Despite the government introducing tough new noise restrictions and a sharp rise in policing costs at events, the country’s leading players in the live music sector appear to be thriving in a steadily expanding industry, reports Christopher Barrett
John Lennon famously said French rock is like English wine.
The intervening decades have seen both the quality and quantity of the country’s pop music exports rise significantly in recent years, but England’s wine industry has also made progress, although still has a long way to go before it comes close match the output of the French wine industry.
While France’s vineyards produce around eight billion bottles of wine a year, its musical exports have also been impressive, with acts such as Daft Punk, Air, David Guetta, Phoenix, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Sebastian Tellier building global fanbases.
Back on home turf there is also plenty to celebrate, domestic talent is doing well, there is a vibrant festival market and the country is able to offer international touring acts some of Europe’s best venues, from clubs to stadiums.
The impact of the November 2015 terrorist attacks around Paris, which left 89 concert-goers dead at the Le Bataclan (cap. 1,500), is still being felt, but leading promoters, venues and ticketing companies report strong business.
Concert-goers appear as enthusiastic as ever, but security costs have soared for event organisers.
And the situation has not been helped by the government. In May last year interior minister Gerard Collomb announced plans to bill festivals and venue owners for the cost of policing events.
The move has not been welcomed by the live industry and it was estimated that, for one of France’s largest music festivals – the 100,000-capacity Eurockéennes, the proposal would lead to an 800 per cent increase in the event’s security bill to €254,000 ($287,000)
For music industry body Prodiss, which represents promoters, festival organisers and venue operators, it is just one of a number of government-created issues it is tackling, including volume restrictions on venues and festivals.
As part of the noise controls, introduced in October last year, venue owners must carry out regular noise impact surveys, and create a noise-free area within the building, so audience members can rest their ears during a concert.
“The new rules require surveys to be carried out every time a concert is staged, because the sound is different at every concert, but for venue owners to carry out an impact survey every night is impossible,” says Aline Renet, director of Institutional Relations & strategic advisor at Prodiss.
A major bugbear for Prodiss, and the wider live industry, is that the government’s decisions were made without consulting the industry.
Eight years after its conception, a launch date for the Centre National de la Musique (CNM) was finally announced this month. France’s minister of culture Franck Riester says CNM, an organisation representing all corners of the music industry, will launch in January.
Renet says Prodiss welcomes the move and hopes CNM will give the music business a more prominent voice in the decision-making process.
Handling up to 1,8000 shows per year, Live Nation France (LNF) is the country’s leading promoter. with forthcoming Paris shows including The Nation at L’Olympia (2,000), Rita Ora at Bataclan, Mariah Carey at Palais des Congrès de Paris (3,700) and a tour by Ed Sheeran that includes three dates at the Groupama Stadium (70,000).
“It’s a little early to say, but the year is shaping up well with some great shows,” says LNF general director Angelo Gopee.
LNF has grown rapidly since it launched 10 years go. “We started with four people and now have 75, and we are still growing and taking market share,” says Gopee.
In 2017, LNF brought US festival brand Lollapalooza to Paris for the first time. The 70,000-capacity, two-day, event will take place at the Hippodrome de Longchamp from 20 July with headliners including Ben Harper & The Criminals, The Strokes and Twenty One Pilots.
“Running festivals is always a risk, you need to do more than rely on the available headliners, you need to create something unique so people will come for the ambience and experience,” says Gopee. “With Lollapalooza we are building something stunning.”
A former actress, Jackie Lombard began producing and promoting concerts in 1979. Since then she has worked with artistes including Neil Diamond, Queen, Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and the Rolling Stones.
Lombard helped launch LNF in 2007 and resigned in 2011 to re-launch her Interconcerts operation.
In recent years she has promoted shows including Celine Dion at Bordeaux’s Matmut Atlantique (42,000) and Lyon’s Parc Olympique (59,286), and Bob Dylan at Zenith (6,000). Lombard is also also involved in musical theatre and movie production
“My mentor is Barrie Marshall [Marshall Arts, UK] and I work with all of his artistes, such as Elton John and Paul McCartney.
“I like to work in the way he does, we put the artiste first and believe that even major act need as much promotion as we can give – it’s not just about the money,” she says. “When I did the Rolling Stones I made the biggest promotional campaign ever. It wasn’t necessary, but every act deserves the maximum.
Interconcerts’ shows include an Elton John sell-out at AccorHotels Arena (19,000) last December, with two more set for 2020 co-promoted with GDP; and three sell-outs with Bob Dylan at Le Grand Rex (2,700) in Paris.
“The Elton John show in December sold-out in a day, which surprised everybody and he is back for two more shows in 2020 [co-promoted with GDP].
