Bern Baby Bern: Swiss market report
As one of the world’s most affluent countries, with a population that adores the live music experience, Switzerland could be a poster boy market for post-pandemic corporate recovery. Adam Woods reports.
It has always been a fairly good rule of thumb that Covid hits the poorest and least fortunate hardest. On that basis, the Swiss live music business, one of the most vigorous in Europe, was always a good bet for pandemic survival and a sturdy rebound.
Look at the market as the summer approaches and you see a snap-shot of a country tripping over itself for a good time. In June alone at Zürich’s Hallenstadion, Zucchero, Marc Anthony, Shaan, Pearl Jam, 50 Cent, Iron Maiden, Queen + Adam Lambert, Céline Dion, and Basel-born house hero DJ Antoine are coming through the doors.
Of the great Swiss festivals, OpenAir St. Gallen and Paléo both promptly sold out, and reports across the sector are of a golden return to action. In the stadiums, you’ve got two nights of Rammstein in June and two more of Ed Sheeran in September at Zürich’s Letzigrund, while Elton John and Imagine Dragons hit Bern’s Wankdorf in June.
“There are 11 or 12 stadium shows this summer, and normally it’s, like, three or four,” says Stefan Wyss of Gadget abc Entertainment Group.
“St. Gallen, we sold out since the middle of March,” ventures his fellow partner and director Christof Huber. “And it’s the young punters that are buying the tickets. The clubs are doing well for the same reason: the younger generation wants to go out; they want to experience again.”
“What’s coming up is terrifying. I think we have never had more shows here than in the next few months”
But while the shows are numerous, the sales pretty healthy, and the relief palpable, this may not be a year promoters will look back on with relish. An unprecedented glut of variously long delayed and newly announced shows makes this a uniquely challenging summer. Old tickets need honouring, but the revenue-hungry business is also keen to get cooped-up talent back on the road for fresh shows, and nowhere is this bottleneck any more evident than in Switzerland.
“We did not expect all the shows scheduled this spring to take place due to the Covid restrictions at the beginning of the year, but the situation changed almost overnight mid-February, and we had to put ourselves back at work to make these shows happen,” says Julien Rouyer, CEO of Lausanne-based promoter Soldout Productions. “Summer and Autumn are getting quite busy as well, raising higher expectations for the end of the year.”
For some, the volume of shows on offer verges on the alarming.
“Oh yeah, Switzerland is always a busy market, especially in the summer,” says Johannes Vogel of Winterthur-based promoter All-Blues Konzert. “What’s coming up is terrifying. I think we have never had more shows here than in the next few months.”
“There’s a lot of transport issues. We are missing tour buses for the bands; we are missing stagehands; they don’t have enough workers to build the stages”
And the issue of scarce and costly infrastructure that besets the entire continent, if not the world, is a more grievous one still.
“It’s challenging,” says Paléo festival booker Dany Hassenstein. “I don’t think there’s enough equipment around for everybody to be able to set up a production. There’s a lot of transport issues. We are missing tour buses for the bands; we are missing stagehands; they don’t have enough workers to build the stages.
“At Paléo, I think we have everything important secured, though there is a 15-20% increase in equipment costs, and that’s obviously not cool, but then I’m sure it is just a result of the challenges companies are facing themselves.”
Saturation in the music capital of Zürich is already leading to anomalies, with proven acts some- times selling markedly better in traditionally quieter cities with less competition. In fact, while festival tickets may be flying out in one of the most festival-hungry markets in the world, shows in general are a harder sell, with no predictable patterns.
“The shows you think will work do not do as much as you would like,” says Théo Quiblier of Lausanne-based 360° indie Two Gentlemen, “and then ones you were less sure about are doing really well. Among the big acts, we have seen some surprises though I can’t say names. But even if your arenas are selling out, it is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to get a vibe of the health of the market, you need to look below – and in fact we are seeing mixed sales at every level.”
“The most frustrating point about 2020 and 2021 was to be very busy, working full-time every day, for shows that never happened”
One random element has been the unpredictable attendance of rescheduled shows. “We have always been pretty good at knowing roughly how many people you would have in a room,” says Quiblier. “But when shows have been rescheduled four or five times, we were regularly getting between 20% and 30% no-shows. It’s not that people were afraid to go back; I think it’s more that they have missed the announcement of the new date or forgotten what they had tickets for.”
Pre-pandemic Switzerland always did set itself a hard target to chase. In 2019, live music revenues totalled CHF437m (€425m), accord- ing to PwC/Omdia’s Switzerland Entertainment and Media Outlook 2021-25. That same report’s projections point to a bumpy road back, with revenues of CHF370m (€360m) this year, CHF359m (€349m) next, CHF305m (€296m) in 2024 and CHF394m (€383m) in 2025.
“The most frustrating point about 2020 and 2021, was to be very busy, working full-time every day, for shows that never happened,” says Sebastien Vuignier of French-Swiss promoter TAKK. “It was like playing a video game, being a virtual concert promoter. But luckily enough, we didn’t struggle financially as we had good and efficient support from the authorities.”
Swiss support for business was generous and arrived within a month or two, covering 80% of staff salaries for firms furloughing staff, as well as office costs.
“We didn’t make any money during the past two years, but we didn’t lose too much,” says Vuignier. “We are now in 2022, with a financial situation that is quite similar to what we had [at the] end of 2019. Some shows are selling a bit less than expected, but luckily enough, some others are doing very well. Khruangbin, Foals, Masego, Metronomy, Kings of Convenience, Sleaford Mods, Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, Leif Vollebekk, amongst others, are all selling out.”
