The latest industry news to your inbox.

I'd like to hear about marketing opportunities


I accept IQ Magazine's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

The Solutionist: Anna Sjölund’s 25 years in live

In November 2023, it was announced that Anna Sjölund was to leave Live Nation – where she’d spent her entire career until then – for ASM Global. In a move dubbed “seismic” by one exec, Sjölund swapped her widely regarded career as a promoter for a gig in the venue business. And while the latter is new territory for her, it’s a kind of homecoming for the European director.

The 45-year-old Swede has returned to her old stomping ground of Avicii Arena, where she cut her teeth (and broke her foot) as a production assistant in the earliest throes of her career. It was in the carpark of the arena, then known as Stockholm Globe, where she first met ASM’s SVP Operations Marie Lindqvist after their cars ran into each other.

Decades later, Sjölund is set to spend many more working hours at Avicii, now ASM Global’s Sweden office, with Lindqvist at the helm. “I’ve lived these venues, and I know the people very well… I’m having a full-circle moment,” says Sjölund.

High school dropout
Sjölund spent the lion’s share of her youth in Lund, a province at the southern tip of Sweden best known for its prestigious university. Ironically, this is where Sjölund’s education was put on the back burner when she got her “lucky break” in music. “When I was in the seventh grade, I slipped into a group of older kids and ended up taking part in this EU-funded youth project at Mejeriet, a venue in Lund,” she tells IQ.

“We put on events for young people, like parties, viewings of 90210, and concerts,” she remembers. “We took tickets at the entrance or cleaned or did the coat check. When I started working at the big gigs, I realised I didn’t want to do anything else, so I dropped out of school.”

Sjölund had been attending a sports school, where basketball was her focus – “I wasn’t very good, but I was pretty tenacious,” she admits. A leg injury sustained in her first year prompted her to spend more time at the club, before she quit school altogether.

“I never really went back after that,” she said. “I would cycle from the club every morning to the record store Folk & Rock where we sold tickets, count the stubs and report back. Then I’d do the same at the other resale shops in the city. That’s basically what I did for a year.”

“I would cycle from the club every morning to the record store Folk & Rock where we sold tickets, count the stubs and report back”

Not entirely done with education, Sjölund relocated to the US to take her senior year of high school, only to return to the club a year later with renewed ambition. “I started this little side company, and we worked as stagehands and riggers and crew for extra cash,” she says. “Some of those were EMA Telstar shows – Thomas Johansson’s company. When the Stockholm promoters had shows down south, they would call me and ask for crew. We would put together a group of friends and build the stage for them.”

Sjölund’s work then took her as a production assistant to Hultsfred Festival, where her path again crossed with staff from EMA. Soon after, EMA enlisted her for Tina Turner’s Twenty Four Seven tour in 2000 at Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg. “I was 20 years old, and that was my first stadium show,” she says. “Seeing the audience on those shows was amazing, and I just loved working in a venue. I had so much fun [that] I woke up the night after the show with Elvis tattooed on my back.”

Sjölund went from strength to strength with EMA, and the firm offered her a three-month stint at the then Stockholm Globe, working under then head of operations Tor Nielsen. In addition to working on concerts, Sjölund had a hand in producing an NHL game – sparking her lifelong passion for ice hockey “I didn’t go outside for three months, and
I loved it,” she says. “I wore Harley Davidson boots every day and walked so much that I broke the bones in my foot. It was the kind of fracture that people in the military service get.”

Nielsen says that Sjölund made a strong impression from the get-go: “From day one, you could see there was something special with Anna. She was smarter than all the guys around her and with lots of energy and curiosity. From day two, you saw a coming leader in our business.”

“I thought my job was to go out there and beat up the promoter… I was so tough with settlements and riders”

EMA Telstar founder Thomas Johansson had a similar feeling: “I knew that she was going places because she was very determined to work, and she spent a lot of time getting it right… she’s very thorough at her job.” Unsurprisingly, EMA offered the wunderkind a full-time position, which Sjölund accepted, but first, she had to deliver on a promise she’d made.

A year earlier, Tobbe Lorentz, an agent and longtime friend of hers, was in need of a European tour manager for Norwegian rock band Gluecifer, and 21-year-old Sjölund agreed to step in, despite lacking any experience in that role. “She was hesitant at first, but I assured her it was an easy job,” says Lorentz, who now works at UTA. “What could possibly go wrong with these hi-fuelled garage rockers from Scandinavia in the early 2000s?” he laughs.

