenhagen’s 4,600-cap K.B. Hallen. “However, there are significant differences below this top line. Festivals, stadiums, and big events might be selling out, but small and medium-sized indoor venues are still affected throughout 2023 by fewer shows on tour, combined with unimpressive ticket sales – which of course is the result of the increased production costs, combined with tight private finances.”
Anderz Nielsen of the independent Gearbox Agency, who has booked Chuck Prophet and Steve Wynn and others on Danish tours in recent months, believes the market will take patient rebuilding at its lower levels.
“With the pandemic, you kind of lost that connection that should be the next live-going generation,” he says. “But hopefully it will catch up again, and they will start [to see] going to live shows as a thing to do. But I guess it just takes a bit of time to get the youth and the audience that did go to the smaller shows, used to going back to them. A lot of people changed their habits when they couldn’t go to shows and that hopefully will change again.”
“Based on recent studies, looking at our own business and the Danish market in general, I have high hopes for the future”
Meanwhile, as with virtually every nation undergoing a post-Covid bounce, the most recent figures for the Danish business do only partial justice to the scale of the recovery at the top of the market.
Live music revenues for 2021 were DKK3,172m [source: Dansk Musikomsætning 2021], of which ticket revenue amounted to DKK1,202m (up 38% year-on-year), while subsidiary revenues including F&B came to DKK1,467m and sponsorship totalled DKK111m.
The overall business has evidently bounced back further since, in spite of ongoing cost issues, but time will tell whether it is yet approaching the 2017 and 2019 totals of DKK6,294m and DKK6,217m, respectively.
“I only see the live market going up from here,” says Pernille Møller Pedersen, CEO and partner of All Things Live Denmark, whose 2023 highlights included 90,000 tickets sold across two Rammstein shows in Odense. “Our business has faced serious challenges over the past years, but based on recent studies, looking at our own business and the Danish market in general, I have high hopes for the future.”
Given Denmark’s compact size, its promoting business also assumes a finite scale, with the leading international promoters including Live Nation, All Things Live, DTD (formerly Beatbox Entertainment), and smash!bang!pow!, in which FKP Scorpio holds a minority stake.
“There are so many local acts that can suddenly play arenas – and stadiums – and that is a real positive”
At the time of writing, Live Nation was dealing with an October schedule that included megastars such as Diana Ross and Madonna and country breakthrough Luke Combs, all at the Royal Arena. Louis Tomlinson, Blink-182, the Jonas Brothers, Depeche Mode, Harry Style, Peter Gabriel and Copenhell are among its earlier 2023 successes and Olivia Rodrigo, Dave Matthews Band, Metallica (two 50,000-cap Parken Stadium shows) and others are lined up for 2024.
Overall, Live Nation Denmark managing director Jesper Christensen doesn’t anticipate any slowdown in the near future, for either domestic or international shows. “It’s been crazy,” he says. “All sold out and it’s been really great. Next year is really exactly the same.”
While best known for its strength in international artists, Live Nation Denmark has steadily increased its focus on local Danish acts, not least with its acquisition in 2019 of Danish booking agency and artist management company, PDH Music. The local trend is only accelerating, notes Christensen. “The new part, the last few years, is all the local acts playing bigger shows,” he says. “There are so many local acts that can suddenly play arenas – and stadiums – and that is a real positive.”
Looming large on the 2024 schedule are three Parken shows for returning local heroes The Minds of 99, who have established themselves in recent years as genuine Danish superstars.
“Impressive is an understatement really,” says the band’s promoter, Live Nation’s Ulrik Ørum-Petersen. “The band seems to break every record here. Never before had a Danish language artist sold out the Parken Stadium as they did in 2021, and to do it three nights in a row with a total of 150,000 tickets sold just underlines the fact that The Minds Of 99 is the biggest live act we’ve ever had in Denmark.
