Celebrating Thomas Johansson at 75
As part of the team that introduced ABBA to the world, Thomas Johansson has enjoyed an equally stellar career, cementing the Nordic territories into the routing of every international tour that visits Europe. Now, having just celebrated his 75th birthday, he’s contemplating the future. But retirement is not a concept he fully recognises, he tells Gordon Masson.
As is the story with many of the industry’s pioneers, Thomas Johansson fell into the business by mistake when he saw an opportunity to earn a bit of money while getting into shows.
“A friend of mine played bass in a band, and I went along to a gig,” Johansson recalls. “Basically, I went to the promoter and said, ‘My band is worth more than this.’ And the guy agreed and paid more money. The band was four people, but they gave me a fifth – 20% – because I’d doubled their fee. So, all of a sudden, I was getting paid for talking and the bonus was I didn’t have to pay to go to concerts.”
As a teenage artist manager – “I was 16, I think” – that moment sparked an entrepreneurial streak that has lasted six decades, to date, and underscored a love for music that dates back a lot further.
As the first beneficiaries of Johansson’s legendary negotiating skills, that band of friends – The Outsiders – enjoyed four years of fame before splitting in 1969. “They were the opening act on several gigs for Jimi Hendrix,” says Johansson. “We also opened up for a band I did very early in my career called Blue Cheer, who were a fantastic blues-rock American trio, very similar to Hendrix.”
Keen to absorb as much information and experience as possible, Johansson began working for established Scandinavian promoters SBA, based in Denmark. “There were two principals there, Knud Thorbjörnsen and Anders Stefansen, and with them I promoted the likes of Ike and Tina Turner.” He explains, “There was also a lady there called Siw Eriksson, who worked with a lot of jazz acts – Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Oscar Peterson – basically all of the jazz greats. And from her, I really learned how to promote shows, because she was the local promoter for all of these jazz icons.
“The people at SBA also did European tours – they did the first European tour with the Stones in the late ‘60s, for instance – and they paved the way for other promoters to follow”
“In essence, the people at SBA also did European tours – they did the first European tour with the Stones in the late ‘60s, for instance – and they paved the way for other promoters to follow. In fact, I continued to work with both Knud and Anders right up until the 1980s when they sort of stopped.”
With a hard-working attitude and a passion to create the best environments for artists and their audiences, the next door that opened for young Thomas saw him in a salaried position for the Musicians’ Union. “I was an agent/promoter, for the [MU] locally in Sweden, and that’s also when I had my first encounter with the Rolling Stones, at the Vinterstadion, Örebro, over Easter in 1967.” That show has taken on legendary status in Scandinavia in the decades since – made all the more remarkable by the fact that the local promoter, Johansson, was just 18 at the time. “I’ve always been a pretty quick learner,” he quips.
Among the many acts that performed in Sweden with the assistance of the teenage Thomas were Traffic, Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin and, in March 1969, Led Zeppelin, who were the opening act for Country Joe & the Fish.
Never one to recognise age as a barrier, with barely four years of experience behind him, Johansson decided to launch his own company, EMA Telstar. He asked Siw Eriksson to join him as his assistant. “She’s a fantastic lady: she’s about 92 or 93 now, and I still speak to her,” he says.
He admits, however, that there was a more pressing reason to launch EMA. “The Musicians’ Union fired me,” he says. “There was a Union newspaper, and they asked me to write about modern music, which I did. But I was working with an eight-piece band and two of the guys were not MU members. So, they figured that I was not a good person, and they fired me… but it worked out okay for me in the end,” he laughs.
“I started to work with ABBA, and EMA Telstar produced and promoted all the dates they ever did from 1974 to the last show”
Brushing aside the fact that he was barely out of his teens when he became one of northern Europe’s main promoters, Johansson tells IQ, “It was easier at that time to start a company, because there were not many people doing it. I started up about one or two years earlier than Leon Ramakers did in Holland, and a little bit before Andy Béchir in Switzerland. In England, you had Tony Smith’s father, John Smith, who was a big promoter at the time, and through him I met Harvey [Goldsmith], who was working for John.”
Rather than shoulder all the risk himself, Johansson reveals that EMA’s early incarnation, in 1969, involved three partners. “One of the partners, Olle Nordström, died very early, and the other guy, Benny Englund, is still around and represents Marshall Amps, Fender, Vox: he’s basically the biggest supplier of this type of equipment in Sweden, Finland, and Norway. When Olle died, I bought his shares in the company, and later I bought out Benny as well.”
The Names of The Game
While Johansson has worked with some of the biggest legends ever to appear on stage, it’s perhaps one of the earliest bands from his career who have the greatest legacy.
“I started to work with ABBA, and EMA Telstar produced and promoted all the dates they ever did from 1974 to the last show they ever did at the Budokan, Tokyo in March 1980. We did three European tours, one Australian tour, one Japanese tour, and one US tour,” he states.
Recalling how the band’s career was embraced early on Down Under, Johansson observes, “Australia has similarities to Sweden: it’s remote from the rest of the world, while Sweden is remote from the rest of Europe; and they’re both relatively small countries in terms of population. So, when something happens, it happens big time, and with ABBA it was really big time. Luckily, we went to Australia early in the game with ABBA to do television, which was a real boost for the band at the time.”
“With U2, the first show they ever did here was a little club in Stockholm for 200 kids”
Indeed, Johansson’s influence with ABBA goes back to the very early days. “Actually, I started to work with them the year before Eurovision, so in 1973. All four of them came from successful local groups. I knew Björn from when I was 13 or 14 – he’s three years older than I am – and I managed his wife Agnetha on her solo career and produced her tours.
“So, when the band formed, they asked if I wanted to help them to produce the dates, book the dates, and promote the dates, which I did. And that’s how the relationship started.”
Although Johansson is not involved with the smash hit ABBA Voyage production, he still talks frequently to the members of the Swedish super-group, having also managed Frida’s career and executive produced a couple of her solo albums, “one with Phil Collins as a producer, and the other with Steve Lillywhite as a producer,” he recalls.
