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Bridging the Gulf: Touring the Gulf States

As oil-rich economies ramp up investment in their live entertainment sectors, the Gulf States are providing the global industry with a credible touring destination to link Europe with Asia, Africa, and Australasia. Adam Woods reports on this remarkable, fast-changing region.

In terms of their specific demographics, weather, and politics, not to mention their disparate commercial models, the live entertainment markets of the Gulf – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, in this context – are unlike any other regional grouping in the world.

But some things are the same in this pocket of the Middle East as they are everywhere else: such as when Ed Sheeran came through Dubai in mid-January and sold out two Sevens Stadiums and 60,000 tickets – just as he does in seemingly any market he visits.

“It was a new level of production that hasn’t been seen in the market before,” says the shows’ promoter, All Things Live Middle East CEO Thomas Ovesen. “It’s a show in the round, so we were conscious that we had to somehow explain that to people, without too many technicalities. But he’s such a phenomenal artist and so strong that it all worked out, and everyone wanted to get a ticket.”

That’s Ed for you. Such displays of ticket-selling clout don’t happen every week in Dubai. The Emirate, by far the least subsidised active market in the Gulf, has always been a tricky one to get right, though many promoters have tried – none harder than Ovesen, who in various guises has brought in Justin Bieber, The Eagles, Guns N’ Roses, Jennifer Lopez and Elton John.

These days, along with neighbouring Abu Dhabi, Dubai is a solid stop on a burgeoning touring circuit – one which, in addition to the markets of the Gulf, increasingly encompasses India, South Africa, Turkey, Egypt, even Georgia and Azerbaijan. But lately – at least when Ed Sheeran isn’t in town – the main driver of regional excitement has been Saudi money.

We have close to 200 different nationalities living in the UAE. So we have people that come from very different cultural backgrounds”

Fuelled by a plan to draw tourism, build soft power, and entertain a young population, Saudi lately become the land of the ‘gigaproject,’ where gleaming new megacities, jaw-dropping historic restorations, mind-boggling urban developments, and eye-wateringly luxurious resorts aspire to redefine the very limits of ambition and opulence.

And whenever ground is broken, the word ‘entertainment’ is somewhere in the air, whether it’s the planned 45,000-capacity stadium on a 200m-high cliff in Qiddiya City near Riyadh; a proposed opera house at the Jeddah Central waterfront development; or ASM Global’s 20,000-capacity Jeddah Arena Airport City, scheduled to open at the end of next year.

That is a large part of the reason why, after years of patchy development spearheaded mainly by hardworking Dubai and its wealthy neighbour Abu Dhabi, the Gulf now finds itself a very interesting region indeed – albeit one that remains distinctly lopsided, its various key players coming to the table with very different budgets and goals.

First, there’s the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), where generous state backing has put cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah, and festivals (notably including MDLBEAST Soundstorm), uppermost in the minds of the world’s agents. Beyoncé, Metallica, Mariah Carey, Nelly, Janet Jackson, and Future have been among the visitors to this booming new market, where tickets are cheap and sometimes even free, but the 36m-strong population – more than 40% of it under 24 – guarantees a mighty crowd.

In Dubai, where the population is far smaller and the commercial realities more pressing, the market is a more pragmatic one but highly engaged in its attempts to mobilise a remarkably diverse market that counts an almost unbelievable range of cultures among its 3.3m inhabitants.

“We have close to 200 different nationalities living in the UAE,” says Ovesen. “So we have people that come from very different cultural backgrounds and experiences when it comes to live entertainment. Sometimes we have to get people out to the very first gig of their life; sometimes we’re dealing with 14-year-old kids of 200 nationalities. It’s all very exciting, but it’s challenging as well.”

“2023 was a record year for Live Nation Middle East, with the largest show count and ticket sales we have seen since first establishing the Middle East business in 2009″

Then there’s Abu Dhabi, where music, again heavily state-funded, tends to intertwine with the local Grand Prix; and Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, where a variety of highly modern venues enable a steady but controlled stream of shows by well-known western and Arabic stars.

All of it adds up to an increasingly viable regional circuit, albeit one rife with budget inequality. Meanwhile, investment in venue infrastructure across the region, combined with the development of nearby and not so nearby markets, suggests that, should the Saudi Arabian chequebook slam shut, something is being built in the Gulf and beyond, that ought to last a while.

As an increasingly sturdy market coalesces across the Gulf and the wider region, many of the prominent global players have ramped up their presence.

Live Nation Middle East, long present and now increasingly active, now presides over sophisticated regional tours for western and Arabic artists from its base in Dubai. All Things Live made its first non-European investment last April when it backed regional live veteran Ovesen to establish All Things Live Middle East.

In Abu Dhabi, state-backed promoter Flash Entertainment, which over the years has brought Beyoncé, the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, and Coldplay to the Emirate, merged with Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM) in May last year to become Ethara. And in KSA, MDLBEAST is the standard-bearer for a new generation of Saudi promoters.

Based in Dubai under regional president James Craven, Live Nation Middle East recently added a team to nurture up-and-coming Arabic talent, led by Amin T. Kabbani, and accordingly, the promoter’s highest-grossing arena show of 2023 was one such artist, Abdul Majeed Abdullah, at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. But across the board, the live giant’s focus on the region is palpably intensifying.

“2023 was a record year for Live Nation Middle East, with the largest show count and ticket sales we have seen since first establishing the Middle East business in 2009,” says Craven. “The potential for the market is enormous. This year, we’ll continue building strong regional venues and tours across clubs, theatres, and arenas. And now, with talent teams across music, comedy, Arabic, and family entertainment, we see even more opportunities to bring benefits to the wider region.”

“Not only are the bands making more money but it’s a more extensive run, and it builds up a region that they can continue coming back to”

In recent years, Live Nation has famously pioneered the concept of the regional tour of the Middle East. After Maroon 5’s shows in Abu Dhabi, Israel, and Egypt in 2022 – the first joined-up tour of the region following the resumption of flights between Tel Aviv and the UAE in 2020 – Imagine Dragons was the next boundary-pusher in January and February last year, building shows in Riyadh, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Cape Town, and Johannesburg around an appearance at the first Indian Lollapalooza in Mumbai.

For an even more complete illustration of the emerging Middle Eastern/South Asian/South African circuit, Live Nation points to the Backstreet Boys, who rounded off a four-year, pandemic-hit world tour in May with 12 shows in Egypt, India, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa (a show in Israel was cancelled due to the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza). Increasingly, the touring giant regards the wider market as one with the potential to rival any other continental circuit.

“When you’re doing 12, 13, or even more markets in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, not only are the bands making more money but it’s a more extensive run, and it builds up a region that they can continue coming back to,” says Zaed Maqbool, VP Middle East/South Asia, who has spent years laboriously bringing new markets into the circuit.

The geopolitics of the region are not for the faint-hearted, but careful negotiation and diplomacy reveal opportunities in all sorts of guises. While promoters are not able to operate conventionally in KSA, for instance, the local infrastructure there still needs significant support, where a previously fallow market now finds itself juggling huge, star-studded events, including one of the world’s biggest festivals.

“In Saudi, 90% of the business is government-underwritten, perhaps even government-controlled or part of government-owned activities, and there is no legislation or framework yet that enables me to go in on conventional terms and do my own promotion,” says Ovesen. “But then, I can lend my expertise to those buyers. The government projects need advice on what to programme; they need advice on what to book and how to book; they need producer services. So the whole ecosystem benefits tremendously.”

Ethara is active in KSA, too, having opened an office in Riyadh in 2022, with a dedicated in-market team to build a year-round event calendar for domestic, regional, and international events, but its home soil remains in Abu Dhabi, where it has significant infrastructure at its disposal.

“I would imagine it was a better market in Dubai when there was no Saudi, when there was no Qatar, when there was no Bahrain”

ADMM and Flash have delivered more than 700 major events in the 15 years since their inception, including the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yasalam After-Race Concerts, and the FIFA Club World Cup. Ethara – which translates as “thrill” in Arabic – will continue to manage and oversee a portfolio of assets including Etihad Park, Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 circuit, Yas Marina Circuit, and the Yas Conference Centre.

As the most commercially liberal market in the region, Dubai boasts a range of promoters, from Live Nation and All Things Live to indies such as Blu Blood (a South African specialist in Bollywood, comedy, and children’s entertainment that has staged James Blunt, The Wailers, and Demi Lovato since it launched in the Middle East in 2019), and Speed Entertainment, which focuses on western and Asian shows (from the likes of Simple Minds, Ronan Keating, and Arijit Singh), plus DJ gigs and corporate and luxury events.

Another indie, Full Circle, will this year bring The Kid Laroi and the next instalment of its Afroworld events to the Coca-Cola Arena, as well as a range of EDM artists. However, managing director Shaz Hayat makes no bones about the challenges of the market. Particularly the fee inflation that has accompanied the rise of Saudi and other wealthy smaller markets in the neighbourhood.

“I would imagine it was a better market in Dubai when there was no Saudi, when there was no Qatar, when there was no Bahrain,” says Hayat. “With the fees these guys pay, backed up by the government, it makes it difficult for Dubai to get good talent. If you think about it, you will never see guys like Drake, Travis Scott, Post Malone in Dubai – that level of talent just wouldn’t come because we don’t have the money to pay for it.”

Part of Dubai’s problem, he suggests, is a global misapprehension about its wealth, which was built on tourism but does not rival that of oil-rich states such as Qatar and KSA.

“The London agents have a little bit of understanding because they’ve been to Dubai a few times, they know what it is, but the guys sitting in LA, they have no clue,” says Hayat. “They think Saudi and Dubai are all the same, and they want $5m for no-name acts. And I think that’s the biggest issue we have in the market.”

“I think that the biggest change that we will see in the next few years is going to be the opening-up of the Caucasus region, such as Azerbaijan and Georgia”

Full Circle remains the busiest EDM promoter in the region, but though the government underwrites certain tourism-driving events, sponsorship for such shows is hard to come by, to Hayat’s frustration.

“The government never wants to fund DJ events or pay any sponsorship dollars towards them,” he says, “but they are the ones that sell the most tickets; Martin Garrix, Tiësto, David Guetta – those are the guys that sell 10,000 tickets, more than any other rapper or pop act.”

Yet, while the numbers may be a challenge, the wider market continues to expand, offering the potential in the long term to draw artists to the broader region on more sustainably commercial terms.

“I think that the biggest change that we will see in the next few years is going to be the opening-up of the Caucasus region, such as Azerbaijan and Georgia,” says Maqbool. “You don’t necessarily think about the Middle East in relation to Central Asian markets, but geographically, they’re so close. Georgia is approximately three hours north of the UAE and has the ability to connect into our broader touring region.”

The region’s family entertainment business is also growing exponentially, allowing companies such as Sportainment Entertainment & Sports (SES) to build a routing that extends across the GCC states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrian and Oman, although the company has also conducted business in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Established in 2005, SES is at the forefront in the sport sponsorship and entertainment sectors in the Middle East, while under its live events sub-brand, SESLive!, the company promotes globally recognised family entertainment concepts across the region, where it is the exclusive promoter of Disney On Ice, Disney Live!, Marvel Universe Live! and Jurassic World, thanks to a partnership deal with Feld Entertainment.

“The competition is fierce. But it’s a great sign of a maturing market, so we welcome the competition”

“When we started out with SESLive! things were very different,” notes SES business development director, Alison Goldsmith. “Back then, when you came into a market with an event, ticket sales could be phenomenal because people had nothing else to do. But now, people have so much choice with where to spend their money, so the competition is fierce. But it’s a great sign of a maturing market, so we welcome the competition.”

Indeed, while the challenge of enticing people to specific shows can be tough, Goldsmith tells IQ, “A few years ago we’d struggle to find venues and dates, but there are so many world class venues in the region now, that’s no longer an issue. It also means that customers can be confident that the shows they love will return year on year.”

Looking ahead, SES will be bringing Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal to Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena in April, while Goldsmith hints that the company is also actively looking for new markets to take Disney On Ice later this year.

Where Middle Eastern festivals are concerned, all cower before the instant giant that is MDLBEAST Soundstorm – just four editions old (2019, 2021, 2022, and 2023) and already being discussed as one of the world’s foremost events, just as its organisers clearly intend.

Soundstorm racks up 700,000 visitors over three days, and MDLBEAST head of talent booking and events Talal Albahiti is justifiably proud.

“Soundstorm 2023 was an extraordinary experience for us, surpassing its ’22 edition with a remarkable fusion of innovation and immersive experiences,” he says. “We built on our prior successes, introducing cutting-edge technologies in production and elevating the overall audio-visual extravaganza. The lineup featured diverse musical genres, catering to broader audiences, and the production reached new heights, creating an unforgettable ambience. Attendees enjoyed not only world-class performances but also interactive installations and engaging activities.”

“Arabic hip-hop is exceptionally unique and holds the potential to set the international industry ablaze”

As well as Metallica, heavyweight artists including J Balvin, 50 Cent, Travis Scott, Wiz Khalifa, Calvin Harris and Wizkid played across Soundstorm’s three days, but it is clear the Saudi plan is not simply to import US and European talent.

“Our mission, vision, and goals revolve around uplifting Arab talent and the creative economy,” says Albahiti. “Looking ahead to 2024, we aim to intensify our support for local talents and explore international opportunities and collaborations.

“There is an abundance of talent in the MENA region,” he adds. “The wider world should undoubtedly keep an eye on hip-hop artists such as [British-Lebanese female rapper and producer] Laughta and [Sudanese/Saudi artist] Dafencii, who performed at the last edition. Arabic hip-hop is exceptionally unique and holds the potential to set the international industry ablaze. I’m also immensely proud of Cosmicat’s journey and her achievements as a breakthrough act from Saudi, now gracing some of the biggest festivals in Europe and the United States.”

MDLBEAST’s other Saudi festivals include Balad Beast in Jeddah in January, with Bebe Rexha, Wu-Tang Clan, Ty Dolla $ign, and others, and the two-day Azimuth event at the historic Al-‘Ula oasis city in Medina Province last September, where you could find The Kooks, Cosmicat, Thievery Corporation, and Nooriyah.

Elsewhere, too, festival ambitions are heating up. In mid-February, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, in partnership with Expo City Dubai, launches the Emirate’s own version of Romania’s electronic UNTOLD Festival on the outdoor Expo City site, with Armin Van Buuren, Hardwell, Tiësto, Timmy Trumpet, Ellie Goulding, G-Eazy, and Major Lazer in tow. The Dubai edition expects a crowd of more than 280,000 over four days.

