As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a high standard of living and low unemployment, the country is in good shape both economically and otherwise. Its relatively small size, and conveniently central position in Europe, makes it a unique music market. Lisa Henderson reports
Thirty years ago, Austria was the most eastern point you could travel on mainland Europe before hitting the Iron Curtain, the high-security border dividing Europe between the west and the countries dominated by Russia’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
It meant that, unless an artiste was one of the very few allowed into the USSR to perform for its youth, Austria was the end of the line and the only way was back.
When the Cold War was over and the Iron Curtain came down in November 1989, Eastern Europe gradually opened-up for international live music, which made Austria part of a touring network and gave its music scene a boost.
Now, the landlocked country – bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west, has close connections to its eastern neighbours.
Promoters are able to tap into markets in Bratislava (Slovakia), a 45-minute drive, and Budapest (Hungary), a couple of hours away, with agents of major artistes often having to decide between Austria capital Vienna and Prague (Czech Republic).
The wider reach is undoubtedly an advantage for the country’s music industry but with more potential comes more competition, in the form of international players, and the demand for more venues to handle the increased activity.
Live Nation Entertainment (LNE) doesn’t have an office in the country, but instead covers the market from its German base, from which it also promotes in Switzerland.
This year, Live Nation GSA is promoting Harry Styles at Wiener Stadthalle (cap. 16,000) in Vienna, Sting at Domplatz (8,000) in Linz and Guns N ‘Roses at Ernst Happel Stadion (50,000) in Vienna.
The two other dominating promoters in Austria are also owned by Germany-based companies, Barracuda – which is majority-owned by pan Europe ticketing and promoting giant CTS Eventim, and Arcadia Live, which is majority-owned by pan Europe festival organiser and promoter FKP Scorpio.
Barracuda is one of the biggest promoters in the market, given a significant boost last December (see Audience issue 239) when German ticketing and promoting giant CTS Eventim bought a majority share in the business.
The company was founded in 2004 when NuCoast Entertainment, Skalar and Music Net joined forces and has organised tours for artistes including Ed Sheeran, the Rolling Stones and Elton John.
Barracuda’s Richard Hoermann believes selling a 71 per cent stake to CTS was the right way to go.
“The whole market has completely changed in the past 10 years and CTS has become a good and strong player, so we are happy to be part of this network now,” says Hoermann.
CTS’s Eventim Live network encompasses 29 promoters and 30 festivals across 12 countries.
Hoermann says Barracuda experienced possibly the most successful year in its history in 2019, promoting acts including Paul McCartney, Elton John, PINK, who hadn’t visited the country since 2013.
“I consider PINK’s show at the Ernst-Happel Stadion in July to be one of the true highlights, that does not come very often,” he says.
Michael Bublé, Sting, Lionel Richie, Deep Purple, Hollywood Vampires, Tom Jones, Paul Weller are among the acts Barracuda are promoting in 2020.
Barracuda also promotes the three biggest festivals in Austria: Nova Rock (cap. 55,000) in Nickelsdorf, Electric Love (100,000) in Salzburg and Frequency (120,000) in St Pölten.
“The advantage of these events being further east [of Vienna] is that we are in a triangle of three countries – Austria, Hungary and Slovakia,” says Barracuda CEO Ewald Tatar. “We have the three biggest festivals in Austria now, so there is no need for any other festivals in that area.”
Aside from Danube Island Festival, which is a free event, there are no other events that rival Barracuda’s festivals in size, since the DEAG and Blue Moon Entertainment-promoted Rock in Vienna stopped in 2017.
Not only does the company have something of a monopoly on the eastern side, they’re also able to offer cheaper tickets than events in neighbouring countries, thereby attracting more fans across the borders.
“Artiste fees are high but compared to other festivals of the same size in our neighbouring countries, we are on the lower level for ticketing. For Nova Rock it’s €190 [$206] for four days including parking and camping,” says Tatar.
