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60 years of Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion

When Karsten Jahnke registered the company name back in 1962, the enthusiastic music man had already been immersed in his favourite genre –jazz – since the decade before but admits that running a company that would allow him to indulge in his passion was never really a goal.

“The first jazz ball I promoted was 1959 for a band of a friend,” he recalls. “Afterwards, I remember receiving a letter from the authorities telling me that I needed a type of licence to put on such a show.”

At the time, Karsten was working in an export company in Hamburg, but with his evenings free, he would organise shows when he found the time and otherwise spent his waking hours listening to jazz records and trying to contact the representatives of the artists he liked best.

Finally, in 1962, his employer persuaded him it was maybe time to chase the dream, and with the registration of Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion (KJK), he took possession of the licence that local government had been urging him to obtain for his concerts and events.

“When I started, I had one assistant and one freelancer because I have no knowledge about the technical side of things, so I made sure to have an expert for the technology,” he tells IQ. “I had a fantastic start because I was working with a German ‘nonsense’ group called Insterburg & Co. and every year we had between 80-150 sold-out shows with capacities of 1,000-2,000. So for ten solid years, we made money.”

““When I started, I had one assistant and one freelancer because I have no knowledge about the technical side of things”

The success of the boutique KJK operation also attracted the attention of Germany’s powerhouse promoters, and Karsten would often find himself working with Marcel Avram and Marek Lieberberg at Mama Concerts, as well as Fritz Rau, who dominated the German market from the 1950s right through to the 80s. Those collaborations saw Karsten working with the likes of David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Santana, and Neil Diamond, expanding his roster beyond its jazz routes.

Indeed, while losing money on the odd show was, of course, part of the reality of being a promoter, the first time Karsten experienced real difficulties was 20 years into his career. “It was 1983, and Marius Müller-Westernhagen cancelled a tour one day before it was scheduled to start,” says Karsten.

“I was insured by an English company who said they would pay, but all of a sudden it was six months later, so I employed an English lawyer, and after 18 months we got the money, which at that time was DM650,000. It was a lot of money [about €330,000 in today’s money], and if we had not got it back, the company would have been bankrupt.”

While a passion for the art lies at the heart of everything Karsten does, he is a realist when it comes to working in the industry. “I like music, but it makes no sense if you like the music and you can’t make money,” he states. “We had a lot of successful tours and, okay, sometimes you lose some artists – Depeche Mode we lost, Herbert Grönemeyer we lost. But some, like The Dubliners, we’ve booked for their entire 40 years. And we still have Peter Gabriel and we still have The Cure, so to be honest, I’m really happy.”

I like music, but it makes no sense if you like the music and you can’t make money”

Keeping it in the Family
Although Karsten was always keen to keep his eponymous company within the family, sons Torsten and Heiko found careers elsewhere, albeit Torsten still designs many of the company posters and artwork, while Heiko curates ÜBERJAZZ Festival and works with the company’s booking team on certain acts. Instead, the family business skipped a generation, with grandson Ben Mitha assuming the CEO role in 2014 alongside his grandfather and long-time chief Hauke Tedsen as the company’s three general managers. But it wasn’t always a certainty that Ben would take over the reins.

“During my school days, there was always this soft push and wish of Karsten to get somehow involved in the company,” he reveals. “But I kept my options open to do something different. So when I finished my A levels, it was a choice for me to either go into sports journalism or go Karsten’s way.”

The decision was made during an open house visit to Hamburg University. “Part of the programme was a journalism lecture,” says Ben. “There were, like, 2,000 people in there and about 2,000 more trying to get in. So I realised, no matter how good I think I am, pursuing a career as a journalist would be challenging. So I made the decision to go into music business and never regretted it.”

Keen to learn his trade, Ben found a role as an intern for Ted Kurland in Boston, while embarking on dual studies for both a bachelor degree and a merchant degree. “After three years, I had both degrees, and then I just started working my way through at KJK, starting as a booker and working my way up to managing director as I assumed more and more responsibilities.”