“I don’t see major changes in the market, which is a good sign of a healthy industry”
For all the frustrations of the re-start, there is broad confidence that Switzerland can handle the turbulence of 2022 – even if it might be a rough ride at times.
“I don’t see major changes in the market, which is a good sign of a healthy industry. The landscape is pretty much the same as what it was in 2019,” says Vuignier. “But this year might be challenging for all of us, and I hope we’ll all be in good shape on the other side.”
Soldout Productions chief Rouyer sums up the feeling: “Shaken but alive. Recovering. Reorganising. Rising. It looks like every piece of the puzzle somehow made their way out of the crisis and is now ready to rumble again to get their part of the cake.”
Once a notably independent-driven market, Switzerland has seen many of its indies arming up for security in recent years, and most now have some form of corporate support after a busy couple of years of consolidation.
Mainland, originally formed from the union of Black Sheep, Cult Agency and Redda Music, has been a part of Live Nation since 2018. Gadget, Wepromote, and local veteran André Béchir’s abc Production were pulled together by CTS Eventim just a month or
two before the pandemic hit and now operate as Gadget abc Entertainment Group – 60%-owned by Eventim with the rest held by the Swiss partners.
“We have around 80 shows in the next three months. It’s a lot, but obviously it’s positive that people are buying tickets”
On the one hand, the timing might seem inauspicious, but the pause in the market feels like a benefit in at least one respect, says Stefan Wyss.
“For us, these two years were really challenging, but due to Covid, we did at least have time to structure this new company,” he says. “And now we are really ready. We have a company of 45 people and promote lots of arena and stadium shows these days.”
Sure enough, Gadget abc shows include the two Rammstein Letzigrund sell-outs, Elton, and Imagine Dragons at Wankdorf and a fistful of Hallenstadions, as well as too many small and medium shows to count – although, of course, the promoter itself has done so.
“We have 150-200 shows on sale,” says Wyss. “We have around 80 shows in the next three months. It’s a lot, but obviously it’s positive that people are buying tickets.”
Switzerland is small, but it is also fragmented, and it has some singular characteristics. Promoters largely keep to their own parts of the country – German speakers in cities such as Zürich, Bern, Basel and St. Gallen; French in Geneva, Lausanne and Montreux. For shows outside their patch, they work with partners. Many shows are co-promoted, and very few promoters operate in isolation.
Since the lifting of Good News’s exclusive deal with the Hallenstadion a few years ago, it has also not been remotely uncommon to see a wide range of Swiss promoters, including independents, taking a chance on much bigger shows.
“The big shows have really good ticket sales, but the battle is in the middle tier and the club gigs”
Winterthur-based AllBlues, who promoted Ed Sheeran’s first Swiss shows a decade ago, this year promotes Sheeran’s second pair of Swiss stadiums.
“We did the first 1,000-cap headline show in 2012 at Kaufleuten Zürich,” says managing director Johannes Vogel. “Then it went just upwards to 2,000, 3,000, 13,000, until Letzigrund Stadium for the first time in 2018, when we had two sold-out 45k shows. Now, again, we have two shows in September, which are pretty close to selling out.”
Nonetheless, Vogel is concerned that the Swiss market on the whole is overplaying its hand.
“Are promoters being careful?” he muses. “We at AllBlues were careful with focusing on the postponed shows and not announcing a lot of new shows. Others were not and put shows and shows on sale. But I think we should all have the responsibility not to overplay the market. Let’s see how we overcome 2022. Back to normal will be 2023 or even 2024.”
Switzerland’s other big-hitting promoters include the DEAG- owned Good News Productions and Vincent Sager’s Nyon-based Opus One, which is part of the Paléo organisation and focuses largely on Geneva and Lausanne.
“It is the most difficult time since the start of Covid”
At Good News, Stefan Matthey believe oversaturation will play a part in the market for the considerable future. “For sure there are too many events this year,” he says. “The big shows have really good ticket sales, but the battle is in the middle tier and the club gigs.”
Matthey reveals that among the bigger concerts Good News is organising are stadium shows for Die Ärzte and Die Toten Hosen,
as well as three-day festival Rock the Ring. “Indoors we have Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, KISS, Megadeth, Whitesnake and a bunch of others, as well as lots of club dates,” he adds.
Geneva’s Live Music Production, also part-owned by DEAG since 2019, mixes concerts, comedy, and other touring musical shows for the French-speaking part of Switzerland. And while there are stand- out successes, such as a 40,000-cap Stade de la Pontaise in Lausanne for French star Soprano, managing director Michael Drieberg says 2022 is not entirely to be savoured.
“I would say it is the most difficult time since the start of Covid,” says Drieberg. “We have old shows still on sale, and maybe two years ago they were the show to see but now it isn’t anymore, and we still have to do it. And because we can’t fill them, we make no money on them. The good part is the new shows are selling well, so you can feel the market is starting again.” Like many others, Drieberg has noticed little quirks in this new market. To his eye, today’s Covid-conscious punters prefer smaller-capacity, seated shows.
“We are seeing more and more shows that are about 2,000-capacity. And we have found that it’s really possible to bring bigger acts to smaller venues, with higher prices. People are ready for that: to pay two times, even three times the normal ticket price to be closer to the artist, in a smaller audience. We had Phil Collins for three nights and that worked very well. And the artist doesn’t make [substantially less] money because the production is much smaller.”
