Playing Politics: Are governments offering enough support for live?
Millions of people have taken to tuning in to daily governmental updates, where politicians and advisers perform the grim task of revealing the increase in the death toll, as well as the rates of new infection. That horrific routine is allowing journalists to compare Nation A to Nation B to Nation C etc, and for many, isolated at home, to engage in the morbid game of envying those in New Zealand, Germany, South Korea, or wherever the reported head count is statistically low.
However, to date, little has been said in the public domain about the response of the live entertainment industry, internationally, and its voluntarily shut down, which, in many places, had to come ahead of government guidance. Indeed, in speaking to numerous festival organisers, IQ has heard that many had been forced to play a waiting game with politicians to hear whether their events in, for instance, June or July, would be allowed to proceed.
“Without government intervention, force majeure clauses do not work,” says Christof Huber of European festivals association, Yourope, who cancelled his festivals OpenAir St.Gallen, SummerDays and Seaside after the Swiss government finally announced that events over 1,000 people would be outlawed until 31 August, following weeks of deliberation. Yourope has been “actively lobbying governments to make decisions about large-scale gatherings in a more timely manner”, says Huber.
In beginning to tentatively embark on reopening plans, governments in countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Norway and Finland have given some sort of insight into when events may be allowed to resume – or at least clarification as to how long bans can be expected to last.
Still, without cross-border co-operation, the situation remains precarious for those who depend on the live music sector for their livelihoods.
In the venues sector, Lucy Noble, who chairs the UK’s National Arenas Association, says, “We found the early stages of the crisis difficult, as government advice wasn’t clear enough. That delay was problematic because it created stress and confusion for artists, audiences and staff.”
“In Switzerland and Germany the trust in the government and politicians has had a really big revival”
The various loan schemes launched in each market have worked to varying effect (Switzerland’s five-year interest free loan of up to €400,000 paid in a matter of hours stands among the best), while employee furlough or protection schemes have further propped up companies, without which many would have collapsed.
Stuart Galbraith, of Kilimanjaro Live, recalls, “Although it was fairly chaotic to start with, the line of communication that we, as a sector, have had into government has been very good. UK Music [acting CEO] Tom Kiehl has done a great job and so have people like Julian Bird at [Society of London Theatre]. In that first week of chaos, we had four calls with either cabinet ministers or secretaries of state. They listened and have taken action. They’ve helped us with the loans, business rates relief, the furlough scheme.”
Vincenzo Spera, president of Assomusica, is lobbying Europe to adopt such concessions, having already secured them in Italy, where it’s estimated that, by the end of this month, 4,200 events will have been missed, depriving live music operators of €63million, while the deeper economic impact for Italy is estimated at €130m.
“We ask the European Commission, MPs and the Culture Committee to [introduce] vouchers to replace the tickets purchased,” says Spera. “[This] allows the spectator not to give up their concert, and companies not to go to default.”
Voucher schemes of some form are also in place in Germany, Belgium, Poland and Brazil, with promoters including Live Nation offering a voucher option to fans who have tickets for postponed shows.
While those working in the UK and other countries have been able to rely on their authorities for financial bailouts, notable live music strongholds like the United States have offered very little, resulting in previously unimaginable unemployment statistics.
Yourope’s Huber observes, “It’s difficult to compare, but in Switzerland and Germany the trust in the government and politicians has had a really big revival, because in the initial phases they communicated honestly about the situation. However, as time passes, left wing versus right wing politics seems to be creeping back.”
“We are making hard decisions and the more clarity we get from government, the more informed we can be when looking at logistics”
Down under, Michael Chugg laments a horrendous start to 2020. “To cop corona on top of the bushfire season, I think everyone is coping well,” he tells IQ. “The federal government, which had already been offering tax breaks, freezes on loans payments, and no evictions by landlords, came up with their ‘jobkeeper payment’ scheme, which covers the equivalent of 50% of all Australian salaries for the next six months, taking an incredible amount of pressure off everyone.”
Live Nation’s Herman Schueremans – himself a former politician – reports, “The Belgian parliament agreed to provide €1 billion to tackle the consequences of coronavirus, and we will work with them to ensure this money reaches those who need it most in our market.” He adds, “It’s never been more clear that we are in a global business. We all know we have to work together.”
Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, who leads the UK’s Concert Promoters Association, reveals he is now asking for an exit plan from lockdown. The UK government, which is yet to announce how it plans to ease lockdown restrictions, is expected to release the first details of its plans in a press conference on Sunday (10 May).
“They must have modelling for a resumption to whatever our new normal will look like,” he notes. “The sooner they share this, the better. We are making hard decisions and the more clarity we get from government, the more informed we can be when looking at logistics.”
The gap between the ending of employment protection schemes, loan availability and other protection measures, and the business being back up to speed with healthy cashflow, is arguably the largest challenge on the horizon. And close, strong relationships with government will be key to keeping that gap as narrow as possible.