“We are now in a position where we pretty much have a specialist or a booker with knowledge of pretty much every genre”

“Of course, he started really when he was three years old in the StadtPark during the summer,” interjects Karsten. “Little Ben was always around, and he loved it.”

“It’s true,” says Ben. “My mom did the box office at Stadtpark, so I was always hanging around and playing in the bushes and stuff like that. So I suppose I got the experience from very early on.”

Karsten describes Ben’s path to the top as natural. “As a school pupil, he started to work at the company during his holidays. And after his A Levels, he started his own company, Digga Events, a full-service agency for security and stage personnel that now also handles concert production. So when he decided to join our company, it seemed like a very logical next step, and I was really happy to have a family member on board to have him leading the company into the future.”

And Ben’s impact on KJK’s activities over the past decade has been obvious. “When I started at the company, I started to open up the general roster in a more diverse and wider way,” he explains. “So we are now in a position where we pretty much have a specialist or a booker with knowledge of pretty much every genre except the classical market and German folklore (schlager) business, which we don’t cover.

“The first ILMCs I joined Karsten at, I could see that everybody knew him, everybody liked him, everybody respected him”

“While Karsten loves jazz, I originally come from the hip-hop and urban world,” he adds. “There are a few names I’m working with now, like Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, J. Cole, who definitely are some heroes from my teenager years. It makes me proud to be a small, tiny part of their art.”

That passion for music is something passed down the generations, and Ben is in no doubt about the legacy his grandfather has created for the family.

“Karsten’s 70th birthday was a big party at the Schauspielhaus in Hamburg with 1,200 guests,” recalls Ben. “It was remarkable how many domestic and international stars showed up – Paul Weller, The Dubliners, Nils Landgren, Til Brönner, Herman van Veen, Justin Nozuka – as well as loads of politicians and celebrities. It was really impressive to see how many people travelled to Hamburg just to honour this guy.”

And he says his first trips to the Royal Garden Hotel similarly underlined his grandfather’s status in his eyes. “The first ILMCs I joined Karsten at, I could see that everybody knew him, everybody liked him, everybody respected him and wanted to speak to him. Seeing his standing on the international stage showed me how well respected Karsten is throughout the business.”

“[Karsten] taught me that life is too short to deal with assholes”

So with such a sage to learn from, what has the grandfather’s best advice been to the new company leader? “He taught me that life is too short to deal with assholes,” says Ben. “Besides that, I try to follow his style and manner of doing business. We have a saying in Germany that he is a typical Hanseatic businessman, which means he is always laid back, calm, loyal, trustworthy and respectful. That’s something he showed me from the very beginning, and I try to keep that spirit alive. Your word is your bond.”

Marking the company’s 60th anniversary while the German market is still trying to manoeuvre its way out of Covid restrictions will undoubtedly put a dampener on celebrations, but it hasn’t stopped the KJK staff from working tirelessly to prepare for their return to action.

“During the last two years, there was a strong focus on local and domestic artists because those were the only ones available and the only ones present in Germany,” Ben observes. However, he pours scorn on suggestions that emerging domestic talent has benefitted.

“Germany only had a few newcomers that came through, because the only thing they could do was streaming or some social media stuff. Otherwise, there was a huge lack of options and possibilities for the newcomers to come through,” notes Ben. “Obviously, the more popular and well-known domestic artists had a platform because all the attention was focused on them. But everything that comes after them struggled during the last two years. So I wouldn’t say that the domestic scene has experienced much growth.”

“Germany is one of the very few countries that still has so many local promoters in place”

Examining the changes to the German market during the pandemic, Ben notes the arrival of both DreamHaus and All Artists Agency, but he believes the new sense of camaraderie within the country is also boosted by the very unique nature of the way in which the live music business operates in the nation.

“As it stands right now, we are all very cooperative and there’s a spirit of solidarity, but once you open the gates and the normal competition comes back in, this will be shifted to the side pretty quickly,” he laughs.

