With a comparatively robust economy and passionate music fans, Finland’s enterprising live music industry is enjoying record numbers of events and ticket sales, despite its northerly location and small population. Christopher Barrett reports
Bordering Sweden, Norway and Russia, Finland is one of Europe’s most northern countries and, with only 5.5 million inhabitants, it is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union.
Its northern location means Finland sees some of the continent’s most extreme weather. In the winter it can see as little as four hours of daylight with temperatures dropping to -20 centigrade, while in mid-summer the sun fails to sink below the horizon at all in Lapland.
Despite the challenging environment, the land of midnight sun has one of the world’s highest per capita incomes and is renowned for the quality of its education system.
Finland’s well-schooled and relatively wealthy inhabitants have also long demonstrated a passion for live music.
The country boasts many long-established music festivals, an array of high quality venues scattered throughout much of the country and a thriving local music scene.
There is also high demand for international acts, with many choosing to time a visit to Finland before or after a show in nearby St Petersburg, Russia.
According to a report published by music export body Music Finland in September, its music industry output was valued at €930.2 million ($1 billion) in 2017, with live music accounting for more than half of the total — up five per cent year-on-year.
Some 71,060 concerts were played there in 2017, up from 62,511 the previous year, according to composers copyright society Teosto.
Live Nation Finland (LNF) head promoter Zachris Sundell says the company’s most successful shows in 2018 were two soldout concerts by Metallica at Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena (cap. 15,000) in May.
“With a total attendance of more than 28,000, the shows hold the attendance record at Hartwall Arena, and for any indoor show in Finland,” says Sundell.
In total, LNF promoted 200 shows that sold approximately 400,000 tickets in 2018,
Metallica will return with LNF in July for a 55,000-capacity, soldout, show at Kantola Park, just outside the city of Hämeenlinna.
Other forthcoming LNF highlights include arena shows by Ozzy Osbourne, Twenty one Pilots, Backstreet Boys, ZZ Top and Bob Dylan.
Sundell says that the economy is in good shape and the company is seeing tickets for its shows sell fast. Outside of the biggest cities, Helsinki and Tampere, Sundell says there are many other cities offering the venues and enthusiastic audiences necessary for successful shows.
They include Oulu, Vaasa, Turku, Jyväskylä and Joensuu.
“There are really good club-size venues and theatres in these other cities,” he says. “What is missing is a bigger club at 3,000 capacity in Helsinki.”
Sundell also points out that the ongoing renovation of Helsinki’s 44,000-capacity Olympic Stadium means the market will continue to miss a key venue until it re-opens in 2020.
Sundell’s time is split equally between international artistes and local talent but his focus on homegrown acts has increased recently.
“Domestic talent is a really important part of the business,” he says. “We are focusing on building our own agency and also promoting local talent.”
Sundell says the festival market is booming and that LNF books domestic and international talent to most events, including Flow (70,000) in Helsinki, Tampere’s Blockfest (60,000), Ruisrock (105,000) on the island of Ruissalo in Turku, Ilosaarirock (21,000) in Joensuu in eastern Finland and heavy metal festival Tuska (34,000) in the capital.
Another leading promoter and agency, Fullsteam can look back on a landmark year as it gears up to stage 2019 concerts including two nights of Ed Sheeran at Malmi Airport (60,000) in Helsinki and Rammstein at the 32,000-capacity Ratina Stadion in Tampere.
Aside from concerts, the company runs the Provinssi festival (31,000), which takes place at Törnävä, in western town of Seinäjoki. The three-day festival celebrated its 40th anniversary this year and recorded the second-largest attendance in its history, with 76,000 over the three days.
The line-up included The Offspring, Biffy Clyro and Run the Jewels.
Fullstream also runs the Sideways festival, which takes place over three days at the 10,000-capacity Nordis in Helsinki in June. The 2018 edition attracted a record attendance of 26,000 over the three days.
In 2015, Fullsteam’s live division was acquired by German pan-Europe promoter and festiuval organiser FKP Scorpio, a deal which also saw FKP take a 65 per cent stake in Provinssi.
Among 2018 concert highlights were two farewell concerts by Finnish rapper Cheek, which saw a combined attendance of 60,000 at the Lahti ski jumping stadium. Fullstream president Rauha Kyyro says the shows were the biggest concert production Finland has ever seen, with 1,000 square meters of video wall attached to a 60 x 25 metre stage.