Last year, Live Nation launched Wireless Festival at Etihad Park on Yas Island, with 25,000 fans and 18 artists including Travis Scott, Roddy Ricch, Central Cee, Wegz, Black Sherif, Ali Gatie, M.I.A., King, Divine, and Young Stunners. A second edition lands on 2 March at the same location.

Wondrous venues in the Gulf these days come in two varieties: the real and the projected

Other staple events in Dubai include DJ Deian Markov’s homegrown electronic festival Groove on the Grass, which takes place in November at Emirates Golf Club and spawned two-day spin-off events in Jeddah and Riyadh last year; Live Nation’s retro Rewind Festival at the Bla Bla beach club and nightspot in March; and youth and contemporary culture festival Soul DXB, founded in 2011 by friends Hussain Moloobhoy, Joshua Cox, and Rajat Malhotra, which in December brought Arlo Parks, Lupe Fiasco, Joey Bada$$, Busta Ryhmes, and others to the Dubai Design District.

Wondrous venues in the Gulf these days come in two varieties: the real and the projected. In the former camp is an impressive array of newly built structures, from Abu Dhabi’s 18,000-cap Etihad Arena and Dubai’s 17,000-cap Coca-Cola Arena to Bahrain’s 10,000-cap Al Dana Amphitheatre and the 5,000-cap Arena Kuwait.

In the latter group, there is even more choice. In January, Saudi Arabia unveiled details of the 45,000-cap Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium located in Qiddiya, an entertainment and tourism megaproject in Riyadh, under its Vision 2030 masterplan.

The stadium, named after Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, will be capable of hosting some of the country’s biggest sports, entertainment, and cultural events, including, potentially, matches at the 2034 World Cup. It will serve as the home of Saudi Pro League clubs Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr and is projected to attract an estimated 7.6m annual visitors, with a retractable roof, pitch, and LED wall, and a lake and ice wall to cool the air inside.

Other coming developments in Saudi include further new stadiums in Riyadh and Dammam, as well as ASM Global’s 20,000-capacity Jeddah Arena Airport City at King Abdulaziz International Airport, not to mention numerous other possible megaprojects with an entertainment component.

Also on the cards, but certainly not yet confirmed, is a rumoured second Sphere venue said to be the subject of discussions between Madison Square Garden boss James Dolan and investors in Abu Dhabi.

If even a proportion of these projects – particularly those in KSA – come to fruition with their entertainment ambitions intact, it is clear the live ecosystem in the Gulf will have to expand significantly to meet their needs.

“We definitely see lots of talk about programming for these future theatres and arenas that are being built, so someone eventually has to deliver”

“We definitely see lots of talk about programming for these future theatres and arenas that are being built, so someone eventually has to deliver,” says Ovesen. “It’ll be interesting to see what kind of partnerships are created across the region, particularly in Saudi, where there’s so many facility and venue projects that will start needing programming of 50 to hundreds of shows annually within the next couple of years.

“I don’t think any of the existing operators in the market can fulfil that need. Some of these projects might start their own business and inadvertently become our competitors. Or we might be smart enough to do some deals where we end up assisting with that.”

It’s only a few years since Dubai and Abu Dhabi had to make do with busked-up outdoor venues if and when an arena-sized concert came to town. Not anymore: Abu Dhabi got its Etihad Arena in January 2021, while ASM Global’s Coca-Cola Arena opened in Dubai June 2019, the 2,000-capacity Dubai Opera having made its entrance in August 2016. These indoor venues have done as much as anything else to cement the live market of the UAE.

In addition to the Backstreet Boys, the Etihad has received Westlife, Akon and Ne-Yo, and Disney On Ice in recent months, while at the time of writing, the Coca-Cola Arena is preparing to host Indian Tamil film composer Anirudh, Pakistani singer-songwriter Atif Islam, Glaswegian arena-fillers Simple Minds, US R&B star Khalid, Russian rockers Kino, and Indo-Canadian Punjabi rapper and singer AP Dhillon – an eclectic lineup for an arena with no set audience.

“We’re in a space that is a complete melting pot,” says Coca-Cola Arena general manager Mark Jan Kar. “If you look at other international cities, Hong Kong might have Chinese, Mandarin, or Cantonese content and then exclusively western; they wouldn’t necessarily also have Pakistani or Indian content, or Russian, or Arabic, but we do. Even if you just look at the Southeast Asian content, you’ve probably got about seven or eight different dialects that have a population in Dubai.”

Clearly, this represents both an opportunity and a challenge, as cultural differences can be dramatic. Arabic concert-goers, for instance, often attend in family groups, so the maximum number available for a single buyer to purchase rises from ten to 16 to accommodate bulk buys. Southeast Asian shows, meanwhile, support a particularly broad range of prices and tiers.

“Your front row tickets could be going at, let’s say £500 a ticket, and your cheapest ticket might be £20,” says Kar. “Same show, five metres apart, but it’s what people are prepared to pay. Whereas for western artists, it’s three or four categories maximum, and it’s maybe, at most, $150 variance between those categories.”

“We are looking forward to welcoming a steady stream of new Arabic artists from the whole of the Middle East region on a regular basis”

Dubai Opera has a brief to introduce a different kind of culture to the Emirate. Last year, it drew 200,000 visitors, many of them first-time attendees of a classical concert, but it deals in more mainstream culture, too – a run of Matilda last year sold 20,000 tickets across ten days.

“Those are big numbers for a theatre with an auditorium of 2,000 seats,” says Paolo Petrocelli, head of Dubai Opera, whose ambition is to elevate the venue to the top ten or 15 performing arts centres in the world. “We have such a diversified programming that covers the entire spectrum of the performing arts, going from opera to ballet, symphonic music, musicals, jazz, Arabic, world music, you name it. So it’s really special. And I think there are just a few cases around the world of major performing arts centres in global cities that have this kind of artistic mission.”

Bahrain’s Al Dana Amphitheatre, which opened in November 2021, backed by Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the crown prince and prime minister, was also created with big ambitions: to give the kingdom a globally recognised world-class venue and to form a regular stop on the local, regional, and international circuit.

The plan is working, with Sheeran, 50 Cent, Westlife, Halsey, Backstreet Boys, and Imagine Dragons, plus comedians Kevin Hart, Mo Amer, Maz Jobrani, and Michael McIntyre among the highlights of a busy 12 months.

Tamdeen Group’s Arena Kuwait launched in March 2022 in Kuwait City’s 360 Mall and has just completed its first full year of operation, focusing on live entertainment, sports events, and consumer-focused exhibitions, as well as a heavy bill of Arabic artists, including Amr Diab, Mohammed Abdo, Sherine, Angham, Tamer Hosny, and Majid Al Mohandis.

“The Arena Kuwait calendar is dominated by Arabic content,” says Arena Kuwait general manager Ken Jamieson. “With the rise and appeal of new Arabic talent growing every day, we are looking forward to welcoming a steady stream of new Arabic artists from the whole of the Middle East region on a regular basis.”

International tours are coming, too, Jamieson predicts. “We have received an increased volume of enquiries for artists on regional tours, as Kuwait is now firmly on the touring map in the Gulf region. We expect to schedule a number of international western artists in 2024 and beyond.”


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Dutch courage: Netherlands market report

As a barometer for the health of the international live music industry, the Netherlands is a pretty good bet. The nation’s promoters have bounced back post-Covid, albeit with a series of challenges that their peers internationally will recognise. But Adam Woods learns that a clampdown on tourism in Amsterdam might provide the rest of the nation with opportunities…

Industrious, outward-looking, and well-located in the heart of Europe, The Netherlands isn’t immune to bad times – but when there are good times to be had, you can generally assume the Dutch are getting their share of them.

In August, the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals’ (VNPF) Poppodia and Festivals in Figures 2022 report, showed that 48 key music venues and 55 festivals drew 7.6m visits in 2022, compared to 883,000 in 2021 and 8.6m in the last pre-Covid year of 2019.

And while rising costs and an accompanying spike in ticket prices offer their own challenges, the anecdotal health of the business in 2023 – proclaimed by just about everyone in the industry – indicates that we can probably declare The Netherlands’ comeback to be complete.

Mojo Concerts, the local Live Nation arm and by some distance the biggest promoter in The Netherlands over 55 years, has had another banner year, to add to a barnstorming 2022.

“2023 again is a record year, specifically for stadium shows”

“This whole year has been an amazing year for us again,” says Mojo head promoter Kim Bloem. “Last year was already crazy because in nine months, we had more visitors than we normally had in a year. And 2023 again is a record year, specifically for stadium shows.”

Mojo chalked up 17 of them in 2023, most in Amsterdam’s 55,855-cap Johan Cruijff ArenA (AKA Amsterdam ArenA) – four Coldplays, three Bruce Springsteens, three Harry Styles, two apiece for The Weeknd, Metallica, and Beyoncé, and one for Guns N’ Roses.

“We never have that many stadium shows in one year,” says Bloem, “but for obvious reasons, 2022 was not a good year for those acts – it’s such a huge investment to tour on that level, and with all the uncertainties and travel restrictions still in place, it just didn’t make sense. It was a challenge to get everything lined up, and it’s amazing that it all fitted in so well.”

The Netherlands has form for fitting things in. With a population of around 17.5m in just 41,526 sq km, it is more densely populated than any other substantial country in Europe, and its level of consumer demand puts it firmly on the agenda of any tour of any significance.

Its festivals – Lowlands, Mysteryland, Pinkpop, Amsterdam Dance Event, Awakenings, Best Kept Secret, North Sea Jazz, and the rest – have local appeal and major international pull; and secondary markets such as Rotterdam (while very much ancillary to Amsterdam), have a growing appeal of their own. So, what’s the secret of Dutch success? Joost Aanen, co-founder and CEO of Amsterdam-and Eindhoven-based ticketing platform Eventix, thinks he knows.

“Dutch culture and government governance was always quite lenient here, so festivals developed very early on, and that side of the industry is very experienced”

“What I think is unique about The Netherlands and Dutch culture is that because it’s such a small country, without a lot of natural resources, the culture is very much focused around trading with neighbours,” he says. “It’s always been a country of merchants, with a global orientation.

“So, it’s a good foundation to build an entertainment industry. If you look at the Dutch DJs, they also have this global focus. And meanwhile, Dutch culture and government governance was always quite lenient here, so festivals developed very early on, and that side of the industry is very experienced.”

That doesn’t entirely account for the bulletproof demand, however. Friendly Fire promoter Lauri van Ommen believes the market in 2023 might have already outstripped its pre-Covid form.

“I think it may be even stronger than it was,” she says. “A lot of people realised during Covid that they want to go out, they want to enjoy a concert, that it’s their time to relax. And I think people also want to travel again, and The Netherlands is convenient for the UK, for Belgium, for France. It’s so easy to get to.”

But while promoters, venues, and the vast majority of festivals report good times, like most European markets, The Netherlands has certain structural issues to contend with.

“More and more venues have stopped booking support acts because it’s too expensive to have one due to longer working hours, higher wages, and more catering costs”

Last year’s staff drain has not entirely been reversed, with reports of elevated rates for experienced technical professionals. Supplier costs have bitten hardest among areas of the market that can least afford it, including free festivals, and the increasing conservatism of ticket-buyers, while good news for well-known names, has left smaller venues and newer artists struggling for their share of attention.

“At the moment, I think the excitement is mainly at the financial departments of the promoters who promote the big shows and festivals,” says Jacco van Lanen of independent Double Vee Concerts. “Doesn’t matter what the prices are, the people buy tickets.

“On the smaller level, I see more challenges than excitement. More and more venues have stopped booking support acts because it’s too expensive to have one due to longer working hours, higher wages, and more catering costs. The most exciting thing is that there are, luckily, still many very talented young people who are incredibly creative in getting attention and trying to build their way up.”

While Mojo remains dominant, the well-told story of the past dozen years or so among the promoters of The Netherlands has been the rise to prominence of a healthy range of big-hitting competitors. These include FKP Scorpio’s Friendly Fire, the independent Greenhouse Talent, and the Dutch-talent-focused Agents After All, which last December became the latest acquisition of the increasingly sizeable All Things Live group. The clear impression is of a market that can accommodate a bit of healthy rivalry.

“It is a competitive market, but it is a good one. It just feels stable,” says Greenhouse Talent head promoter Wouter de Wilde, who believes international agents appreciate a range of choice.

“This year we have had Måneskin and George Ezra, Snoop Dogg, Cigarettes After Sex, Hans Zimmer”

“We see a lot of dropouts coming to us,” he says. “We can offer something different to Live Nation, and we have proven ourselves as a promoter for really big shows.”

This year, Greenhouse promoted Rammstein across two nights at Groningen’s Stadspark in July, selling 110,000 tickets. The same month, the promoter put three Taylor Swift shows on sale for summer next year at Johan Cruijff Arena, 150,000 tickets in total, and promptly sold the lot.

“That’s tremendous business to have as an independent promoter,” says De Wilde, who notes that such demand comes even in the face of rising ticket prices.

Of the other key promoters in The Netherlands, Friendly Fire was founded in 2009 and became part of FKP Scorpio three years later. Like its Dutch competitors, it operates across the board, from clubs to stadiums.

“This year we have had Måneskin and George Ezra, Snoop Dogg, Cigarettes After Sex, Hans Zimmer,” says Van Ommen. “It’s a great year for promoted shows, and we also had a great year for our festival, Best Kept Secret.”

In August, All Things Live also took a majority stake in festival promoter Loveland Events

Dance giant ID&T is another huge presence in the Netherlands and further afield. It was bought by Superstruct Entertainment from owners Axar Capital for an undisclosed sum in September 2021. The promoter has 70 events, including Amsterdam Open Air, Mysteryland, Thunderdome, Awakenings, Defqon.1, Milkshake, and Sensation, as well as two talent agencies and a creative workshop.

Booking agent, management stable, and promoter Agents After All, meanwhile, has operated since 2004, and its 30-strong team is involved in 1,500 concerts annually, to add to festivals such as Royal Park Live, HIER Festival, and Concert at SEA.

In August, All Things Live also took a majority stake in festival promoter Loveland Events, whose events include Loveland Festival, 909 Festival, Music On Festival, and Loveland Van Orange Festival, as well as several ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) events.

