Sportpaleis Antwerp set to reopen later this month
Belgium’s Sportpaleis Antwerp, one of the largest arenas in Europe, will open its doors this month for the first time in a year and a half.
The 23,001-capacity arena will reopen on 18 September, accommodating events with and without Belgium’s Covid Safe Ticket (CST).
Organisers can choose whether they’d like to hold an event using the CST, thereby eliminating the need for social distancing, masks, and capacity limits, or whether they’d like to forego the CST and abide by the aforementioned restrictions.
The CST certifies that they are either fully vaccinated or have returned a negative Covid-19 test in the previous 48 hours.
The pass applies to events with more than 1,500 attendees and has been in effect from 13 August for outdoor events and 1 September for indoor events.
“It will still be a bit doom and gloom for us in the first six months”
Promoters using the CST must implement a crowd management plan, as well as ensuring adequate ventilation (in the case of indoor shows) which is measured by a CO2 meter.
The arena’s first event, hardstyle dance show Reverze 2021, Wake of the Warrior, will utilise the CST to welcome a sold-out crowd.
“We have been working on the smaller halls for a while, but the heart of our organisation lies in the Sportpaleis,” Jan Van Esbroeck, CEO of the Sportpaleis Group, told VRT NWS. “The reopening is an important step that we can take towards normalisation, although we realise that it will take a few months before it is as before.”
“This year will also be blood red for us. Most international acts have postponed their tours to later spring next year. It will still be a bit doom and gloom for us in the first six months, not everything is over.”
Sportpaleis Group’s Lotto Arena (8,050-cap.), located adjacent to Sportpaleis Antwerp, opened last weekend.
The Group, which is owned by Live Nation Belgium, also includes venues Forest National (cap. 8,000) in Brussels and the Ethias Arena (cap. 18,000) in Hasselt.
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Belgium’s Rock Werchter called off again
Rock Werchter, one of Belgium’s biggest and most important music festivals, will take another year off this summer, organisers have announced.
The 88,000-capacity festival, promoted by Herman Schueremans and Live Nation Belgium, will “be back in full swing in 2022, from 30 June to 3 July”, reads an announcement. Rock Werchter last took place in 2019, welcoming more than 160,000 people for its 45th-anniversary event with Pink, Tool, Muse, the Cure, Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons and more.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly and in recent months we have been talking to governments, experts and colleagues in here and elsewhere about how festivals could take place,” the festival says in a statement. “With the great momentum on vaccine roll-out we had hoped that it might be possible; however, we have come to the reluctant conclusion that given current restrictions we simply cannot prepare for a 2021 festival in the normal way. We want every fan and artist to enjoy the festival to the fullest, and with the current situation we could not achieve this.
“While we know that this is the right decision, we also know that this decision affects many: our employees, the technical crew, suppliers, artists and their entourages, all the local associations and their volunteers, and, of course, the fans. Our sector has been on hold for a whole year now. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the dark times are not over, even with the cautious restart happening soon. The once-thriving live music industry needs government support.”
“We are currently working out what will be possible with the anticipated restrictions in place”
IQ reported yesterday that the prime minister of Flanders, the Belgian province that contains the village of Werchter, is waiting until the end of April to make a decision on whether large-scale music events will be allowed to go ahead this summer. At press time, preparations for other major Flemish festivals, including Tomorrowland and Pukkelpop, are still ongoing.
“We have a special word of thanks for the fans and friends of the festival: they Rock Werchter,” continues the announcement. “Every time. Over and over again. They kept hoping during the dark days, showed understanding over the uncertain situation, and gave support to each other and to us. We cannot thank them enough. We look forward to making great memories together again in the future.”
As in 2020, when 36 performances were held in aid of industry charity Live 2020, a smaller, potentially socially distanced, event will take place at the Werchter festival site in lieu of the festival proper.
“We are eager to bring back live music to the Festivalpark this summer in any way we can and are currently working out what will be possible with the anticipated restrictions in place,” it concludes. “As soon as the right and best formula is determined, we will come back to you. It won’t be Rock Werchter, but you can rest assured that we will sing, dance and celebrate together again this summer.”