“We’ve had an incredible year with two stadium, 13 arena and more than 1,500 other shows,” says Kyyro. “The local music scene is booming and tickets are selling fast. A band we have been working with for over 15 years, Disco Ensemble, ended their career this year by breaking the legendary Tavastia Club’s (700) record by playing nine shows there in December.”
With a good selection of venues throughout the country, Kyyro says that the action is not limited to Finland’s biggest cities.
“I’ve done 15-show, soldout, arena tours across the country in 5,000 to 12,000 capacity venues and most club tours include 20 to 40 locations,” he says.
Aside from concerts, another highlight for the company was the Fullsteam’s acquisition in August of Sony Music Finland’s booking division, Sony Live, with a roster including Janne Ordén, Eini, Mäkki, Sima, Softengine and HesaÄijä.
Among the leading Finnish festival promoters is RL Concerts, which organises events including the EDM-oriented WKND Festival (35,000) in Helsinki and the 30,000-capacity Rockfest at Hyvinkää airfield.
While Swedish House Mafia, Armin Van Buuren and Bastille are among those already announced for WKND in July, headliners announced for Rockfest in June include KISS, Def Leppard and Slipknot.
RL Concerts’ promoter and manager Toni Törrönen, who joined the Helsinki-based company a year ago, says the demand for rock festivals is rising again after experiencing a short slump.
While the company’s core business is festivals, RL Concerts is actively promoting concerts by local and international acts throughout Finland.
“We are working on many kinds of shows, everything from the YouTube sensation Little Big to Steve Hackett and Nazareth,” he says. “I am hoping to do at least 30 club shows, in addition to the festivals, in 2019.”
Törrönen is largely happy with the venue network, despite a perceived lack of mid-size facilities in the capital, and says his favourites include Logomo (3,000) in Turku and Club Teatria further north in Oulu.
“Club Teatria is a great concept, it has a big stage but the venue can be re-sized from a 700 capacity up to 4,000 capacity,” he says.
As an artiste manager and promoter, Törrönen says the ongoing health of the live business depends on a strong local music scene and that while RL Concerts mainly works with international artistes it is also focused on supporting homegrown talent.
“Some local artistes are able to fill stadiums and huge fields already, but they will not be around for ever. The same goes, of course, for international acts. We tend to look at up-and-coming artistes with a keen eye as they might be the next big thing,” he says.
Another operator looking back on a landmark year is the Nem Booking Agency, based in Tampere.
“We’ve had a record 2018 with the most shows, ticket sales and turnover,” says managing director Rowan Rafferty.
Forthcoming concerts include Ladysmith Black Mambazo in April at Tampere-Hall (1,800) and its first arena shows – Amaranthe at the 3,800-capacity Energia Arena in Oulu and the Helsinki IceHall – using its 3,000-capacity “black box” configuration.
Nem is also involved in small-scale festivals and organises three in Tampere alone; SaariBlues (2,000), two-day heavy metal festival SaariHelvetti (2,500) and the Lost in Music Festival (6,000), which takes place across nine venues.
Rafferty says the Finnish festival market is in good health and that while international acts will typically play a couple of festival per summer, Finnish artistes have been known to play up to 30.
“The festival market is probably the best it has ever been, with a huge amount of festivals being staged between June and August,” he says.
According to Rafferty, tickets sales are stable but the growth in the number of arena shows and bigger festivals is impacting the ticket purchasing pattern for smaller to mid-size shows.
“Bigger shows sell well and nicely in advance but smaller shows are proving harder, especially in the 200 to 3,00 capacity venues – tickets tend to sell late for these shows,” he says.
Situated 110 miles to the north of Helsinki, Tampere has a population of around 225,000, but it is not just locals that are catered for by Tampere Hall.
People from across Finland are drawn to shows in the venue’s dozen performance spaces, which range in size from a 200-seater theatre to its 2,000-capacity auditorium.
“The venue is situated right next to the railway station and three-quarters of the country’s population live within two hours of the venue, so we can attract a nationwide audience,” says MD Paulina Ahokas.
Tampere Hall stages everything from classical music to rock and reggae, with recent international acts including the Buena Vista Social Club, London Symphony Orchestra, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Glen Hughes and Don McLean.
Venue owner Tampere-talo not only operates the venue, but promotes shows there Hall and recently started promoting shows in other venues. It has also taken a stake in music industry conference Music & Media, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2019.
“The continued growth of the Finnish live music market is amazing,” says Ahoka. “Every year we discuss it at the conference and wonder when the growth will end. It seems that in this digital age people are yearning for real human contact and live music experiences. There is space for shows of all sizes in the Finnish market but people are very quality orientated and demand great venues with great sound.”
Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Centre) in Töölönlahti not only offers a 1,704-capacity main hall, but five smaller halls ranging in capacity from 100 to 400.
Primarily used for classical music, the venue is home to the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki.
Among artistes performing at the venue, which held 1,360 events in 2017, of 800 of them concerts, are Patti Smith, Marianne Faithfull, Tony Bennet, Dionne Warwick and Herbie Hancock.
“Even though our main hall is acoustically designed for unamplified orchestral music, it is also well suited to other genres,” says communications manager Marja-Leena Lehtimäki. “In Musiikkitalos main concert auditorium it is possible to stage incredible 360-degree experiences.”
Recent improvements include the installation of a 170sqm video wall used to advertise concerts and stream footage from them. Lehtimäki says it is the biggest such screen in the Nordic region.
Based in Tampere, Rockadillo Production and its sister record company largely specialise in home-grown jazz, electronic and world music.
Among international acts Rockadillo has enjoyed success with this year is veteran Dutch band Nits, who played theatre shows in Helsinki, Tampere and Turku.
“The local scene is very healthy, especially for the big acts,” says Rockadillo president & CEO Tapio Korjus. “I spend 95 per cent of my time with local artistes at home and abroad.”
The company is the local production partner for the 2019 edition of music conference and showcase festival WOMEX, which will take place in Tampere from 23 to 27 October.
“It is a huge event and we expect 2,700 music professionals and 300 artistes to come and be part of the event,” says Korjus.
Decades of growth
Helsinki-based Blue Buddha Management has been representing acts for the past three decades. The company’s president, agent and manager Kari M Pössi says that it has enjoyed year-on-year growth since the outset.
“This year we did our very first stadium show at Tampere’s Ratina Stadium with legendary Finnish rock band Popeda. It was a sell out, with 30,000 tickets sold,” he says.
Some 98 per cent of Blue Buddha’s time is spent working with Finnish artistes within the country, but it does represent bands such as Steve ’n’ Seagulls worldwide.
“There has always been a very healthy market here for homegrown artistes, partly because our language is so different, but also because radio stations here play a lot of domestic music,” says Pössi.
In an average year the company is involved in around 1,500 concerts nationwide. Pössi says there is no shortage of great venues and he was particularly impressed by the arrival of Logomo in 2011. It houses galleries, a restaurant, working spaces for businesses and artistes as well as performance spaces, including a 3,000-capacity main hall.
“I’d like to see more multi-purpose venues like that open in similar sized towns,” he says. “We have a good mix of venues here, the only thing lacking is venues with capacities of between 2,000 and 4,000 in Helsinki.”
Lippupiste, owned by Germany pan-Europe ticketing giant CTS Eventim, sells millions of tickets to thousands of concerts throughout Finland every year, and counts Cheek’s two farewell shows at the Lahti ski jumping stadium as its top selling event this year.
“Tickets to that event sold out last year, so this year’s biggest sales have been for the incredibly successful shows by Ed Sheeran and Rammstein in 2019,” says sales director Mari Hatakka.
The company provides a wide variety of ticketing formats including print-at-home, mobile and posted hard copies such as its FanTicket. “A really fancy edition FanTicket has been created for the Rammstein tour, it is beautiful,” she says.
As well as selling tickets, Hatakka says the company actively works with promoters to help increase demand for their shows.
“Our marketing department has turned into a full-bodied digital agency,” she says. “Our online campaigns, data gathering and methods of using it, have proven to be much more efficient than any other digital marketing agency’s efforts,” says Hatakka.
Despite the average price for an arena concert sold by Lippupiste being around €90 ($102), Hatakka says the public’s strong appetite for live music shows no sign of diminishing.
“People are going out and spending money on events, from our perspective things are looking very good for promoters,” she says.
With such a buoyant live music business it is perhaps unsurprising that secondary ticketing operators have attempted to get a foothold in the Finnish market.
“Viagogo has activated properly this year, which has caused concern, but secondary ticketing is still quite marginal here, and more so following the closing of [Ticketmaster-owned] Seatwave,” says Hatakka.
The country’s cold, long, winter nights make the prospect of an uplifting concert in a well equipped venue enormously appealing, while music festivals have proven to be an increasingly populate way of celebrating the near endless summer days.
It may be positioned on the periphery of Europe but Finland is a veritable hub of live music activity.