“The market is not as strong as before and I think it will take some time for confidence to fully return”
Act Entertainment, another Eventim company, notches up its 30th anniversary in December, and CEO Thomas Dürr is happy to be back in action.
“This year is going much better than last year,” says Dürr, who threw himself into painting during lockdown and is preparing for an exhibition at Art Basel next year. “Last year, we had more turnover from selling my pictures than from concerts.
“This year, we had two sold-out shows at Hallenstadion with Hans Zimmer, which was a really big success, and a lot of smaller shows. Comedians also are doing really well. With everything, the sale starts really late, but eventually most of the results are good.”
Like Drieberg, Dürr, too, notes a new appetite for seated shows. In fact, in some respects, Covid seems to have challenged every preconception about the behaviour of live music-goers.
“Here’s something funny,” says Théo Quiblier. “For ages, the adult audience, the ones that are paying the higher ticket prices for the big shows, they always booked six months in advance, and the young audience would decide on the Friday night if they wanted to go to a show. Now we are seeing that in reverse: the young audience is booking so far in advance that you think, ‘Really?!’, and the old audience is sitting back and going, ‘Well, we will see…’”
Matthey agrees, stating, “The market is not as strong as before and I think it will take some time for confidence to fully return, because lots of people still have tickets that they bought more than two years ago on their fridge door.”
“Some artists that were just getting started got some really interesting opportunities”
Another unintended consequence of the pandemic, given the Swiss market’s summer reopening last year, was the opportunity it afforded for local acts to get their names on a bill, with the usual international scene-stealers grounded in their own backyards.
“For a long time, there were no bands coming in, and Swiss bands were offered way more slots at festivals and venues,” says Kilian Mutter of Orange Peel Agency, the Swiss-focused, Lucerne-based booking agency, management company and label. “I think promoters dug a lot deeper into the Swiss music scene to fill their programmes, and some artists that were just getting started got some really interesting opportunities.”
Meanwhile, among the emerging Swiss names achieving international prominence are well-travelled indie-folk collective Black Sea Dahu, ‘80s-influenced singer Crimer, Warner-signed Tamil-Swiss artist Priya Ragu, the London-based Kings Elliot, and the Swiss standard-bearer Sophie Hunger, who has chalked up five Swiss number-one albums while making inroads into Austria and Germany.
The process has been one of increasing musical self-assurance, says Mutter. “Back in the day, many Swiss bands were copying whatever was happening in the market in the UK or the US, but just five years too late all the time. Now it feels like there’s been a lot of really interesting projects coming up.”
“There is a lot of talent now breaking through internationally”
Stefan Schurter, of booking and management agency deepdive, who handles Swiss artists Veronica Fusaro and beatboxer/sampler Arthur Henry, believes outside attitudes to Swiss music are being forcibly reset.
“People still talk about DJ BoBo and Krokus and Yello when it comes to Switzerland, but there is a lot of talent now breaking through internationally,” he says.
While Switzerland had its share of lockdowns, it also was allowed to welcome crowds for significant summer periods. So while titans such as Paléo, OpenAir St. Gallen, Openair Frauenfeld, Greenfield Festival, and Rock the Ring cancelled their summer 2021 editions, a return to full-capacity concerts in July allowed others to salvage something.
Montreux Jazz Festival, for instance, produced a ‘small is beautiful’ edition for its 55th event from July 2-17, with tickets only on sale the month before and Arlo Parks, Woodkid, Ibrahim Maalouf and Rag ‘n’ Bone Man on the bill. Open Air Gampel and Heitere Open Air Zofingen snuck in scaled-back versions, while Gadget abc staged SummerDays in Arbon, Seaside in Spiez, and Unique Moments in Zürich, all in their regular forms.
“Last summer, Switzerland had a small late festival season, but we had regular festivals without any restrictions other than the [vaccination] certificate,” says Huber. “And I think the confidence is here now because the figures of incidents then were really, really low.”
Needless to say, the big names are roaring back this summer. Live Nation’s Frauenfeld offers A$AP Rocky, Megan Thee Stallion, J. Cole, and Tyler, The Creator. OpenAir St. Gallen has Muse and Mando Diao. Act Entertainment’s Greenfield, Switzerland’s biggest rock festival, presents Volbeat, Korn, and Billy Talent. Gurten collects Black Eyed Peas, Erykah Badu, Chemical Brothers and Megan Thee Stallion, again.
“We’re really looking forward to getting back to normality”
Montreux, meanwhile, makes up for lost time with a line-up encompassing Diana Ross, Van Morrison, A-Ha, Björk and Nick Cave, as well as new favourites including Phoebe Bridgers, Stormzy, Arlo Parks and Self Esteem. Baloise Session in Basel will also return from 28 October to 17 November, but does not announce its programme until late August.
Nonetheless, Baloise Session promoter Beatrice Stirnimann is enthusiastic about getting back to in-person gigs after two years of livestreaming festival performances. “But the livestreaming was good and we’re examining how we can keep that going in future years,” she says. This year, it’s all about live shows again, thankfully.”
Having endured the tough times, Baloise recently signed a multi-year deal with the city of Basel as part of a marketing partnership to promote the Basel-Stadt canton. In the meantime, the excitement levels in the Baloise Session organisation are rising, ahead of the line-up announcement in August.
“We will have ten nights; two shows per night,” adds Stirnimann. “We only had two acts confirmed from 2020 who could carry over until this year, so it’s been a lot of work to confirm everything, but we’re really looking forward to getting back to normality.”