Associations and lobbyists need to prove their worth, just as governments will need to continue to prop up live entertainment for at least a few months yet.
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Learning & growing: 12 key lessons from the corona crisis
The latest issue of IQ Magazine features a bumper coronavirus special report that delves into the lessons learnt from the crisis, various governments’ responses to the pandemic, and predictions for the shape of the industry’s post-Covid-19 recovery.
Here, we look at the key business takeaways from the global concert business shutdown, with a little help from Paradigm’s Alex Hardee, Echo Location’s Obi Asika, Yourope’s Christof Huber and more…
1. Entrepreneurialism and creativity remain at the heart of the industry
While much of the debate in the live music sector in recent years has centred around independent versus corporate approaches, when the shit hit the fan the spirit of entrepreneurialism has shone through.
Artists around the world have been streaming live shows and content to maintain their relationship with fans, while companies big and small are thinking outside the box and going above and beyond to help out employees, crew and others in the business, financially and though other support packages.
“We adapt fast and we can deal with the curveballs,” comments Live Nation Belgium’s Herman Schueremans. “We are resilient and artists and fans will always find a way to connect.”
2. Technology makes mass home-working a possibility
The use of Zoom, Houseparty, Skype, FaceTime and other video conferencing platforms has helped millions of employees around the world to effectively communicate with colleagues, peers and clients in a way that many would have thought impossible a few months ago.
“Anyone who said home-working doesn’t work was wrong,” says Live Nation chairman of international music, Thomas Johansson.
3. The appetite for risk needs revision
The very nature of the live music industry had historically relied on a cash-flow wing and a prayer, with everyone in the chain relying to some extent on future earnings to pay for their latest projects. The sudden cessation of the business has put this situation into sharp relief, as thousands of event postponements and cancellations have highlighted that the global business could collapse if refunds were mandated internationally.
“You have to have reserves,” states Obi Asika of London-based agency Echo Location. “A lot of this business focuses on the future, prospecting and possibilities. We make bookings really far in advance and now this has shown that anything can happen.”
“This crisis has shown that anything can happen”
4. Every day brings new challenges
It seems that as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues, uncertainty will be the new norm. Agents, promoters, artist managers, venue operators and everybody in the production supply chain are working incredibly hard to make sure things are ready for business to resume, but with no concrete dates to work toward, the planning process is never-ending.
“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens and the next day we have to start all over again,” says Paradigm’s Alex Hardee. “When I’m doing my P&Ls at the moment, they are all Ls.”
5. Government intervention is crucial
The live music business has a long and proud tradition of policing itself and trying hard to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to issues like health and safety and self-regulation. However, it has become apparent in the coronavirus environment that businesses involved in the live entertainment sector need the co-operation of government and local authorities to survive.
At the time of writing, summer festivals in some countries are still waiting to announce 2020 cancellations because they have not been told by government that they cannot hold this year’s events, meaning that promoters could be liable to pay artist fees if they take that sensible decision themselves.
“There’s a fear among promoters when it comes to announcing festival cancellations, because nobody wants to lose the momentum when difficult decisions need to be taken,” says Christof Huber of European festival association Yourope.
6. One rotten apple can spoil the barrel
The domino effect of a cancelled show has never been more apparent than during the economic shutdown. Artists often rely on the revenues from certain key festival or headline dates to pay for visits to less lucrative markets, and the cancellation of one or more of those key dates can put the whole tour – and, therefore, other festival shows – in jeopardy.
With the pandemic amplifying this situation more than ever before, festival organisers who perhaps previously viewed each other as rivals have been working closely on key announcements and strategies.
“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens, and the next day we have to start all over again”
7. Honesty is the best policy
With millions of people suddenly and unexpectedly facing redundancy, business owners and senior management around the world have never been under greater scrutiny. However, early and continued communication has proved invaluable during the halt to commerce and, by and large, people who have been included in the hard conversations have accepted that everyone is in the same boat because of this global crisis.
“If you are transparent, honest and upfront with people, then when you have to make difficult decisions the reaction of people can pleasantly surprise you,” reports Paradigm’s Hardee.
8. There goes my hero, he’s ordinary
People that society has taken for granted are stepping up and putting the health of themselves and their families at risk to make sure the rest of the world’s suffering is minimised. Health workers, carers, supermarket employees, teachers, sanitation staff, pharmacists, truck and delivery drivers and many more ‘ordinary’ people are the true heroes of the hour.
9. Insurers need to take a long hard look at themselves
There’s no need to mention any names, but for reference have a look at Hellfest’s website about the small-print cowardice that has been manipulated to shirk responsibility. To quote our French comrades: “Fuck you!”