“When we went up with the 2024 shows we believed we had two shows that likely would sell out, but when all 100,000 tickets were gone in a matter of minutes we had to do a third show to meet the demand.”
“Promoters in Denmark are facing the same problems as the rest of the world – recession, increased touring costs, the aftermath from Covid”
All Things Live Denmark, once ICO Concerts/ICO Management and Touring, is an original member of the increasingly ambitious, Waterland Private Equity-backed, pan-European independent group founded in 2018, which operates across Scandinavia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and the Middle East.
“Over recent years, we have seen that almost all promoters working with international artists have joined a bigger set-up,” says Pedersen. “That makes it a very competitive market, but I think we have healthy competition here in Denmark, and we enjoy the competition.”
As well as its Rammstein shows in Odense, All Things Live has had sold-out shows with Jo Koy, Sam Smith, Blackpink, Zack Bryan, Jim Jefferies, and Pusha T this year, with Michael McIntyre and Iliza Schlesinger among those due in the run-up to Christmas.
“In the 18 years I have worked in promoting, Denmark has been a strong live market,” says Pedersen. “I think promoters in Denmark are facing the same problems as the rest of the world – recession, increased touring costs, the aftermath from Covid – but I don’t like to call them problems: these are challenges we have to deal with and adapt to accordingly.”
DTD Group (formerly Beatbox Entertainment) is Denmark’s second-biggest promoter after Live Nation and its biggest festival operator, with two of the country’s largest festivals, NorthSide and Tinderbox, as well as new acquisition Fyrfest. It stages between 50 and 70 bigger shows a year – plus occasional one-offs such as Lukas Graham’s six Danish outdoor shows last year, which drew more than 80,000 and ran entirely on green battery power. Since 2019, DTD has operated an investment and partnership agreement with Superstruct Entertainment.
“We’ve seen some incredible increases in costs. And obviously that infects the entire environment – it’s not getting any cheaper to produce a festival”
Operating across festivals and shows, Nielsen is mulling a variety of challenges on the road ahead. “In my opinion, it is still a bit post-Corona,” he says. “There’s still a number of the bigger acts we need to see on the road, who have stayed away so far. And we’ve seen some incredible increases in costs. And obviously that infects the entire environment – it’s not getting any cheaper to produce a festival, and it’s not getting any cheaper to produce a show. And that goes for the artist and that goes for the promoter. So, ultimately, there are some challenges lying ahead.”
Smash!bang!pow! had perhaps the biggest single smash hit of 2022 when it sold 100,000 tickets to Ed Sheeran’s four Copenhagen shows in around 100 minutes, with the remaining 60,000 disappearing in another 48 hours, breaking the Danish ticket record in the process. This year has seen Royal Arena shows for Danish veteran star Thomas Helmig, Eros Ramazzotti, and Snoop Dogg, as well as the second edition of the Syd for Solen festival in Søndermarken.
And while costs are one challenge, says Grigat, another is creating traction for events in a world where the old ways of spreading a message no longer hold fast.
“Social media dominates a lot because we don’t have that much of the classic media left. There are a few magazines, and we do have radio of course, but it’s not the same as ten or 15 years ago, so we try to use our own channels – our smash!bang!pow! Instagram and our newsletter – as media backup. It may not have the biggest reach but it’s the right reach.”
Another busy promoter and producer is CSB Island Entertainment, founded in 1994 and 75%-owned by DEAG since 2021, with founder and CEO Carsten Svoldgaard and son and COO Kenneth remaining at the helm and as shareholders.
“We are so busy with both festivals and indoor concerts that we simply lack artists for the Scandinavian venues”
Operating from the island of Fanø in the North Sea off Denmark’s southwest coast, CSB holds worldwide rights to productions including The Show – A Tribute to Abba, Queen Machine Symphonic and Disco Tango Eurovision Show, and supplied major international artists and bands to up to 100 festivals and open-airs in Denmark this summer, ranging from 5,000 in capacity up to 20-30,000-cap festivals.