Double Vee, founded by Dutch live veteran Willem Venema, is another busy indie, promoting, booking, and co-promoting around 400 to 500 shows a year, varying in capacity from 150-cap rooms to arena shows. Its acts include new international artists like Alix Page, Daisy The Great, Deijuvhs, and L.A. Edwards, and Dutch artists such as Lov3less, Leah Rye, Annelie, and Lotte Walda.

So, where next? Does the post-Covid boom carry on into 2024, or are we in for a slow-down?

“I think if you compare it to 2022 and this year, then of course the big difference you’ll see is the number of stadium shows”

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a quieter year,” says Bloem. “I think if you compare it to 2022 and this year, then of course the big difference you’ll see is the number of stadium shows. My feeling is that it’s going to go back to ‘normal’ again, where you have many big acts touring one year, and then the next you have a bit less but more new talent coming up.

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in the number of shows. Since I have been working in the music business, every year there has been an increase, and artists grow quicker into theatres and arenas.”

Where festivals are concerned, The Netherlands has some of Europe’s crown jewels. The world’s longest-running electronic music festival, ID&T’s Mysteryland, chalked up its 30th anniversary in August and celebrated by announcing that 80% of the festival’s power consumption would come from green grid power, while the remaining 20% would be largely made up of flexible, sustainably generated energy.

Live Nation’s Pinkpop is the longest-running open-air festival in the world, and this year returned with P!nk, Robbie Williams, and Red Hot Chili Peppers at the top of the bill, drawing 62,500 a day to Megaland in Landgraaf across three days in June.

As well as Pinkpop, Mojo has Lowlands, North Sea Jazz, and Down the Rabbit Hole, and its experience offers an indication of the market’s elastic demand in a tough consumer environment.

“They are not buying a new house or car, they are not making those big investments, but they are spending their money on experiences and memories”

“Costs are hitting everyone, and that has resulted in increased ticket prices this year,” says Bloem. “At the same time, Lowlands and Down the Rabbit Hole sold out in a heartbeat. So, we see and feel that people are spending money on entertainment, restaurants, and going out. They are not buying a new house or car, they are not making those big investments, but they are spending their money on experiences and memories.”

Most Dutch promoters have a stake in the festival business, with the odd exception. “We deliberately don’t organise our own festival,” says Van Lanen at Double Vee. “Mainly because we don’t want to compete in that way with the multinationals. On the other hand, try to find an empty weekend in The Netherlands…”

Greenhouse, whose Ghent-based Belgian arm this year recovered the Ghent Jazz Festival from bankruptcy, organises a yearly concert series called Zuiderpark Live, at The Hague’s open-air Zuiderparktheater.

Friendly Fire’s portfolio includes Indian Summer and Best Kept Secret, which received an overhaul this year. “For Best Kept Secret, we changed the whole identity, gave it a new look and feel, new website, new logo, and changed the set-up of the festival field,” says Van Ommen. “We also have the Indian Summer festival, which is mainly domestic artists, and we have Tuckerville, Ilse DeLange’s festival, and it’s the last edition this year.”

Tuckerville’s retirement after six editions, attributed to rising costs and the difficulty of remaining accessible to a large audience, nods to challenging times in the broader festival market, and it is not the only one.

“More and more free festivals are disappearing”

Dutch hip-hop festival Oh My! announced in July that it would no longer take place this year, citing the cost-of-living crisis, increased production costs, and last-minute safety and crowd regulations. The ALDA-promoted festival, touted as the biggest urban festival in Europe, was due to take place on 15 July at Almere Beach, in the province of Flevoland, and would have
been the sixth annual instalment. Likewise, DUCOS Productions’ free festival Parkpop in The Hague, which drew 250,000 visitors annually and ran for 40 years, drew a hard line in 2023 in response to the rising costs of production and safety requirements.

“More and more free festivals are disappearing,” says Hilde Spille of Nijmegen-based independent booking agency Paperclip. “They either are not there anymore, like Parkpop, one of the biggest European one-day free festivals, or they are turning into paid festivals.”

Production and talent are not the only inflationary factors. Insurance, for instance, must be increasingly comprehensive in the light of recent extreme weather events and warnings.

But with extreme weather taking its toll on many European summer events this season, some local operators report that policies covering acts of God can now be four times what they previously were.

Accordingly, a number of Dutch festivals were disrupted by the threat of extreme weather in July. Awakenings, a techno festival in Hilvarenbeek, Brabant, promoted by ID&T and attracting more than 100,000 visitors across three days, called off its third and final day in anticipation of severe thunderstorms that didn’t fully materialise.

“When the Ziggo Dome was built, it was envisioned for the big touring artists from the US, maybe the UK. The thinking was that Dutch artists can’t fill this place – and that is not the case”

On the same weekend of 8 and 9 July, Weert-based annual rock festival Bospop, which welcomes around 50,000 people each year, and electronic music festival Wildeburg, a three-day event that takes place in Kraggenburg, Flevoland, were also cut short due to the predicted weather conditions.

Amsterdam’s 17,000-capacity Ziggo Dome is the largest concert hall in the Netherlands. Last year, it welcomed over 140 events in nine months, and its busy calendar in 2023 is straightforward evidence of the health of the market at its top end, with Fred Again, Diana Ross, Lizzo, Madonna, Dua Lipa, Depeche Mode, and the Arctic Monkeys among those passing through.

“It is the year after the busiest year ever in our history,” Ziggo Dome director of commercial affairs Danny Damman told IQ’s Global Arena Guide 2023. “In 2022, we had over 140 events in nine months – it was a hefty challenge – and we are well on target this year despite having a particularly high number of cancellations, such as Justin Bieber and Celine Dion.”

Inaugurated in 2012, the venue was built with international touring artists in mind, but The Netherlands’ homegrown talent has increasingly risen to meet the challenge.

“When the Ziggo Dome was built, it was envisioned for the big touring artists from the US, maybe the UK,” says Henk Schuit, managing director of Eventim Netherlands. “The thinking was that Dutch artists can’t fill this place – and that is not the case. More and more Dutch artists are filling the Ziggo Dome – both older reunited bands like Acda en De Munnik, who filled it six times, and newer guys like Anton, who’s just turned 21 and played two shows [in December], which is quite healthy, I think.”

“The new generation of creators want to be the boss of their own community, their own ticket sales and so on”

Other developments at the Ziggo Dome also appear to have broader significance. In 2022, the venue added blockchain ticketing specialist GUTS Tickets to its preferred ticketing partners. In addition to preventing unwanted reselling and ticket fraud, blockchain tickets allow for every attendee to claim their ticket as an NFT collectible – while also offering promoters and artists access to the data generated by their audience.

“The Ziggo Dome offers the possibility to people who rent out the arena to have their own ticketing system,” says GUTS Tickets CEO Maarten Bloemers. “And what we see is that the younger artists, the independent artists, tend to choose us. The new generation of creators want to be the boss of their own community, their own ticket sales and so on. I think bi-weekly or weekly we do a show in the Ziggo Dome, and they’re a dream partner of ours, obviously.”

The Netherlands’ other key arenas are the 16,426-cap Rotterdam Ahoy, now 52 years old, and Amsterdam’s AFAS Live – once the Heineken Music Hall – whose Black Box main room can contain up to 6,000. The Ahoy has undergone a total renovation in recent years, as well as introducing a new mid-size arena, the 7,842-cap RTM Stage, at the end of 2020.

“The new stage is also designed to transform into the biggest auditorium in The Netherlands, with a capacity of 2,816 and an XL-seated variant of 4,174 seats,” says Ahoy head of entertainment and sports Arnaud Hordijk.

Events at the Ahoy complex this year include Mojo’s North Sea Jazz festival and Rolling Loud Rotterdam, as well as Rotterdam Reggae and hard techno fest Rotterdam Rave. “We’ve welcomed almost 200,000 visitors for these festivals this summer, which include three new ones compared to last year,” says Hordijk. The Ahoy is also busy with a range of sustainability initiatives, including 8,700 sq m of solar panels and 1,300 sq m of sedum roofs and, most recently, a plan for an urban water buffer, which allows rainwater to be collected, retained, filtered, stored, and reused for purposes such as window and floor cleaning.

“Of course, when Stromae cancels shows or Adele farts, it’s in the media. But it’s very, very hard to get any attention for new developing artists at the moment”

In a time of big-ticket shows, the fortunes of such venues seem assured. Of greater concern, says Schuit, are those of the smaller players. “The top of the market is getting the visitors, but underneath it’s a little bit of a problem,” says Schuit. “When you have 800,000 visitors to the Amsterdam ArenA, that maybe causes a rupture somewhere else in the channel, maybe lower down the line. I think young musicians starting out are struggling a little bit and have a tougher environment to break through.”

At Double Vee, Van Lanen agrees. “It feels like extremes to both sides. It looks like the major acts can’t deliver enough tickets for everybody who wants to see the show. And the prices are extremely high, so they take most of the money out of the market. As a result, the smaller and newer acts suffer.

“On the other hand, for new acts, it feels like the media also sort of disappeared after Covid. Of course, when Stromae cancels shows or Adele farts, it’s in the media. But it’s very, very hard to get any attention for new developing artists at the moment. I hope this will change soon, otherwise we won’t have acts to fill the medium-sized rooms in a year or five.”

The strength of Mojo contributes to making Ticketmaster the comfortable market leader in The Netherlands, leaving its rivals to find ingenious ways to carve out market share. Eventim recently launched an in-house agency to provide marketing and promotional support to promoters, particularly international ones, seeking to stage one or two shows in The Netherlands.

“If you are touring with a certain production setup and you can take care of that, then we are a perfect fit,” says Schuit. “We know the market; we have the reach. So I think, especially for foreign visitors to The Netherlands, we are a perfect fit to cater to their needs.”

As Schuit points out, The Netherlands is a busy, highly competitive market. But it is also one that carved itself out with hard work and smart thinking – and, as recent years have shown, one that rewards independent spirit.


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Remote control: New Zealand market report

With the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, concerts have returned to New Zealand, or Aotearoa as it is increasingly being referred to by many inhabitants, and touring is back in full force – mostly – in the world’s most remote market. Lars Brandle reports.

The home of the legendary Flying Nun Records, and the birthplace of Lorde, Broods, Benee, The Beths, stadium-fillers Six60, and many others, New Zealand has a thriving music scene.

With a population of more than 1.6m, Auckland remains NZ’s biggest market. But a glance at touring itineraries reveals the country’s touring landscape has hotspots on both islands.

Ed Sheeran’s 2023 Mathematics Tour of New Zealand (promoted by Frontier Touring) dropped into Sky Stadium in the capital, Wellington, and Auckland’s Eden Park – the nation’s home of rugby.

Rod Stewart played Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin and Mission Estate Winery in Hawke’s Bay in April 2023, and blink-182 will visit in February 2024 (both Live Nation) with dates at the 12,000-capacity Sparks Stadium in Auckland and the 9,000-capacity Wolfbrook Arena in Christchurch.

When the Foo Fighters drop by in January 2024 for Frontier Touring, Dave Grohl and co will rock out on both islands with a trek that includes Auckland’s GO Media Stadium (Mt Smart Stadium), Christchurch’s Orangetheory Stadium, and Wellington’s Sky Stadium.

“The top end of the New Zealand market is doing incredibly well with huge success for P!nk across three stadiums, Harry Styles and arena acts Lewis Capaldi, Lizzo and Blink-182 also looking at sold out dates,” says Mark Kneebone, managing director of Live Nation NZ.

“It does feel like there are changes in our market. But that might be generational”

“We are back from the pandemic,” notes Brent Eccles, director of Eccles Entertainment, the full-service booking agency and concert promoter. “It does feel like there are changes in our market. But that might be generational.” Venues and cities all across Aotearoa have “become more professional” and are “keen to work with promoters to get international artists to come to town”.

Formed by Brent and Helen Eccles in 2000, Eccles Entertainment exclusively represents Frontier Touring, Illusive Presents, Chugg Entertainment, Arena Touring, and Roundhouse Entertainment in NZ.

The challenge, he continues, is making shows work on all levels in a busy marketplace. The sweet spot for ticket prices “is all-important, and we need to set these uniquely for NZ.”

The good; the not so good
NZ’s music scene is vibrant, and Kiwis rarely miss out on the big tours, although the problems promoters are faced with are many and varied. The tyranny of distance can’t be adjusted; it’s a challenge doing business in this stunning part of the world, whose Scottish influences can be spotted in town names from Invercargill to Dunedin, Balfour and more.
Caroline Harvie-Teare, chief executive at Venues Ōtautahi, reports “a strong return in international acts” and, “in some respects, exceeding pre-pandemic levels”. Mark Gosling, general manager for Spark Arena, says business “has been fantastic this year,” with shows “selling well albeit later than pre-Covid”.

Rising costs across the live music ecosystem are another issue giving promoters headaches. And the spectre of a recession was confirmed in June 2023 when NZ’s central bank raised interest rates to a 14-year high. The country is now in a “technical recession” as the economy shrank in the first quarter. Locals, who are already feeling the pinch from inflation, will also feel the sting of higher mortgage repayments. Whether it has a marked impact on discretionary spending, for concert tickets and food and beverage at shows, remains to be seen.

“NZ radio is far more supportive than Australia”

The NZ market “on most levels has always been solid, and they love their music”, says legendary Australian concert promoter Michael Chugg. “NZ radio is far more supportive than Australia,” and its fans plug into a “club and university circuit, with a few wineries and some beautiful regional town halls”, he notes. “It’s a strong local market for local and Australian bands and smaller internationals.”

Venues sizes, however, have always been a problem, notes Chugg. “For decades, you played outside, or you did venues up to around 3-4,000 [capacity].” Wellington, the capital, “desperately needs an indoor arena,” he adds. Having to use ferries to move equipment between islands, and “the cost of sitting around for two to three days makes it tough.”

Chugg Entertainment produced Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road dates in NZ, his business is behind The Chicks’ trek, which includes two concerts this October at Christchurch’s Wolf brook Arena, and Robbie Williams’ return, which will see him perform to 50,000 fans at two Mission Estate Winery shows. The outdoor winery network in NZ is, like its bigger brother, Australia, a popular destination with older, concert-loving audiences.

The plight of grassroots live music venues has an advocate in Save Our Venues NZ. When the pandemic closed music rooms around the country in 2020, the organisation, with support from industry support groups MusicHelps and Boosted NZ, raised almost NZ$500,000, to support 30 “crucial small music venues” across NZ.