Ticket holders for Rock Werchter 2020 and ’21 can hold on to their tickets for 2022 or request a refund from Ticketmaster.
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Sportpaleis plans non-stop 24-hour livestream concert
Antwerp Sportpaleis is organising a 24-hour non-stop livestream concert to mark exactly one year since concert halls closed due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
More than 100 Belgian artists, across all genres, will perform original and cover songs in the empty 18,400-seat arena to show that they are ‘ready to storm stages again’.
Miguel Wiels is part of talent and production agency Les Flamands and one of the artists who will perform on the night: “After a year, the jitters can no longer be kept. Everyone in the industry wants to make music, well, we’re going to do that with my band.
“We have a setlist of more than 400 songs available”
“It’s heartwarming how many artists have voluntarily agreed to play with us. We have a setlist of more than 400 songs available. It’s going to be a long marathon and we probably won’t have enough of it after 24 hours. On the contrary: it is an advance when we will also be able to stand in front of a live audience. That moment is getting closer, we have every confidence in it. This stunt is a good dress rehearsal for that.”
Prime minister Jan Jambon, says: “We have had the most disastrous year in the history of our culture and events sector. I am very happy to contribute to 24 Hours Live. Because that’s what we have to do: let the music go on, no matter how difficult the circumstances. I hope that we will soon be able to resume our normal life.”
Sportpaleis recently raised €50,000 for Belgium’s live music industry through its Lights for Live fundraising initiative.
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Tickets on sale for post-Covid rave in Belgium (date TBA)
Despite not yet having announced a date, tickets are selling fast for I Want to Dance Again, a Live Nation Belgium-promoted event billed as Belgium’s biggest “post-Covid party”, which will take place in Antwerp as soon as restrictions on major events are lifted.
I Want to Dance Again (IWTDA) – also the name of the the latest single by the Subs, the Belgian electro heroes co-organising the party with Live Nation and radio station Studio Brussel – will take the form of an all-night, celebratory rave held at Lotto Arena (5,218-cap.) at an unspecified time in the near future.
Describing the event as “a new year’s resolution you can finally keep”, organisers say: “Let’s dance together again in 2021. When? As soon as the current Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, we will schedule a date for the first post-Covid indoor rave without restrictions. A relief and reward for our massive efforts, after many months of dance deprivation.
“Together with the Subs, we will dance and party all night long at the Lotto Arena in Antwerp. The date is yet to be determined. The sooner, the better. Are you ready for a wild night out?”
Tickets for IWTDA are priced at €35.
Live Nation acquired the operating rights to Lotto Arena in 2018, when it took over Antwerps Sportpaleis group.
The New Bosses 2020: Jolien Augustyns
The New Bosses 2020 – the latest edition of IQ’s annual celebration of the brightest young talent in the live business today, as voted for by their peers – was published in IQ 93 this month, revealing the 12 promising promoters, bookers, agents, and A&R and production experts that make up this year’s list.
To get to know this year’s cream of the crop a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2020’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success. Catch up on the previous New Bosses interview with Bertie Gibbon, A&R at ATC Live in the UK here.
A graduate of Karel de Grote University College in Antwerp, Augustyns specialises in promoting indoor shows at Live Nation Belgium. After beginning her music biz career interning at Sony Music Belgium, Augustyns “lost her heart” to the live music industry while working as a festival assistant for Rock Werchter in 2014.
After graduating the same year, she had to make a choice: chase her “teenage dream” of being an A&R manager at a record label, or “take a leap of faith and stumble into the live music industry.” As you’ve probably already guessed, she “did the latter, and haven’t once regretted it,” she explains.
What are you working on right now?
We’re already working on shows in 2021 and 2022, but unfortunately rescheduling and cancelling shows due to Covid-19 still takes up quite some time. Meanwhile, we’re also thinking about initiatives to get the industry back up and running during these unprecedented times.
What are some of the highlights of your career to date?