Barracuda concludes that the Austria market is “strong and sound” but their only complaint is the lack of large-scale venues.
Arcadia’s Filip Potocki agrees that the market is thriving but the lack of venues mean it’s hard to embrace its full potential.
“Ticket sales are healthy, artiste fees and venue hire costs are rather reasonable, but we could do with some smaller venues and metropolitan areas,” he says.
“Apart from Vienna, Austria mainly consists of rural areas that aren’t suitable for staging big events.”
It was realising this issue that prompted Arcadia to launch a new concert series, taking place in a open-air venue called METAStadt, a 1,850-capacity venue on a renovated historic industrial site in the capital.
METAStadt Open Air launched last year with a bill including The 1975 and Greta Van Fleet, both of which performed their first shows in Austria.
“Dealing with artistes of all sizes and their touring needs, we realised the need for something exactly like this,” says Potocki.
“Similar concepts that are already around are designed either for way too big or far too little audiences, making it hard or even impossible for acts of a certain size to play. We were looking for something to close the gap between 3,000 capacities and 10,000-capacity open-air-venues, and were lucky enough to find the perfect spot, develop a neat concept and make it happen.”
Among artistes playing this year’s series, set for 11-18 July, are The Kooks, alt-J and Sido. Tickets cost €41-51 ($45-56).
Potocki says last year was the company’s best so far. Aside from launching the new event, Arcadia also promoted two sold-out Rammstein stadium shows, which Potocki says was both challenging and rewarding in many ways, as well as two sold-out shows by Cigarettes After Sex at Vienna Arena and one sold-out show by Michael Kiwanuka at Stadthalle in Vienna.
Potocki says they’re gearing up for big year, with another sold-out stadium show for Rammstein (this time in Klagenfurt), the return of The 1975 to Vienna and more urban open air shows in another city.
Though the country’s long-standing independents are anxious about the future of the market in the hands of major players, many seem secure in their decision to remain outside their orbit.
Veteran promoter Alex Nussbaumer of al-x, with offices in Vienna and Bregenz, says he considers being independent “a luxury”.
“Even after 35 years in the business, I can still choose quality above quantity and work with people who are not just in it for the money,” he says.
Nussbaumer believes this is partly thanks to Austria’s small market, which has allowed him to take risks with artistes who are not on the radar.
“In a small market, you can develop artistes in a better way because you have an overview of the market and if an artiste fails, the loss is not that devastating. It’s really tricky to do that in a mass-market like Germany.”
Nussbaumer has brought acts such as Elton John, Robbie Williams, Coldplay, Paul Weller, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and The Cure to the market and is working with Fischer-Z, Roachford and Fink.
Werner Stockinger, founder of independent promotions, production and accounting company Liveblood, echoes Nussbaumer’s sentiment.
“The benefit of being an independent promoter is we can find special artistes that others wouldn’t touch because it’s too much work for them. If you have 300 to 1000 shows per year, you will not be able to pay the same attention to small things.
“Us independent promoters are detail-orientated and that’s probably the reason we’re still here.”
Stockinger, former MD of German conglomerate Deutsche Entertainment’s now-defunct promoter Blue Moon Entertainment, founded the company over 10 years ago.
He promotes around 30-50 shows per year, including Eric Clapton and Roger Hodgson in 2019, both at Wiener Stadthalle’s in Vienna.
This year Stockinger is promoting Babymetal at Planet.TT Bank Austria Halle Gasometer (4,200) in Vienna.
“Babymetal are doing their shows in Germany with Live Nation, but they’ve gone with Liveblood for their Austria date, which is a rare occurrence. Usually Live Nation would buy a whole tour and not exclude one of two dates,” he says.
Stockinger explains that keeping long-term relationships with artistes, like Babymetal, are what keeps his business running.
“As an independent, if you want to compete long-term in a European market with a lot of shows you need to change your set-up or decide which big company you want to join. Either you join an Eventim Live network or you join Live Nation, but everything else is quite difficult,” he says.