Save Our Venues NZ celebrated a win in April 2023 when Christchurch City Council endorsed the commencement of planning changes and non-regulatory initiatives to protect live music venues in the South Island city. The organisation worked alongside venues to develop a solution with council that “mitigates noise conflict with residents and ensures there is a plan for the future of live music in the city,” reads a statement. It’s hoped councils in other populated areas will follow suit.

“We are staging on-sales across different cities at different hours of the day, even in situations where there might only be a few thousand tickets per market to put on sale”

The live music industry’s mortal enemy, Viagogo, doesn’t have any friends in New Zealand, where the Commerce Commission took the rogue ticketing agent to court for a civil trial. The Commission is tasked with policing the Fair Trading Act and launched proceedings at Auckland’s High Court in early 2023 following a flood of consumer complaints over Viagogo’s practices. At the time of writing, the court case was ongoing. The live music industry is monitoring the outcome.

As NZ tries to squash Viagogo, the country welcomes an international ticketing brand, AXS, whose domestic operations are led by Andrew Travis, CEO of AXS Australia and New Zealand. The AEG-backed operation has quietly ticketed a couple of major shows for Frontier Touring, also a partner with AEG Presents, including Foo Fighters at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.

The incumbent ticketing companies in Australia and New Zealand “have real structural issues that have resulted in systems that don’t compare well to global standards in terms of reliability and capacity”, comments Dion Brant, CEO of Frontier Touring. “We are staging on-sales across different cities at different hours of the day, even in situations where there might only be a few thousand tickets per market to put on sale.” Ideally, he adds, the promoter “shouldn’t have to worry that your ticketing company might have issues handling the load if you put them up at the same time. We hope that the entry of AXS into the market will sharpen competition and force all players to improve. As the proverb says, ‘a rising tide floats all boats.’”

The great outdoors… Festivaland
Iconic festivals like Rhythm and Vines, which is now in its 21st year, regularly put up the “sold-out” sign and have become a rite of passage for young New Zealanders. The three-day music festival this year is held from 29 December at Waiohika Estate, Gisborne, with various packages currently on sale. A three-day GA festival pass with camping comes in at about NZ$525, inclusive of fees.

Endeavour Live operates a portfolio of festival brands including Spring City, The Golden Run, and Gardens Festival, in addition to touring talent at greenfield locations such as The Auckland Domain.

“There is room for new themed festivals in the market, with the likes of hip-hop and country opportunities to sit alongside more established genres like reggae and MOR – winery-style events”

Endeavour Live event producer Hamish Pinkham is confident there’s untapped opportunities. “There is room for new themed festivals in the market, with the likes of hip-hop and country opportunities to sit alongside more established genres like reggae and MOR – winery-style events,” he tells IQ.

Catering to an “elderly raver” market has proven a “strong proposition,” he continues, with recent tours from Groove Armada and Fatboy Slim selling out. Both British acts were able to play multiple outdoor venues around the country, including wineries. Also, legacy drum ‘n’ bass music acts like Wilkinson and Sub Focus “continue to do the business up and down the country,” with the former hitting three arenas, a “just reward for over ten years’ touring history in the region.”

Smaller club tours are facing the challenge of tightened discretionary spending and competition from the raft of stadium and arena tours that passed through during the busy southern summer. “It’s been difficult to flood new artists into the touring circuit recently,” says Pinkham.

Eccles has the last word. “As we recover from the Covid period, we seem to be seeing more and more artists on all levels touring Aotearoa and, in most cases, having successful tours.” When the big shows come to town, it’s creating a buzz and “everyone wants to participate.”


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Aussie rules! Australia market report

With a population approaching just 26 million, Australia punches way above its weight in terms of ticket sales for live music tours and events. And bouncing back from the Covid pandemic with a new culturally savvy government, the demand from fans only seems to be increasing. Lars Brandle reports.

Floods, bushfires, Covid-19 – Australia’s live music industry has felt all the forces of nature in recent years, and by most accounts, has made a stellar comeback.

For a population of 25m, Australia’s live industry punches above its weight class, a space where a singer can sell 1m tickets on a single tour (Ed Sheeran’s Divide) and another can play – and fill – 58 arena shows (P!nk’s Funhouse).

It’s not all fun and games. Touring Australia, a country roughly 4,000 km wide – a distance greater than London is from Moscow – the concerts space has its complexities. The soaring cost of travel, haulage, and booking acts; ongoing pressure on inner-city venues from developers; and a shortage of skilled professionals, many of whom left the industry during the pandemic, are just some of the challenges faced by promoters and others in Australia’s live music ecosystem.

But with a new federal government in power, one that’s sympathetic to the music industry, and a bonanza of major tours performing well at the box office, optimism is high.

So business is back, although it’s not what it was.

“Right now is a very exciting time to be an Australian music fan”

For a continent as vast as Australia, some things are surprisingly the same wherever you go. Drive for days and the language, currency, and power-points remain the same. And all across the country, there’s an enormous appetite for live entertainment. Getting a show on the road, however, is never a cinch.

“Right now is a very exciting time to be an Australian music fan,” says Geoff Jones, CEO of live entertainment, data, and tech giant TEG. “Since the end of the pandemic, we’ve seen many artists flock to Australia to play for their Aussie fanbases, which has played a major part in boosting the economy.”

Among them, stadium treks by Guns N’ Roses (TEG Dainty), Ed Sheeran (Frontier Touring), Harry Styles and Red Hot Chili Peppers (Live Nation Australia) – all visiting these parts within the space of three months.

And while cost of living and inflation is a big issue that’s impacting Australians, “consumers have been highly resilient and are still keeping money aside to watch their favourite artists perform to crowds of thousands,” Jones adds.

“We’re still seeing buying patterns lean much closer to the festival or show date, and we expect last-minute purchasing to remain part of the landscape,” notes Zac Leigh, CEO and founder of Tixel.

“I think the per-cap spending in Australia is the highest in the world. It’s just so engrained in the culture to see live music and sport”

In the most recent summer (December 2022-March 2023), “Something like 20% of the tickets listed on Tixel were traded for less than 50% of the face value of the ticket and we believe the oversupply was due to things like illness, Covid isolation periods, inability to travel, and the clutter of rescheduled events,” Leigh explains. Now, less than 5% of tickets trade at that level – signs that the market is returning to a demand-supply equilibrium for tickets.

The backlog of shows after two-and-a-half years of Covid disruption and market and border closures resulted in a “huge summer touring season” across concerts and festivals, explains Evelyn Richardson, chief executive of Live Performance Australia (LPA), the trade body for the live entertainment industry.

The data isn’t yet in; the most recent figures were captured for LPA’s Ticket Attendance and Revenue Report 2021 – then Australia’s industry was largely mothballed due to Covid. Richardson says the market has since seen “significant activity,” an “exceptional summer,” and the trade body expects that the “upcoming touring schedule later in 2023 going into 2024 will be massive [in the region].”

For its population, Australia “really punches above its weight when it comes to live performance,” Adam Wilkes of AEG Presents Asia Pacific said during a keynote at Singapore’s All That Matters gathering in September 2022. “I think the per-cap spending in Australia is the highest in the world. It’s just so engrained in the culture to see live music and sport.”

Live Nation president Asia-Pacific, Roger Field, states, “Australasia is going great. This will be our biggest year ever and we’re seeing unprecedented attendances at all levels from club to arenas. We have more artists coming to our shores and we’re having our biggest stadium year.”

“It seems that the years of being unable to tour and operate have enabled a number of arena acts to take the leap into stadiums with huge success”

He observes, “It seems that the years of being unable to tour and operate have enabled a number of arena acts to take the leap into stadiums with huge success. This in turn creates the opportunity for more acts to step up to fill those arena dates – and fans are really getting behind these artists and demanding even more.”

Legendary concert promoter Michael Chugg handled the 40-plus-date domestic swing for Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, through Chugg Entertainment and its partners Frontier Touring and AEG Presents.

It’s the “same old problem with rival promoters paying too much for artists,” he tells IQ, “not enough care going into ticket pricing; lack of personnel, security, food and beverage staff, crew; bullshit flight prices.” Add to the list an ongoing lack of support for homegrown music on commercial radio, a situation which, for several weeks in mid-2023, became acute when no Australian-made singles appeared in the ARIA Top 40.

The challenges are many and varied. Booking an itinerary with a relatively small number of venues and many concurrent tours, “it’s a jigsaw puzzle,” Chugg notes. “I don’t think we are truly back on track as an industry. We need new people and some who left [during the health crisis] to come back.”

Snapshot of a billion-dollar business
There’s truth to the stereotype that Aussies like few things more than a night (or day) out with their best mates for a good time. The numbers stack up. According to LPA’s pre-pandemic ticketing data, live entertainment is a billion-dollar-plus business.

Australia’s live sector is a sophisticated one with trade bodies and lobby reps working alongside its industry captains in each field

Australia’s live sector is a sophisticated one with trade bodies and lobby reps working alongside its industry captains in each field. In addition to the LPA, the Australian Festival Association (AFA) was presented to the media in December 2018, with a commitment to making “festivals safer for patrons and reduce friction between festival promoters and regulatory bodies,” and more. AFA holds a position on the executive committee of the Live Entertainment Industry Forum (LEIF), established during the pandemic to help support the return of live entertainment and sport.

Meanwhile, the Australian Live Music Business Council (ALMBC) was launched during the pandemic, to advocate for thousands of Australian-owned small businesses and sole traders that support Australian music in public performance places.

Festival specialists will gather 30-31 August at Sydney’s Luna Park for the 2023 Australian Festival Industry Conference. And for the first time, SXSW expands outside of its decades-long base in the United States with SXSW Sydney, set for October 15-22, 2023. TEG is event producer, and industry veteran Colin Daniels helms SXSW Sydney as managing director.

Australia’s leading promoters include Live Nation Australia; Frontier Touring, part of the Mushroom Group, which is now led by Matt Gudinski following the March 2021 death of his father, the great music entrepreneur Michael Gudinski; Chugg Entertainment; TEG Dainty, and others.

It’s a constantly evolving and growing space. In 2019, Frontier Touring struck a joint venture with Chugg Entertainment and separately formalised a years-long alliance with AEG Presents, ensuring the company Gudinski built would be the official partner for AEG treks in these parts.

“Our interest in venues of all sizes is partly motivated by having the ability to engage with a variety of artist content”

TEG continues to grow and expand, including a 2020 deal for Van Egmond Group, Garry Van Egmond’s concerts company, which has orchestrated blockbuster tours for Dire Straits, AC/DC, and many others. The following year, in 2021, TEG landed deals that brought the Laneway festival brand and boutique promoter and events company Handsome Tours into its empire, while its ticketing arm, Ticketek, now operates in 11 markets, including the UK.

Frontier Touring remains one of the world’s leading concert promoters, its founder, Michael Gudinski, posthumously recognised by Billboard in April 2021 as its International Power Player. The concerts specialist this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, which the Melbourne-based business will mark with an all-star concert in November.

Live Nation’s domestic arm continues to expand its portfolio of venues and live assets. regional boss Roger Field comments, “Our venue development is a huge priority for us across both Australia and New Zealand – we’ve just celebrated the return of the iconic Festival Hall in Melbourne to a fulltime live music venue after signing a multi-lease and that’s only the beginning. Our interest in venues of all sizes is partly motivated by having the ability to engage with a variety of artist content, even if we’re not promoting it, but also open to new ticket buying markets.”

LN’s suite of venues also includes The Palais Theatre in Melbourne, the Fortitude Music Hall in Brisbane, the Hindley Street Music Hall in Adelaide, and Anita’s Theatre, a historic venue in Thirroul, a northern seaside suburb of Wollongong, which in 2022 became the concerts giant’s first entry into regional Australia.

Australia’s concert promoters have, historically, been at loggerheads with each other. The late Gudinski was never short of a word or three for LN or Dainty. However, during the pandemic, the hatchets were buried and once-bitter rivals shared infrastructure on several major events, keeping costs down in the most difficult of times.

On 21 May 2022, when border closures still plagued the touring space, Australia took a left turn

One of the Australian events industry’s many success stories is the rise of Untitled Group. “The challenges posed by the pandemic allowed us to pause, reflect, and focus on the long-term growth of our business,” comments Nicholas Greco – co-founder/managing partner. Greco and his colleagues “took the opportunity to strategise and refine our approach. It was undeniably a difficult time, but it offered us a moment to breathe and strengthen our foundations”.

Untitled organises such events as camping festivals Beyond The Valley and Pitch Music & Arts, both of which, says Greco, have experienced a notable uptake, especially in the post-pandemic era. Independently owned and based in Melbourne, Untitled boasts 65 staff and shifts more than 400,000 tickets each year across its events.

Australia’s outdoor concerts network extends into wineries. A Day On The Green, created by Michael and Anthea Newton from Roundhouse Entertainment, operating as a joint venture with Mushroom Group, in November 2022 celebrated its 500th show with Crowded House’s performance at Mt Duneed Estate, Geelong.

After Covid – a new dawn, new government
On 21 May 2022, when border closures still plagued the touring space, Australia took a left turn.

After the best part of a decade led by the centre-right Liberal political party, a national shift occurred when Anthony Albanese and his Australian Labor Party (ALP), the country’s major centre-left party, swung into power.

“We need serious skills training; we need new venues, big and small; we need a regional circuit”

After a generation, during which time the music industry’s calls for support repeatedly fell on deaf ears with the Liberal leadership, the ALP represented a new dawn for the country’s live music community.

Prime minister Albanese and minister of arts Tony Burke moved swiftly and decisively to reward that belief. In June 2023, the Creative Australia Bill passed through parliament – a document that lays the legal foundation for the national cultural policy presented earlier in January 2023. The bill establishes Music Australia with AU$69.4m in funding which, for the first time in the nation’s history, explains APRA AMCOS CEO Dean Ormston, provides an opportunity “for a whole-of-government, cross-portfolio, strategic and long-term relationship with the breadth of the Australian contemporary music industry.”

Music Australia sits under Creative Australia, formerly the Australia Council for the Arts, or Australia Council, which was due to commence from 1 July and was presented in the government’s 116-page “Revive” document, a years-long roadmap for the music industry, which details new investment totalling $286m over four years.