10. Coronavirus is kryptonite to the super-touts
As much as the legitimate live music industry is reeling from cancellations, postponements and having to deal with refunds and other unexpected costs, the situation for the secondary ticketing business is even more dire, as many super-touts have to deal with inventory they can no longer shift.
Having agreed a highly controversial $4 billion deal that would see it merge with Viagogo, in late March, StubHub announced it was furloughing two thirds of its staff, and company policy on refunds would change, whereby purchasers of tickets to cancelled events in North America would now be offered vouchers, rather than refunds. Cue class-action lawsuits.
With StubHub now reportedly struggling hard and Viagogo saddled with debt, the future for the world’s biggest secondary ticketing platforms looks precarious to say the least. “In the context of the unprecedented crisis being played out in all our lives, this could well be one the most poorly timed acquisitions in recent corporate history,” says Adam Webb, campaign manager for FanFair Alliance.
2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever
11. Trade associations and industry collectives are proving their worth
In days gone by – and they are not that long ago – the live music industry was a cutthroat, highly competitive battlefield where often ludicrous deals would price others out of the game, all in the name of market share.
Coronavirus has levelled the playing field somewhat, and it’s heartening to witness just how quickly previously warring factions have come around the table to collaborate and agree sensible paths forward to try to minimise the impact on staff, suppliers and, of course, the artists. Hats off to the many trade associations and organisations who are lobbying parliaments, government ministers and local authorities on behalf of the business – you have never been so important to the livelihoods of so many people.
“[The corona crisis has] certainly made me realise the huge importance of associations and representative bodies,” says Kilimanjaro Live boss Stuart Galbraith. “Government don’t want to talk to individual commercial organisations, but they will talk to the Concert Promoters Association, AIF, UK Music, etc., and there’s been huge co-operation between [the associations] as well. Because it affects everybody.”
12. It’s only rock’n’roll… but I like it
As lucky as we are to have careers in such a great industry, at the end of the day it’s only rock’n’roll. Yes, it’s important for culture and for people’s happiness and wellbeing, but people we know are dying – relatives, friends and neighbours – and the battle to minimise that death toll far outweighs any gig, tour or event (or shareholder expectations, for that matter).
However, the hundreds of musicians and artists who are livestreaming to entertain millions of fans confined to their homes shows that the power of music is as strong as ever. Once we emerge from this dark period, people will be clamouring to get out, socialise and see their favourite acts.
Twenty-twenty is undoubtedly going to take its toll, but for those able to remain in the business, 2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever.
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Tales from Covid: Herman Schueremans, Rock Werchter
Tales from Covid, IQ’s new series of Q&As with locked-down industry leaders, sees leading lights of the concert business explain how they are weathering the coronavirus crisis and offer their predictions for the months ahead.
Following the third interview, with Kilimanjaro Live founder and CEO Stuart Galbraith, IQ catches up with Rock Werchter organiser and Live Nation Belgium CEO Herman Schueremans, who speaks on government response to the crisis, and why it’ll take more than coronavirus to kill demand for live music…
IQ: How are you preparing for the live music industry’s eventual recovery?
HS: I am no psychic and I don’t yet have a crystal ball. But we’ll all be charting where markets are reopening, as touring will follow.
This has been a challenging time, but we’ve been around for a while and we’ve successfully dealt with curveballs before.
Do you expect the public to respond when concerts/festivals go back on sale?
Fans want to be at shows enjoying live music. We’ve already seen demand for the onsales for shows being scheduled the other side of the ban. Coronavirus won’t alter the love of live music.
Have you learnt any positive lessons from the touring shutdown?
I’ve really enjoyed seeing the way artists have taken what the situation has thrown at them – and the time off the road it has forced on them – and used technology to connect with their fans across the world.
Live Nation created a ‘Live from Home’ platform to help our artists do exactly that. And we’ve also seen many artists rally around industry relief efforts like Crew Nation. There’s been incredible support all around.
“I’ve really enjoyed seeing artists … use technology to connect with their fans across the world”
How do you rate the government response to the crisis, in comparison to the industry’s?
The Belgian parliament agreed to provide €1 billion to tackle the consequences of coronavirus, and we will work with them to ensure this money reaches those who need it most in our market.
I feel like I have been on a permanent conference call for weeks, with colleagues across Europe and in the US and with those in my market. It’s never been more clear that we are in a global business. We all know we have to work together.
Finally, what are your main takeaways from this crisis?
That we adapt fast. That we can deal with curveballs. That we are resilient.
And that artists and fans will always find a way to connect.
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Countdown to the Arthur Awards 2020: Herman Schueremans
Individuals and events will be crowned across 11 categories at the Arthur Awards Winners’ Dinner on 5 March, as the music industry’s response to the Oscars returns to the glamorous Sheraton Grand Park Lane hotel.