Elsewhere, Paléo leads with KISS, Sting, Angèle and others, and Hassenstein declares himself satisfied, while ruing what might have been in 2020, when Céline Dion was the jewel in the crown.
“In 2020, we had a very good line-up indeed,” he says. “It is still a very good line-up, though it has changed a bit. But we sold all the tickets in a few minutes, so obviously it is a dream line-up. Kiss is going to be very unique. Their production is massive – I think they are coming with 11 trucks. And then we have all the acts who couldn’t play the last two years and the ones who broke through during that time.”
Like other promoters with a stake in both, Michael Drieberg makes a distinction between the concerts and festival markets this year. His Sion Sous Les Étoiles festival, not far from the French border, has Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and Julien Doré and is selling strongly. “I even think we will break a record,” says Drieberg. “We should do our best year ever.”
“Nowadays, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket”
Between the Hallenstadion, Kongresshaus and Komplex 457 in Zürich, the 9,500-cap Geneva Arena, and Lausanne’s Les Docks, Switzerland has plenty of well-known venues.
It also added a number of new ones in the years before the pandemic, including the 5,000-cap Samsung Hall and 3,500-capacity Halle 622 in Zürich. Lausanne’s Vaudoise Aréna is a more recent newcomer – an 11,500-cap arena for ice hockey and concerts man- aged by AEG Facilities. This year, it has welcomed Texas, with Kendrick Lamar due in October.
The 47-year-old St. Jakobshalle in Basel reopened in 2018 after a renovation, and director Thomas Kastl acknowledges the difficulties of the last couple of years.
“It has not been an easy time,” he says. “Our industry has suffered greatly, with countless events that could not take place. But the multifunctionality of our location was to our advantage. Since we operate another ten halls in the building in addition to the main arena, a lot of events took place there. Luckily, it was possible to host small events or to carry out sports, while complying with the safety and distance regulations. So, except for a few months when our building was spookily empty, there was always something going on.”
In the coming year at St. Jakobshalle Basel, you’ll see The Cure, Dropkick Murphys, and Bring Me The Horizon. “Hosting concerts in our arena is always a special thrill,” says Kastl. “The energy and the atmosphere with more than 10,000 guests in the arena are truly special and make our hearts beat a little faster.”
At the same time, he says, a pandemic gives you new perspectives. “We have grown with the situation but also had to critically question some things. Our USP is our multifunctionality. We are not just one hall or arena, and the focus can be shifted. We want to continue to offer a diverse portfolio. As before, we will to keep our main focus on events and sports and even strengthen and expand it but also break new ground with new business areas. Nowadays you can’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
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Tune in to SoundCzech: Inside the Czech music scene
If you could take Czech music back to a more hopeful moment than the present one, it might be worth heading to January 2019, when the nation, alongside its former other half Slovakia, was part of the first-ever dual-country focus at Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS).
In a snapshot of a diverse, ambitious scene, 11 Czech acts travelled to Groningen, including internationally noted pop favourite Lenny, London-raised female rapper Hellwana, shoegazing indie-rockers Manon Meurt, UK/Czech electronic alliance Floex and Tom Hodge and well-travelled Glastonbury and Sziget veterans Mydy Rabycad.
“It was nice, and I think it was good for the scene,” says Márton Náray, director of Czech music export office SoundCzech. “We did that in collaboration with Pohoda festival in Slovakia, and that was fantastic – Michal Kašcák is one of the legends of live music. We got into a situation where we were brainstorming to do more than a simple country focus, and I think we inspired each other.”
The exposure from ESNS and surrounding events was still in the process of bearing fruit when the current crisis struck. But while the touring world has hit pause, the Czech Republic holds a strong hand in terms of talent these days.
Many of the ESNS delegation (which also included one-woman musical sensation Bohemian Cristal Instrument, Baltic party band the Circus Brothers, bagpipe-toting punks Pipes and Pints, acoustic troubadour Thom Artway, the self-descriptive Lazer Viking, and cinematic jazzers Zabelov Group) had begun to make international inroads at club- and festival-level and were demonstrably building momentum.
There is no shortage of homegrown, locally loved talent
“To be honest, my realistic expectation is never to get [a band] to the headline billing, because that’s not realistic for the Czech Republic,” says Náray. “It’s about, in a few years, having a lot of bands that are genuinely going out onto the European club circuit. There are several like that,” he adds, mentioning Mydy Rabycad, the Circus Brothers, Floex and Manon Meurt, as well as the currently resting Pipes and Pints, “but that’s the level we would love to raise [to].”
Talent-wise, the Czech Republic is in a similar position to many non-English-speaking territories. There is no shortage of homegrown, locally loved talent, from long-running funkers Monkey Business to newly reformed ’90s legends Lucie. But to break across borders requires rare luck, as well as a delicate balance of international appeal and something unique.
“It’s the usual problem,” says Paul Elsasser of London-based, European-focused Minimal Surface, whose artists include edgy Czech solo prospect Giudi. “If you want to make it big in a country, you have to sing in their language.”
Numerous Czech bands have taken that advice to heart…
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Bridging the Gulf: Arab Gulf states come of age
And it was all going so well!
Going into Christmas, you might have said the live entertainment business in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf states was on a decisive path to maturity, at least in certain prominent markets. Dubai finally had its permanent Coca-Cola Arena and was hauling in the crowds and the talent, including Maroon 5, Westlife, the 1975 and John Legend.
Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, had nailed down a name for its own 18,000-cap. indoor venue – Etihad Arena, part of the 12 billion AED (€3bn) Yas Bay development project – and an expectation of a 2020 opening.