“That is more festivals and open-airs than ever, and at the same time, our collaboration with indoor concert halls has increased and increased,” says Carsten Svoldgaard, who says the main challenge in Denmark is not one of consumer demand but of securing a sufficient supply of talent to satisfy it all.
“We are so busy with both festivals and indoor concerts that we simply lack artists for the Scandinavian venues,” says Svoldgaard. “In Denmark alone, there are over 200 festivals and open-airs in the summer, and we have artists at most of these, but we simply need more. It may sound like a positive problem, that it’s all just running smoothly, but of course we want to do as many concerts as possible – therefore, we could use many more international bands and artists.”
Undeniably the king of Danish festivals is Roskilde, with its eight stages, 205 acts, 50,000 tents, and 130,000 daily participants (including 30,000 volunteers and 100,000 audience members), which mean that, for a week at the end of June, the festival effectively ranks as Den- mark’s fourth largest “city” in terms of population – a little smaller than Odense, rather bigger than Aalborg.
This year’s lineup encompassed Kendrick Lamar, Caroline Polachek, Lil Nas X, Rosalía, Burna Boy, Christine and the Queens, Blur, and Queens of the Stone Age, plus nearly 200 others.
“We want to be a place that can help inspire and strengthen the ability to envision, and hence create, a better future”
2023 was the first year under new head of booking Thomas Jepsen, who succeeded Anders Wahrén in 2022. “I have been a part of the booking team since 2011, but this was my first year as head of music,” says Jepsen. “We achieved a lot of goals with Roskilde Festival 2023. The programme was diverse, presenting a broad range of genres and nationalities, huge stars, raw talents, and a lot of progressive and young artists.
“Just to mention a few, Rosalia’s show in Spanish at Arena Stage was a huge success, as was Burna Boy, who mixes two Nigerian dialects with English in his lyrics, playing on our main stage, Orange Stage. At Apollo Stage the American rap talent 070 Shake almost made the walls vibrate, while the Brooklyn based indie-folk band Florist gave a dreamy and ambient concert at Gloria Stage.”
Gender balance and other forms of diversity and inclusion remain a priority. This year, Roskilde introduced two brand new stages, Eos and Gaia – highlights of the former included the transgendered rapper Villano Antillano from Puerto Rico – while also introducing its new Utopia theme.
“We want to be a place that can help inspire and strengthen the ability to envision, and hence create, a better future,” says Jepsen. “It characterises everything we do related to the festival, and also the way we curate the programme.”
Situated in a beech forest just outside of the town of Skanderborg in Jutland, the 43-year-old Smukfest (meaning ‘beautiful festival’) was once again back in force this year, its eight days of music representing a comprehensive A-Z of contemporary Danish pop talent, spiced with diverse international names from Imagine Dragons and Megadeth to Christina Aguilera and Jason Derulo.
“I think the Danish part of the market is very healthy. The international part of the market is healthy, too, but I foresee some structural problems in the future”
Denmark’s second-largest festival (cap. 66,000) was born out of a non-profit association and launched in 1980. Its Skanderborg Festival Club has since gained over 20,000 members, who all have voting rights, and three-quarters of whom volunteer at Smukfest each summer.
“I think it’s quite a unique Danish model to have a festival based on this, and we’re very proud of that,” Smukfest director Søren Eskildsen told IQ last year. “We would do anything in our power to maintain this model.”
The strength of Denmark’s homegrown talent at such festivals is clearly healthy but also increasingly necessary, as European festivals contend with the punishing cost – and limited availability – of international talent. Increasingly, notes Nielsen, hot international artists are leapfrogging the festival-headlining part of their trajectory and going it alone.
“I think, generally, the market is healthy,” he says. “I think the Danish part of the market is very healthy. The international part of the market is healthy, too, but I foresee some structural problems in the future because it’s becoming more difficult for festivals to get the international headliners. There’s been a change post-Corona where we’ve seen a number of international newcomers going straight to stadium level. We didn’t see that in the earlier years pre-Corona, and that’s something that obviously the festivals will need to adapt to.”