Last year’s 25th anniversary awards saw success for Britannia Row’s Bryan Grant, FKP Scorpio’s Folkert Koopmans, ICM Partners’ Kevin Jergensen and Live Nation’s Selina Emeny, as well as the teams at the Royal Albert Hall, British Summer Time Hyde Park and Mad Cool Festival, among others.
As the Emma Banks-hosted ceremony draws ever closer, IQ chats to some previous winners to find out what receiving an Arthur meant to them and to discover their biggest hopes and dreams for the future.
Up next is Rock Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium CEO Herman Schueremans, three-time winner of the Promoters’ Promoter prize and 2017’s recipient of the prestigious ILMC Bottle Award.
Winning the Bottle Award means a hell of a lot to me as it means you get recognition and appreciation from the people of the live music business who know what they are talking about, such as agents and their staff, managers, tour managers, production managers, suppliers, concert and festival promoters. All of these people are driven and passionate human beings who want to deliver every day on their passionate job. Thank you all.
My Bottle Award is in my office and it is empty as I don’t drink during the working day but enjoy a lovely wine at dinner at the end of the day. All of our other Arthur Awards are on the desks of our team members as they are their awards.
Winning the Bottle Award means a hell of a lot to me
Ed Bicknell and Martin Hopewell, the founder of ILMC; Ian Flooks and many other agents gave me the first chances to book young bands. I learned from Mike Greek that I was the first European to book an act from him. We can all learn from each other – young from older experienced people and older ones from the enthusiasm and creativity of young people.
My prediction for the next ten years is that live music will get more and more important as it brings people from all over the world together in a constructive way. So everyone involved in live music has a common responsibility to contribute every day.
I hope that music will help to build a better and definitely happier world and that youngsters have a future in this business and in general.
Festival Fever: More festivals reveal their 2020 line-ups
Following on from last week’s round-up of 2020 line-up announcements, IQ looks at a selection of festivals to see which acts will be gracing the stages in summer 2020.
(See the previous edition of Festival Fever here.)
When: 2 to 5 July
Where: Festival Park, Werchter, Belgium
How many: 88,000
Pearl Jam and Twenty One Pilots are the first acts announced for the 2020 edition of Rock Werchter, playing on 2 and 4 July respectively.
Founded and promoted by Live Nation Belgium CEO Herman Schueremans, Rock Werchter last year saw headline performances from Pink, the Cure, Tool, Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons and Muse, in an edition that Schueremans deemed “a top result compared to a lot of festivals in Europe and the USA” that year.
Speaking at the International Festival Forum (IFF) in September this year, the Rock Werchter founder stressed the continued importance of festivals, saying they “sustain the live industry just as the Amazon rainforest sustains the world’s climate.”
Tickets for Rock Werchter 2020 go on sale on 6 December at 10 a.m. (CET), with a full festival ticket costing €243 (£207) and a single day-pass priced at €110 (£94).
Pearl Jam and Twenty One Pilots are the first acts announced for the 2020 edition of Rock Werchter
When: 9 to 11 July
Where: Passeio Maritimo de Alges, Lisbon, Portugal
How many: 55,000
Everything is New’s Nos Alive festival runs on the ethos that “all stages are main stages”, last year programming acts including Johnny Marr, Primal Scream, Greta Van Fleet, Idles, Bon Iver, Grace Jones and Vampire Weekend.
The 2020 edition of the festival sees headliners Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and local favourites Da Weasel playing alongside Caribou, Two Door Cinema Club and Haim.
Portugal’s preeminent annual annual rock festival, Nos Alive is now entering its 14th year, having expanded from three stages in its inaugural year to seven, while striving to keep ticket prices low.
Tickets for Nos Alive 2020 are available now, priced at €69 (£59) for a one-day ticket and €159 (£136) for a three-day pass.
The 2020 edition of the festival sees headliners Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and local favourites Da Weasel
When: 16 to 19 July
Where: Henham Park, Suffolk, UK
How many: 40,000
Latitude is one of a number of Festival Republic events to have enjoyed back-to-back sell-outs in recent years. The 2019 edition, which saw headline performances from George Ezra, Stereophonics and Lana Del Rey, contributed a season that, according to Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn,“genuinely couldn’t have been better.”
The 15th edition of Latitude includes headline performances from Liam Gallagher, the Chemical Brothers and Haim, with the Lumineers, Michael Kiwanuka, Keane and Charli XCX also appearing on the bill.
Gallagher, who is currently playing around the UK on the Why Me? Why Not? tour, is returning to the festival after playing as the ‘secret act’ in 2018.
Tickets for Latitude festival 2020 go on sale on 6 December at 9 a.m. (GMT). Adult weekend tickets cost £210, with accompanied teen tickets priced at $145 and child passes at £15.