Another act who he shares a long association with is Elton John, who just weeks ago brought down the curtain on his touring career in Sweden with Thomas as promoter. “The first show I did with him, he was still called Reginald Dwight, and he was the piano player in a band called Blue Mink. We’ve done all Elton’s shows ever since,” reports Johansson.
Recalling other artists, he adds, “With U2, the first show they ever did here was a little club in Stockholm for 200 kids. Then we drove from that club to do a live TV [broadcast] and after the live TV, to play a club across the street. Queen, we started with very early in 1974; McCartney, we did the first tour after he left the Beatles with Wings in 1973; The Eagles played their first show here in 1977. To me, that’s a big personal thing to be able to say that. Of course, it’s in the past; it’s history. But it’s important to me, and again, it’s reinforced by what I impart to my staff: the artists are the first priority, never forget.”
“Early on with ABBA, we went to America where we did Olivia Newton John’s TV show in Los Angeles”
Join The Joyride
One of the many benefits of travelling the world with ABBA during the 1970s was the myriad opportunities for Johansson to expand his network of contacts. “Early on with ABBA, we went to America where we did Olivia Newton John’s TV show in Los Angeles,” he explains. “She was managed by Roger Davies, whom I’d known since he was managing an Australian band called Sherbet that I’d managed to get on as an opening act for The Hollies. And ever since then, I worked with all of Roger’s acts – Tina Turner, Cher, Pink, Sade, Joe Cocker – anyone he has worked with, I’ve promoted in Sweden and the Nordics.”
Steering ABBA’s live performance career helped make EMA Telstar a powerhouse in the Nordics, allowing Johansson and his company to become the go-to destination for most international acts looking to visit Scandinavia, Finland, and the Baltics.
As the Cold War started to thaw, Russia started to open its doors to western acts, with Johansson also becoming one of the pioneers to take acts behind the Iron Curtain to play the likes of Moscow and St Petersburg.
The 1980s also landed him the opportunity to work with another Swedish supergroup, Roxette, which combined the forces of two already established stars: Marie Fredriksson, who had a number of solo albums to her name; and Per Gessle, the lead singer and songwriter of Gyllene Tider, a band which had already released three No.1 albums – and whom Johansson has been promoting again this year at outdoor shows: “We do 20 outdoor shows with Per and his band this summer – a stadium in Stockholm, a stadium in Gothenburg, another 18 shows, as well as a couple in Finland and a couple in Norway. They’re going to end up selling something like 175,000 to 200,000 tickets,” he informs IQ.
Much like ABBA before them, Roxette used Johansson’s experience to propel them to international success. “We did all the tours and all the shows with Roxette worldwide,” he states. “When Per formed the band, we became his partner, and they played stadiums in Australia, they played stadiums in South America – big stadiums, like 50,000/60,000 people.”
“ABBA and Roxette gave me the opportunity to travel the world and that allowed me to pick up a lot of knowledge, as well as meet lots of people in the business”
That partnership arrangement hints at another Johansson skillset. He had also been a formidable artist manager in his day, but as EMA Telstar grew, and running the company became more time consuming, he started to ease away from artist manager duties, albeit reluctantly. But not before his management credentials had assisted the band Europe to become another A-list act. “We managed Europe for the first five years – they had that huge hit Final Countdown. And then I managed [lead singer] Joey [Tempest]. Even though it became so time consuming to be a manager, I couldn’t keep my hands away. So that’s why I managed Roxette initially and up until 1998 or ‘99 when I sold the company.”
He concedes, “ABBA and Roxette gave me the opportunity to travel the world and that allowed me to pick up a lot of knowledge, as well as meet lots of people in the business internationally – many of whom have become good friends, like Patrick Woodroffe the lighting designer, who worked with me on ABBA, so I turned to him for help when it came to Roxette, too. But as a manager, you need to do so much more than just the touring side of the business: you need to do publishing, record company deals, promotion, and I knew I would not have the luxury of that time when we sold the company to SFX.”
Selling EMA Telstar to Bob Sillerman’s SFX began a series of transactions that would eventually lead to Johansson becoming chairman of Live Nation’s international touring division. Grasping the idea of a global promoting operation, he was acutely aware that his artist management days were almost certainly over. “The business of being a promoter is a very time-consuming situation, so I had to make up my mind: do I want to be a promoter, or do I want to be a manager? And I decided I would be a promoter,” he says.
Besides, there was a greater goal to aim for. As part of the original SFX deal for EMA Telstar, Johansson had negotiated a number of clauses that would allow him to acquire the operations of partners in neighbouring territories, providing him and his new employers with a powerbase in northern Europe.
“EMA Telstar had been running for 30 years when I sold it, and it was the biggest promoter in Sweden by a long shot,” he comments. “The deal I made was that they would allow me to buy my partners in Norway, Denmark, and Finland, which I did about a year to two years later. And although they were still separate companies, that’s what ultimately became the unit known as Live Nation, the Nordics.”
“Live Nation has created vehicles for artists to be able to tour globally”
As Sillerman’s corporate kleptomania swept up the operations of Johansson’s peers in the likes of the Netherlands and the UK, the concert business suddenly became an industry that the money men started to take more seriously. Subsequently, in early 2000, Clear Channel agreed a multibillion-dollar deal to acquire SFX, and its acquisition strategy accelerated both in North America and internationally before Clear Channel spun off its expanding live music division in 2005 and named Michael Rapino as CEO.
Looking back at the development of the company, Johansson observes, “Live Nation has created vehicles for artists to be able to tour globally. It’s a public company, so it is all transparent and above board, it’s all correctly insured, and it operates in a way that pays attention to the rules of each country it operates in.”
He continues, “It’s also becoming a company that is very environmental – in each country, we have a person who heads up sustainability strategy and who works alongside the festivals, alongside the gigs and the shows, to see how we can be more environmentally efficient. It’s a massively important part of our work now, because if we wait until tomorrow to do something about it, there will be no tomorrow.”
