For the international contemporary live music industry

Delivering good news every day

October 1, 2018

If his round as a postman hadn’t included one of Switzerland’s leading promoters, Stefan Matthey may never have found his way into the industry 35 years ago. Although he’s now at the top of the business, he remembers his roots, having to find new acts and spend years developing them into arena and stadium artistes. Christopher Barrett reports

During the 35 years since Stefan Matthey gave up being a postman to pursue a career in the live music business, he has delivered results for artistes such as Nirvana, Guns N’Roses, Metallica, Rammstein, Iron Maiden, Foo Fighters, Alice Cooper, Muse and Editors.

Just as Matthey has grown in stature over the years, so have countless acts that he has helped nurture from fledgling outfits to major players.

Among the other artistes that Matthey has helped to develop in Switzerland are Linkin Park, Placebo and Five Finger Death Punch (FFDP).

Matthey’s relationship with the latter started when he promoted their first show in the country, in March 2009 at the 900-capacity Rohstofflager in Zurich.

“We sold 21 tickets” says Matthey. “Then last November we promoted them at the Hallenstadion in Zurich and sold 7,500.”

FFDP’s manager Lewis Kovac of 10th Street Entertainment in Los Angeles, whose company has managed acts including The Bee Gees, Duran Duran, Motley Crue and Meatloaf, has always been impressed by Matthey’s ability to pick-up promising acts at an early stage.

“Stefan has been integral to discovering and presenting new acts from the start,” says Kovac. “We are discussing two new acts at the moment – his new favourite of our new roster is Bang Bang Rome, a UK-signed act who will start to tour next year.”

Now CEO of Switzerland’s longest-established promoting company Good News Productions, which since 2000 has been a subsidiary of Germany’s Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG), Matthey is enjoying a landmark year.

On 25 August, Good News organised what it hails as the biggest concert to date in Switzerland by German punk band Die Toten Hosen, with an audience of 50,000 at the open-air Allmend in Lucerne.

Two months earlier he oversaw the promotion of the biggest ever Swiss concert by the Foo Fighters, who played to 35,000 fans at a sell-out show in the Stade de Suisse in Berne.

As well as working on shows by acts including Roger Waters and Judas Priest in Zurich this year, Matthey’s Good News team has overseen the Rock the Ring Festival (13,000) at Hinwil again this year. The three-day event took place in June with a line-up including Santana, Simple Minds, UB40, Blackstone Cherry and The Darkness.

Once upon a time …

Working as a postman aged 16, Matthey noticed that one of the addresses he was responsible for was concert promoter Free + Virgin Agency, which at the time was second only in stature in the
Swiss market to André Béchir’s Good News.

Headed by Harry Sprenger, Free + Virgin worked with many of the world’s renowned rock acts of the day, including Nirvana, The Clash, Ramones, Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, before going bankrupt in 2011.

“I met Harry while I was working as a postman and I would hang out at the office and pack some posters or help ship tickets to shows,” Matthey remembers.

“I was able to see every show it was possible to see and would still be back at the Post Office for 5am. It was a hard time, I had no sleep, but it was really fun.”

While hanging onto his day-job, Matthey worked as freelancer for Free + Virgin, doing everything from catering to working as a stage hand. “Whatever work was available at the time, I did it,” he says.

In time Sprenger took Matthey on full-time, and in 1990 he began working as a promoter with acts such as Uriah Heep, Nazareth, Wishbone Ash and The Cramps. Matthey learned all he could from Sprenger, who not only introduced him to the live music scene, but helped provide a valuable insight into how things were done in the international market.

“Harry introduced me to the whole scene and took me to every show I could go to,” says Matthey. “He took me to London and introduced me to all the agents at that time. I was always at his side. I soon realised what the agent world was about and how business needed to be done.

“I went to the third edition of the ILMC (International Live Music Conference in London} with him, and still make sure I go every year.”

Among the London-based agents Matthey has worked with over the years is X-ray Touring’s Adam Saunders, with recent sell-out shows including Machine Head, Airbourne and The Darkness.

‘Stefan is great to work with, quick and efficient,” says Saunders. “He’s helped build many an act with me in Switzerland over the years and we’ve had hosts of sell-out shows from clubs to arenas and beyond.”

At heart a rock fan, Matthey has taken great pride in nurturing what he describes as “baby bands” and helping them climb the venue ladder.

“We did not only promote the big acts, we invested money and time into finding new acts and helping them grow. I have been a music fan since I was a kid; Harry and I were always listening to music and going to shows. That was what drove Free + Virgin.

“It was great to work with bands like INXS and Midnight Oil; we started them in clubs, they became major arena acts, and then we got them up to the Hallenstadion – the biggest venue in Zurich,” he says.

Embracing grunge 

A landmark period for Matthey was the early 1990s when the impact of the grunge scene, led by acts including Nirvana and Pearl Jam, was being felt across the music business.

One of the most memorable concerts of that time for him was Nirvana’s final Swiss show, which took place on 19 February 1994 at the Patinoire du Littoral (7,000) in Neuchatel. Six weeks later, the band’s frontman, Kurt Cobain, was dead.

“Nirvana and Pearl Jam came and changed the music industry. It was a new interpretation of rock that attracted a new generation of fans,” he says.

In 2008 Matthey became Sprenger’s partner in Free + Virgin, but the company would only last another three years.