Latitude is one of a number of Festival Republic events to have enjoyed back-to-back sell-outs in recent years
Isle of Wight Festival
When: 11 to 14 June
Where: Seaclose Park, Isle of Wight, UK
How many: 90,000
The Isle of Wight festival yesterday (3 December) revealed its 2020 headliners, with Lionel Richie and Lewis Capaldi playing the mainstage on the opening night, Snow Patrol and the Chemical Brothers heading up the second evening and Duran Duran closing proceedings on the Sunday.
The 2020 festival will mark the 50th anniversary of its 1970 edition, which saw headline performances from Jimi Hendrix, the Who and Joni Mitchell and constituted the last festival on the island until its 2002 resurrection.
“I’m excited to be playing at the Isle of Wight Festival next summer,” says Lionel Richie, who will make his debut appearance at the event. “It’s a festival steeped in music history – Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones have all headlined and I’m honoured to be joining the esteemed list.”
Other acts on the 2020 line-up include Happy Mondays, Kaiser Chiefs, Sam Fender, Dido, James Arthur and Primal Scream.
Tickets for the Isle of Wight Festival 2020 go on sale on 6 December at 9 a.m. (GMT), with adult weekend tickets priced at £185.
“It’s a festival steeped in music history – Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones have all headlined”
When: 15 to 19 July
Where: Bannfy Castle, Cluj, Romania
How many: 50,000
Romania’s multi-genre Electric Castle festival is returning for its 8th year in 2020, with already announced acts including Twenty One Pilots, Foals, Floating Points, the Neighbourhood and Fisher.
The 2019 edition of the festival, which takes place each year in an old Transylvanian castle, saw performances from Florence and the Machine, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Limp Bizkit, Bring Me the Horizon and Chvrches.
For the second consecutive year, Electric Castle will have an area dedicated to visual artists, called the New Media Castle, which will house art installations from Robert Henke, James Clar and Claire Hentschker.
Tickets for Electric Castle 2020 are available here, with general tickets costing LEI 499 (£89) and camping passes priced at LEI 539 (£96).
Romania’s multi-genre Electric Castle festival is returning for its 8th year in 2020
Bilbao BBK Live
When: 9 to 11 July
Where: Kobetamendi, Bilbao, Spain
How many: 40,000
Set in the mountains near to the coastal city of Bilbao, BBK Live has nearly doubled in size in recent years. The Spanish festival welcomed 112,800 people from 100 different countries to its 14th edition last year, with performances from the Strokes, Rosalía, Liam Gallagher and Hot Chip.
Founded in 2006, BBK Live has seen the likes of the Police, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, New Order, Depeche Mode, Guns N’ Roses and Lenny Kravitz perform over the years.
For the 2020 edition, Kendrick Lamar, the Killers, Pet Shop Boys and Bad Bunny top the bill, playing along with Caribou, Four Tet, Supergrass, Kelly Lee Owens and Slowthai, with more acts still to be announced.
Tickets for Bilbao BBK Live are available here with a full festival pass costing €140 (£119) and camping tickets priced at €158 (£134).
For the 2020 edition, Kendrick Lamar, the Killers, Pet Shop Boys and Bad Bunny top the bill
All Points East
When: 22 to 31 May
Where: Victoria Park, London, UK
How many: 40,000
All Points East has announced another headliner since the last edition of Festival Fever. German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk will perform their only UK show of the year at the festival on Friday 29 May, supported by Iggy Pop, Johnny Marr, the Orb and others.
Kraftwerk mark the second UK exclusive for the festival, adding to the headline performance from Tame Impala on Saturday 23 May.
AEG’s other London festival, British Summer Time (BST) Hyde Park has added Taylor Swift and Pearl Jam to its 2020 headliner list, following the announcement of its first headline act, Little Mix, last week.
Pearl Jam will perform on Friday 10 July, as part of their 13-date European summer tour, with Swift playing on the following evening. Pixies and White Reaper will join Pearl Jam on the Friday.
Little Mix will play the opening Saturday of the concert series (4 July), along with newly announced special guests Rita Ora, Kesha and Zara Larsson.
Tickets for Kraftwerk at All Points East go on sale on 6 December at 10 a.m. (GMT). Tickets for Taylor Swift at BST will become available 6 December at 9 a.m. (GMT), with Pearl Jam tickets going on sale on 7 December at 10 a.m. (GMT).
‘They sustain the live industry’: Schueremans on the importance of festivals
The conference programme of the International Festival Forum (IFF) drew to a close today (26 September) with the IFF Keynote, which saw Herman Schueremans, Rock Werchter founder and one of Europe’s most influential festival pioneers, joining ILMC founder Martin Hopewell in conversation.
Topics covered by the promoter and agency veterans, respectively, included Schueremans’ early days in the business, live music as cultural heritage and the changing festival scene – which the Live Nation Belgium CEO said is under threat from samey line-ups and festival operators seeing events as “brands” rather than cultural institutions.