Even Kuwait, fairly quiet lately on the touring front, was preparing to cut the ribbon on a 5,000-cap mixed-use arena: the Sheikh Jaber Al-Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah International Tennis Complex in Surrah, managed by Live Nation and opened in February.
And, of course, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the pedigree dark horse of the region, was fast emerging as by far the most promising market of them all, with concerts, festivals, Formula E racing, international tennis, equestrian competitions and boxing. To varying degrees, these events have met with international controversy due to Saudi’s well-known diplomatic issues.
But they have also been powered by large amounts of cash, rabid local demand and the grand ambitions of ‘MbS’ – controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – and his Vision 2030 plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop its public sector.
“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible”
Then came Covid-19, which still rages worldwide at press time, and the region was forced to hit pause on its entertainment aspirations. Like almost everywhere else, concert halls closed, shows were postponed, and the industry went into enforced hibernation. When it will rouse itself again is anyone’s guess.
“As with the rest of the world, all events [in Saudi Arabia] are cancelled until further notice,” said Vassiliy Anatoli, managing director of regional ticketing hub Platinumlist, speaking to IQ in late March. “The public is not allowed to go outside the house from 3pm until 8am and the death toll is rising. People are worried.”
The UAE states had imposed similar measures and were already daring to dream of a light at the end of the tunnel. “Large organisers are hopeful to restart their operation in July, but again, that depends on how the situation pans out in the coming [months],” said Anatoli.
“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so I’m sure they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible,” he added. “[Dubai’s] Expo 2020 has already been moved to ’21. As for the rest of the organisers, they have moved all events to November and December. Rugby Sevens is confirmed for December, but again, it depends on government regulation.”
Each of the various Gulf markets has its own economic logic: generous state funding combined with remarkably strong ticket sales in Saudi; a similar balance in Abu Dhabi, albeit on a far less turbo-charged scale; and a grittier commercial market in Dubai, closely controlled, but not underwritten, by the state. Clearly, all will suffer damage, even if some can absorb it better than others.
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¡España, por favor! How the good times returned to Spain
This summer’s Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona, subtitled ‘the New Normal’, made two important points: First, that it’s perfectly feasible for a mainstream festival to create a bill that’s at least 50% female; and second, that reggaeton, hip hop, R&B, pop and flamenco-flavoured urbano can all successfully coexist with traditional indie-rock festival favourites.
“This year felt different in general,” says Primavera booker Pau Cristòful, one of IQ’s New Bosses 2019. “Everyone felt represented somehow on stage; people felt really respectful and grateful. It was a special year – not only the gender balance but also in terms of getting new genres to play. It is better to have something challenging than something that is boring.”
Colombian star J Balvin was the festival’s first-ever Latin urban headliner, appearing on the Saturday night and prompting a distinct pre-event backlash from defenders of the old indie ways. “There’s a stigma against reggaeton in Spain still – people are always complaining about it,” says Cristòful. But the day became Primavera’s busiest ever, drawing a crowd of 63,000.
Primavera Sound 2019 was a game-changing success, and the positive mood is shared across the Spanish live business. Festivals are booming, the world-conquering urban music that passed Spain by for years is finally making an impression, and Spain even has its own global superstar in Catalonia’s Rosalía.
The market has posted five consecutive years of growth, culminating in a record-breaking 2018 in which the business saw an annual turnover of €334 million – a 24% increase on 2017 – powered by an incredible summer featuring stadium shows from Guns N’ Roses and Iron Maiden, and tours from Luis Miguel, Shakira and Alejandro Fernández.
There are those who say this year may yet prove to be better still. “We’ll have a better perspective at the end of the year, but for now we can say live is the fastest-growing sector within the music industry,” says Albert Salmeron of Producciones Animadas, who is also president of Spanish promoters’ association APM. “We’ve seen it in the last few years and it’s unstoppable.”
“live is the fastest-growing sector within the music industry”
Memories of the Great Spanish Depression of 2008–14 – and of a particularly disastrous 2012, when a relatively short-lived 21% cultural tax, on top of the 10% PRS charge, helped to wipe 27.5% off the value of the Spanish live industry at a stroke – ensure that Spanish promoters enjoy the good times all the more.
“Spain had its financial crisis, and now it is as strong as it has ever been,” says Barnaby Harrod, director of the Madrid-based, Live Nation-owned promoter Mercury Wheels.
There are several reasons for the ongoing upward shift, Salmeron suggests, including a broader transformation of the nation’s leisure habits. “People are now more focused on the search for unique experiences,” he says. “At the same time, we have extraordinary weather, which makes Spain an attractive country for artists and fans, especially in the festival environment.”
The cultural tax was cut back down to 10% in 2017, mending much of the damage it had caused. Festivals, particularly those with international appeal, have been identified as major wealth creators and receive substantial local government support.
It is a fact that Spain missed out on the formative years of the live business – it was still a dictatorship under General Franco until 1975 – but on current form it appears to have found its rhythm (providing we conveniently set aside the impassioned breakaway attempts by Catalonia, which rumble on).
Industrious indies abound, and in addition to Live Nation – which has numerous promoting irons in the fire, and whose Ticketmaster division is the leading ticketer in Spain – global players in the Spanish market include Eventim, which owns Entradas.com, and Ticketea owner Eventbrite.