He continues, “Germany is one of the very few countries that still has so many local promoters in place. Everywhere else is more centralised and the big players can easily take over a whole country by storm. It doesn’t work that way in Germany because of our historic background and also from the cultural differences within the country – the people from Bavaria are very different than we are in the north; the people in Eastern Germany are very different than the Western people, and stuff like that.”

Nonetheless, KJK is not immune from attracting suitors, and the pandemic has seen a number of approaches from corporations keen to add the Hamburg-based experts to their portfolio.
“We had some offers, but I was not interested,” Karsten tells IQ. “I want us to remain independent, and with such a young guy by my side, I can be happy.”

“I want us to remain independent, and with such a young guy by my side, I can be happy.”

Ben says, “Yes, a couple of bigger corporates approached us. Corona has been hard for all of us, but the company came through pretty well because we had good years before the pandemic, and we had lots of money saved that we could use to get us through this crisis.

“If we were to sell the company, it would be because the deal would bring us certain benefits: maybe access to another pool of artists that we couldn’t get access to without being part of a corporate, or maybe synergies in the label world. But so far, everybody who approached us just wanted to give us a ton of money for 50% of our annual revenues. And that’s not interesting for us at all because we don’t need to sell anything or to generate money.”

Talking through KJK’s Covid experience, both Karsten and Ben emphasise the strength in remaining independent, as they managed to retain all 46 staff and used government furlough schemes to keep staff on full pay when they were not otherwise working normal hours.

Detailing some of the company activity during 2020-21, Ben says, “We started with drive-in concerts, and then we took on seated shows at the Stadtpark with a very reduced audience – only playing one-quarter of the overall capacity. We also did a streaming series, and we came back in summer 21 with a whole bunch of open- air social distance concepts.

Loyalty toward employees is one of the reasons that many staff remain at the company for their entire career

“None of the shows made us any money, but they helped to keep us busy and to keep the whole infrastructure around us alive with all the suppliers, the crews, the bands, and the artists. This was one of our main concerns, as we saw it as our responsibility to keep our suppliers and the people we need open, ahead of things getting back to normal, otherwise we might have a huge lack of suppliers. So, that was our main intention for our pandemic shows.”

That loyalty toward employees is one of the reasons that many staff remain at the company for their entire career. “I started on first of April 1994, which makes it 28 years and counting,” says Frehn Hawel, the company’s head of communications, noting, “I’m not the only person clocking in around 30 years – there’s our third general manager, Hauke Tedsen, there’s Peter Gramsch head of our local department, and in my team I have Kai Friedrichsen who has also been here around 30 years. We have a long history of people who dedicate their lives to this company.”

And Hawel epitomises the family feel to KJK, having worked his way up through the ranks organically. “I was friends at school with Karsten’s youngest son, and when we moved into our first bachelor pad together, Karsten’s wife, Girlie, offered us some box office jobs to boost our income,” says Hawel. “My job during the day ended at five o’clock in the afternoon. So it was perfect to go to Karsten’s office, pick up everything and start in the box office at seven o’clock.”

Determined to find a full-time job with Karsten, Hawel even spent his holiday time doing an internship in the booking department at KJK. And it paid off when in 1994 a vacancy arose. “Unfortunately, it was not as a booker, but as a bookkeeper. But it got my foot in the door, and a couple of years later our press team left to join BMG’s record labels and, after a bit of persuasion, Karsten trusted me to step into the job. He just said ‘I think you’re my new press guy then.’ And that was that.”

“Karsten is an artist man, first and foremost”

With the company now around triple the size it was in the mid-90s, Hawel oversees a team of five people, all of whom are being moulded in the KJK tradition. “Karsten is an artist man, first and foremost,” states Hawel. “Ben is similar but he has a laser focus on the business side of things, too – they kind of feed off each other in terms of that Ben comes from an economic point of view. A company that’s only looking at figures will not have the connections to the artists that we have with our artists, so it works very well and the transition has been smooth.