The government’s initiative and “all that money will make a serious impact,” notes Chugg. “We need serious skills training; we need new venues, big and small; we need a regional circuit. I would like to see more shows in universities and schools, which in the 70s and 80s were amazing breeding grounds.”

The ALP now governs at national level and across every state, with the exception of Tasmania, the last remaining Liberal post. It’s “a government that cares,” he enthuses. “My late mate, MG, would have such a huge smile alongside all the Australian music icons he is hanging out with in heaven.”

Some positive trends have emerged in Australia’s post-Covid touring landscape, including a revival in country music and comedy

What’s hot, what’s not
The elite A-list acts have filled Australian stadiums in the 2022-2023 southern summer. The demand side of the business is “really healthy in terms of artists who have been limited in their ability to travel for several years”, explains Dion Brant, CEO of Frontier Touring. One of those artists is Ed Sheeran. The Englishman’s The Mathematics Tour did over 830,000 tickets and “left excess demand,” explains Brant. Those artists “that care about the audience and produce great shows, combined with pricing that is accessible and strong campaigns, can lead to record-breaking results”.

Some positive trends have emerged in Australia’s post-Covid touring landscape, including a revival in country music and comedy.

Morgan Wallen’s six-date tour for Frontier Touring in March, which included a headline slot at country-focused fest CMC Rocks QLD, was a hit and was reflected when Wallen led both the ARIA singles and albums charts, setting records along the way. Luke Combs returns to Australia and makes his New Zealand debut in August, for a trek promoted by Frontier Touring.

The resurgence of country has been powered by the likes of the late Rob Potts, and later, his son Jeremy, Chugg, and colleague Susan Heymann. As the country business grows, Chugg Music recently teamed up with Select Music and artist manager Dan Biddle of Wheelhouse Agency, to launch a new venture with an eye on growing the country music and Americana genre.

Though no brand has replaced the travelling festival juggernauts that were the Big Day Out and Soundwave, rock continues to roll along. Chris O’Brien is an aficionado of music of the heavier kind and wears multiple hats with Destroy All Lines (general manager of touring), Good Things Festival (promoter), and Knotfest Australia (co-promoter).

The price of putting on a show has escalated “in a way that needs to be properly looked at”

The appetite for rock and metal in Australia “continues to grow at an incredible rate,” O’Brien tells IQ. Between Good Things Festival and Knotfest, every show sold out, shifting just shy of 200,000 tickets. In the past 12 months, Destroy All Lines has sold over 650,000 tickets, he explains, and 2023/24 “is looking like we will get close to 1m tickets with what we have in the pipeline”.

Spiralling costs, less hands at the pump
Promoters and live event organisers are experiencing major skills shortages, particularly in technical, production, and stage management. Even sourcing riggers, drivers, and security is a challenge.

The price of putting on a show has escalated “in a way that needs to be properly looked at”, says Frontier’s Brant. Infrastructure on larger shows, such as stages, flooring, barriers, and chairs, are up by at least 50%. “Freight is through the roof.”

Production and touring costs have skyrocketed by 30-40% compared with pre-Covid levels, experts say.

At the same time, a shaky economy with high inflation and interest rate rises is having an impact on discretionary spending. “It may dampen some events,” notes LPA’s Richardson. “Having said that, we are seeing huge demand [for] shows going on sale for later in the year.”

“Suppliers to the industry need to be careful they are not trying to make up for lost time and squeezing the golden goose too hard”

Those on-sales include a trans-Tasman tour by Foo Fighters, organised by Frontier Touring; while Live Nation is promoting two special Coldplay dates at Perth’s Optus Stadium in November, as well as Blink-182’s arena run next year.
With the explosion in activity for stadium dates comes a heightened sensitivity to the replacement of turf, with rate per square meter said to be amongst the highest in the world.

“The cost to get to and from Australia is the highest it’s ever been,” explains Brant. “Fans want to go to shows and artists want to play to fans, but the suppliers to the industry need to be careful they are not trying to make up for lost time and squeezing the golden goose too hard.”

When the region’s venue operators gathered in May in Melbourne for the 2023 Venues Management Congress, Frontier Touring’s chief marketing and communications officer, Reegan Stark, quipped on stage, “I learned more about grass the last 12 months than I ever thought I needed to know.”

Where concert tours have “done exceptionally well,” notes LPA’s Richardson, “music festivals have had challenges both in terms of weather events disrupting or closing down events and changes in consumer buying behaviour with audiences buying much later than pre-Covid times.”

Peter Noble’s Bluesfest site was flooded ahead of the 2022 event, and, several months later, Splendour In The Grass, also held in Byron Bay, a picturesque beach spot in northern New South Wales, was inundated, leading to the cancelation of day one mainstage performances.

“We’ve all got to realise that this entire industry only works if everyone gets a slice of the cake”

The rotten weather of 2022, the abundance of shows in the early part of this year, and the wobbly state of the economy has put pressure on some festival brands. Noble and his team spent nearly a million dollars on waterproofing at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm in Byron Bay. Attendance dipped from more than 100,000 in 2022, to about 70,000 in 2023, Noble tells IQ.

“We’ve all seen a bit of a drop off in festivals. I hope they all come back,” he says. Fests “have got some challenges”, he continues. “The attendances have been down, the costs are up. We’ve all got to realise that this entire industry only works if everyone gets a slice of the cake. And if you leave crumbs at one end, then you’re starving someone out of business.”

Bluesfest Touring “had a great season”, he notes, pointing to the 20 tours which worked the market, including Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy and the Doobie Brothers, and the launch of Bluefest Melbourne and Perth.

Climate change and the bad weather that comes with it is a blow to consumer confidence in ways that are difficult to predict, promoters say.

The festival and outdoor events industry “faces an existential crisis”, notes Richardson. “Adapting business models is a big topic of discussion right now.”

Another unexpected hurdle to doing business can be seen in the rising costs of renewing insurance for live music venues

Those forces of nature contributed to the travelling Falls Festival cancelling its 2023/24 edition. Led by Live Nation-affiliated concert specialist Secret Sounds, co-founded by Jessica Ducrou and Paul Piticco, Falls announced it would take the time out to “rest, recover, and recalibrate.”

Another unexpected hurdle to doing business can be seen in the rising costs of renewing insurance for live music venues. The public liability premiums for some venues have risen 15-fold, with one venue reporting a hike from $1,500 to $35,000. Rising costs are “the biggest issue in the live space right now,” explains Stephen Wade, chairman of the ALMBC and CEO of leading agency Select Music.

The so-called insurance cliff has been a “massive issue” for the industry and remains unresolved, although it is being addressed positively, he continues. In one potential solution, the trade body has approached several underwriters on behalf of its members, with the proposition to underwrite venues under an appropriate scheme that is both affordable and provides adequate cover.

Despite the challenges, business is roaring
The domestic live scene “is extremely vibrant and alive; on any Saturday night, we’re booking more than 25 shows at different venues across the country,” explains Darren Aboud, the former Universal Music Australia senior executive who recently joined Select Music Agency as chief operating officer. “Music has roared back post-Covid as people have longed for meaningful real experiences.” He adds, “Quality shows from quality artists will continue to sell.”

Those quality acts include homegrown talent. “Business is 100% on the up as far as we are seeing at our agency,” says Select Music’s Wade, “and we have a new wave of acts that we have been developing over the past 18 months who are all realising their potential and selling huge amounts of tickets.”

“We’re booking stuff into stadiums already into 2025”

As business grows, further investment is coming. Brisbane should benefit from at least AU$7bn in state and federal commitments for infrastructure, including the erection of the 18,000-capacity Brisbane Live venue.

Elsewhere, Cedar Mill Group has a raft of developments on the go, including winery circuit venues designed to integrate seamlessly, and a major project at Lake Macquarie. That planned 30,000-capacity venue on the doorstep of the Central Coast and Hunter region north of Sydney, “will be within reach of over a million people”, explains Paul Lambess, managing director at Cedar Mill Group. It represents the “first time an arena-sized venue in Australia will be built and funded by a private individual rather than a multinational corporation or a government body.”

Cedar Mill’s venues plans “are just as robust as the current touring cycle”, he continues. “The development runway is long and the investment substantial.”

Luke Hede, vice president of touring at Live Nation, says the outlook is excellent. “We’re booking stuff into stadiums already into 2025,” he told the audience during the Promoters Panel at the 2023 VMA Congress in May. “Hopefully, it won’t all be concertinaed like it was this year in the first quarter. But there’s certainly a lot of product coming through. 2019 was our biggest year ever with Live Nation. We’ve already surpassed the ticket sales this year for 2019. So, it’s been a phenomenal start. It looks like it’s going to continue.”


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Unity is strength: Belgium market focus

As one of the world’s biggest consumers of live music per head of population, Belgium finds itself on the routing for nearly every European tour, while its festivals are magnets for talent and fans alike. Little wonder then that the market is also attracting interest from the corporate behemoths. Adam Woods reports.

For about a decade from the mid-1990s, the small municipality of Viroinval in southern Belgium was the centre of Europe – literally, the geographical midpoint of the European Union – until a handful of new Central and Eastern European members joined the club in 2004 and the drawing pin moved east.

But while it’s not technically the centre point of Europe anymore, you’re unlikely to find a more dependable, better connected European market than Belgium, nor one that captures so faithfully the density, diversity and complexity of the continent.

As well as hosting the capital of the EU itself, Belgium shares borders with France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg but also reflects the continent’s density, diversity, and internal contradictions. It has three official languages (French, Dutch, and German) and two very distinct populations (the Flemish in the north and the French-speaking Walloons in the south, plus a sprinkling of Germans in the east).

In live terms, too, Belgium is the sort of country that draws a lot of traffic – both audiences and artists. As well as two busy, accessible live cities – Brussels and nearby second city Antwerp – it has a mature festival calendar with international and even global pull, including Tomorrowland, Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop, Graspop Metal Meeting, Dour, and others.

“We are served by every single tour on the planet, really,” says Greenhouse Talent’s Pascal Van De Velde. “If you want to go from the UK to mainland Europe, you come via Belgium; if you want to go from Scandinavia to southern Europe, you go through Belgium. Coming from northern France, the Netherlands – to get to the continent, you have to come through here.”

“It’s a very small country, but it’s very different. Someone who can sell 40,000 tickets in Antwerp will sell 2,000 in Brussels”

It is well known, but worth re-stating, that as a result of its very distinct populations, 11.8m-strong Belgium is two markets in one, with extremely defined regional characteristics.

“It’s a very small country, but it’s very different,” says Thom Vanderdeelen of boutique promoter and management agency Shadow to Live. “Someone who can sell 40,000 tickets in [Flemish-speaking] Antwerp will sell 2,000 in [French-speaking] Brussels, and 20 minutes further south, they won’t sell any.”

The Flemish half of Belgium both produces and consumes more entertainment than the French. Brussels, while French-speaking, counts as a region on its own, but overall, all are healthy, even in these choppy times.

“The market is strong,” says Van De Velde. “We hear that some of the markets are weaker, and people are suffering from the crisis; I can’t say that we are suffering. The market is as strong as it was before Covid – with an accent on big shows, but I mean, the smaller shows and the middle-sized shows are doing well as well.”

One theory is that Belgium’s wage index, which delivers inflation-based pay rises to all those on a payroll, is helping to keep the middle classes spending and the live business buoyant. But like virtually every other country, Belgium has issues with poverty and the broader cost of living, and with a war still raging to the east, there remain plenty of pitfalls on the road ahead.

Also significant, in the meantime, is an infrastructure that offers generous funding to smaller venues and a country small enough that no show is out of reach to anyone interested.

“The main markets will always be Brussels, Gent, and Antwerp”

“The main markets will always be Brussels, Gent, and Antwerp,” says FKP Scorpio Belgium managing director Jan Digneffe. “That’s what the agents always ask after and where we’re always going to start looking, but I think there’s still a lot of work to be done in the southern part of Belgium. If you look at Liege, which is the biggest French-speaking city in Belgium after Brussels, there’s a lot of things going on there. It’s such a vibrant, cool city.

“The same with Charleroi, which is an old industrial city – maybe a little bit like Sheffield in the UK. There’s a movement of young people finding places there to live, and stuff is happening. So that is really definitely something I am watching, and I guess that everybody else is watching it, too.”

Live Nation rules the roost in Belgium, much as it has for years. It operates the biggest festivals, stages many of the biggest shows, owns the premier large venues, and sells many of the tickets via Ticketmaster. CEO and Rock Werchter founder Herman Schueremans is the well-respected father of the Belgian business, and he is doing well out of the post-pandemic boom.

“The Belgian market is healthy again, as per pre-Covid times, and it is even growing, as more and more people get into the magic of live shows and festivals,” says Schueremans. “2022 was top for us, with sold-out festivals Rock Werchter, TW Classic, Werchter Boutique, and Graspop Metal Meeting, as well as a lot of sold-out shows.

“But 2023 is even stronger, with many more indoor shows, from club level to arenas. We also have stadium shows of Beyoncé and The Weeknd; a show of Harry Styles at Werchter Park; Rock Werchter with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, and Arctic Monkeys, which will sell out; TW Classic with Bruce Springsteen and Werchter Boutique with P!NK, which have already sold out. We also have Graspop Metal Meeting with Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, and Mötley Crüe, which is going to sell out, too, and the alternative festivals Dour and Pukkelpop, which are selling well.”

But for all Live Nation’s strength, the sheer demand for live music supports an increasingly strong fleet of rivals, including longstanding Benelux-specialist Greenhouse Talent and new offices for FKP Scorpio and All Things Live (ATL).

“There’s more promoters than ever, but there’s also more business, so there is room for most of us”

“Things have drastically changed in the last 15 years,” says Van De Velde. “There’s more promoters than ever, but there’s also more business, so there is room for most of us.”

Greenhouse Talent’s year has been a strong one, with successes including three sold-out Rammstein shows at the Brussels Stadium in July, two Elton Johns at Antwerp’s Sportpaleis, as well as further sell- outs for Hans Zimmer (Sportpaleis and Palais 12 Arena in Brussels), Pentatonix (Forest National), and Till Lindemann (who sold out Antwerp’s Lotto Arena in an hour).

Greenhouse also took over the bankrupt Gent Jazz Festival in January and will launch its first edition in July, with headline slots for Herbie Hancock, Snarky Puppy, Norah Jones, Joe Bonamassa, and others. “That’s in our hometown, and it is selling very well,” says Van De Velde.

Gracia Live is another long-standing independent, with an indie’s diverse approach. Recent shows include Måneskin in Luxembourg, Bob Dylan and Morrissey in Belgium, and a Belgian tour for local star Camille that shifted 120,000 tickets. A Sportpaleis show for the same artist next May recently sold out in two hours and an extra show was promptly added.

“Locally, she is stronger than Angèle,” says Gracia Live promoter Sam Perl. “That is one thing we were working on during the pandemic – doing more with domestic artists. We are still doing 80% of our business with international tours, but for indies the domestic roster is becoming more and more important. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. As healthy as the market is, sometimes it shifts, so you diversify within the business because you never know what next year is going to bring.”

Also on the schedule is Gracia Live’s annual Disney On Ice season, and for next year, four or five arena acts, yet to be announced. “Last year we had Eric Clapton, Olivia Rodrigo, 50 Cent, and next year we have a few more of the same calibre artists coming in,” says Perl.

“Of course, I come from the mothership, Live Nation, which is very dominant in the Belgian market, but I always thought there were opportunities, and I still do”

FKP Scorpio touched down in Belgium under former Live Nation man Digneffe just weeks before the first lockdown. “A lot of my ex-colleagues were moving shows and trying to find new dates, and I didn’t have anything to do because I hadn’t booked any shows yet,” he says. “But from March 2022, it’s been like a super-fast train.”

First-year achievements have included two Ed Sheeran shows at Brussels’ Stade Roi Baudouin and an opening edition of the Live /s Live festival in Antwerp, featuring Suede, The War on Drugs, and local heroes Balthazar, dEUS, and others. Clearly, Digneffe spies room for expansion in the busy Belgian marketplace. “If I didn’t, I probably would never have started with Scorpio,” he says. “Of course, I come from the mothership, Live Nation, which is very dominant in the Belgian market, but I always thought there were opportunities, and I still do. Stuff is happening. I think we have a very healthy small market, and we’re all trying our best, and I think that there is not really anyone who is not doing well at the moment.”

All Things Live launched into Belgium starting in early 2021, through a cocktail of diverse acquisitions – namely the domestically focused booking agency Busker, management organisation Musickness, and the Ostend Beach Festival.

“ATL has a great view on how the business should work for them, and we learn a lot from them,” says All Things Live Belgium CEO Marcus Deblaere. “Busker and Musickness are rather leftfield, rock, pop, hip-hop, jazz, and the festival is EDM, techno. They have nothing to do with each other, but they have everything to do with the bigger festivals ATL has in the Scandinavian countries. And now the task is to connect it all in Belgium, too.”

The aim is not necessarily to take on the biggest operators at their own game, suggests Deblaere. “We’re looking into how can we fill the gaps,” he says. “We don’t have to compete with the big ones. We have a great relationship with Live Nation, Greenhouse Talent, Scorpio. We work with everybody, we keep the door open, and we have always done that.”

An attempt to launch a small festival – Unwind – in the dawning months after Covid last year illustrated the dangers of competing too bullishly in the international mainstream.

“We don’t like taking dangerous risks, but we do like doing new stuff, because if we’re not creative in our business, then who’s going to be?”

“We launched it at the beginning of March for a date at the end of May,” says Deblaere. “The sales weren’t going that well. It was a good concept, but it didn’t make sense to compete on the international market with the bigger players, and therefore we pulled the plug. We don’t like taking dangerous risks, but we do like doing new stuff, because if we’re not creative in our business, then who’s going to be?”

Brussels-based promotion, management, and booking agency Shadow to Live has reached a similar conclusion, balancing private and public events in many categories – from a DJ set for Brussels National Day by Henri PFR on top of Brussels’ iconic modernist Atomium structure, to Arabic stand-up, to Coldplay bookings for private clients.

“We work on projects we believe in,” says Vanderdeelen. “Obviously, the world of entertainment is ruled by money, lawyers, big companies. You can’t compete financially against that, but you can be more understanding of the needs of your artists – find creative ways of promoting, do partnerships with different companies.”

Any discussion of promoters in Belgium also needs to mention venues, of which the smaller ones (sub- 2,000) are subsidised and promote many of their own shows. And inevitably, that makes it hard for independent smaller promoters to thrive.

“I think Belgium is an odd one in the sense that we don’t really have that many independent live promoters – though there’s plenty in dance,” says Benjamin Beutels of Antwerp-based indie MCLX. “Because most venues are government-funded, there’s not a lot of room to operate as a professional independent promoter, as they obviously have a financial advantage over us.”

The increased competition in the promoting sector means many promoters are picking up acts at an early stage, Beutels notes. Consequently, he says, niche genres like metal, hardcore, punk, and hip-hop create a gap for indies, as that music is less likely to find a natural home in state-funded regional venues or busy metropolitan ones.

“There’s a bunch of great and dedicated promoters who do it as a hobby, and a lot of times they are the starting point for international artists”

“So, the bands start looking for alternatives, and that’s where we come in,” says Beutels, who has promoted shows for acts including Idles, Turnstile, Zeal & Ardor, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, The HU, Danko Jones, and Frank Turner over the past seven years.

“I might be mistaken, but from what I’m aware of, we’re one of the very few in the whole country that put on independent live shows at this level, without any funding or ties to an international corporation, and make a living out of it. Apart from that, there’s a bunch of great and dedicated promoters who do it as a hobby, and a lot of times they are the starting point for international artists.”

In the tricky post-Covid June of 2022, Live Nation cancelled its 25,000-cap, one-off Rock Werchter prelude Rock Werchter Encore, citing high production costs, staff shortages, and low consumer confidence, and channeling its bill into sister festival TW Classic a day earlier. It was an uncharacteristic blip – and a characteristically sure-footed repair move – in a festival portfolio that is a model of careful management.

“Belgium is a country with lots of successful festivals that all have their identity, and that is our key to success,” says Schueremans. Also significant, he notes, is Belgium’s ability to maximise its central location to create international attractions.

“People of the surrounding countries have come to our festivals for decades. For example, 60% of the audience of the Dour and Ardentes festivals in the French-speaking part of Belgium are French; 21% of the Rock Werchter audience are Dutch, and 10% come from Europe and the [rest of the] world.

“One key is top bills and top service to our audience, as they are our kings and queens,” says Schueremans. “Another is that we keep renewing those festivals in order to attract new generations of music lovers.”

“The French-speaking crowd will head to Les Solidarités in Namur, Baudet’Stival in the south of the country, or Les Francofolies d’Esch/Alzette in Luxembourg”

An item on the shopping list of any growing promoter in Belgium is a festival or two. FKP Scorpio is building its Live /s Live brand in Antwerp; Greenhouse has the Gent Jazz Festival; All Things Live in March acquired a majority stake in the 22,500-cap Ostend Beach Festival, a well-established three-day festival with more than 100 artists on four stages.

Last June, Tomorrowland and Rock Werchter joined forces to create CORE, a new two-day festival in Brussels. The festival returned to Osseghem Park in May, with Little Simz, Bibi Seck, The Blessed Madonna, and recent Coachella-playing Belgian star Angèle among those on the bill.

Festivals serve the Flemish and French parts of Belgium pretty equally, says Jakob H Lund, Ticketmaster RVP, North West Europe and managing director, Denmark, Belgium, and Netherlands.

“The French-speaking crowd will head to Les Solidarités in Namur, Baudet’Stival in the south of the country, or Les Francofolies d’Esch/Alzette in Luxembourg where artists like Orelsan and Angèle are already sold out,” says Lund.

“The north of the country is also well served: in addition to the famous Rock Werchter and Graspop Metal Meeting festivals, fans can choose from Live /s Live in Antwerp, the Moen Feest, the Beach Festival, the Antilliaanse Feesten, and others.”

Live Nation is strong in the venue market, much as it is strong every- where else in Belgium. In April 2019, the group acquired Antwerps Sportpaleis, the Belgian venue operator behind Antwerp’s 23,001-capacity Sportpaleis arena and 8,050-cap Lotto Arena; the 8,000-cap Forest National in Brussels; and the 17,000-cap Trixxo (previously Ethias) Arena in Hasselt.

“With our biggest venues, we are losing some shows to artists opting for open-air and stadium concerts”

Now known as the be•at group, the division also operates three roughly 2,000-capacity theatres (Stadsschouwburg Antwerp, Capitole Ghent, and Trixxo Theatre Hasselt) and the Proximus Pop-Up Arena, which is erected in the summer at Middelkerke on the Belgian coast and can hold up to 5,000 fans.

In recent months, Sportpaleis has received Robbie Williams, Lizzo, Lewis Capaldi, Snoop Dogg, and Michael Bublé, with Post Malone, Elton, Sam Smith, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Iron Maiden, and Depeche Mode on the horizon. Meanwhile, Forest National and Lotto Arena, be•at’s mid-size venues, hosted The Kooks, Eros Ramazzotti, Bring Me The Horizon, Mäneskin, George Ezra, and others, with Avril Lavigne – one of the last Covid-postponed shows – The Offspring, Tenacious D, and Michel Sardou coming up.

Be•at CEO Jan Van Esbroeck believes the market, overheated since Covid, shows signs of cooling in Q3 and Q4 of this year. He notes the abiding popularity of well-known acts and established festivals and acknowledges that these are difficult times to be an emerging artist, though he believes an upswing will come.

“I think this will only be temporary,” he says. “The market will stabilise somewhat after this initial period, and I’m convinced we will return to a normal mechanism, in which new talent will again find the fans it needs to grow.

“It is also an observation that with our biggest venues, we are losing some shows to artists opting for open-air and stadium concerts. The demand is now for one big thing, so it is understandable that the artist with the status to do so will opt for the biggest capacity. It remains to be seen whether this phenomenon will continue.”

“All the concert halls here in Belgium below 2,000 capacity are subsidised”

If Brussels is famous for any one venue, it is the city’s 2,000-cap Ancienne Belgique, which draws international and local acts most nights, but the 400- to 1,400-cap La Madeleine and the 650-cap, standing-only Botanique aren’t much less in demand. Other key venues at the smaller level include Trix and De Roma in Antwerp and De Vooruit in Gent.

Smaller venues adopt a particular position of strength in Belgium, their state subsidies insulating them a little from the commercial climate and giving them the ability to develop and promote local music scenes. For promoters, the balance of power may occasionally feel a little unequal.

“All the concert halls here in Belgium below 2,000 capacity are subsidised,” says Deblaere. “They have their own ticketing systems, too. You can promote in them, but then you take all the risk. And they sell the tickets with their ticketing system, so they gather all the data – and that’s true for the big venues, too. They have their ticketing system, they get the data, you take all the risk. So, it’s a very strange combination.”


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Austria market report: Schnapps, castles and pop!

Consolidation and corporate takeovers have transformed the Austrian live entertainment business in recent years, forever changing what was an indie-dominated landscape. Adam Woods discovers a buoyant market, but where grassroots events and club shows are increasingly relying on last minute marketing strategies…

The last time IQ published a dedicated Austrian market report, back in 2018, it was a different world: no pandemic, no war in Ukraine, inflation at 2.0%. We all know what happened with those first two things, and as for the third, Austrian inflation hit 11.5% in January, giving the country the highest rate in the EU.

It wouldn’t be right to say that these have been profoundly troubled years for one of Europe’s wealthier and sturdier economies: Austria remains wealthy and sturdy, and even the inflation doesn’t seem to have greatly stunted consumer spending – at least not on the biggest shows. And yet, times are subtly changing.

Five years ago, the Austrian live music business could still talk about its legacy of independence in the present tense, the big groups largely present in Vienna as challengers. Now, the weight has shifted, the market-leading Barracuda selling to CTS Eventim in late 2019 and Good- live going to Live Nation last year. FKP offshoot Arcadia Live completes the Live Nation vs Eventim field, and suddenly, although the old faces remain, the market doesn’t look quite as homegrown and independent as it did before.

Such is the way of things. Nonetheless, the market, predictably rampant last year, remains hot – albeit perhaps patchily so – even in the face of inflation and other worldly concerns.

“2023 has definitely begun differently compared to the last two years,” says Arcadia Live managing director Filip Potocki. “Finally, we can pursue what we enjoy doing again, which is organising concerts – largely without any restrictions. Bigger shows are doing really well, and many of our concerts with higher capacities are selling out well in advance. Having said that, it is more difficult with smaller club shows, which have become real last-minute topics.”

“So far, we see strong and healthy sales, but we have to keep ticket prices as reasonable as possible”

Sitting in a mountain range – the Eastern Alps, which covers nearly two-thirds of the country – and with a population approaching 9m, of which around a fifth live in the capital Vienna, Austria is historically a sustainable and sensible live market.

It also has significant geographical strengths. Bordering Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein,Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, it remains formidably well situated, on the cusp of both west and east, with the result that a well-placed show in Austria can often draw much of its crowd from elsewhere.

But, like everywhere, Austria faces a challenge in grappling with the vagaries of the modern world.

“Inflation remains at a high level in Austria for various reasons,” says Goodlive’s Silvio Huber. “Accordingly, we have had to increase ticket prices, as costs for staff, energy, and venue rents increased massively. It’s a vicious circle, so I would flag this as a main challenge for our industry in 2023. So far, we see strong and healthy sales, but we have to keep ticket prices as reasonable as possible.”

Anecdotally, between 70-80% of all tickets sold are for shows in and around Vienna, though there are decent secondary markets, too, from Graz to Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck.

“Austria has a lively scene and has been convincing in recent years, especially on the German market”

In terms of talent, too, Austria is in a good place. Stefan Penz, manager of Tyrolean psych-rock band Mother’s Cake – who have supported Iggy Pop, Anathema, Alice in Chains, Pentagram, Limp Bizkit, and Wolfmother and play between 50 and 120 shows a year – namechecks 5KHD, Manu Delago, My Ugly Clementine, and Takeshi ́s Cashew as bands to watch on the rock front.

“Austria has a lively scene and has been convincing in recent years, especially on the German market,” says Penz. “Bands like Wanda and Bilderbuch left their mark. In the electronic segment, you have Camo & Krooked, and Parov Stelar, who are booked worldwide. The quality of the bands is very high. I’d say you can find world-class talent in nearly every genre.

“Touring-wise, we are of course a small market, but since the club landscape is partly subsidised, the conditions for artists are certainly better than in Germany or the UK, and the clubs are very well equipped. Festivals like Nova Rock and – despite decreasing numbers – we have a lot of small- and medium-sized festivals with extremely dedicated promoters.”

Elsewhere, there’s a new arena on the way in Vienna – the 20,000- cap WH Arena, in the city’s emerging Neu Marx regeneration zone. And in the ticketing sector, Eventim’s Oeticket remains the clear market leader, with Ticketmaster, the City of Vienna’s Wien Ticket, and Myticket.at also in the race.

Like most developed markets, Austria has inevitably become part of a much bigger corporate competition in recent years, most of its former indies now a part of one international network or the other.

Arcadia Live was created in 2015 on the back of Filip Potocki and Bernhard Kaufmann’s full-service Arcadia operation, with backing from German players FKP Group,, Four Artists Booking Agency, Chimperator Live, and KKT.

“With a network like the one FKP Scorpio offers, a lot of issues are tackled much more easily”

Today, imminent Arcadia Live shows include Johannes Oerding, Eros Ramazzotti, and Idles, as well as the forthcoming Lido Sounds Festival. In October 2021, it also absorbed the live division of local indie Ink Music, incorporating Nada Surf and local bands such as My Ugly Clementine, Mira Lu Kovacs, and Garish into its roster, among others.

“The regular exchange with our colleagues at FKP Scorpio all over Europe is important and very helpful, even if the markets differ from country to country,” says Potocki. “Whether it is booking, cross-border marketing, or questions concerning festival productions, with a network like the one FKP Scorpio offers, a lot of issues are tackled much more easily.”

Through its FKP connection, Arcadia ultimately falls under the banner of CTS Eventim, as does Barracuda Music, which sold Eventim a 71% stake in December 2019 – though the directors are adamant that the new association hasn’t generally been transformative.

“Nothing has changed in the way we work,” says Barracuda founder and CEO Ewald Tatar. “We are running the business the same way we did in the past 15 years, with a very strong footprint in the Austrian festival market and a leading role in the arena-show business.”

Always a big-hitting independent – formed in 2016 from leading Austrian indies Skalar, Red Snapper, and NuCoast Entertainment – Barracuda had perhaps the best year in its company history in 2022, say its directors, and this year looks highly unlikely to kill the buzz.

“For 2023 we expect another strong year, with less stadium shows but more sales on our festivals”

“For 2023 we expect another strong year, with less stadium shows but more sales on our festivals,” adds Barracuda co-managing director Richard Hörmann. “The final result will be similar to what we had last year, with around a million tickets sold on more than 350 events in Austria. Among our major upcoming shows are Pink, Robbie Williams, Muse, Måneskin, Machine Gun Kelly, Bryan Adams, Björk, and Van Morrison.”

Goodlive, meanwhile, became the latest addition to the global Live Nation family in September 2022, alongside its Berlin-based festival, booking, and services-focused parent. “We work independently,” says Huber, “but, of course, we are in a close exchange when it comes to strategy, artists, and upcoming projects. Time will tell, but we are looking forward to working with many great and experienced colleagues. I think a constant ex change of knowledge and experience will help us to overcome obstacles and stay strongly competitive in the market in coming years.”

For now, the prospects are good, Huber adds. “Actually, 2023 has kicked off pretty fabulous to be honest,” he says. “Lots of pending shows got confirmed, sales are strong in general, and after a challenging 2022, it’s a relief that we can now fully focus on our core business.

“A few weeks ago, George Ezra played Vienna, and personally, I’m delighted that our show with The 1975 has been upgraded as sales went through the roof,” says Huber. “It’s always a unique and matchless moment when you accompany an artist’s journey from clubs to arenas. And we are looking forward to welcoming Cigarettes After Sex, Tove Lo, Paolo Nutini, and emerging talents like Brutalismus 3000 and Isabella Lovestory later this year.”

Live Nation, of course, has its own Austrian presence – Harry Styles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (all at the Ernst Happel Stadion); Depeche Mode (at 28 Black Arena in Klagenfurt); Macklemore, Ricky Gervais, Louis Tomlinson, and Blink-182 (all at the Wiener Stadthalle) are among those on the way this year.

Against such displays of global power, independents are suddenly in short supply in Austria, though Alex Nussbaumer of al-x is one who is in it for the long haul. Long-term promoter of Iggy Pop, The Cure and, until recently, Peter Gabriel, Nussbaumer says he remains optimistic – though largely because he believes a globalised, corporatised approach to live music will ultimately disenfranchise a large part of the audience.

“I can only advise the artists, their management, and their agents to build their community, to take care of their fans, because they are the ones who are financing everything in the end”

“The problem is that the diversity will be gone,” says Nussbaumer. “That is not new, but it does serious damage. If companies like Live Nation or the others are dictating what the audience will see, cultural diversity is the thing we will lose. And it’s not only Live Nation – it’s Scorpio with Eventim behind it, and Eventim is a serious competitor to Live Nation.”

Nussbaumer is evidently stung by the recent loss of 15-year client Peter Gabriel to Live Nation. “It’s a shame, but it’s reality, isn’t it? It’s the zeitgeist. But I am still optimistic. It will take time, but I can only advise the artists, their management, and their agents to build their community, to take care of their fans, because they are the ones who are financing everything in the end. And I think the audience, the punters, are fed up.”

Another staunch independent of a different kind, boutique artist agency Georg Leitner Productions, has been in operation for 44 years now, with an international footprint and a strong line in legends, tribute acts, exhibitions and family entertainment. “We started the company in 1979, so I guess we are one of the most established companies in Austria,” says CEO Georg Leitner.

On GLP’s roster this year are artists including Julio Iglesias, Foreigner, The Jacksons, Luis Fonsi and Wyclef Jean, as the agency capitalises on a busy post-pandemic period. “All in all, we are very happy about how things have developed,” says Leitner.

Barracuda assumes a powerful position in the festival market with its Nova Rock and FM4 Frequency events. The former drew 225,000 to Nickelsdorf over four days in June, with Muse, Placebo, and Volbeat atop a rocking bill; Slipknot, Disturbed, and others are booked for this year.

Frequency, meanwhile, in the north-eastern city of St. Pölten, draws around 140,000 a year for a dance, rock, and hip-hop fusion – Imagine Dragons, Die Ärzte, and Macklemore are among the 2023 headliners.

“We are in the very comfortable situation of having solid festival brands in perfect locations at still very comparable ticket prices”

“Especially on the festival market, we are in the very comfortable situation of having solid festival brands in perfect locations at still very comparable ticket prices,” says Tatar at Barracuda. “Nova Rock and Frequency Festival have some of the best line-ups in Europe this year, at a very competitive price; same with our smaller festivals that we promote at the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt and Clam Castle. We just recently sold out Volbeat there within two days, which is a very positive sign that people are still willing to run and pay for a good act.”

Austria’s capital city will get its first major hip-hop festival this summer, also courtesy of Barracuda and local hip-hop specialist Beat the Fish. Not Afraid Festival will take place on 27 June 2023 at The Donauinsel, an artificial island parallel to the Danube in central Vienna. US superstar Machine Gun Kelly will headline the day, alongside Viennese rap icon Yung Hurn, German hip-hop legend Sido, and Berlin’s Kontra K.

“Hip-hop, including German hip-hop, has become stronger and stronger in the past few years, with sold-out arenas at a level that we did not have five years ago, so the time is certainly right,” says Hörmann.

Over in Linz, Arcadia Live debuts its new Lido Sounds series this year. “That is our new major project, and we are really proud of it,” says Potocki. “Not only because we have put together a line up that attracts attention internationally, with artists such as Florence & The Machine, Alt-J, Phoenix, Interpol, Arlo Parks, Anna Calvi, and many more. But also because Lido Sounds has been welcomed with [open arms by] press and fans nationwide and is being celebrated as the new and only option for indie-alternative lovers.

“This is also reflected in presales, and we are very optimistic that we are able to take advantage of the daily capacity of 30,000 guests. So, we are looking forward to the first edition and also its continuation and establishment in the years to come.”

“Our festival market is in constant change, and the almost monopoly from earlier years is nearly gone”

Other key Austrian festivals include Revolution Event’s EDM-focused Electric Love at the Salzburgring in Plainfeld, which celebrates its tenth birthday this year with a 180,000-ticket edition; the free Donauinselfest (Danube Island Festival); the arty Elevate in Graz; and the punky SBÄM Fest in Linz.

“Our festival market is in constant change, and the almost monopoly from earlier years is nearly gone,” says Huber. “This will ultimately benefit the audience, artists, and the market in general because competition, as they say, is good for business.”

Vienna’s multipurpose Wiener Stadthalle is Austria’s largest arena, with a schedule that reflects its prominence: Sam Smith, Eros Ramazzotti, Avril Lavigne, Måneskin, Sting, Hans Zimmer, and The 1975 are among those heading for its 16,000-cap Halle D in the next few months. Halle F is there for those with a need for a 2,000-cap room.

Among Austria’s other key arenas are the 14,520-cap Stadthalle in second-city Graz – part of a multivenue complex that includes Messe Graz and Messekongress – and the 6,700-cap Salzburgarena, whose music shows include September’s Lake Rock Festival, headlined by Bullet For My Valentine. A new 20,000-cap arena is also planned for the capital, though dates are not yet confirmed.

For stadium shows, Austria offers the roughly 55,000-cap Ernst Happel Stadion, which accommodated nearly 70,000 when U2 brought their 360° Tour in 2010; Springsteen, Styles, and the Chili Peppers are coming through in July. Also busy is the 28 Black Arena in Klagenfurt down south, sometimes known as the Wörthersee Stadion. Depeche Mode, Sting, and Andrea Bocelli will all be there in high summer.

“It is not new that people will spend without limits for the flagship shows, and of course the middle range and the new and upcoming will completely suffer”

As a cradle of classical music, Vienna has plenty of high-class venues, including the Konzerthaus, the Burgtheater, and the Staatsoper, all between 1,200 and 2,000 capacities. The Arena Wien, meanwhile, has various options, the largest of which is a 3,000-cap outdoor space. In a similar bracket is the 3,500-cap Gasometer B. In Linz, meanwhile, the Posthof is one of the largest venues for contemporary culture in Europe, with a busy schedule of international and Austrian music.

Among Vienna’s clubs are the 800-cap Simm City, the 460-cap Szene Wien, and 250-cap bars including the Viper Room and Chelsea. The club sector is, of course, a challenging one, owing to the pandemic-accelerated consumer drift towards big-ticket shows at the expense of all else.

“It is not new that people will spend without limits for the flagship shows, and of course the middle range and the new and upcoming will completely suffer,” says Nussbaumer.

Last-minute sales are the saving grace of many smaller shows, says Potocki, though he concedes that driving smaller shows is a stiff challenge for the business.

“I don’t think there is a best-practice way of dealing with smaller club shows in post-Corona times,” he says. “We look and listen closely, observe the market even more specifically than we already had been doing, and select our artists and marketing measures in a more targeted way. And we try to remain patient and get used to the modified buying habits without panicking four weeks ahead of the show date – keyword: last-minute-buyers. Nevertheless, we face changed buying habits due to inflation, the increased cost of living, and a feeling of general insecurity.”


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Spain market report: Sun, sea & sound

Spain’s ascension in the global live music league table, pre-Covid, was impressive. Now, with the market fully reopen, its live music professionals have been quick to re-establish that momentum, with new events and venues being launched and some of the most ambitious promoters on the planet driving international growth. Adam Woods reports.

In quick succession, around a month before Christmas, Spain’s leading festivals laid their claim to a share of what should, world events permit- ting, be another boom summer for live music.

Primavera Sound, with its mirror festivals in Barcelona and Madrid, showed its hand first, with a two-weekend bill featuring Blur, Halsey, Kendrick Lamar, Depeche Mode, Calvin Harris, local/global star Rosalía – and the list went on. Then came the sixth edition of Madrid’s Mad Cool, with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Liam Gallagher, Sam Smith, Lil Nas X, Robbie Williams, Lizzo, and others.

The message from Spain was clear: even in the teeth of a recession, a war in Europe and a pandemic hangover, all the big guns are going to be firing next summer, just as they did in 2022.

The shape of these past three years in Spain, of course, was the same as everywhere else: mountains of cancelled shows in the first two years of Covid, then mountains of rescheduled ones in the third. There are storm clouds on the global horizon, but there are also epiphanies from the watershed summer of 2022.

“Spain is now home to several world-class festivals, and the touring market is very vibrant”

“It feels really great to see the audience again being able to enjoy themselves without masks and other restrictions,” says Doctor Music founder and CEO Neo Sala. “I had been looking forward to that moment, and when it finally happened, I realised how lucky we are to do what we do.

“Nothing can substitute the experience of being at a live concert. So even though I do not know what the future holds, I can say without a doubt that I will keep on doing what I do for the rest of my life. Promoting concerts is what I truly enjoy and, as I am lucky enough to work in the industry that I do, I will never feel the need to retire.”

Helpfully, Spain is a remarkably fertile market, with getting on for a thousand music festivals a year, including renowned international destinations such as Primavera Sound, Mad Cool, Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, Sónar, and Bilbao BBK Live. It has plenty of sturdy promoters, a lot of its own music, a taste for international stars, and some flourishing live cities.

“I think the Spanish market has evolved incredibly over the last ten years,” says Barnaby Harrod, director of Madrid-based promoter Mercury Wheels, part of Live Nation Spain. “Spain is now home to several world-class festivals, and the touring market is very vibrant.”

Nor does that mean, as it might once have done, that every international tour simply stops at Madrid and Barcelona.

“We are seeing more and more bands who want to tour outside those main cities and include other great cities such Valencia, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Santander, Gijón, Zaragoza, Santiago, Vigo, La Coruña, Granada, Murcia, Palma de Mallorca…” says Harrod. “I would like to see this tendency maintain an upward curve and see more and more international acts doing longer tours in Spain.”

“Latin music is now the third [most popular] music genre in the world, and Spain acts as a bridge between Europe and America”

Like many markets, Spain was on the crest of a wave before the events of 2020. In 2019, 28m people attended 90,000 live music events in the country, according to Spanish music federation Es_Música, and live music income grew by over 14% that year to €382m [source: Asociación de Promotores Musicales]. Subsequent ups and downs aside, the core of that momentum remains.

“Spain has increasingly become a key market,” says Live Nation Spain president Robert Grima. “And I am sure we all agree that Spain is one of the best tourist destinations in the EU. So, for me it is clear that there is still a big path of growth, mostly in the so-called secondary markets: cities and regions that can combine music events with holiday propositions.”

It may not be a coincidence that the essential health of the Spanish live music scene coincides with the surging popularity of Spanish-language music coming out of Latin America.

“Latin music is now the third [most popular] music genre in the world, and Spain acts as a bridge between Europe and America and is the natural entrance and first stop for the internationalisation of Latin American artists in Europe,” says Eve Castillo, director of communications at Last Tour, the Bilbao-based promoter behind Bilbao BBK Live and others.

That said, Latin music is far from the only dimension to Spanish music tastes. “Urban and Latin music is definitely becoming bigger and bigger in Spain, but I am also feeling that there is a resurrection of rock and alternative music in our market,” says Grima. “Live music is very alive in Spain.”

“One of the challenges, apart from the market saturation, is to convince the public of the value of live music and to bet on it”

It seems likely, on current form, that 2023 will be every bit as challenging as 2022, and perhaps in different ways, as macroeconomic factors begin to bite in earnest. Live industry wisdom has it that concerts and festivals often buck a downturn as people stint on holidays and cars and reward themselves with comparatively low-ticket, spirit-lifting entertainment – though some express concern for Spain’s great festivals if foreign visitors are reining in their travel spending.

“Both for the acts to tour and for the punters to travel, we rely on the cost of fuel and that is affected by so many things that are completely out of our control. Who knows what will happen?” says Spanish artist manager Joan Vich Montaner.

It all points to a stiff test of promoters, suggests Martín Pérez, of Barcelona promoter Concert Studio. “One of the challenges, apart from the market saturation, is to convince the public of the value of live music and to bet on it,” he says. “We are now in a crisis situation, and we are seeing a high loss of purchasing power.”

Daniel Molina of Madrid-based promoter Just Life Music agrees. “We have seen a market with more shows than ever in a time where the economy has not been that strong,” he says. “I think we will still be struggling with ticket sales until at least spring 2023. There is a lot of instability and uncertainty in the global and local economy that prevents us from being optimistic until the winter finally ends.

“We expect to have a change in trend from Q2 onwards that could lead to a rapid growth in terms of ticket sales toward the summer season and the second semester of the year. Let’s see if 2023 truly is the year of recovery.”


Spain has plenty of all kinds of promoters – from big-hitting indies to corporate ex-indies, from festival-focused operators to regional specialists.

Barcelona and Madrid, of course, harbour the greatest numbers: Primavera Sound, Doctor Music, the Live Nation Spain HQ, and indies such as Producciones Animadas, Concert Studio, and The Project among those in the former; Planet Events, Mercury Wheels, and RLM in Madrid.

Then, across the country, Serious Fan Music and The Music Republic in Valencia, Last Tour in Bilbao, Zaragoza’s Siamm Producciones, and Just Life Music, Murcia rock specialist Madness Live!, Córdoba’s Riff Producciones, and Ground Control in Palma.

As it does elsewhere, the consolidation rolls on. The veteran Doctor Music, founded in 1982, sold a 63.5% share to CTS Eventim in May 2018. It remains a go-to for international and superstar acts – in partnership with Live Nation Spain, it was among the local promoters on AEG/Concerts West’s Rolling Stones tour for its stop at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano, with Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Williams, and Rammstein coming up in 2023.

Like veteran promoters all over the world, Neo Sala says the shift into a larger group was an inevitable consequence of the live music business’s long-term shift to a globalised model.

“2023 is looking to be possibly the best year for us. And the demand for shows and ticket sales keeps growing”

“It no longer made sense for us to continue as an independent player,” he says. “Eventim allows Doctor Music to face the challenges of this new scenario, while at the same time respecting our autonomy and the way we have worked for the past 40 years. Also, they were 100% supportive during Covid, so we did not have to let go of any of our team. We are really thankful and proud to be part of Eventim.”

As well as its own activities, Live Nation holds stakes in leading Latin promoter Planet Events and Mercury Wheels, and in 2017 set up a strategic partnership with Andalusian promoter Riff Producciones aimed at growing Spanish acts in overseas markets.

“2022 was the most challenging year I remember in my career, but it was worth it,” says Live Nation Spain president Robert Grima. “And now 2023 is looking to be possibly the best year for us. And the demand for shows and ticket sales keeps growing, which is a very good signal.”

Planet Events managing director Chen Castaño, too, professes himself pleased with 2022. “It was very good,” he says. “We finally managed to organise the Marc Anthony tour in Spain, which had been postponed from 2020. The public have been very loyal, and we did a wonderful tour.

“Trying to compete, to coexist with all the colleagues and artists who were touring in 2022, particularly with rescheduling, has been complicated”

“Trying to compete, to coexist with all the colleagues and artists who were touring in 2022, particularly with rescheduling, has been complicated, but I’m impressed with how the teams pulled through.”

Among Spain’s other significant promoters, artist management company RLM, whose CEO Rosa Lagarrigue was the force behind Planet Events before its sale to Live Nation, has returned to promoting in recent years, taking on tours for Ricardo Arjona, Alejandro Sanz, Raphael, and Rozalén.

Concert Studio chalked up record attendances at its summer festivals – the Festival Jardins Pedralbes in Barcelona and the Cerdanya

Music Festival in the Pyrenees – and now looks towards the 25th edition of the Banco Mediolanum Festival Mil·lenni, which takes place across Barcelona and will run from October 2023 to May 2024, and the boutique Icónica Sevilla Fest, which in 2023 marks its third edition.

Murcia-based promoter Madness Live! launched the new rock- and metal-focused Rock Imperium Festival in the city of Cartagena in June, headed by Scorpions, Europe, and others, and it will return next year across three days with Helloween and Deep Purple headlining. Madness Live! also has forthcoming shows with the likes of Iron Maiden, Bullet For My Valentine, Cannibal Corpse, and plenty of others.

“After the pandemic, the work of national artists is highly valued. In fact, they occupy a large part of the line-ups of our festivals”

Also doing good business in Spain, as well as other Spanish-speaking markets including Chile and Argentina, is Madrid-based La Sordera, which specialises in Venezuelan artists including, currently, Karina La Voz, Okills, and Funky Fresco.

“Ten million people have left Venezuela since 2012,” says La Sordera CEO Francisco Mendes, saying that the turmoil has created a huge Venezuelan diaspora in cities across Latin America and Europe. “It is a phenomenon,” says Mendes. “There’s some shows we can do 5,000.”

As in many markets, the Covid embargo on international touring talent has, to some extent, been a boon for local artists.

“Traditionally, promoters used to hire much more international artists, specifically Anglo-Saxon ones,” says Concert Studio’s Carlos Pérez. “However, after the pandemic, the work of national artists is highly valued. In fact, they occupy a large part of the line-ups of our festivals.”

Live Nation’s 27-date tour for Fito & Fitipaldis was Spain’s most popular tour of the year, and Grima says the development of local talent remains a particular priority, even now the big global tourers are back on the march.

“The gap between stadium/arena-level bands and club tours is becoming greater than ever”

“We have big tours coming up next year for Coldplay, Harry Styles, Muse, Blink-182, Louis Tomlinson, and Lewis Capaldi, but we are also putting a very strong focus on local talent, with national multiple tours of artists like Hombres G, Beret, El Kanka, and Rels B,” he says.

The great awkward truth of the post-pandemic period – that of an industry in which blockbuster shows sell out in seconds while many smaller tours struggle to scrape together a crowd – is as valid in Spain as it is everywhere else.

“The biggest events have worked better than ever, while medium-smaller bands, as well as emerging acts, have struggled to sell tickets,” says Molina. “That is why global numbers can’t really reflect what the situation really is. The gap between stadium/arena-level bands and club tours is becoming greater than ever.” And, as in other markets, working promoters report a softer demand for this year’s shows.

“We have experienced how festivals and tours that have been on sale for over one or two years have sold far better than expected, as was the case with Visor Festival or The Dead South tour, while shows announced during 2022 have had more problems to sell tickets in comparison with previous tours,” says Molina.


Whereas in some markets festivals are gradually stealing share from artist shows, for now Spain appears to have balanced demand for both – at least at the highest levels.

“The audience are looking at this from two angles,” says Pino Sagliocco, chairman of Live Nation Spain. “Headline artists are proving that they are stronger than ever, and at the same time, festivals that have a great on-site experience, together with a good line-up, are growing and consolidating their brand. Spain has a lot of festivals that are proving this point.”

“A lot” is right. Medusa Sun- beach, Arenal Sound, Viña Rock, Mad Cool, and Primavera Sound are among those that routinely attract cumulative crowds of between 200,000 and 300,000-plus, to add to hundreds of local and boutique events all over Spain.

Primavera Sound closed the biggest edition in its 20-year history in June, welcoming nearly half a million people to Barcelona after a two-year hiatus.

“As usual, since 2019, we have taken into account that it is a line-up with gender balance”

But perhaps Spain’s most distinguished festival brand made wider headlines this year with its adventures in other markets. Primavera Sound made an ambitious foray into South America in October and November, launching full- scale events and preliminary shows in Brazil (with Live Nation), Chile (with Rock Stgo) and Buenos Aires (with DF Entertainment), in addition to a first event in Los Angeles.

“We could not be more satisfied and prouder of our first editions in LA, São Paulo, Santiago de Chile, and Buenos Aires – they have all gone very well,” says Primavera Sound communications director Joan Pons. “Now it’s time to sit down with our local partners, make an evaluation, and consider together what we want for the future.”

In the meantime, Primavera Sound continues to lead the world in its deep-thinking approach.

“As usual, since 2019, we have taken into account that it is a line-up with gender balance,” says Pons. “Although every year we take more and more into account that there are many artists who do not identify with any gender, and that we would be wrong to pigeonhole them in a line-up with a binary balance. So, we also take into account the representation of these fluid identities.”

At the same time, Pons notes, Primavera Sound line-ups also need to be a representation of the musical zeitgeist of their year.

“We have a lot of big festivals – actually more than ever”

“We often say that our way of building a line-up is to never lose sight of the fact that each day of the festival should provide each attendee with several possibilities to complete several different experiences: 1) a highly anticipated and desired artist; 2) their next favourite artist, discovered at the festival; 3) a show that will challenge them; and 4) a concert where they can have a lot of fun.”

In general, the most popular Spanish festivals are currently in brand expansion mode, notes Joan Vich Montaner, now of Ground Control Management but previously booker at FIB Benicàssim for nearly 25 years.

“We have a lot of big festivals – actually more than ever,” he says. “For a long time, it used to be Benicàssim, Primavera, Mad Cool, BBK, and Sónar, and now there are maybe five more just from those people, with Primavera doubling up, the new Cala Mijas Festival from BBK, and Andalucía Big.”

Since launching in 2016, the Live Nation-produced Mad Cool Festival in Madrid has grown from a 45,000 capacity to 80,000. In July, for its first event in three years, the festival add- ed a fifth day, and headliners included Muse, The Killers, and Metallica.

Andalucía Big, a new event from the team behind Mad Cool, debuted on 8–10 September at Malaga’s Feria Ground, with acts such as Muse, Jamiroquai, Years & Years, Glass Animals, Michael Kiwanuka, Wolf Alice, Franz Ferdinand, and Aurora. The Mad Cool Sunset festival in September, however, was called off after organisers were unable to find a replacement for Rage Against The Machine.

“Spain is a great tourist destination and it’s growing more and more each year, with good infrastructures, good weather, higher demand for live music, and great professionals to work with”

Bilbao has undergone a huge transformation in recent years, from an industrial city built on the iron trade to one in which art, culture, and tourism play an increasingly prominent role.

Bilbao BBK Live returned in July with more than 100,000 in attendance and LCD Soundsystem, The Killers, J Balvin, and the Pet Shop Boys on stage. Its organiser, Last Tour, also stages the Kalorama and BIME events, as well as the new Cala Mijas Festival on the Costa del Sol, Malaga, Portugal’s MEO Kalorama festival, and Colombia’s BIME Bogotá, but it keeps its faith in Spain, says Castillo.

“Spain is a great tourist destination and it’s growing more and more each year, with good infrastructures, good weather, higher demand for live music, and great professionals to work with,” she says. “And festivals are positively contributing to this with their very well-known positive effects in the territories where they are celebrated.”

Of Spain’s other festival specialists, The Music Republic, owned by brothers David and Toño Sánchez, promotes events such as Arenal Sound, Viña Rock, Granada Sound, and Madrid Salvaje and acquired Benicàssim Festival from Madrid-based Maraworld in 2019.

“It has been intense and busy but also successful… But the most remarkable thing was feeling our floor vibrating again. Silence is over”


By some distance, Spain’s most visited venue is Madrid’s 17,400-capacity WiZink Center, according to Billboard the 17th-busiest venue in the world this year for its size (15,001+), with 94 shows and 922,234 punters.

“It was a complicated year for programming and calendars because there were a lot of cancelled and postponed tours that had to share space with the new ones,” says general manager Manuel Saucedo. “It has been intense and busy but also successful.

“We had great nights with artists such as The Cure, Queen, Maluma, Harry Styles, Bon Iver, Rosalía, and, as usual, many local artists. But the most remarkable thing was feeling our floor vibrating again. Silence is over.”

KPMG recently estimated that the WiZink Center adds €220m annually to Madrid ́s GDP, indirectly creating as many as 2,000 jobs through its activity, and it is planning to create a few more.

“We are really excited about a new project that will create a small concert hall inside our venue for 900 spectators, intended for emerging artists and bands,” says Saucedo. “We want to open our venue to the new, make them noticeable, show their work to the promoters and managers, let them make their first recordings with us, and even teach them in terms of marketing and relations with the industry.”

Barcelona’s equivalent to the WiZink Center is the nearly 18,000-cap Palau Sant Jordi, which welcomes Michael Bublé, Duki, Roger Waters, and Robbie Williams in the first few months of 2023.

Valencia, meanwhile, is due a new arena in the shape of the Roig Arena, which is expected to be completed in 2024 with a capacity of 15,600 for basketball fixtures and 18,600 for concerts. The arena is the project of Mercadona supermarket billionaire Juan Roig Alfonso.

Another multi-sport arena, Nou Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona, is promised for 2026 on the site of the now-demolished Mini Estadi, formerly the home of FC Barça B and the club’s women’s team. The Nou Palau Blaugrana is expected to have a maximum capacity of 15,000 spectators.


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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”

Swiss talent
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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