Central to the conversation was a rising concern about the festivals Schueremans views as “cultural institutions” that play a key role in a society.
“Festivals sustain the live industry just as the Amazon rainforest sustains the world’s climate,” he said. “They’re the lungs of live music business, and we have to take care to protect them.”
In particular, said the Live Nation Belgium Head, the threat is primarily from newer events organised “for the wrong reasons… The only thing these kinds of festivals are doing is driving up prices,” he stated, “and the passion is starting to disappear.”
Talking about Rock Werchter, the event he founded 40 years ago, Schueremans credited teamwork and the creation of a community spirit as the key to his success. “The general perception is that people should feel welcome at Werchter, at home. It should be a place they want to go to.”
Reflecting on his early days as a student club promoter, Schueremans initially embarked on studies to become a historian, but soon decided that a career in the live business was where he was headed and dropped out of university. “When you really want something, you just go for it,” he explains.
Examples of festivals with poor organisation, such as Woodstock and the early years of the Jazz Bilzen festival, spurred Schueremans on to do his own, as “we knew we could do it better,” he said.
“Nowadays you make one mistake and you’re burned”
When Werchter started, it was a “handicap” to have a festival in such a small country, said Schueremans, as it was difficult to persuade agents to book their acts in Belgium for only one date. To solve this, Schueremans created twin festivals Rock Torhout, to offer a double date to agents. This format spawned copycats across Europe, says Schueremans, referencing the UK’s Reading and Leeds festivals and Germany’s Rock am Ring/Rock im Park.
Hopewell cast his mind back to when Schueremans first entered his office at Chrysalis Agency in London, as a “young whippersnapper”. Sending acts to play shows abroad seemed “exotic”, said Hopewell, and there was definitely “a sense of adventure in the air”.
The pair mused on the fact that when they were starting out there was no “laid-out track” or “map” to follow. “It was all invention,” said Hopewell, adding that he has a “huge amount of respect for promoters”, who are the ones that “make it all happen”.
When asked what the tipping point was for Werchter, Schueremans puts it down to the type of bands they had playing. Dire Straits, U2 and the Talking Heads were among those to cut their teeth at Werchter in the early days. “We were the guys with the young acts,” said Schueremans. “We were just there at the right time and in the right place – simply because we loved that music and we fought for it.”
Hopewell agrees that Schueremans began when there was a definite “changing of the guard” between the older and younger generations, so the timing was spot-on.
“In those days, you could make mistakes and as long as you excused yourself, you could win sympathy back,” stated Schueremans, “but nowadays you make one mistake and you’re burned.”
Talk turned to the changing festival scene and the growing expectations of comfort and cleanliness among audiences. “We’ve spoiled them, maybe,” joked Schueremans, adding that the challenge to do better every year is good motivation. “If you’re not trying to do that, then you better stop,” says the Werchter boss.
“Festivals sustain the live industry just as the Amazon sustains the world’s climate”
Over the years, live music became more of a business, too, “with all the advantages and disadvantages that brings.” A plus side, said Schueremans, is that festivals no longer experience too many cancellations (with a notable exception in “one particular genre”, he added).
“The last thing I want in this business is that we create bureaucracy – we should not make the same mistakes as the record companies did,” he says. “We need to be organised as an army but able to act as a guerrilla, quickly and efficiently.”
Hopewell closed by suggesting that the industry could start doing deals based on some idea of budget and system of transparency. The pair also expressed their dislike for exclusivity clauses, which Hopewell noted have “crept in like viruses” over the years.
IFF 2019 gets under way
The fifth International Festival Forum (IFF) kicked off today, Tuesday 24 September, with a day of speed meetings between agent and festival delegates.
IFF, an invitation-only event for festival bookers and booking agents, is taking place at venues around Camden, North London, from 24 to 26 September.
This year’s sold-out edition has doubled the amount of networking space around the main venue, Dingwalls, and introduced pop-up agency offices within, or close by, the conference.
United Talent Agency (UTA), one of IFF’s agency partners, is hosting the opening party tonight at the Camden Assembly, allowing delegates to begin their conference in style, with an evening of canapes and cocktails.
IFF, an invitation-only event for festival bookers and booking agents, is taking place at venues around Camden, North London, from 24 to 26 September
Other showcase highlights over the next few days include Brighton buzz band Squid (ATC Live) London-based six-piece Sports Team (Primary Talent); guitar trailblazers Life (ITB); alt-rockers Happyness (Pitch & Smith); 21-year old Hull native and hotly tipped new talent Charlotte (Paradigm); and Niklas Paschburg (Toutpartout).
X-ray Touring’s showcase offering, meanwhile, includes multi-platinum-selling band the Darkness.
Conference sessions begin tomorrow, with topics including festival billing, consolidation, competition from new market entrants, gender splits on line-ups, and niche events appearing on the bill. This year’s IFF Keynote interview is Rock Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium head Herman Schueremans.