Even though I’m part of the indoor show department, I try to help out at our festivals during the summer each year as well. My absolute highlight is this year’s Rock Werchter Zomerbar (Summer Bar). Summer 2020 was essentially cancelled due to Covid-19, still, our festival team was able to put a month-long mini-festival at Werchter comprising 36 concerts with local acts, two comedy nights and even a live TV show. It was all for charity and we had a total of 15,000 visitors at the festival.
Even though I wasn’t part of the preparations, I was able to join the team during that crazy month. In a way, it was the best team building activity I’ve ever experienced, forming real connections with people I’ve known for years. It’s the highlight of the summer, of 2020 and probably my whole career to date.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt working in live music?
There are many lessons to be learned in this industry. Personally, I believe treating your industry contacts with respect is one of the main lessons to learn. Respect and kindness will get you a long way. It’s okay to stand your ground, to not be a pushover or a people-pleaser all the time, as long as you remain respectful about it and can provide good arguments.
“The Rock Werchter Zomerbar was the highlight of the summer, of 2020 and probably my whole career to date”
Did you always want to be a promoter?
Not at all to be honest. As a teen, I had set my mind on becoming an A&R manager at a record label. I landed an internship at Sony Music Belgium during my last year of college, and whilst I absolutely loved it there, I lost my heart to the live music industry instead whilst being a festival assistant at Rock Werchter that same year. A little while after graduating, I got the chance to work at both companies and had to make the difficult choice between chasing my teenage dreams or taking a leap of faith into the live music industry. I did the latter and haven’t once regretted it. I worked my way through the company and now I’m a junior promoter.
What’s it like working in the Belgian market?
We have such an interesting market, with a clear difference between the French-speaking part and the Flemish-speaking part of the country. I mainly operate in Flanders – we have some great venues and I’d like to think we’re quite the early adapters with some genres. It’s such a small country, and yet we’re able to put on massive shows. Also, what a luxury to be able to travel through the whole country in a matter of hours. No need to take flights or to have different offices at key locations. Everything’s within reach. The sky is the limit, basically.
What impact has Covid-19 has on your job?
Where to even start? I could give a ton of draining stories, but we’re all suffering in one way or another. We’ve had brainstorms about how we can organise events during this pandemic. We’ve been negotiating with the insurance companies. We’ve had some very difficult conversations. The list of new experiences is endless. Whilst a lot of it has been bad, stressful and demotivating, I’ve also learned a lot during these past few months. We have proven to be extremely resilient. I’ve been lucky so far, I’m still working and learning, but I know this hasn’t been the case for everyone and my heart goes out to anyone who lost their job, dream or career. I feel for them and I may sound naive, but I hope we can all rise from the dust together.
“Belgium is such a small country, and yet we’re able to put on massive shows. Everything’s within reach. The sky is the limit”
Do you have a mentor in the industry?
There is one person I’d like to mention in particular: Tom Van der Elst, festival manager at our festivals, and my mentor while I was interning there. He gave me a chance at a time when I hadn’t achieved anything yet, and introduced me to the team I now call my work family.
What does the live music industry do well, and what can we do better?
Obviously, this industry can put on some damn good shows but I think at some point the financial part evolved too quickly. Fees are getting higher and higher, which makes sense when the economy is thriving but I’d like to see more understanding of the financial state of certain local markets.
Not every market is financially strong. Not every market is suitable for high ticket prices. Not every genre works well at a certain venue. You can’t compare country A to country B and expect the same ticket prices, amount of tickets sold and fees. Let’s work on that and reboot the system whilst we’re at it. Make it more about passion and music, instead of the money and numbers. Also, power to the women (no explanation needed)!
What advice would you give to someone who’s new to the business?
Stay true to yourself. Don’t let anyone change who you are. Take a chance when an opportunity presents itself and always treat one another with respect and kindness. Also, whenever you feel like you’re drowning in this crazy industry, know that you’re not alone. I’ve been made fun of by people in this industry who didn’t take me seriously due to my gender and/or age. A lot of us have gone through this before and the only thing you can do is always be the best version of yourself and remain calm, friendly and helpful.