Noting that Live Nation’s regimen requires precise reporting, he adds, “Of course, there’s an extreme amount of administration to do with Live Nation, but the company has been at the forefront of professionalising our business: it has standardised a lot of the things we do, and for young artists, young promoters, and a new generation of audience, it offers a great solution.”
Money, Money, Money
Being backed by the deep pockets of a global corporation has been a game changer for Johansson and the many entrepreneurs who have boarded the Live Nation setup over the past 20 something years. That environment also gives its various territory chiefs the confidence to chase deals they might not have done when still independent.
“The artists always come first. Always, always, always. If you follow that one rule, and if you’re straight and honest and do your job, you will succeed”
“You always have difficult times,” says Johansson, addressing the issue of risk. “I think promoters are very closely related to farmers: it rains too much, it shines too much, it’s too windy, and when the weather is bad the economy is bad, inflation is bad. We complain a lot – that’s promoters.” Despite the myriad challenges that make promoting shows and festivals such a perilous financial enterprise, Johansson has never put himself in a position where he might lose the roof from over his head. “Of course, I’m wrong all the time, and there are shows where I lose money. But you have to be right more than you’re wrong,” he says.
And revealing the mantra that he’s based his entire career around, he tells IQ, “The absolute fundamental thing that I preach to the people here in my office [in Sweden], and to the people in Norway, Denmark and Finland, and the Baltics… I preach to them that our most important partner, client, and asset is the artist. The relationship with the artist, the artist manager, the artist agent, this is the fundament that we build our business on. The artists always come first. Always, always, always. If you follow that one rule, and if you’re straight and honest and do your job, you will succeed.”
One beneficiary of Johansson’s schooling has been Anna Sjölund, who has worked her way up the ranks to currently hold the post of senior VP touring international for Live Nation.
“Thomas is like family to me,” says Sjölund. “I had just turned 20 when I started working for EMA Telstar. I came from a local promoter in the south of Sweden to do a few months work during the summer and never left – it’s been the most incredible ride, learning, growing up, and creating my own path alongside him.
“Thomas is simply a unique force: challenging, fiercely loyal, and a true gentleman. He never gives up, never stops believing in his artists, and he has taught me to never ever stop promoting the show – that’s the job: promote the artist, promote the show, never give up, and always, always, always put the artist first.”
“I transformed myself into a promoter in the early 2000s, and Elton John was the first act I promoted”
Having established Sweden as one of Europe’s strongest live music markets, Johansson has been given expanded roles by Live Nation in addition to his ‘chairman international music’ title. “I’m the chairman of the Nordics and also the Baltics, where we have two companies now, in Estonia and Lithuania,” he says. “That role involves overseeing the general business and making sure that it is taken care of in a professional way. That has been my remit for the last four or five years.
“But I am also still a promoter for many acts. For example, we recently had Bruce Springsteen here, whom I have been promoting for many years, and I’m lucky to have Tor Nielsen, whom I’ve been working with since 1977 – he executes the majority of the big shows that I do, whether it’s Metallica, Elton John, or Springsteen.”
Johansson is also quick to point out the evolving nature of the Live Nation staff across his territories. “There are some 90 people in this office here [in Stockholm]; there are about 70 in Denmark; in Norway it’s about 35-40; Finland about 25; and the Baltics about 10-12 people, so it’s more than 200 people in the Nordic hemisphere,” he reports.
For his part, right-hand man Nielsen tells IQ that he began working with Johansson as soon as he’d left university. “I’d basically make sure that the riders of visiting acts were fulfilled,” says Nielsen. “Then, in 1985, I took on the role of production manager for the company and basically became the tour coordinator and agent for Roxette and other acts.”
Adding the title of COO International Artists to his resume in the 1990s, Nielsen adds, “I transformed myself into a promoter in the early 2000s, and Elton John was the first act I promoted, although I’m still overseeing operations to this day.
“We’ve had some interesting clashes over the years, but we’ve always been able to work out the best way forward”
“I’m definitely the longest man standing when it comes to working with Thomas. He’s a mountain of energy and is very sociable, but he can be pretty stubborn. Then again, so can I, so we’ve had some interesting clashes over the years, but we’ve always been able to work out the best way forward.”
And Nielsen reveals one of Johansson’s habits is wanting to see as many shows as possible, even when the show may be the other side of the world. “I remember he flew in to see Roxette in Rio de Janeiro, and he was so jetlagged he fell asleep in the dressing room when the band went on stage and woke up as they came off. And then he caught a plane home.
“He’s a workaholic – when he flies to New York, he’s never out of the office for more than three days, for instance.” But he says some of the people who benefit most from that work ethic are LN Nordic staff. “He really likes to speak with everyone in the office about the projects they are working on. The last 15 years have seen a lot of young people join us, and I think that keeps Thomas energised – he’s a great mentor!”
What The Puck?!
Another facet to Johansson is his work in promoting his favourite sport: ice hockey. “In 1996, I started to talk to the National Hockey League [in North America] and the NHL Players Association, and in 1999/2000, we brought the first NHL teams here.”
While those exhibition games were lapped up by the hockey-mad Swedes, Johansson has worked tirelessly to build on those foundations to the extent that competitive games are now an annual fixture in Europe. “For the last seven or eight years, we have hosted real NHL games that count toward league standings,” he informs IQ. “In addition to Sweden, we’ve held games in Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, and Switzerland, and we have between two and four regular games every year that are televised in over 100 countries.”
“When Michael Rapino took over, he had a vision of building it on a worldwide scale. I really believe that was the most important thing that has happened to live music”
With his home city of Stockholm set to host four games in November, featuring Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, and Minnesota Wild, Johansson notes that those teams include 36 players of European nationalities, including 21 Swedes, hence robust ticket sales for the NHL Global Series games at the Avicii Arena.
Indeed, Johansson draws parallels between the NHL and Live Nation. “It’s an American company with a very good structure; it’s the biggest hockey league in the world, and it features the biggest stars in the game,” he states. “I count myself as very lucky: two of my biggest passions in life are music and ice hockey, and it’s very natural that I do both. In saying this, I never played hockey, personally. But I never played music either. However, I hope I have helped others to enjoy both activities as much as I do.”