“People are now more focused on the search for unique experiences”
Spain has a broad selection of both hardworking indies and heavyweight corporates. The former camp includes Doctor Music, Concert Studio, Producciones Animadas, Primavera, Houston Party and the Project in Barcelona; RLM and Ground Control in Madrid; Valencia’s Serious Fan Music; Last Tour in Bilbao; and Murcia rock specialist Madness Live!.
In the latter camp is Live Nation, of course, which, since February, also holds a majority stake in leading Latin promoter Planet Events, which retains Spanish-language media group Prisa as a minority shareholder. As well as its joint venture with Mercury Wheels, Live Nation operates a strategic partnership with Andalusian promoter Riff Producciones aimed at growing Spanish acts in overseas markets. And with offices in Barcelona and Madrid, Live Nation has also done good promoting business of its own in 2019.
“The most satisfying projects and shows have been the biggest show in Spain ever for Metallica last May, at the Valdebebas site in Madrid,” says Live Nation Spain president Robert Grima. “Also our stadium shows with Muse and Bruno Mars; the consolidation of both the Mad Cool and Dcode festivals; plus our positioning in the market as promoters for top Spanish artists like Fito and Fitipaldis, Manuel Carrasco and Malu.”
Grima reinforces the message of good times in the Spanish market. “It is for us,” he says. “There is a strong growth projection with both local and international talent, and people seem more eager than ever to see live shows.”
Storied independent Doctor Music had a thumping disappointment this year in its thwarted attempt to resurrect its highly influential festival of the same name (of which more in a minute) but otherwise, founder and CEO Neo Sala is philosophical.
“2018 was the best year for the live industry in Spain, and I hope 2019 will be even better”
“2019 has generally been a good year, with major sell-out shows by Rammstein, Alejandro Sanz and Mark Knopfler,” says Sala. “I think the live market in Spain is better than ever, with plenty of shows and festivals doing really well.”
Another veteran, Serious Fan’s Julio Martí, reckons these are some of the best times he has had in 40 years. “To me, from 2011 to when it started to come back in 2015 – those years were the worst ever. ’17, ’18, ’19: excellent,” he says.
A jazz, blues and rock promoter who has brought Miles Davis, BB King and Prince to Spain, Martí attributes his successes to his strong principles. “I have always done things that I love. I am a passionate guy. I don’t like anything bigger than a sport palace or a bullring. Every show I see in a stadium, I wonder why I came, so I quit doing those in 1989.
“2018 was the best year for the live industry in Spain, and I hope 2019 will be even better,” he adds. “The best thing is if nobody gets over-excited and everyone keeps professional and keeps on doing work that can be sustained over time.”
As in many other countries, the globalisation of the business has turned the screws on independents, and rock promoter Juan Antonio Muñoz of Madness Live!, which has promoted acts including Iron Maiden, Alter Bridge and Steven Wilson, attests to the challenge. “It is very difficult when [Live Nation] are involved in everything in the business, from ticketing to venues to worldwide tours,” he says. “We should probably be getting worried, but we are working hard and doing well, and that is the only way to survive.”
Norwegian Mood: Norway market report
Norway doesn’t have the world’s biggest population – about 5.4 million – but don’t let anyone tell you it’s small.
If you were to drive from the site of the country’s southernmost major music festival to its northernmost – from Bystranda beach in Kristiansand, home of Palmesus, to Midnattsrocken in Lakselv, well into the Arctic Circle – you’d be looking at a 25-hour, 2,120km road trip through Norway and Sweden. Ergo, you might want to think about flying.
Between those two points on the Norwegian side, in addition to 450,000 lakes, there’s a lot of music. Some agents suggest there are more shows in the capital of Oslo than in Stockholm and Copenhagen combined. Others claim Norway has more festivals than any other country per head.
“Concerts are still the most popular cultural activity among Norwegians, besides the cinema,” says Tone Østerdal, CEO of the Norwegian Live Music Association (NKA). “And there are so many festivals now. We are not that many people but there are very many festivals around.”
The Norwegian concert business was worth NOK2.6billion (€270million) in 2017 – more than half of the NOK4.9bn (€510m) total value of the Norwegian music business. Norway is, of course, a major producer of music – not quite at Sweden’s level, but with plenty of recognisable names, from A-ha and Röyksopp to Sigrid, Susanne Sundfør, Nico & Vinz and Marcus & Martinus. And given its strong exchange rate and sound consumer base it is known, internationally, as a pretty lucrative spot that earns its place on a tour schedule.
“We are out on the outer edge,” says promoter Peer Osmundsvaag of All Things Live Norway. “You go to Norway for a reason, whether that be a financial one or because you have a strong fanbase here. It is not somewhere you just roll through.”
“It’s a strong and well-run live industry all over the country, and there’s a good bond”
There’s certainly money here, as everyone knows, but as well as the standard high-octane live business that fills arenas in the largest cities, Norway has a large, often volunteer-driven network of grass roots venues and small promoters, with regional music hubs tasked with supporting talent and initiative outside Oslo, and strong communication between regions.
Oslo is clearly the key Norwegian market, but other major cities – Bergen, Stavanger and Ålesund, scattered up the west coast; Trondheim in the centre; and Tromsø in the north – maintain their own highly independent scenes. No two of them are any less than five hours from each other by road, and most are much more. The geographical isolation of each city has effectively meant that each one has developed its own live identity, fuelled by hearty festivals and small venues.
“Norway is really about five countries in one, centring around the major cities,” says Osmundsvaag. “Therefore, the local festivals are very strong, because they are all so important for the local communities.”