Among the biggest acts they promoted were U2, Iron Maiden, Muse and Nickelback, while Matthey took great pride is seeing acts including Linkin Park and Placebo rise from clubs to major venues.

Down and back up

In 2011, Free + Virgin went bankrupt when attendance at that year’s Sonisphere Festival failed to generate enough revenue to cover the outlay.

A year previously, Good News Productions had been sold to DEAG and Swiss media giant Ringier and following the demise of Free + Virgin, Matthey was contacted by Ringier about the possibility of him overseeing new subsidiary Starclick.

By October 2011 he was the company’s CEO.

“I was approached to build a new company with the acts we had promoted at Free + Virgin,” says Matthey. “At that time André [Béchir] had no one in his company who did bookings for the smaller acts, it was just him looking after the big acts.

“Good News had an exclusivity deal with the Hallenstadion, so if you wanted to present a band at that venue you were forced to work with us on a 50/50 co-promotion basis. I was taken on by the company to build up Starclick, a new division focused on smaller acts.”

All change

In 2013, Ringier’s stake in Good News was acquired by DEAG and Béchir left the company to form his own company ABC Production, with Gerard Jenni taking over as Good News CEO. That same year, the operators of Hallenstadion decided it would open up the venue to all promoters.

“That changed the scene completely, with everyone now able to go into that important big venue,” says Matthey.

In November 2015, Matthey was approached by DEAG CEO Peter Schwenkow, who asked him if he would like to be the new CEO of Good News.

“Since then we have completely changed the mindset at Good News and today we promote everything from new artistes playing to 50 people in clubs to stadium shows with 50,000 – from death metal to Disney on Ice”.

“We have rebuilt and refreshed the company, and diversified considerably,” he says.

Matthey reports to DEAG’s chief marketing officer Detlef Kornett in Berlin, with whom he says he has a strong relationship.

“Detlef is a great person to work with, he is very loyal, and we speak day or night, whenever it is needed. I feel very comfortable working with him. I was independent for 28 years but I’m now involved in a big company. We are still able to get on with our own work, but it is good to know we have the support of the people at DEAG,” says Matthey.

Kornett notes, “Stefan and I have been working through a very complex process of change at Good News in order to adapt to a transformed Swiss market, and a new business environment overall.

“There have been countless difficult situations, but Stefan is the most calm person under pressure. That is very impressive. He is also one the most down-to-earth people I have met in this industry.”

With Good News no longer afforded the luxury of being the default promoter for the Hallenstadion, Matthey’s operation has to work across the whole market.

He believes the concert market has become increasingly overplayed in recent years, but the country’s promoters have managed to maintain a good relationship and often work harmoniously together.

“In other countries there seems to be something of a war between promoters, but in Switzerland the market is different,” he says. “Here promoters are talking to each other and I co-promote acts with other operators.”

Among the shows that Good News has co-promoted this year are Bosshoss at the Zielbau Arena (2,500) in Winterthur and J. Cole at the Samsung Hall (5,000) in Zurich with promoter Mainland Music, and Roger Waters at the Hallenstadion with Beshir’s ABC.

Matthey sees the concert and festival market as being saturated and points out the right ticket price has become more important than ever.

“In Zurich, 10 years ago there would be four or five shows a week, now there are usually between 25 to 30. So you have to be careful with ticket prices –  people still have money and they will spend it on live music, but the choice they have is huge,” he says.

Open-air challenge

The packed festival market thrives out of all proportion to the country’s eight million population, and having had his fingers burnt while at Free + Virgin, Matthey is understandably cautious when it comes to open-air events.

“The market is just really overplayed in terms of festivals, especially bearing in mind we are a small country that has four languages and corresponding markets.

“Rock The Ring is a unique festival, in that it focuses primarily on classic rock acts who do not play the other festivals. We work with artistes such as Santana, Deep Purple, Billy Idol and Toto. With that kind of act, there is no competition,” he says.

In 2016, Good News began staging shows at 50,000-capacity Allmend in Lucerne, which Matthey says was an important step for the company. That year, Good News promoted Sonisphere festival there with a line-up including Rammstein, Iron Maiden, Slayer and Anthrax, drawing 75,000 people across the two-day event.

“We were searching for a new green field site to promote big shows and we found the Allmend,” he says. “It was great to see Die Toten Hosen play there this year. I have promoted them since Free & Virgin in the early days.”

Another act with whom Matthey has a long and proud association is Krokus.

“They are one of the biggest Swiss rock bands, have sold 15 million records worldwide and are preparing to bow out during their 45th year,” says Matthey. “We announced their final show on 7 December next year at the Hallenstadion and sold more than 50 per cent of the tickets on day one. They were the first Swiss band to sell out the stadium back in 1982 and they want to stop at the same venue.”

Some 35 years down the line, Matthey is showing no signs of wanting to bring an end to his eventful career.

“I was independent for a long time and so I know how to fight for every day,” he says. “I never had a pre-existing menu of big acts to work from, I have therefore had the opportunity to grow with my acts.

“We did Metallica for more than 20 years before we lost them to Live Nation, but we will continue to start with baby bands and help build their careers. That is how I started my career and I’ll continue doing that. I am always looking for the next big name.

“Things are moving faster than ever in this industry and it is essential to be creative and find new business models, and ways to promote acts.

“It really is a great time right now.”

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