Underlining his love for the winter sport, Johansson was on the board of directors of Stockholm ice hockey club Djurgårdens IF for 20 years. “I gave that up about ten years ago, and now I can go and see the games and enjoy them a little more,” he reports. “Being on the board of directors for a sports team is similar to managing a band: it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort… and it can cost you lots of money.”
Having spent the majority of his working life as an independent promoter, Johansson says the best decision of his career was the sale of his company to SFX and his subsequent journey in helping to make Live Nation a reality.
“After Live Nation formed, I think that’s when the real evolution of the live business started in a big manner. And when Michael Rapino took over, he had a vision of building it on a worldwide scale. I really believe that was the most important thing that has happened to live music,” opines Johansson.
“It is very rewarding to see young people succeeding. It keeps you on your toes, it keeps you young, and I think most importantly it helps you understand a lot of things”
Indeed, having celebrated his 75th birthday on 19 August, he’s currently overseeing the biggest ever summer season for the LN Nordics division. “We have 42 stadium shows in the Nordic hemisphere this year, where we normally have 18. About half of those shows are bought by us directly, and half of them are Live Nation global tours. That proves there is still a lot of room for other promoters to bring shows to this part of the world. But I genuinely believe that nobody does it better than Live Nation. The company has set so many standards that we make it more economical for artists to tour. The bottom line is that Live Nation is an artist company.”
And as Johansson enters his 60th year in the music business, he’s happy that the empire he has devoted his working life to build is in safe hands.
“For me personally, to see that there are young promoters, both boys and girls, coming through and how skilled they are, how good they are… I’m so proud and happy to be a part of that team,” he says. “Every day I go into the office, the people I work alongside present these fantastic ideas for shows and tours. And the way they are helping to break new acts is fantastic.”
While ‘retirement’ isn’t a word that slides easily into Johansson’s vocabulary, he admits that he took it upon himself over the last decade to spend more time mentoring colleagues. “It is very rewarding to see young people succeeding,” he continues. “It keeps you on your toes, it keeps you young, and I think most importantly it helps you understand a lot of things. A big part of a promoter’s role is to remain curious and willing to learn, and I’ve found that the more I offer my advice and experience to younger colleagues, the more I learn, too.”
With a workaholic attitude, Johansson admits that during the pandemic he attended his Live Nation office every day, as did a number of his co-workers. But he notes, “It’s very difficult not to work hard when you are so interested in what you do. It’s not really like a job; it’s more like a passion. And I’m very lucky as a human being that the majority of my work life has been my passion.
“Of course, there is pain and bumps and idiots all along the way. But the majority of the time, I’m very happy, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do what I want to do”
“Of course, there is pain and bumps and idiots all along the way. But the majority of the time, I’m very happy, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do what I want to do. I appreciate it every day – having something to do that makes you look forward to waking up every morning.”
My Love, My Live
While many individuals count down to the day they give up work with glee, Johansson sailed past standard retirement age a decade ago, and the past ten years coincidentally have heralded the busiest period of his career. “The really rapid growth for Live Nation has been during the last six or seven years,” says Johansson, who also believes that post-Covid, the age-old dilemma about tomorrow’s headliners is being resolved.
“There are a lot of young acts that because of Covid were unable to tour for two or three years, but at the same time they’ve grown because of social media, record releases, television, TikTok, etc. And because of that demand they have built up by expanding their fanbase, there is the opportunity for them to step up to arenas and stadiums. I think that’s what we’re going to see over the coming years – the next generation of big acts coming through.”
He cites Volbeat as an act from the Nordics that is getting bigger on the international stage, while on a global level Johansson believes the Internet has levelled the playing field for emerging talent. “Social media means it doesn’t matter if you come from New York or from Stockholm or Sydney or a suburb of Johannesburg,” he observes.
That genuine excitement within Johansson is infectious, and while his diamond anniversary might just be around the corner, his passion for music remains as strong as when he was a teenager. “I still love to discover a new act playing live,” he says. “But more often, I listen to a lot of new music, and I like to read about new bands, too. Recently, I saw a great band with Metallica, called Mammoth, with the son of Eddie Van Halen – they’re a great rock band, so that was interesting.”
“Klaus-Peter Schulenberg was a colleague of mine when he was a promoter in Bremen”
Noting that Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich had been the person to introduce him to Danish stars Volbeat, 12 years ago, Johansson also flags up Swedish homegrown act Ghost, who he has high hopes for. “They’ve already had a Grammy award in America and now they play and sell out arenas in Europe and America. It’s really one guy – Tobias Forge – who dresses up like the Pope, and every show Ghost does is a story in its own right. So, I’m very proud that we’ve been involved with them from the very beginning – it was Martin Nielsen in Norway and Johan [Karlsson], here from my office, who became involved when the band first played in clubs.”
He also lauds First Aid Kit. “Great songs, great girls, and really good live. We work with them through Luger who, if we were a record company, would be our indie label, as they’re the division that produces Way Out West festival.”
On the festival front, LN Nordics has grown massively in recent years. The portfolio also includes Sweden Rock and Lollapalooza Stockholm in collaboration with C3 Presents; Tons of Rock, Bergen Festival, and Trondheim Rocks in Norway; Denmark’s Copenhell and Heartland; and Blockfest in Finland. “We’re also partners on a few events like Helsinki Rocks and Turku Festival, in which our job is to service them with artists. And I’ve been involved as a consultant on Roskilde since its first edition,” notes Johansson.
As Johansson and his colleagues over the years developed the Nordics into must-visit destinations for international tours, it’s testament to his hard work and vision that rival corporations have established footholds in the region during the past decade.
“Klaus-Peter Schulenberg was a colleague of mine when he was a promoter in Bremen,” says Johansson of the CTS Eventim chief. “He started Eventim as a ticketing company and then bought a lot of local promoters in Germany, so I think it was a natural progression for them to move into Scandinavia.”