Norway’s oil wealth also has ways of trickling down into the market. The Norwegian Cultural Fund had €98m to spend in 2018, having granted support to 2,546 out of 6,668 applications from the worlds of music, literature and other arts, the year before.
Festivals tend to attract more support than the broader live business, Østerdal suggests, but money also goes to regional talent development and new venues, and the NKA is active in knitting the industry together at all levels.
“For all of Norway, the reason we have a good live music scene is because of the NKA,” says Are Bergerud, head of Trondheim’s Tempo hub. “Everyone meets up and we all talk to each other all over the place. It’s a strong and well-run live industry all over the country, and there’s a good bond. Tone [Østerdal] is doing important work.”
Up and Down Under: Australia/NZ market report
IQ’s Brisbane-based correspondent, Lars Brandle, speaks with the leading players to get a feel for the billion-dollar-plus Australasian industry that never fails to impress
First, the bad news. Although there are no disasters to speak of. Business is solid, live professionals say, though dotted with hurdles and frustrations. The touring cycle has been in a trough in recent years, according to data published by Live Performance Australia (LPA), which reports that attendance is up, ticket prices are down and the business has cooled from its lava-hot peak years.
The numbers tell just part of the evolving picture. Running shows in Australia and New Zealand has always had its myriad challenges, along with some new ones. But, depending on who you speak with, it also involves some serious rewards.
Data published by LPA in October 2017 suggests the business for contemporary music concerts, which include rock, pop and hip-hop shows, has been well down from the banner years earlier in the decade. Contemporary music remains, by far, the biggest category, and is “always the engine room of the live performance industry,” says LPA’s director of policy and governance, Kim Tran, accounting for more than 30% of all revenue. During 2016, the segment experienced a 7.9% dip to AU$440 million (€284m), as attendance grew slightly by 1.9% to 5.7m. Those numbers don’t include box office data from 2017 stadium tours by Justin Bieber or Adele.
With a slew of huge tours booked for 2018, and a “golden generation” of Aussie and Kiwi acts crossing borders, many live industry professionals polled by IQ are confident that the industry is in good shape. Business right now is “the strongest I have ever seen for the local artists we represent,” says Stephen Wade, CEO of the Sydney-based Select Music agency, which has Aussie artists the Amity Affliction, the Temper Trap and Boy & Bear, and Kiwi singers Gin Wigmore, Tim Finn and Ladyhawke, on its books.
“All of the major promoters were, and are, epic businesses… It’s led us to skip a generation of concert promoters”
“Many of them have forged paths overseas, so this takes pressure off potentially overplaying the Australian market and diminishing their crowds,” explains Wade, who won Booking Agent of the Year at the inaugural Industry Observer Awards on 27 March this year.
Australia has scored a flurry of goals in the past five years, led by the likes of Sia, Vance Joy, Tame Impala, Flume, Alison Wonderland, 5 Seconds of Summer, Courtney Barnett and more, owhile the DMA’s, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Tash Sultana and others are coming through. New Zealand’s music scene is also on the up, with its best-known export Lorde snagging a no1 on the Billboard 200 in 2017 with her second album, Melodrama.
The concert landscape of the Great Southern Land is still dominated by “the big four”: Michael Chugg (founder of Chugg Entertainment), Michael Coppel (who was promoted from CEO to chairman of Live Nation Australasia in 2017), Michael Gudinski (chairman of Mushroom Group and head of Frontier Touring) and Paul Dainty (president and CEO of TEG Dainty). That elite circle is proving tough to crack, though the young guard is making its move in a different way.
“The Australian festival culture was born out of people trying to find their way into the business without necessarily having to compete with those big businesses,” notes Live Nation’s Roger Field, who stepped up from COO to CEO in 2017. “All of the major promoters were, and are, epic businesses when you look at the turnover. It’s led us to skip a generation of concert promoters, per se, but we’ve got that mid-tier generation in festival producers.”
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Market report: Belgium
As it is with property, so it is With smallish European countries: it’s all about location, location, location.
Belgium is the 34th biggest (or 16th smallest) nation in Europe by area – it would fit into France 18 times. But it might just be the best-positioned country on the continental mainland, with French, German, Dutch and Luxembourgian borders, and just two hours by train from London.
“We are the best-situated country in Europe,” concurs Pascal Van De Velde of Ghent-based promoter/agency Greenhouse Talent. “If you come from the UK to Germany, you drive through Belgium, and vice versa. If you come down from Scandinavia to southern Europe, you go through Belgium. Logistically, there is always a date for Belgium. And the market is good.”
Well, that’s true. Belgium might be small, but it’s packed – the 13th most-populous European country, with 11m inhabitants, 97% of whom live in towns or cities. So you’re always near a venue; you’re wealthier per head than the UK and France, and not far behind Germany; and in addition to a fairly world-class calendar of tours, you’ve got some of Europe’s biggest festivals in Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop, Dour, Graspop and Tomorrowland.
Then again, few countries have escaped entirely without injury these last few years, whether economic or of a more sinister kind. In common with an ever-growing list of countries, Belgium was the focus of a devastating terrorist incident when three co-ordinated suicide bombings in Brussels on 22 March 2016 killed 32 civilians and three perpetrators. One of many results of the attacks was to put a dent in the live business for much of the remainder of the year.
In January, Belgium lowered its threat level from three to two, judging another attack to be ‘unlikely,’ but while the audiences have come back, the promoters don’t soon forget. “The terrorist attacks were rough, especially the times when they were happening,” says Van De Velde. “And then in the slipstream of it, just security-wise – I can’t say that acts cancelled but putting the shows together was really nasty and difficult because the acts were scared and the audiences were reluctant.”