“I know it was a relief for Karsten when Ben joined the company because Ben has a strong entrepreneurial side that allows him to see opportunities and then do the research to make sure they will be a success. The good thing from an employee’s point of view is we know the leaders will steer the ship, and we can trust them totally, and that’s been underlined by this pandemic – thanks to their leadership we’re emerging even more closely knit than we were before.”

Reeperbahn Festival
That concept of considering the needs of the industry is a Jahnke family trait. The company is a partner in the massively successful Reeperbahn Festival, with Karsten being one of the event’s founders.

“I met Karsten for the first time in 2004, when the company [had] already existed for more than 40 years,” Alex Schulz, managing director of Reeperbahn Festival, tells IQ. “I was searching for a professional promoter for my idea for Reeperbahn Festival because it was quite clear that we could not establish this event with only my company, which had absolutely no experience in artist booking, etc.

“It wasn’t a new idea, but the Reeperbahn in Hamburg is the absolute right place to present new music”

“The option to establish a platform for new talents and established acts that Karsten personally liked – no, loved – was definitely one of the driving forces. And from the first edition of Reeperbahn Festival in 2006 until now, Karsten is present at as many programme events as possible, from midday until midnight, four days in a row. Every year, about one week before the event starts, Karsten will call me in order to ask me to send a list of recommendations for both the conference sessions as well as concerts.”

Karsten states, “It wasn’t a new idea, but the Reeperbahn in Hamburg is the absolute right place to present new music. And now the conference is getting very big, alongside maybe the biggest showcase festival in Europe. The first idea was to present unknown bands, but now it’s an international festival and I think we’ve developed it well.”

Schulz believes that Inferno Events’ partnership with Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion has been crucial to the success of Reeperbahn, while the close relationship between the operations involves many of KJK’s staff working directly on the event. “Petra, Alina, Anja, Jessica, Frehn, Karen and Stefan are just a few of the people in the team that we share our daily business with,” he says.

“About ten years ago, Karsten introduced me to Ben, and I appreciate his point of view and advice very much, especially since we have been working closer together for the last two years.”

For his part, Ben comments, “At the beginning, we had the wrong strategy [for Reeperbahn], so we lost a ton of money because we just had too many venues and too many unknown bands involved. We thought about bringing bigger acts to smaller venues and charging specific venue tickets or day tickets to make up the finances, but that wasn’t the case, so we made big losses and that forced us to adapt the concept.”

“No matter how efficient and how successful we are, [Reeperbahn] would not be possible without the gov funding we receive”

Expanding the remit of the event to appeal to an international audience was part of the solution. “In the end, this is the success of Reeperbahn – it’s now a global brand,” says Ben. “People from abroad know that if you want to take your first steps in Europe, you can do it via Reeperbahn because you have everything in one place.

“But no matter how efficient and how successful we are, the festival and conference would not be possible without the government funding we receive, as the capacity is just too small to generate enough income to cover the costs on our own. But thankfully, this is recognised by the German government and the city of Hamburg who provide funding.”

The Future
While KJK’s principals carefully plot the company’s path out of the pandemic, its independent style already has it a step ahead of some of its peers in Germany. A number of promoters in Germany participated in the nation’s voucher scheme when the pandemic first hit the events calendar, but KJK opted out.

“I think it was mainly a tool for people who had cashflow problems,” says Ben. “So we decided not to participate, and I’m now hearing a lot of partners are facing huge problems because the scheme ran out at the end of last year but people now want refunds of their vouchers.”

“We are more hands-on simply because it’s our own money that we might lose”

Smooth Transition
The passing of the leadership baton to his grandson gives Karsten satisfaction on a number of levels. “Ben is now doing all the great shows that I promoted before. And that leaves me to do my favourite music: jazz,” says Karsten, who has created a genre-specific series called JazzNights. “In this series, I work with live venues like the Elbphilharmonie or the Old Opera in Frankfurt or the Philharmonic in Cologne, all the concert halls and so on. And musicians and audiences like these venues, so it’s been a great success.”