This year’s NorthSide bill, in early June, brought Muse, The 1975, The Chemical Brothers, Little Simz, Lukas Graham, First Aid Kit, and Sam Fender to second city Aarhus, while Tinderbox had the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Maroon 5, Black Eyed Peas, Tobias Rahim, and Armin van Buuren for this year’s edition, in Denmark’s third-largest city, Odense.
“We more than doubled the ticket sales from the first year, so it’s definitely going in the right direction”
Fyrfest in Viborg, central Jutland, acquired this summer, further enhances the DTD portfolio. “It’s a 20,000-cap, and traditionally, the programming is all the major Danish acts,” says Nielsen. “So, it’s a very traditional local festival but a pretty big one. For next year, we had a three-day, early-bird sale and we have done 95% of the tickets without announcing acts.”
Among Denmark’s other notable festivals are Live Nation’s Copenhagen metal fest Copenhell; electronic music festival Stella Polaris in Aarhus and Frederiksberg; the massive Copenhagen street-party Distortion, which culminates with the two-day Distortion Ø event on a former industrial island in the Copenhagen harbour; the SPOT Festival of Nordic talent in Aarhus; and the travelling Grøn Koncert, sponsored by Tuborg, which this year celebrated its 40th anniversary, stopping in Aarhus, Aalborg, Esbjerg, Kolding, Næstved, Odense, Tårnby, and Valby through late July.
Meanwhile, smash!bang!pow!’s new Syd for Solen festival in Søndermarken featured Bon Iver, Iggy Pop, The War on Drugs, Aphex Twin, and others. “That was the second year, and we more than doubled the ticket sales from the first year, so it’s definitely going in the right direction,” says Grigat. “We’ve found a concept that really works and that people are into, where we curate day by day.”
Copenhagen is replete with busy venues, from the 17,000-capacity, Live Nation/Danish Venue Enterprise-operated Royal Arena, which opened in 2017, to Vesterbro’s VEGA complex, which hosts around 250 concerts a year, between the bustling Store VEGA (standing capacity 1,500, seated 800) and its smaller counterparts Lille VEGA (standing 500) and Ideal Bar.
Other key elements of the capital’s venue scene include Pumpehuset, near to the City Hall Square, with rooms for 600 and 400; the 400-cap Loppen, housed in an old army hall in Freetown Christiania; the atmospheric, 350-capacity Hotel Cecil, open since 2018; and multi-purpose arena K.B. Hallen, built in 1938 by the King of Denmark, burnt to the ground in a devastating fire in 2011, rebuilt and reopened in 2019.
“In 2024, concertgoers will be back in larger numbers, mingling with the core fans for the intimacy and intensity of the indoor venue concerts”
“For K.B. Hallen, which is a 4,600-capacity venue, the real bounce back will be 2024, both in terms of the number of shows and ticket sales,” says Kasper Busch Lund. “Throughout 2022 and 2023, audiences have been prioritising the major must-see artists, as well as festivals, to be social again around music. In 2024, concertgoers will be back in larger numbers, mingling with the core fans for the intimacy and intensity of the indoor venue concerts.”
The 1975 and Idles are among those who will be playing at K.B. Hallen in 2024, while the shows rounding out this year include Melanie Martinez, Jungle, Lil Yachty, and Jack Whitehall.
The Danish live market enjoys government subsidies that have endowed the country with a network of regional venues that have a responsibility to develop audiences and provide opportunities for smaller acts to play professional shows. There is also an industry-wide agreement on artists’ fees.
“Luckily, here we have government support for most of the venues,” says Anderz Nielsen. “We do have some private venues, but it’s not that many – most people get government support via the local council. It’s been rough years for all of them, I would say. But I don’t know if any of the smaller venues have closed down here in Denmark.”
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.