“We are the best-situated country in Europe”
“But it’s picked up,” he reflects. “It picks up again. When first the Bataclan attacks happened, and then, of course the Brussels attacks, that was huge. The market is very vulnerable, but it recovers fast. People want to go out and see shows, and it moves on. People get sort of used to the situation, you know?”
It takes a little while, though. In the summer of 2016, even a super-festival like Rock Werchter had a tricky year, its attendance 4,500 down on the previous year, compounded by heavy rain in the run-up. “Some people stopped going to shows in 2016 due to terrorism,” says Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium CEO Herman Schueremans, “but they seem to have realised in 2017 that it doesn’t make sense to sit at home, and they decided to live again and enjoy shows and festivals in 2017.”
Last year, says Schueremans, things were resoundingly back to normal. “It appears that they made up in 2017 what they missed in 2016. Of course, the bills of the festivals and the multiple, top-quality tours helped to achieve that. And it looks as if that trend is confirming itself in 2018, both festival- and indoor-wise. Religion and politics divide; music unites.”
Sometimes, it unites in unusual ways. In May, Night of the Proms promoter PSE joined with Werchter, Pukkelpop and GraciaLive to protest local performance rights organisation Sabam’s January move to raise tariffs across the board. Among the increases is a 30% spike in festival rates to 3.25% of box-office receipts, and a 16% hike for larger shows to 3.5%.
PSE’s Jan Vereecke accused Sabam of “simply abusing its monopoly – it is offering no additional services in exchange for the price increase.” Since then, talks have been ongoing, with no resolution yet reached. PwC estimates the value of the Belgian live business at $322m (€261m), and the fact that IQ is reporting at a time of ongoing prosperity and restored calm needn’t mask the fact that Belgium is a more unusual country than many.
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Market report: Austria
Sitting in a mountain range – the Eastern Alps, which covers nearly two-thirds of the territory – and with a population of 8.7m, around a fifth of whom live in the capital, Vienna, the country of Mozart, Mahler and Falco these days draws music from everywhere.
For instance, at the time of writing, the calendar of Vienna’s alternative art complex Arena Wien is a multicultural stew featuring Franco-German reggae-punks Irie Révoltés, US hip-hopper Joey Badass, Finnish rockers Sunrise Avenue and German electro-poppers Lali Puna, along with Austria’s own Julian Le Play. And when the Ernst-Happel-Stadion prepares itself for blockbuster shows, it’s for the likes of Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Robbie Williams and German star Helene Fischer. Yet there’s still something distinctive about the Austrian music business, where highly individual independent festivals remain the norm, and where “you can still develop things based on quality rather than quantity,” in the words of veteran indie promoter Alex Nussbaumer.
“Austria is a very sensible market,” says Nussbaumer, who operates as al-x, with offices in Vienna and Bregenz. “I often liken it to Switzerland because it has the same, very healthy scene, whereas in Germany, you don’t really have the middle range anymore. My experience here has always been that you can really develop an artist from scratch with touring.” However, times change, as Nussbaumer concedes, and it’s possible that the Austria of the near future will be different from that of recent decades. Like Switzerland, Austria was built by indies and has only lately attracted the undivided attention of multinational operators.
Live Nation and FKP Scorpio/CTS Eventim are now a couple of years into their respective Austrian ventures, and though Barracuda (the 2016 amalgam of leading indies Skalar, Red Snapper and NuCoast Entertainment) remains the biggest player in both shows and festivals, it is safe to say the gap has closed
“To be the only big, independent player is not easy when Live Nation, DEAG and CTS all have offices in Vienna,” says Barracuda CEO Ewald Tatar, whose recent projects have included the Rolling Stones at Spielberg; Robbie Williams in Vienna and Klagenfurt; and the perennial Nova Rock festival. “But for us,” he adds, “business is still very, very good.”
“You can definitely play one big arena or one big stadium. For the second or third show, you need to be really careful”
For now, this is a view more or less shared by indies and multinationals alike. Austria may not be huge but it’s in reasonably good shape, especially after the festival market pulled back from the edge of saturation a year or two ago.
“In general, it’s been a pretty good year – possibly the best year ever,” says Arcadia Live head of booking Silvio Huber. “The Rolling Stones pulled a massive crowd; there’s been a significant rise in stadium shows in Vienna; and, of course, a steady growth of club and arena shows. It seems we have not reached a critical peak in Austria yet, but we should be aware that no business grows endlessly.”
Nestled beneath Germany with borders into Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, Austria has always been a well-connected sort of place, part west and part east, so a well-placed show in Austria can often draw part of its crowd from elsewhere.
A show such as Barracuda’s 95,000-capacity Stones show, for example, which took place in September at Red Bull Ring in Spielberg bei Knittelfeld in the central part of the country, is only an hour or two by road from the borders of Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Croatia.
Nonetheless, Austria is a relatively small country, and its ticket-shifting powers have limits. Roughly 70–80% of all tickets sold are for shows in and around Vienna, and though Austria has many fetching cities, from Linz and Graz to Salzburg and Innsbruck, acts of any size can’t hope to play more than one or two of them.
“Basically, in Austria you can definitely play one big arena or one big stadium,” says Tatar. “For the second or third show, you need to be really careful. Outside Vienna, the other cities in Austria are not big. We play arena shows in Linz or Graz but you can’t do both – you need to decide if it’s Vienna and Linz or Vienna and Graz.”
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