He adds, “When I was young, jazz was the most important music in Germany, in the 50s. Rock came in the early 60s, but the 50s was all about jazz. And for me, it’s the most interesting music. To be honest, it’s a privilege to promote music that you like, and even better if you don’t lose money.”

Not losing money is a bit of a family mantra. “Live Nation or AEG can easily say, ‘Okay, we might lose money in Germany, but that’s not a problem because we can cross-finance the tour with the UK leg or US or something like that,’” opines Ben.

“From our point of view, we only have this one market in which we can compete, so we have to be more thoughtful and careful about the offers because if we lose money, it’s not shareholder money, it’s our own money. And we don’t want to get in the situation where we can’t pay our wages or Karsten has to sell his house.”

But Ben also sees that process as an advantage. “We are more hands-on simply because it’s our own money that we might lose. So we put harder work into projects to make them a success.”

As for company expansion, Ben believes that “smart growth” is the way forward.

“We’re quite happy with the independent position we have in the market right now”

“We’re quite happy with the independent position we have in the market right now, and we also get a lot of trust and respect from our clients and the managers we work with because they like our hands-on approach.

“But at the same time, we look left and right. So, for example, we just took over the Baltic Soul Weekender, which is a huge soul-, r&b-, 60s-, Mo- town-related event, which perfectly fits our company’s strategy and our company brands. It’s a smart acquisition that totally makes sense.

“We also launched a new company called KJ Projects, which is currently running a 4,000-capacity tent venue in Hamburg because there’s a huge lack of venues of this size in the city. This is another smart approach for us to grow the brand. And we’re talking to a couple of venues and a couple of smaller boutique festivals that might fit our brands and be good add-ons.

“This is more or less our strategy: we’re always pretty niche with most of our core business, so we want to stay in that niche and look left and right to identify other niches that could make sense for us.”

And with Karsten able to devote more of his time to jazz, he’s more than happy to leave the future in Ben’s safe hands. “I happened to develop real friendships with many artists over the years, especially with Herbie Hancock, but also Branford Marsalis, Gregory Porter, Herman van Veen, and, of course, John Sheahan of The Dubliners,” says Karsten. “I’m incredibly lucky that I’ve always worked with artists whose music I really like – it can’t get much better than that in this business.”


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IQ 109 out now: 60 years of Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion

IQ 109, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite monthly magazine, is available to read online now.

In the March 2022 edition, IQ editor Gordon Masson reports on 60 years of Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion, tracking the company’s journey from humble beginnings to a European cultural powerhouse.

Elsewhere, details of events and social gatherings that await attendees of ILMC 34‘s in-person comeback are revealed, and family show producers provide a health check on the sector.

This issue also sees IQ news editor James Hanley examine international ticket refund policies in a Covid-hit business.

For this edition’s columns and comments, Craig Stanley reflects on the ramifications of Brexit, and Lina Ugrinovska suggests ways in which we can heal and grow from the turmoil and mental anguish of the pandemic.

In this month’s Your Shout, execs including Michal Kaščák (Pohoda Festival/VBPS), Sergii Maletskyi (H2D) and John Giddings (Solo) reveal the weirdest place they’ve watched a gig.

As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.

However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:


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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:

Semmel wins double at 12th PRG LEAs

The PRG Live Entertainment Awards (LEAs) returned to Frankfurt for 12th time on Monday, honouring the best and brightest in the German live industry.

Accolades were given in 15 categories, including promoter of the year, which went to FKP Scorpio; stadium tour of the year, which was awarded to Think Big for Udo Lindenberg’s Keine Panik! tour; arena tour of the year, presented to Wizard Promotions and Zucchero Fornaciari for the Black Cat world tour; and concert hall tour of the year and the jury prize, both of which went to Semmel Concerts, for Niedeckens BAP’s Jubiläumstour tour and PxP Festival, respectively.

“For 12 years we have been honouring the outstanding event achievements of the past year with the LEAs,” says Jens Michow, producer of the awards ceremony and president of German promoters’ association BDV.