To wrap up IFF’s fifth anniversary event on Thursday evening, a joint birthday party will be held with European metal festival behemoth Wacken Open Air (30 this year) and Japan’s Summer Sonic’s (20 this year).
Full event information can be found at www.iff.rocks.
Biggest-ever IFF 2019 sells out
The fifth edition of the International Festival Forum (IFF) has sold out in advance of the 24 to 26 September event, with 800 delegates attending from 40 markets, 40 agency showcases and a keynote interview with Rock Werchter’s Herman Schueremans.
The invitation-only event for festival bookers and booking agents takes place in Camden, North London. This year’s edition has doubled the amount of networking space around the main venue, Dingwalls, and introduced pop-up agency offices on both days.
“We’ve grown a bit again this year, so have had to pay off a few market stall holders to make room,” says ILMC MD and IFF co-founder Greg Parmley. “Looking back over the last five years we’ve been very lucky – not just with the weather, but fortunate to have had tremendous support from our agency partners, many who’ve backed IFF since year one.”
Partner agencies on IFF include 13 Artists, ATC Live, CAA, ITB, Paradigm, Primary, Solo, WME, UTA and X-ray Touring. Artists confirmed to perform during the various agency showcases include Squid, Sports Team, Life, Happyness, Chinchilla, Niklas Paschburg, Easy Life and multi-platinum-selling rockers the Darkness.
“We’ve grown a bit again this year, so have had to pay off a few market stall holders to make room”
Conference topics at IFF 5 include festival billing, consolidation, competition from new market entrants, gender splits on line-ups, and niche events, while the IFF Keynote interview is Rock Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium head Herman Schueremans.
With IFF reaching a milestone fifth edition, amongst the various dinners and events is a joint birthday party on Thursday 26 September with European metal festival behemoth Wacken Open Air (30 this year), and Japan’s Summer Sonic (20 this year).
Other new elements at the event include Knowledge and Green Hubs featuring innovative suppliers and sustainability experts, while hosted speed meetings and a delegate portal return for the third year, supported by the Department of International Trade.
Full event information is online at www.iff.rocks.
Herman Schueremans to keynote IFF 2019
Herman Schueremans, founder of Rock Werchter and CEO of Live Nation Belgium, has been revealed as the keynote interviewee for the fifth International Festival Forum (IFF), taking place in London from 24 to 26 September 2019.
One of the most influential festival pioneers in Europe, Schueremans has guided and grown the fortunes of Rock Werchter for over four decades. One of the most established and respected festivals in Europe, Werchter hosts 150,000 fans annually, has spawned satellite events including TW Classic, Werchter Boutique and Main Square Festival, and won a record six Arthur Awards.
At IFF, the invitation-only event for festivals and booking agents, Schueremans will be interviewed by ILMC founder and longtime friend Martin Hopewell.
“From starting out as a rock journalist to becoming the country’s dominant live music promoter and head of the Belgian arm of Live Nation, Schueremans remains a passionate music lover and entrepreneur, and so is an immensely fitting subject of this year’s IFF Keynote,” say conference organisers, who add that Schueremans will discuss his career, the growth of Werchter and the festival landscape today.
“With two of the industry’s best-known individuals on stage, and 60 minutes of festival-related tales and insight lined up, expect standing room only at this truly unique session.”
Schueremans follows in the footsteps of previous keynote interviewees Alex Hardee (Coda/Paradigm), Isle of Wight Festival’s John Giddings, Rock am Ring’s Marek and Andre Lieberberg and Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis.
IFF 2019 takes place from Tuesday 24 to Thursday 26 September in Camden, London.
As well as confirming Schueremans, IFF has finalised its conference agenda for 2019, announcing UTA’s Greg Lowe as the chair for the traditional Festival Season panel, which kicks off Wednesday morning.
“Expect standing room only at this truly unique session”
Other conference programming includes the Big Billing Debate, chaired by Melt! Booking’s Julia Gudzent, which sees panellists debate the always-controversial issue of the ordering of festival bills, and Niche Work (If You Can Get It), moderated by IQ’s Jon Chapple, examines the proliferation of new genre-specific events outside the rock/pop bubble.
This year, IFF features additional agency partners, with 13 Artists, Solo Agency and Toutpartout joining longstanding partners CAA, Coda, WME, X-ray Touring, ITB, Primary Talent, opening party host UTA, ATC Live and Pitch and Smith. To make meetings between festivals and agents more efficient, IFF 2019 will debut a series of pop-up agency offices around the event. The temporary spaces will allow festivals to meet with most agencies without needing to travel between their ‘real’ offices.
Also new for 2019 is second outdoor networking area at Dingwalls, IFF’s longtime north London home, that will double the footprint of the event – and also allow a small additional number of festival delegates to attend – and two sets of dedicated meetings for all delegates.