“Personally, I welcome the fact that there’s competition to motivate us all”
Meanwhile, ASM has begun operating venues such as Stockholm’s Avicii Arena, Hovet, Annexet, Tele2 Arena, Friends Arena, Södra Teatern, and Mosebacketerrassen. And more recently, venture capital-backed All Things Live has acquired existing promoters in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland to further up the ante in the competitive Nordics landscape.
“They are, of course, rivals, but competition pushes people to do more things and, hopefully, better things,” observes Johansson. “It also gives the artists the opportunity to have the choice of who they want to work with. From that point of view, it’s like everywhere else in the world: you’ll never have a monopoly, which can only be a good thing. Personally, I welcome the fact that there’s competition to motivate us all.”
And Johansson notes that the rivalries between the corporate powers are not as fierce as many commentators would suggest. “We did Elton John with AEG, I did the Rolling Stones with AEG, so we work together, and we talk. We’re both American-owned companies who don’t sit too far away from each other in Los Angeles, so it’s nice to see that there’s a lot of mutual respect between us.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Johansson believes the talent pipeline in his part of the world is in rude health. “There’s lots of good small clubs, all across the country. People always complain there aren’t, but when you start to look at it, there are proper 800 to 1,000-capacity rooms everywhere across Sweden. And then, because of ice hockey, you also have 10-12 relatively modern ice hockey arenas with capacities from 6,000 to 13,000.”
The Next Generation
The wealth of talent doesn’t just exist on stage, however, and when it comes to succession plans for Live Nation, Johansson is very optimistic about the company’s future.
“I want to spend more time with my family; I want to go on long hikes with my dog, Hugin; I want to read more and generally just have more time to think”
“My main ambition is to make sure that the people working here in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the Baltics, have the opportunity to continue to work and to become the best at what they do,” he discloses.
“I see myself as working a little bit less in the not too far distance, because there are other things I want to do, which is not just related to the business… I want to spend more time with my family; I want to go on long hikes with my dog, Hugin; I want to read more and generally just have more time to think,” he explains.
“I have no extreme things that I want to do, because I’ve been so fortunate. I’ve travelled the world in an extremely good way, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. I met fantastic people – some of whom have become very good friends. So, it’s not that I want to stop and open a restaurant or a hotel or become the owner of a football club. But I do see myself working a little bit less, eventually. I’ve been asked this question by my family as well, but I explain that I still have commitments to clients, and I will always fulfil my commitments.”
Always the consummate planner, Johansson reveals that he was careful not to fall into the trap of pursuing a career at the cost of his family. “I have one son and two grandkids, and while I want to spend more time with them, I have seen them a lot as they grew up.
“I live on an old farm just outside of Stockholm, and my son and his family have always lived in the house next door, so I’ve been present since my grandchildren were born. I’ve seen them when they started to go to school; when I walked the dogs first thing, I got to say good morning to them… it’s a lovely relationship – my grandson is now 21 and my granddaughter is 18, and they are always dropping in to see me and have a cup of coffee and a chat. In fact, my grandson has been working in security at some of our shows to make money, and I think my granddaughter will also do some of that.”
“There are always places I always want to go back to – I want to be in Italy every day of the week”
Family aside, Johansson would also like to schedule more travel when he can find the time. “There are always places I always want to go back to – I want to be in Italy every day of the week,” he says. “I love New York. I love Los Angeles, Paris, London, Australia. I’m sure I will be able to get back to them all, but I’m not in any rush, because I’ve been there many times with work.”
When it comes to passing on the Live Nation batons, he coyly states, “It’s being worked on,” and while he keeps his cards close to his chest, it’s obviously a progression that he is contemplating very seriously.
“It’s a very difficult thing to do,” he says of the succession plans. “For me, it was natural because I brought the business in, made sure we made the money, and took the company into where it is today. But you have to really think carefully about who can do this in the future… You have to have a good bunch of people to run the whole Nordic area. Maybe that means one or two or three people who have the same vision who can then work together.”
With the succession strategy being a work in progress, for the foreseeable future, Johansson has travel plans on hold, while he remains in the Nordic region to help his younger colleagues realise their potential. “It’s almost like working with an ice hockey team. You can see who is going to be the next star – this guy, this girl, they’re going to be great promoters, they’re going to be great marketeers, they’re going to be great sponsor people. That is a big thing to see, and it’s one of my biggest pleasures in life,” he concludes.
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Italy’s Radar Concerti acquired by All Things Live
Nordic live entertainment company All Things Live has signalled its expansion into the Italian market with the acquisition of promoter and agency Radar Concerti.
Radar Concerti, which has offices in Milan and Rome was founded in 2014 by Giorgio Riccitelli, who brought ex-Live Nation Finland senior promoter Fabrizio Pompeo on board as a partner in 2018.
The company has worked with international artists such as Idles, BadBadNotGood, Central Cee, Future Islands, FKA Twigs, the Libertines, The xx, Masego, M83, Kamasis Washington, Saint Jhn and Slowthai.
“We are thrilled to announce that we are joining the All Things Live family to accelerate Radar Concerti’s development and build on the success that we have been enjoying in recent years,” says Pompeo. “We have had a great and fruitful dialogue with the All Things Live team and cannot wait to become part of the leading entertainment company in the Nordics and contribute to the realisation of the partnership’s international ambitions.”
“Radar Concerti has built a strong position in the Italian market”
Pompeo will continue in day-to-day management alongside Riccitelli
“Radar Concerti has built a strong position in the Italian market based on our experience in national and international musical entertainment, and we will continue to scout for the best talents within the indie scene and build a solid platform for All Things Live in the Italian market by leveraging our strong connections with agents, promoters, media partners and artists,” adds Riccitelli.
The move marks the latest step in the international expansion of the All Things Live Group (ATLG), which has just strengthened its roster with the signing of international management firm Then We Take The World.
“The Radar Concerti team and their solid platform and strong relations constitute a perfect steppingstone for our ambition to make a mark for All Things Live in the Italian market,” says ATLG executive board member Kim Worsøe. “We are pleased to welcome Radar Concerti and their artists, and we look forward to growing the business together with the talented owners and employees,”
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All Things Live links with Danish management firm
Leading Nordic live entertainment company All Things Live has strengthened its roster with the signing of international management firm Then We Take The World (TWTTW).