However, it seems that Stockinger has found a balance of both, partnering with the giants when necessary and going it alone where possible, proving that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Last year Liveblood was involved in the production of Rammstein’s two stadium shows in Vienna, along with Arcadia Live and Rock The Nation.
At the shows, Liveblood, along with CTS Eventim and the band’s promoter MCT Agentur, trialled tickets personalized to the visitor (rather than the buyer) for the first time in Austria, in a bid to tackle secondary ticketing.
“It ran perfectly and we didn’t have any complaints from the 104,000 people who used the system,” says Stockinger.
Georg Leitner Productions, an agency celebrating 40 years in the business, reports a successful 2019 with an increase in turnover from €7m ($7.6m) to €10 ($10.9m).
Though Leitner says the local market is a microcosm of his wider business, he says he deals with the country in the same way as any others.
Leitner says he’s considered – and ultimately rejected – the idea of joining forces with bigger companies but he does acknowledge they present tough competition for both promoters and agents, like himself.
“I understand the motives of the Austrian promoters to become part of a bigger group because obviously they suddenly had a tough time when they started losing artistes they’d promoted for years to Live Nation,” he says.
“There’s a high density of shows in the eastern part of Austria [Vienna] meaning more ways to go. The booking opportunities decrease dramatically until you get to Switzerland and suddenly a lot of booking opportunities arise again. So I think in the western part of Austria there’s still room for development.”
This year, Leitner will be booking shows for Julian Marley and The Uprising at Wiesen (8,000) in Burgenland and The Dire Straits Experience at Wiener Stadthalle.
Building from the ground up
While promoters and agents bemoan the lack of choice in venues, Vienna’s biggest concert venue is struggling to hold its ground, literally.
The city council is considering whether to demolish the 89-year-old Ernst Happel Stadion (EST), and build a new one focused on sporting events.
“The conversion into a pure football stadium would hit the concert scene massively because the result would be a loss of substantial capacities for 20,000 to 30,000 visitors per concert,” says the EST’s Sandra Hoffman.
“Despite its age, the structural condition is so good that it will last for at least another half a century. Our old lady still receives such a good certificate from the experts.”
Hoffman reports the venue had one of its most successful years yet with 2019, hosting seven open-air concerts in the summer.
Phil Collins, Bon Jovi, Pink, Metallica, Andreas Gabalier and Rammstein (twice) are among the artistes who played the venue.
While Vienna may not have enough venues to host all the shows it could, venue operators in Austria’s second city, Graz, have the space but struggle to be included on tours by international acts.
Messe Congress Graz (MCG), a complex of seven venues, hosts live music events in four of the spaces – Stadthalle Graz (14,500), Freiluftarena B (8,000), Congress Graz (1,300) and an open-air area that can accommodate 35,000.
The complex had to undergo some major developments last year in order to facilitate major artistes.
“We had to increase our capacities last year to catch-up with some of the biggest indoor arenas for live music in Europe,” says MCG’s head of marketing and communications, Christof Strimitzer.
“The maximum capacity of Stadthalle Graz increased from 11,000 to 14,500. It was the first time that Muse played there and also the first time 14,500 visitors could attend a concert at this venue,” says Strimitzer.
“Since we started to offer the open-air venue in 2015, the amount of shows increased steadily and reached a new peak in summer 2019, with artistes such as Sting, Elton John, The Chainsmokers playing our venues for the first time.”
In the autumn, Stadhalle Graz also received a new grandstand system and renewed lighting system with 29,400 LEDs, a light intensity of 2,200 lux and a higher level of sustainability.
Altogether, the complex hosted 117 live music events across 138 days last year.
“With this high-tech grandstand system we can offer more set-up versions and shorter assembly and dismantling times and therefore more flexibility to our customers.
“With all these actions we were able to catch up with some of the biggest indoor arenas for live music in Europe and we are kept in mind more and more.”