Gluecifer turned out to be the least of his worries. “I thought my job was to go out there and beat up the promoter,” laughs Sjölund. “I was so tough with settlements and riders. And then I learned that it’s about cooperation. It was a real learning experience.” Sjölund had spent five weeks on the road and though she was the only woman among 16 men, she loved the band so much that she agreed to a second tour with them, postponing her move to EMA. Ultimately, Sjölund says it was clear that tour managing was not for her.

“I always wanted to work as a promoter, though I didn’t necessarily know whether I would be a production person or promoter,” she says. “I love being a facilitator. I want to provide the best possible set of scenarios for the artists, for the audience, and for the staff. The thrilling thing is to help other people get their vision across from stage.”

That passion for producing was only reaffirmed upon her return to EMA Telstar: “After a month at the company, I decided I would never do anything else,” she says.

“Even in the early days, [Anna] came across as knowledgeable and well-informed about her market”

Promoter’s prerogative
After a handful of years working full-time at EMA Telstar as a production assistant and booking agent, Sjölund made the jump to promoter – but it wasn’t an easy bridge to gap at first.

“Nobody would pick up my calls,” she remembers. “I had a list of agencies, and I kept calling them.” Ever determined, the promoter’s perseverance was eventually noticed by the likes of John Giddings, Rob Markus, and Tony Goldring.

“It didn’t matter how late at night I called Anna; she would always pick up. Unlike us mortals, she didn’t seem to need sleep to function,” laughs Goldring, with whom Sjölund worked on concerts such as Rihanna’s first show in Sweden in 2008 and Alicia Keys headlining Way Out West.

“Even in the early days, she came across as knowledgeable and well-informed about her market. When there were issues, we always found solutions together, and when I needed
more money, which was always, she tried to help but was clear when she couldn’t.”

A quick glance at the testimonials accompanying this feature will tell you that Sjölund is renowned for such problem-solving skills – and she’s the first to admit she’s “at her best” when there’s a crisis – but it’s something she’s learned the hard way.

“I’ve made numerous fuck-ups,” she laughs.“Very early in my career, I once forgot to book a venue for a confirmed show, which was bad when it was announced. It was a shock to everybody, especially since the date wasn’t available.

“Sometimes you make the wrong call or miss something, that’s the nature of the business”

“I also misjudged one of my first arena shows,” she continues. “I loved the band so much, I thought it was going to be a hit, but I only sold about a third of the venue, and we lost a fortune. I’ll never forget the feeling of losing money for the company or seeing those empty chairs. I didn’t sleep for weeks.”

But these days, Sjölund is matter of fact about mistakes and says she rarely gets upset. “Sometimes you make the wrong call or miss something, that’s the nature of the business,” she says. “You’ve just got to figure it out and solve the problem. Owning your mistakes and trying to learn from them and not repeat them is a part of this. Tony [Goldring] once said that we’re judged on how well we solve problems, and I’ve always thought about that.”

The Prague years
After a decade of working as a promoter at EMA (which by then had become Live Nation Sweden), Sjölund decided to take advantage of the firm’s international footprint and accepted a job as vice president of operations Central and Eastern Europe for Live Nation.

“It was a huge step up… I had no clue what I was doing,” she laughs. “I was 32, a female in a very male-dominated business, and I had moved to a country where I didn’t speak the language.That experience taught me how to be humble. I was very excited about doing everything and wanted to come in and change things, but there are cultural considerations. Every European market is different, and I didn’t realise that until I came to Prague.”

Though the secondment was challenging, Sjölund speaks fondly of her time in Prague, where she made “friends for life” and oversaw some of her most “challenging and fun” shows, including Madonna and U2 in Istanbul, Lady Gaga in Budapest, and Depeche Mode in Prague.

“I also did a lot of special projects like Linkin Park next to the Red Square in Moscow, which was an MTV-broadcasted show for the premiere of Transformers 3,” she muses.