The Knowledge Hub will invite leading innovators and solutions experts into IFF for a series of private 30-minute meetings on topics ranging from the latest festival tech to next generation ticketing and VIP opportunities, while the similar Green Hub welcomes leading practitioners to offer advice and expertise on environmental efforts by festivals, artists or companies.
For its fifth edition, IFF is also increasing the number of showcases: in addition to daytime agency shows at Dingwalls, Toutpartout, Dutch Export and Pop Farm will present shows at various venues around Camden on the evening of Wednesday 25 September.
For more information about IFF, including details on last-minute delegate passes, visit iff.rocks.
“A top result”: Herman Schueremans reflects on Werchter 2019
As previously reported, summer 2019 is proving to be something of a mixed bag for the European festival sector, with reports of a general slowdown contrasting with a number of high-profile sell-outs and successes. Nowhere, however, is this more true than in Belgium – where in the last weekend alone, a new event, Vestiville, collapsed spectacularly, while one of Europe’s largest rock/pop festivals, Rock Werchter, celebrated critical and commercial success for its 2019 edition.
While the organisers of the former are questioned by Belgian police, Rock Werchter’s founder and promoter, Live Nation Belgium CEO Herman Schueremans, is in buoyant mood after welcoming 160,000 people to the village of Werchter, near his hometown of Leuven, for the 45th Rock Werchter (Thursday 27–Sunday 30 June).
Commenting on ticket sales for Werchter 2019, Schueremans tells IQ: “The festival was virtually sold out. We sold 59,500 four-day passes, and 28,500 one-day tickets for each of the festival days, with only a few one-day tickets for Thursday and Sunday unsold.
“There was a move to more day tickets, but it was the same gross and a top result compared to a lot of festivals in Europe and the USA. I’m very happy with that.”
Here, Schueremans shares the key moments of Rock Werchter 2019 – and weighs in on the Vestiville debacle, as well the health of the Belgian festival market…
Thank you for the music
Schueremans says all Werchter’s headliners, Pink, the Cure, Tool, Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons and Muse, put in “great performances”, with sets by Brockhampton, Kylie Minogue, Robyn, Richard Ashcroft and more also receiving five-star reviews. “Greta Van Fleet, Janelle Monáe, Lizzo, Rosalía, Masego and many others also delivered,” he comments. “We have helped build many artists’ careers via their performances at Rock Werchter – that’s our mission in live.”
Feeling the heat
With temperatures soaring as high as 33°C (92°F) on Saturday, organisers rolled out a heatwave plan to keep festivalgoers safe in the sun. In addition to handing out free drinking water, there were also a number of ‘refreshment points’ and cooling sprinkler systems placed around the festival park for a quick freshen up. Meanwhile, teams of distributors handed out free sun cream, and air conditioning units cooled the Barn and Klub C tents.
“We have helped build many careers via Rock Werchter – that’s our mission in live”
On your bike
According to Schueremans, some 15,000 local festivalgoers arrived by bike, taking full advantage of the festival’s plentiful bicycle parking. Many more came from further afield, with visitors from no less than 109 countries.
Less welcome than the paying guests was an influx of oak processionary caterpillars, which can cause skin irritation and itching. However, their nests were dealt with “quickly and effectively” by the on-site fire brigade, says Schueremans.
Baby, you’re a firework
Rock Werchter came to an end with festival’s traditional firework display, which lit up the sky after headliners Muse closed the event on Sunday night. However, for 2019 organisers invested in close-proximity fireworks, which offer the same bang for buck but are “far less noisy, with a reduced impact on the community,” says Schueremans. “So no scared animals…”
“We are passionate about festivals and want to do better every year”
Always start small
Schueremans suggests Vestiville – an “imported festival from Holland” – failed because it tried to run before it could walk. “It was a non-event, without roots, and it proves again that it is much wiser to start a festival small and let it grow every year,” he says. “It is like a tree: plant it in good soil, water it well, take care of it and it will grow every year. Miracles based on marketing and myths don’t exist…”
“Part of our DNA”
“The Belgian festival market is still healthy,” Schueremans reports, “but we all work closely together to diversify the festivals and to take care of this important part of cultural heritage over here. They are part of our DNA.”
“We are passionate about festivals and want to do better every year, to serve the audience even better,” concludes Schueremans, who says the Werchter team are already making plans for 2020.
As to the secret to the festival’s success, Schueremans puts it down to a winning combination of strong programming with a focus on festivalgoers’ experience.
“We present a quality, eclectic bill with a mixture of top headliners, midsize acts and new artists,” he explains. “We take care of our audience and treat them well. They get value for money on all levels, and they appreciate it and keep coming.”
Rock Werchter returns from 2 to 5 July 2020.
Watch the Rock Werchter 2019 aftermovie here: