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Montreux Jazz Fest chief maps out expansion plans

Montreux Jazz Festival CEO Mathieu Jaton has told IQ of his global ambitions for the brand following the Swiss institution’s most-well attended edition yet.

Held from 1-16 July, the festival’s 56th edition attracted an estimated 250,000 fans for a bill comprising over 450 free events, along with 70 paying concerts by headliners including Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Bjork, John Legend, Maneskin, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Van Morrison, Stormzy and Diana Ross.

“It was totally amazing, what a comeback! Everything was perfect from beginning to end,” says Jaton. “The weather was exceptional, tickets sales were better than ever and the number of people coming onsite for all the free activities was amazing.

“We had a lot of concerns before the festival about having to cancel due to Covid, but nothing happened. When you have 550 different shows with 3,000 musicians and everybody is on stage, we can call that a miracle.”

A number of artists deviated from their usual setlists to perform special shows for Montreux. Stormzy delivered a one-off anthological gospel-rap performance “because it’s the Montreux Jazz Festival”. Elsewhere, The Smile played new six-minute song Bending Hectic, composed at the festival earlier that day, which continued the tradition of tracks being created in Montreux, from Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water to Prince’s Lavaux.

“It was very clear that 2022 should not be a copy and paste of what we were doing in 2019”

“It’s very interesting for me that after 56 years, the DNA and tradition of Montreux being a bubble of creativity – a place where artists can create and do something special – [is still intact],” says Jaton. “These moments are key, because they are writing the next pages of the history of Montreux.”

The festival – founded in 1967 by the legendary Claude Nobs – entered into a partnership with TikTok on new music initiative MJF Spotlight, which was launched in 2021 to support emerging artists and new music with original content creation and live performances.

“That partnership is very important strategically,” notes Jaton. “We’ve made a lot of effort with the creation of our media company Montreux Media Ventures to regenerate the audience, and that’s what we did. We had brand new artists playing on the free stages and attracting a new audience, and that’s an investment in the future.

“I’m very happy to say that 60% of [festival attendees] are loyal visitors who have been coming for a lot of years, but 40% are brand new visitors and it is very important to have both.”

MJF’s 2020 edition was replaced by a 16-day YouTube event, Summer of Music, while last year’s MJF went ahead in a reimagined, Covid-secure format, with maximum of 600 people able to watch performances on the main stage from seats on the Lake Geneva shoreline. Continuing the hybrid physical/digital format debuted in 2021, 30 shows from this year’s programme were also livestreamed.

This year’s revamped event also integrated features such as the new Lake House venue, which combined cultural and artistic experiences in eight rooms across three floors in the Petit Palais.

“For me, it was very clear that 2022 should not be a copy and paste of what we were doing in 2019,” explains Jaton. “We took all the knowledge we accumulated from the last two years and 2022 was the closing of the circle of everything that we’ve created. So 2023 will definitely be a continuation of what we put in place in 2022, but there will be more innovation to come.”

“We are full of ideas to extend the Montreux brand all around the world”

Jaton also opens up on plans to strengthen Montreux Jazz Festival as an all-year-round brand, and teases the possibility of a winter spin-off.

“We will push the button a little bit further, continuing the brand recognition of Montreux 365 days a year with Autumn of Music [festival] in the autumn, with maybe a festival in winter next February, and then the Montreux Jazz Festival in the summer, of course. We are full of ideas to extend the Montreux brand all around the world.”

International festivals will also be held under the MJF umbrella in China, Tokyo and Brazil in the coming months.

“We’re very excited,” adds Jaton. “The expansion of the Montreux brand worldwide is not something new because we had the Montreux Jazz Festival in Atlanta for 15 years,  in Detroit for 20 years, Tokyo for 10 years, Singapore, Monaco, Sao Paulo… We also had the Montreux Jazz Cafe in Harrods for four years in London, and  we also have a cafe that will be in Singapore.

“China, of course, is a brand new market for music, which is very interesting for us. So the goal for us is to have brand recognition worldwide.”


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Festival leaders talk uncertain future in latest IQ Focus session

Representatives from some of Europe’s best-loved festivals took part in the second of IQ’s virtual panel sessions yesterday (14 May), reflecting on the long-term impact of the coronavirus crisis on this important seasonal sector of the industry.

Available to watch back now here, as well as on Facebook and Youtube, the session saw AEG Presents’ Jim King, FKP Scorpio’s Stephan Thanscheidt, Bloodstock Open Air’s Rachael Greenfield, Roskilde Festival’s Anders Wahren and Montreux Jazz festival’s Mathieu Jaton offer their opinions on the biggest challenges facing the festival industry post Covid-19 and the steps the sector must take for recovery.

Although Thanscheidt stated FKP was “planning on having a normal season in 2021”, others did not share his optimism.

For King, the negative effects of the coronavirus crisis will continue to harm the sector until a vaccine is created. “I am severely doubtful that anything is going to take place this year and I’m somewhat doubtful about Q1 next year,” said AEG’s CEO of European Festivals.

The festival supply chain is of particular concern to King, given the number of independent festivals that face collapse due to the current situation.

“These community festivals provide income for freelancers and suppliers of all sizes,” said King, citing a recent Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) report which warns that 92% of its members could be bankrupted by refund requests.

“I think overall the average price for an artist will come down, and I think you’ll see that on touring too”

“If those festivals are impacted, the supply chain will be dramatically affected as well. This has a massive ripple out to the wider industry,” said King. “The impact will be seismic, and that’s an understatement.”

The panel agree that fan confidence had taken “a battering”, and that the coronavirus crisis will lead to fans having less money to spend. As a result, “there’s going to be a correction across costs generally” to account, argued King.

“Artists are going to get paid less because staff and suppliers are going to get paid less – everyone’s going to have to take a big bite of this to protect our relationship with the fan.

“Some [artists] won’t tour if they have to take a cut. But I think overall the average price for an artist will come down, and I think you’ll see that on touring too.”

Beyond the pressure on costs and artist fees, guests referenced the incompatibility of festivals with any form of social distancing measures.

“A festival is all about bringing people together. To institute any form of social distancing… I fail to see how that could work,” said Greenfield, who cancelled the 2020 edition of Bloodstock earlier this month. “To be able to have a good time you can’t separate people – that’s not what a festival is about.”

“A festival is all about bringing people together. To institute any form of social distancing… I fail to see how that could work”

Wahren, head of programming at Roskilde Festival, which was forced to cancel this year due to the Danish government’s summer-long events ban, agreed that “it’s all or nothing”.

“I can’t see us running a festival wearing masks or standing one metre apart.”

For Wahren, alternative forms of live events such as drive-in concerts, although fun, are mere stopgap solutions and “not what we are in this business for”.

Session host and ILMC head Greg Parmley asked each guests for a positive lesson that the last two months had taught them. Unanimously, all spoke of an overwhelming sense of audience loyalty towards their events.

Full festival tickets for Roskilde 2021 sold out in a matter of hours earlier this week, with 85% of ticketholders holding onto their tickets for next year. Thanscheidt cited similar numbers for FKP’s twin festivals, Hurricane and Southside, with 75 to 80% of fans expected to retain their tickets for 2021, and Greenfield put refund requests for Bloodstock at just 8%.

“We also managed to roll over 95% of bands for next year, which surprisingly wasn’t at all difficult,” added the Bloodstock director.

In Germany, parliament is set to pass new laws regarding the refund system in the next few days, said Thanscheidt. The German government is among those to protect corona-hit event organisers by allowing them to offer credit vouchers instead of cash refunds.

“There is a great opportunity for us to reshape the industry, we’ve just got to get to the point to allow ourselves to do so”

And beyond the fans themselves, panellists highlighted the solidarity shown throughout the industry, with many pulling together to support others in need.

However, a more unified approach to tackling the crisis is needed. According to Thanscheidt, “it’s time to team up and start lobbying on a pan-European level.”

For Jaton, the unification should go further still. “The first steps right now are to save the industry in individual countries, but we are an interdependent industry – we are very dependent on the US, so if there is a problem in the US, that’s half our festival gone [talent wise].”

King agreed, saying that, as an industry, “we have still not set out what our key objectives are”.

“Everyone’s thinking very differently about when we recover. We’ve got to put in a longer term plan over multiple cycles and we need to align on how we can collectively come out of this.

“There is a great opportunity for us to reshape the industry, we’ve just got to get to the point to allow ourselves to do so.”

The next IQ Focus session, The Venue’s Venue: Building Back, takes place on Thursday 21 May at 3.30 p.m. BST/4.30 p.m. CET, with speakers John Langford (AEG Europe), Lucy Noble (Royal Albert Hall/NAA), Olivier Toth (Rockhal/EAA), Oliver Hoppe (Wizard Promotions), Tom Lynch (ASM Global) and Lotta Nibell (GOT Event).

Get an automatic reminder when the live stream starts via Facebook Live or YouTube Live.


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Montreux Jazz Festival launches worldwide hotel tour

Switzerland’s renowned Montreux Jazz Festival has partnered with luxury hotel chain Fairmont Hotels and Resort Group to launch the 2020 Fairmont World Tour, a concert series taking place across the group’s 13 global properties.

The tour, which features nu-soul artist Jalen N’Gonda and soul-inspired artist Bobby Bazini, kicks off on 29 January in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, before visiting cities in North America, Asia and Europe, ending on 7 March in Montreux, Switzerland.

Both artists form part of the non-profit Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation (MAJF) and performed at Montreux Jazz Festival 2019.

The Fairmont partnership is the first project for the newly created Montreux Media Ventures, which launched in December with the aim of keeping the festival’s spirit alive all year round, creating custom content for corporate clients, labels and brands.

“The Montreux Jazz Festival is proud to bring emerging musical talent to audiences all around the world, in a series of exclusive intimate and enriching experiences,” comments Montreux Jazz CEO Mathieu Jaton.

“The Montreux Jazz Festival is proud to bring emerging musical talent to audiences all around the world, in a series of exclusive intimate and enriching experiences”

“This global musical adventure highlights Fairmont’s hospitality excellence, as well as our shared passion for music and commitment to supporting the next generation of artist.”

A Fairmont representative says the group “is thrilled to scale up its partnership with Montreux Jazz Festival”, following a pilot European tour in 2018, which saw Jalen N’Gonda performing at four Fairmont hotels.

“With these exclusive live music activations in partnership with Montreux Jazz Festival, Fairmont will bring young, raw, next generation musical talent to Fairmont guests and visitors around the world.”

John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Ramones are among famous artists to have performed at Fairmont hotels over the years.

More information on the Fairmont World Tour can be found here.

Montreux 2020 will take place from 3 to 18 July, with headliners including Lionel Richie and Lenny Kravitz. Read IQ’s feature celebrating 50 years of Montreux Jazz Festival here.

Montreux at 50


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