“If you get asked to be the MD of a company you worked for since you were 20, you’re going to say yes”

“Doing a show like that in Russia, at that time, and with a movie premiere connected, was crazy. Plus, my daughter was ten days old, and I was gone for a week.” The VP also spent months in Baku, working on concerts connected to the UEFA’s Young Women’s Championship and the Formula 1 Grand Prix. And though the country’s live music market was relatively underdeveloped at the time, she worked on concerts with the likes of Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, and Shakira in the Azerbaijan capital.

“She put Mariah Carey on at the Grand Prix one year and Pharrell Williams the next, providing ‘internal transport’ – as requested on the rider – in the form of a sunseeker… Respect!” says John Giddings, Solo.

Sjölund adds: “It was incredibly interesting to do big shows in a market where there had been no big shows like that. We had to start from scratch. I’ve always liked working in other markets. I’ve always wanted to learn more – that’s what excites me; new things and challenges.”

A corporate detour
But there was one challenge Sjölund didn’t enjoy. In November 2017, Thomas Johansson enticed the Swede with a job as co-managing director at Live Nation Sweden – the most senior position of her career until that point.

“If you get asked to be the MD of a company you worked for since you were 20, you’re going to say yes,” she says. But climbing the corporate ladder was never on the promoter’s agenda, and the role took her away from doing what she loved the most.

“It turned out it just wasn’t for me,” she says. “I had too much to do with running corporate stuff and didn’t have time to do what I love – being a promoter. There’s no time for both. I want to work with the creative and the content; I realised that’s the part I felt passionate about.”

“Being a woman is a challenge that I felt many times”

Becoming the co-managing director of the Swedish branch of a multinational company at the ripe age of 38 is impressive by anyone’s standards but even more so for a queer woman in a notoriously male-dominated industry.

“Being a woman is a challenge that I felt many times,” she says. “I don’t know how many times people have told me to ‘focus on my family’ – nobody ever tells a man that.” Sjölund hastens to add that fortunately many of the men she has worked closely with, such as Thomas Johansson and Tor Nielsen, have been “fantastic” champions and lifelong friends, but admits that there were “countless times where the boys’ club has been annoying to handle.”

Having spent the majority of her career as “the only woman in certain rooms,” Sjölund says gender equality in the industry has come a long way but that there’s still more work to be done.

“If you compare now to 15 years ago, it’s fantastic,” she says. “You’ve got amazing women like Emma Banks, Lucy Dickins, Kim Bloem, and Kelly Chappel ruling the business, but I wish there were more of us. It’s unbelievable to me that we don’t manage to bring more women into senior positions.

“The people responsible for the lack of women in high positions are the men who never leave those high positions. Everybody needs to move around a little to create new opportunities… you’ve gotta make room for the Kim Bloems!” she says.

While her experience as a woman in the industry has, at times, been rocky, she says her sexuality has “never been questioned.” In fact, Sjölund recounts Live Nation adjusting its employee benefits so she and her partner could start their family.

“Lolla Stockholm will always be our baby”

“The wait time for two women to have assisted insemination in Sweden was two to three years, simply because there were not enough donors,” she explains. “But we didn’t want to wait to start our family, so we decided to go private, and you could only do that in Denmark. That wasn’t included in Live Nation’s benefits and when I mentioned that, it was immediately adjusted so we could get the same type of support as any other couple that needed additional help to start their family. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of an employer.”

Home is where the heart is
Ensuring Sweden remains attractive as a market keeps Sjölund awake at night. Throughout her career, she has been a fierce advocate for her home country and its value to the international live music industry.

“It’s a unique market,” she says proudly. “If you look per capita, Sweden is a pretty small country, but if you go to a festival anywhere in the world, you’ll likely see Swedish artists on stage, and you’ll definitely hear songs played by headliners that are written by Swedish songwriters and producers. Plus, we have a great set of venues, Spotify is Swedish. It’s sort of a music centre.”

It was that kind of impassioned pitch that saw the exec bring US festival brand Lollapalooza to Stockholm in 2019 – one of her proudest achievements. “It was my dream to do that, and I could not have done that without the team headed up by Frida Riklund,” she says. “Lolla Stockholm will always be our baby. It was the first time we had something like that in the centre of Stockholm – at least on that scale.

“Plus, I loved seeing the approach C3 Presents take with festivals and combining that with the European approach to promoting.”