“Twenty-sixteen was a particularly difficult year – with increased security risks , hurricane-like storms, torrential rains and violent thunderstorms that presented the industry with significant challenges – [so] I am all the more pleased by the level of professionalism with which these were overcome.”

A full list of winners is below:

Stadium tour of the year
Udo Lindenberg, Keine Panik! tour 2016 (Think Big Event- und Veranstaltungs)

Arena tour of the year
Zucchero Fornaciari, Black Cat tour 2016 (Wizard Promotions)

Concert hall tour of the year
Niedeckens BAP, Jubiläumstour tour 2016 (Semmel Concerts)

Club tour of the year
Max Giesinger, Der Junge, der rennt tour 2016 (Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion)

Festival of the year
OpenAir St Gallen

Concert of the year
David Gilmour, Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria (Barracuda Music)

Show of the year
Kaltenberger Ritterturnier (Ritterturnier Kaltenberg Veranstaltungs)

Promoter of the year
FKP Scorpio

Artist development of the year
Popakademie Baden-Württemberg

Manager/agent of the year
Esteban de Alcázar, Sector3 Management

Local promoter of the year
Handwerker Promotion, Unna

Club of the year
Capitol, Hanover

Concert hall/arena of the year
Commerzbank Arena, Frankfurt

Jury prize
PxP Festival, P x P Embassy/Semmel Concerts

Lifetime achievement award
Dieter Weidenfeld

A list of 2016 PRG LEA winners is here.


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YouTube stars: long-term live business?

While the recorded music industry battles with YouTube over royalty rates and copyright rules, the live business is using the online video platform to discover a number of lucrative touring artists. But just how sustainable are the live careers of artists who’ve launched online?

Touring artists who’ve launched their career on YouTube has been big for a while in the US with agencies including WME, CAA and UTA making a big play for online talent.

The trend is crossing over to Europe, thanks to the success of events including Summer in the City and Meet and Greet Convention (MAGCON), and acts like Shawn Mendes (pictured), Leroy Sanchez, Hannah Trigwell and Emma Blackery.

In the UK, agents at Kilimanjaro Live, Coda and WME are getting involved, while Ben Mitha, MD of Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion in Germany, is in the process of expanding the company’s portfolio by promoting YouTube and social media stars. The move is a result of him finding it increasingly difficult to build new acts and send them on tour in an economically viable manner.

Last weekend, Summer in the City, now in its eighth year, served as a microcosm of the burgeoning live industry the YouTube world is creating. Over 10,000 young fans descended on London’s ExCel centre where they could meet their favourite YouTubers, watch them live, and listen to panel discussions.

It’s a generation of emerging stars that are unknown to most over the age of 18, and media outlets like The Guardian have even been publishing guides to bridge the generation gap.

Kilimanjaro work with Summer in the City on an event management level, and Promoter Mark Walker first got involved after it was launched by a group of YouTubers. For the first three years, the group hosted meet-ups in a park, moving it to the 800 cap. Brewery, where 3,000 people turned up, and then on to the 7k cap. Alexandra Palace, when Walker stepped in to help organise. “Off the back of that I saw what was going on with the YouTubers and how big some of them were,” he explains.

Kilimanjaro signed comedy acts Tyler Oakley and Miranda Sings, and Oakley’s first tour sold out everywhere within a day. Venues included the 2k cap. Sheperd’s Bush in London and Glasgow’s 2.5k cap. Academy. After founding a new talent agency, Free Focus, to sign emerging digital talent in February, Walker has a joint tour coming up in September with pranksters Roman Atwood and FouseyTUBE. “We’ve sold out Hammersmith Apollo, Glasgow Concert Hall and Birmingham Academy,” he says. “Manchester Apollo will be sold out by the time the show comes round.”

In May, MAGCON – a tour that takes a number of YouTube stars to meet fans – visited the Indigo in London, Manchester Ritz and Birmingham Institute, and all the dates sold out within half an hour. Alongside the £20 General Admission ticket price, 450 VIP passes per show went for £99.