“I’d like to see more understanding of the financial state of certain local markets. Not every market is financially strong”
What are the biggest challenges you’re facing currently?
Growing as a promoter definitely is a big challenge for me right now. While wanting to go full steam ahead at the start of the year, the industry has obviously drastically changed these past few months. In no way could I have guessed I would be spending most my time cancelling and rescheduling shows, instead of starting to work on my own shows. Luckily, we’re already working on 2021 and 2022, and even though it’s going a lot slower than I hoped, I’m confident that whatever’s happening now will help me become a better promoter in the end.
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
Exactly where I’m at now minus the ‘junior’ part. Promoting acts from club level to arena level, sharing the artist’s journey along the way. Developing my instinct and knowledge of the industry. Learning more about the production side of it as well, maybe even experience the touring life once. I’ve got some amazing role models in the office to look up to and I hope to get to their level one day.
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.
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.
The New Bosses 2019: Natalia Zabkar, Live Nation
The New Bosses 2019 – the biggest-ever edition of IQ‘s yearly roundup of future live industry leaders, as voted for by their peers – was published in IQ 85 last month revealing the twelve promising agents, promoters, bookers and execs that make up this year’s list.
To get to know this year’s cream of the crop a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2019’s New Bosses, to discover their greatest inspirations and proudest achievements, pinpoint the reasons for their success and obtain advice for those hoping to be a future New Boss. Snippets of the interviews can be found in the latest IQ Magazine, with all interviews being reproduced in full online and on IQ Index over the coming weeks.
The next New Boss is Natalia Zabkar, a booker at Live Nation Belgium. Hailing from the Flemish city of Genk, Zabkar studied music management at PXL-Music in Hasselt and started her live music career as an assistant promoter at HeartBreakTunes.
She joined Live Nation Belgium as an assistant booker in 2015, and was promoted to booker the following year. She is also a promoter rep/artist liaison for Live Nation festivals Rock Werchter, TW Classic and Werchter Boutique. (Read the previous interview with Move Concerts’ Melanie Eselevsky here.)
What are you busy with right now?
The usual mix – evaluating Rock Werchter 2019, going through paperwork for the remaining festivals of this summer and upcoming shows, and hounding promoters for 2020 slots and offers.
Did you always want to work in the music business?
Actually no, I’d always seen myself going into law or journalism. I was already into music journalism, writing reviews for a few online publications, when I came across an ad for a new music business school that would start the next year. I didn’t think twice about it. Although I never finished my degree, I met many interesting people, which gave me a start into my career.
What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
Rock Werchter was the very first festival I ever went to when I was 15 years old, it still blows my mind to think I now have a part in it.
How has your role changed since you started out?
What was probably a key decision for me was bartending at a local venue called Muziekodroom (600-cap.). There I met my first actual employer in the industry, who hired me as assistant promoter. I did everything from PR to accounting and advancing for over 150 shows per year in the Belgian hardcore and metal scene. A chance encounter got me to Live Nation where I started out as an assistant booker, quickly growing into booking shows myself and then being thrown into the Rock Werchter family. I’m now constantly switching between those three roles, so far so good.
“Never be intimidated by a person, situation or, even, artist – no one is above or beneath you, we’re all working towards the same goal”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt while at Live Nation?
To never be intimidated by a person, situation or, even, artist. No one is above or beneath you, we’re all working towards the same goal.
What, if anything, would you change about how the live industry is run today?
Firstly, there’s no room for ego – it’s not about you. Secondly, include more women! I’ve seen a lot of improvement on this over the years but I feel like the industry is still very much run by our male friends.
What do you do for fun?
Go to shows, of course! I try to travel as often as I can and I love eating my way through cities with my friends.
Do you have an industry mentor?
I’ve always been lucky to be surrounded by talented and experienced people who are patient with me and eager to teach.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get into, or is new to, the business?
Always lead with kindness and confidence. Don’t let any opportunity pass you by and don’t be afraid to be impulsive.
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
I don’t plan or think ahead much. I go wherever opportunity takes me. I’m happy where I’m at now, so who knows.
‘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.
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.