A major source of Sjölund’s pride with Lollapalooza Stockholm was creating an event for all ages – an impressive feat in a country where the age limit is 13 due to sound limits. “We worked with the authorities to find a way to let kids of all ages attend with their parents,” she explained.

“The vibe that created – seeing people of all ages having fun – was something I hadn’t seen before in Stockholm. I loved seeing my kids [Magda and Holly] in Kidspalooza playing around, and then going to watch Billie Eilish, who exploded that year.

“I bought sheep… I had to keep myself busy, so I looked after them and learned to cut them”

“I think it’s really important for the growth of the business to get people enjoying festivals and concerts early. And due to Covid, there’s a whole generation of people that missed a few years there. So I think it’s even more important that you get that opportunity.”

Sjölund is equally proud of developing the relationship between Sweden and the National Hockey League (NHL) – a project she worked on from her first days at Live Nation to her last.

“Sweden has the third most players in the NHL after Canada and the US – that’s pretty cool, being such a small market. Working with the NHL has been a real high point of my career.”

Coping mechanisms
The high of launching Lollapalooza Stockholm was abruptly followed by a low – the pandemic. “Can you believe how unlucky it is to work on a project for so long, launch it, and then the pandemic comes?” says Sjölund, who latched onto some weird and wonderful distraction techniques.

“I bought sheep,” she says. “I had to keep myself busy, so I looked after them and learned to cut them. It was a little bit impulsive,” she admits. “I didn’t think about the fact that not every summer would be like a Covid summer, so I had to restructure a little bit after that.”

When she wasn’t shearing sheep, Sjölund was putting her energy into teaching the Swedish government about the music industry and its value to society, alongside ASM’s Marie Lindqvist.

“There is always an itch in me… I was at the point in my career where I was thinking should I do something else?”

“I think we both found a way of channeling our passion for this industry into something constructive during these miserable years,” says Lindqvist. “Anna turned out to be a natural
talent in lobbying; she could probably also go into politics if she wanted. Very passionate, informed, and convincing!”

The pair regularly met up to walk and talk during that period, forming a strong relationship based on shared values in work and in life. “We share a view about events and about taking care of everyone involved – the audiences, promoters, and artists,” adds Sjölund. A few years down the line and it was that shared vision – plus good timing – that ultimately prompted Sjölund to leave the company she’d spent 25 years at.

“As ASM Global grew in Sweden with more venues and expanded into Finland, it needed someone that could head up the programming team and help us to develop our strategies and content in the growing portfolio of venues in Europe,” says Lindqvist. “I think the stars were aligned, I picked up the phone, pitched the role, and luckily it turned out to be the right time and place for Anna.”

Sjölund adds: “There is always an itch in me… I was at the point in my career where I was thinking should I do something else? There was no reason for me to be a promoter anywhere else – I had an incredible ride at Live Nation, and I’m so grateful for all the folks there and the great opportunities I’ve had. It was time for a new challenge.”

“I’m really excited to see what I can bring to the venue business”

A new chapter
If there’s one thing Sjölund’s colleagues, old and new, can agree on, it’s that she’s going to take the venue business by storm. “I think it’s going to be very good for the venues,” says Johansson. “I think the biggest advantage she has is that she’s been a promoter for 24 years. She knows the problems we have, whereas a lot of venue people have no idea what it is to be a promoter.”

“In the ASM office, we joke that I’m the promoter interpreter,” adds Sjölund. “I think it’s exciting to go from one part of the business to the other. In the end, we all want the same thing – to put on a great show.”

While she admits it’s sometimes still strange to be on the other side of the business, she is also fully embracing the change of scenery. “There’s more room for being long-term and strategic, whereas promoters have to solve problems right now.”

Though there are fewer late-night crisis calls, there are still plenty of urgent problems that need solving… “Avails, avails, avails – that’s the biggest issue,” she laughs. “I want to create more days in certain months. In some of our arenas we have a lot of sports, so there’s a juggle to accommodate home teams and all the artists that want to come and play.”

As she looks to the next phase of her career, Sjölund’s ambitions in the venue business are far from small: “I’m really excited to see what I can bring to the venue business. I want to see more great sports in our arenas, and I’m excited to work with both small venues and big venues, and all the opportunities that brings for new types of content – the sky is the limit. I want every promoter, artist, and fan to leave our venues feeling like they have had a great experience – that’s what I take pride in.”


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.