Shawn Mendes was part of the MAGCON tour, and is now launching his music career with the help of live agent Nick Matthews at Coda alongside US partner Paradigm, as well as a management and record label team. Mendes launched his career by doing covers on YouTube, but is now writing and releasing original material.

For Matthews, the fact Mendes could sell out bigger venues from the off because of his online presence hasn’t stopped the agent approaching the tour the same way he would for any young act.

“When you find an artist that can very quickly sell 1,000 or more everywhere in the world it’s a dream for an agent. However, you can get to that point quickly but then go sideways for a long time unless you break through.”

“When you find an artist that can very quickly sell 1,000 tickets or more everywhere in the world it’s a dream for an agent. However, you can get to that point quickly but then go sideways for a long time unless you break through,” he says. 

Mendes’ first show in Europe was the 200 cap. Borderline in London, and the same strategy was employed for Austin Mahone – another of Matthews’ acts who launched on YouTube.

Says Matthews: “We started really small on purpose. It gave us an idea of the real value of what they were doing online and then it’s about scaling that growth.

“We wanted to continue everything selling out mega quick so you’re cultivating and fermenting that demand. Every time you announce something it’s a very electric on-sale. We’re now doing that at really massive levels.”

Less than a year after his Borderline show in October 2014, Mendes sold out the 2k cap. Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, where he played in September last year.

“I think that growth is faster than other debut acts, but these days everything happens quicker than it’s ever happened before because of the global nature of the music industry,” says Matthews. “I look after Halsey and you can’t really say she’s a YouTube star but she has gone from zero to Brixton quicker than any other artist I’ve ever worked with. There are other acts out there that we don’t work with that are having that same level of acceleration.”

There is a danger in peaking too soon, and Matthews takes measures to ensure that doesn’t happen. “When you’re on such a steep incline you’ve got to manage that growth. You need the repertoire to do the bigger shows and the experience as an artist as well. Always pitch it as your average day rather than your best day, for Shawn that’s always how we’ve played it,” he explains.

Over at Kilimanjaro, the YouTube stars have proved a decent source of income due to the ability to go straight in with a decent ticket price that ranges from £12 to £35, as well as VIP upgrades like meet and greets. However, it’s often higher risk than traditional tours due to the lack of support the acts have, meaning Kilimanjaro pay for accommodation, transport and tour management, and sometimes full production depending on what the acts want to do onstage. Oakley spent £10,000 building a stage set that looked like his bedroom.

“Just doing the tours isn’t making us huge sums of money, especially as a lot of the acts don’t want to go bigger than 1,000 capacity to begin with,” says Walker.

“Just doing the tours isn’t making Kilimanjaro huge sums of money. Often artists realise they can make a lot more money doing their YouTube channel and might not come back again.”

“Often they go out and do the tours and realise they can make a lot more money doing their YouTube channel and might not come back again. A band, however, will want to keep touring and building, so we can take them up into arenas and stadiums.”

To find other sources of income, Walker has started managing the talent himself. He now has eight acts on his roster who he’ll find book deals and brand partnerships for, and help get their music out there for those that want to go down that avenue. “That’s where the money is to be made,” he says.

Violin player and dancer Lindsey Stirling was amongst the world’s top-earning YouTube stars last year with $6 million, according to Forbes. Atwood earned $2.5m, while the world’s most successful YouTube acts, comedic videogame player PewDiePie, topped £12m.

For Matthews, YouTube is a vital platform for building the stadium headliners of the future. “In the next five years, we don’t know what’s going to happen to mainstream media, the BBC and ITV are shrinking and it’s companies like Google that are able to afford the best and most experienced creative people on their teams,” he explains.

“It’s only a matter of time until YouTube becomes a mainstream media platform, and these stars become household names alongside the people who are getting mainstream media exposure now.

“At the moment there is definitely a need for traditional music industry expertise to guide YouTube talent into making it into that top 10% of artists in the world.”


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