Founded in Copenhagen in 2010 by Lasse Siegismund and Kasper Faerk, TWTTW is home to clients such as Danish pop band Lukas Graham.
Faerk will continue as manager of all artists currently on the firm’s roster in the wake of the All Things Live deal, while Siegismund will head TWTTW Songs, an independent song and publishing management company.
“I am excited to join the All Things Live partnership and become part of the leading live entertainment company in the Nordics, growing at a rapid pace and exuding positive energy and ambition,” says Frank.
“Then We Take The World will surely bring a lot of valuable experience from the past 12 years and contribute to the continued development of All Things Live, and I look forward to working closely with a lot of great new colleagues while maintaining a strong relationship with Lasse in the years ahead.”
“We are pleased to welcome Then We Take The World and their artists to our partnership as we continue to grow the business and provide people with great live experiences”
Waterland Private Equity-backed All Things Live represents artists and promotes events in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Belgium.
“We are pleased to welcome Then We Take The World and their artists to our partnership as we continue to grow the business and provide people with great live experiences by talented artists,” adds All Things Live Group executive board member Kim Worsøe.
As announced earlier this year, Gry Mølleskog is set to take over as All Thing Live Group CEO from 1 August. She will also take on the role of country CEO for the All Things Live companies in Norway.
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Gry Mølleskog named Group CEO of All Things Live
Leading Nordic live entertainment company All Things Live has appointed Gry Mølleskog as group CEO, effective from 1 August.
In addition, she will also take on the role of country CEO for the All Things Live companies in Norway.
The Waterland Private Equity-backed company represents artists and promotes events in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Belgium.
“All Things Live is one of the most exciting companies in live entertainment in Europe,” says Mølleskog. “The group is well-positioned for further growth, and I look forward to building on this strong foundation together with the ambitious owners.”
Mølleskog boasts more than 30 years of experience, which includes management and board positions in Nordic and international companies.
“All Things Live is one of the most exciting companies in live entertainment in Europe”
She currently serves as Lord Chamberlain (CEO) of the Royal Court of Norway where she previously worked in chief of staff positions for a total of seven years.
Other former positions include senior client partner with recruiter Korn/Ferry International and various management roles at SAS where she was senior vice president and part of the executive management team from 1998 to 2003.
Current group CEO Kim Worsøe will continue as a member of the All Things Live Group board of directors and will focus on the company’s expansion in Europe including acquisitions and artist relations across the group.
“All Things Live has seen tremendous growth over the last three years and is today in a great position to continue this positive development,” says Worsøe. “I am confident that Gry Mølleskog will be a strong addition to the organisation and able to support our future growth journey and I look very much forward to working together with her.”
Nordic music biz reveals Top 20 under 30 list for 2021
The fourth annual Nordic Music Biz Top 20 under 30 list has been revealed, honouring the ‘young forces driving the Nordic music industry forward’.
According to organsiers Nomex (Nordic Music Export), the winners were chosen by a panel of 15 judges from the Nordic music industry, based on “company growth, career path, recognition in the industry, influence in the industry in 2020, artistic development, innovation, concert revenues, sales, streaming, campaigns, radio and television publicity”.
This year’s Nordic Music Biz Top 20 under 30 list comprises:
- Timothy Collins & Hugo LePrince, co-founders & co-CEO, Creed Media, Sweden
- Lina Pettersson, head of agency, Live Nation, Sweden
- Anton Madock, A&R and marketing manager, Amuse, Sweden
- Sara Faraj, label manager, Asylum/Warner Music Sweden AB
- Amanda Kiflay, A&R, Sony Music Publishing Scandinavia, Sweden
- Erlend Buflaten, CEO and co-founder Propeller Management, Norway
- Ziwer Teli, artist manager, GR:OW, Sweden
- Johanna Alem, head of event & promotion, Universal Music Norway
- Julie Rogstad Sandberg, A&R, Sony Music Norway
- Renate Eggan, project and communication manager, Tempo, Norway
- Nikolaj Stavnstrup, manager & A&R, Echo (Label/Management, Denmark
- Thea Moe, partner & co-manager, Glass Management, Denmark
- Jakob Løkkegaard-Friese, MD & co-founder, Was Entertainment, Denmark
- Maria Borg, A&R, Discowax, Denmark
- Katarina Julie Madsen, creative manager, Edition Wilhelm Hansen, Denmark
- Teea Kasurinen, marketing manager international, Universal Music Finland
- Hannes Andersson, creative director, Mantik Music Group & CMO, oeksound Ltd., Finland
- Saara Everi, head of marketing & artist manager, PME Records, Finland
- Ægir Sindri Bjarnason, founder of R6013 venue in Reykjavik and Why Not? Records, Iceland
- Bergþór Másson, ClubDub, Iceland
Nina Finnerud, head of UK at Music Norway, commented on the list: “With the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen that the recruitment of young people into the music industry is more important than ever.
“It’s crucial to show the new generation of managers, labels, agents, festivals etc that it is a safe and rewarding industry to work in and choose as a career. It is also vital to make sure the artists have talented people to work with them and look out for their best interest in the future.”
This year’s Nordic Music Biz Top 20 under 30 will be honoured with a ceremony during by:Larm festival in Olso, Norway, on the 30 September.
Nomex was set up to facilitate growth and development in the Nordic music sector, and is a collaborative organisation set up by Export Music Sweden, Music Export Denmark, Music Finland, Iceland Music Export and Music Norway.
All Things Live joins forces with Monkfish event agency
Nordic live entertainment powerhouse All Things Live is partnering with one of Denmark’s leading event agencies, Monkfish.
The Danish company, founded in 2007 by Rikke Salling, and its network of cooperation partners organises and executes 25-35 events annually which have involved artists including Jan Gintberg, Hella Joof, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lukas Graham (pictured) and The Minds of 99.
Monkfish will retain the company’s independence while working in close co-operation with All Things Live, which has a presence in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
All Things Live says the acquisition does not entail changes for Monkfish’s customers, partners or employees as ‘market proximity is a key focus area for the partnership’. Both parties have declined to comment on the price or additional details of the transaction.
“I am pleased that our fantastic team at Monkfish will now become part of the All Things Live family and have even better opportunities of creating the best experiences for existing and new customers. We maintain our independence and the uncompromising focus on creativity and thoroughness that has always set Monkfish apart,” says Rikke Salling, founder and CEO of Monkfish.
“Monkfish creates unique experiences for some of the largest Danish corporate customers and has a strong market position”
“The new partnership offers strong organisational support and a good foundation for strengthening Monkfish’s profile towards existing and new customers. At the same time, we are looking forward to contributing to the All Things Live community with our knowhow and network.”
Kim Worsøe, CEO of All Things Live Group, says: “Monkfish creates unique experiences for some of the largest corporate customers in Denmark and has established a strong market position, which we are looking forward to developing with Rikke and her team in cooperation with the other members of the All Things Live partnership. Together, we will have an even stronger platform for creating more fantastic events and experiences for our customers.”
All Things Live was established by six Scandinavian companies in early 2019, with a number of additional live entertainment companies joining later including Sweden’s Big Slap and Stand Up Norge.
The Nordic company represents around 250 local artists, promotes and produces more than 5,000 events with more than 1.5 million tickets sold annually, and has entered into a number of partnerships with large corporate clients.
Norway scraps distancing for artists
The Norwegian government yesterday (15 June) quadrupled the number of people allowed to attend live shows in the country, giving the green light to events of up to 200 people.
Under the new phase of regulations, there will also be an exemption of the one-metre distancing rule for performers, dancers, musicians, singers and other “professional practitioners in culture”.
“This is very good news for cultural life,” comments Norway’s culture and equality minister Abid Q. Raja. “This means that many people who have had their lives and work on hold in recent months can take a step closer to a normal everyday life.
“An exception to the one-metre rule for performers will allow them to be creative again in more normal settings, and especially help with the production of art and culture.”
Event organisers must present a plan for infection control management, as well as conducting a risk assessment to decide how governmental requirements can be met and whether it is possible to run the event in accordance with regulations.
“This means that many people who have had their lives and work on hold in recent months can take a step closer to a normal everyday life”
Live music was permitted to make a comeback in Norway earlier than in many other European countries, with events of up to 50 people allowed since early May, although promoters IQ spoke to at the time stressed the financial inviability of operating under such restrictions.
If infection rates are kept under control, the capacity limit in Norway could potentially rise to 500 by September at the earliest.
“We must do everything we can to prevent the spread of infection throughout the summer,” comments Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg.
“We are giving greater freedom, but this is freedom under responsibility. It is as important as before to follow the infection control rules. Otherwise, the efforts in recent months will have been in vain.”
Why host city partnerships will shape the future of festivals
While most music festivals and event organisers fight through the Covid-19 disruptions, many are already looking toward a sustainable and lasting future beyond the crisis. Festival organisers with continuous and formalised host city agreements are in better shape for recovery as they are benefitting from support provided by authorities in structural, economic and practical ways.
As the public health situation winds down, a distinct window of opportunity is opening for festival organisers to craft new partnerships with host cities. As for governments themselves, keeping and attracting events will be paramount for economic recovery.
In representing a multitude of rightsholders across music festivals, esports and federation-owned sports events, we see two groups of event organisers coming through that are less affected than others: ones with ticket revenue as a tertiary income stream and ones that have long-lasting, integrated partnerships with public hosts.
First, organisers with public events as a tertiary income stream. These are entities where the events are primarily a promotional channel, creating television rights and ultimately supporting the sale of primary products. For example, an esport publisher has the games themselves as a primary income stream, esport broadcasting as a secondary income stream, and then event-driven income as tertiary.
It would be unfair to say this group has not been affected – because they have. However, their business model and diversity of revenue streams, allow them to continue business with lesser impact than others.
Festival organisers with continuous and formalised host city agreements are in better shape for recovery
Host city partnerships
The second group, however, are organisers with long-lasting partnerships with host cities, regions or countries. They are not only less affected than others but are also well positioned to move forward in the current global circumstances.
Host cities, as well as host regions, destinations and nations have proven extraordinarily loyal and committed to their partners. For example, cities have:
- Refrained from recovering support previously paid out to events that were cancelled due to a crisis
- Paid advanced fees for later editions of events to keep entities afloat
- Actively assisted rescheduling events in terms of sites, permissions and communication
That is because cities know that event organisers are in an unprecedented position to become a driver of economic recovery for the hard-hit sectors of tourism, entertainment and hospitality. In moving past Covid-19, cities will invest in attractions and securing events, thereby rebuilding the aforementioned industries. Accordingly, a window is opening for rightsholders to attain new (or re-structure existing) host city partnerships with public entities as primary partners.
Here we outline some characteristics of host city partnerships that should be considered now and why they are the way forward following the worst of the crisis.
Cities know that event organisers are in an unprecedented position to become a driver of economic recovery
Rebuilding a brand, revenue, city pride and confidence in the future
Following the current pandemic, analyses have suggested protracted changes in global travel patterns. Domestic travel is expected to increase at the expense of visiting international tourism destinations. Long-term contracts ensure the return of guests, re-focus the world’s attention and provide dependable sources of future revenue.
Events can make incremental progress in rebuilding destination brands, generating revenue within the hospitality sector, restoring the pride of local citizens, and, most importantly, providing confidence in the future. As such, cities are looking for partnerships and now is the time to seize that opportunity.
Yield management for destinations
With severe damage to the tourism and hospitality industries, we will see stakeholders become even more forward-looking – considering short-term remedies, as well as looking toward longer-term goals. Having long-lasting agreements with event makers is a part of detailed calendar planning. For example, mitigating crowding out effects which would be a net loss to a city.
Major events will increasingly become a yield management exercise. That is, how to further maximise tourism revenue for specific events given a new global travel environment.
For instance, working to build and prolong shoulder seasons, as well as developing creative ways for utilising the offseason at holiday destinations. In such a context, rightsholders will be met with more specific requests, in the short and long term, for dates and planning. In this context, established, defined agreements with host cities will be increasingly critical.
Events can make incremental progress in rebuilding destination brands, generating revenue, restoring pride and providing confidence in the future
All parts of the value chain will incur substantial financial losses during this crisis. Entities will go bankrupt or otherwise suffer severe economic damage. Cancellations and defaults will continue for months (or longer). Sponsors, participants, ticket buyers, and broadcasters will be sceptical regarding events being re-established and as to their long-term sustainability. Everyone involved will become more selective, with careful attention to sustainability.
For the above-mentioned parties, as well as for banks, suppliers, and talent agencies, a ten-year contract with a public entity will signal credibility and a more viable future. Partners will base their confidence in the reputation and record of the public body and will seek secure future cash flows.
From the city’s (or country’s) perspective, they can develop a more defined long-term plan. Host cities can maintain a more predictable hotel and hospitality inventory, as well as a template for planning for associated services (security, public transportation, etc). Events can become an integrated part of the city’s calendar, providing assurances for both the rightsholder and the public body. Based on these benefits, cities are eager to partner with festival organisers, and thus may be willing to offer them generous terms on extended partnerships.
Mitigating future risks
We know now, from having observed and assisted music festivals in the industry, that one of the most important entities to have support from during a crisis is the relevant public authority. An integrated partnership with a public host suggests that the city (or country) considers you as a close partner – a relationship that needs to be sustained regardless of current economic, social, or political situations. In the best cases, they will offer the same considerations as they extend to ingrained cultural institutions, such as operas, orchestras and football clubs.
Thus, an integrated partnership becomes an effective way of mitigating future risks from other financial crises or postponements (for example, due to climate/weather, currency devaluations, or civil unrest).
A proper plan for mitigating risks will likely become critical for stakeholders and investors, such as how professional security and crowd control plans emerged as critical considerations more than 20 years ago. An integrated partnership with the host will be ever more important in the context of uncertainty that will prevail following the crisis.
An integrated partnership becomes an effective way of mitigating future risks from other financial crises or postponements
A short-term step for organisers will be planning and producing more financially sustainable events. Minimising costs is essential to that. Deciding on a long-term home for an event will allow for long-term planning and thus substantial cost reductions related to planning, site inspections, event-to-event negotiations with authorities, permissions and authorisations, site preparations, insurance, security and marketing. Indirect effects will impact suppliers positively, thus benefitting all parties involved.
As a part of agreements, cities can provide reduced costs for such things as security, cleaning, site rentals and expenses for permissions. Events and rightsholders with solid public partnerships will see these cost reductions. Further, several cities have been interested in developing new sites and infrastructure directly with their long-term event partners.
A way forward
Integrated host city partnerships for music festivals will be exceedingly beneficial for all parties after the crisis. They instill confidence at a time of uncertainty, setting the stage for long term sustainability, stakeholder reassurance, sharing of risks and modelling a much-needed stable future.
Most music festivals and event organisers are back at the drawing board, reshaping what is left of 2020 and building the outlook for 2021 and beyond. To those we say: so are mayors, governors, ministers and presidents. Take this opportunity to synchronise your goals with theirs and leverage off the assets of one another. It is the best way forward.
Ronnie Hansen is director of sports, culture and entertainment at Scandinavian communications agency Geelmuyden Kiese.
Live Nation SE’s Kristofer Åkesson joins start-up Society Icon
Kristofer Åkesson, formerly marketing and communications director for Live Nation Sweden, has joined Swedish marketing start-up Society Icon.
Åkesson, whose achievements at Live Nation this year include Swedish House Mafia’s Stockholm comeback shows and the first Lollapalooza Stockholm, becomes COO and partner at Society Icon, which connects companies with influential fans and customers – ‘icons’ – who market the brands via their own channels.
Existing Society Icon clients include Live Nation, Warner Music, H&M and magazine publisher Aller Media.
The company recently closed an investment round, and is valued at 81 million kr (US$8.6m).
“With his knowledge, experience and ideas, he will be invaluable in our continued expansion”
“I leave one dream job for another,” comments Åkesson, who had been with Live Nation for nearly a decade. “Throughout the years at Live Nation I’ve met many companies that offered different solutions for influencer marketing, but never found a good and efficient alternative.
“When Mose [Haregot], CEO and founder, presented Society Icon one and a half years ago, I immediately saw that the unique idea and technology behind it – where the ordinary person and their followers are central – is not only is the future of influencer marketing, but ultimately also for marketing and consumer loyalty in general.”
Haregot adds: “Kristofer is a dream hire. I have always been impressed by his ability to understand and foresee trends and behaviours, and as a client to us for one and a half years, he has also made the product better. Since day one he has understood the long-term potential of Society Icon, and with his knowledge, experience and ideas, he will be invaluable in our continued expansion.”
Swedish government honours LN’s Thomas Johansson
The Swedish government has awarded Thomas Johansson, Live Nation’s chairman of international music and the Nordics, the Music Export Prize.
The prize is awarded to leading figures in the industry who have excelled over the course of their careers, making a long-standing contribution to Swedish music and promoting the country’s music industry worldwide.
The Swedish government created the Music Export Prize in 1997 to recognise contributions made to exports by music industry figures.
Previous recipients of the award include ABBA in 2013, Max Martin in 2014 and Roxette in 2011.
The prize is awarded to leading figures in the industry who have made a long-standing contribution to Swedish music
Johansson has been an important part of the Swedish music industry for years. He founded live entertainment company EMA Telstar in 1969, bringing international acts to Sweden and managing ABBA’s touring, as well as that of many other Swedish acts. EMA Telstar joined Live Nation over ten years ago.
As chairman of Live Nation Sweden, Johansson has delivered concerts, tours and events to over one million Swedes a year.
Johansson has worked with acts including Roxette, The Cardigans, Peter Jöback and Zara Larsson, in addition to his global tours with ABBA.