“I only work with artistes I like, then make sure it’s a sell-out. I don’t want to work with lots of artistes and hundreds of shows, and I don’t chase agents or do lots of meetings to get acts. If they want to work with me, then they can contact me. “
Paris-based Gerard Drouot Productions (GDP) was formed in 1986 and promotes around 550 shows per year.
In February the company promoted 15 sell-out shows by Joan Baez at L’Olympia, while forthcoming projects include dates by Eros Ramazzotti, Joe Bonamassa, Scorpions, The Australian Pink Floyd Show, ZZ Top and Lenny Kravitz.
“Sir Elton John’s tour is seeing stronger demand than ever – 55,000 tickets have already been sold across five shows,” says GDP director general Matthieu Drouot.
The renovation of the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, which reopened in October 2015 as AccorHotels Arena (19,000), and the arrival of the Paris la Défense Arena (40,000) in October 2017, has significantly benefitted the market, he says, but ticket sales and pricing at a theatre and club level has become more challenging.
“Audiences put so much effort into spending money on stadium or arena shows, but are resistant to doing so in smaller venues, which is confusing to me,” he says.
With Paris now the most expensive city worldwide, according to The Economist magazine, Drouot says meeting venue and marketing costs has become a challenge.
“One billboard campaign in the city consisting of 100 large posters for one week in the subway can cost €30,000 [$34,00] or more and venues can easily cost €10-12 [$11-13] per seat. These investments remain key and it’s a real challenge to make them profitable,” he says.
GDP owns three-day heavy metal festival Hellfest (53,000), which takes place in June at Loire- Atlantique. This year’s line-up includes The Sisters of Mercy, Slayer and ZZ Top.
Drouot says that security naturally remains a major focus, but he does not appreciate the government’s policing proposals. “The French authorities need to carry out their duties and stop asking promoters to pay for their police costs,” he says.
Quality not quantity
Founded in 1992 by Jules Frutos, Dominique Revert and Hélène Rol, Alias is another busy independent promoter. In an average year it works on around 600 shows.
Forthcoming concerts feature Muse at the Orange Velodrome (67,000) in Marseilles, .dEUS at Cicada (1,400) in Paris and Foals at Le Bataclan.
Alain Lahana of Le Rat des Villes, also based in Paris, promotes both nationwide and internationally.
Among his company’s biggest events this year are a Tears For Fears tour, Phil Collins at Groupama Stadium, nationwide shows by Patti Smith throughout August and a few dates in Europe with Carla Bruni, who he works with worldwide.
“No year is like the previous nor the next, but on average I promote between 120 and 150 concerts per year, from clubs to stadiums,” he says.
He admits to finding the market increasingly challenging due it having become more difficult to gain exposure for new artistes.
“I’m trying to stay independent and looking at synergies with indie partners, and sometimes bigger groups, in order to be able to deliver what’s expected in term of marketing and financial support,” he says.
Founded in 1986 by chairman Assaad Debs and MD Olivier Darbois, Corida is one of the longest established promoters in the market, and has been part of Emmanuel de Buretel’s Because Group since 2004.
Corida has worked with artistes such as Eric Clapton, Radiohead, Ben Harper, Texas, Kraftwerk, Rammstein, Cat Power and Brian Wilson as well as home-grown acts including Phoenix and Daft Punk.
Last year, Corida acquired fellow promoter Super!, the operator behind festivals including Pitchfork Paris (13,500).
Corida now owns five festivals including We Love Green (50,000), which takes place in June at Paris’s Bois de Vincennes, with headliners including Booba, Christine and the Queens, FKA Twigs and Metronomy.
Anteprima Productions, also based in Paris, primarily promotes shows by leading international and local jazz artistes, working with acts including Yazz Ahmed, Vincent Peirani and Youn Sun Nah.
In an average year Anteprima will promote around 400 shows in France and 200 overseas. Founder Reno Di Matteo says that while French government subsidies are in decline the market is generally strong and the jazz market benefits from even the smallest of cities having a culture centre in which to stage shows.
“The jazz festival market is alive and well, but we are seeing changes in the programming where promoters need to fill in the bill with some non-jazz acts in order to remain competitive,” says Di Matteo.
Another Paris-based independent, agent and promoter, Azimuth presents around 100 shows per year, working with artistes such as Calypso Rose, Charlélie Couture and Maison Tellier, with the latter two due to play shows at Trianon (1,500) in the city.
“We work with acts from all over the world, from the US and UK to Argentina and South Africa, it‘s a mix of 50/50 French and foreign,” says Azimuth co-owner Bernard Batzen. “We’re doing better with our French-speaking acts, the local music scene is very strong at the moment, French rap acts are doing incredibly well.”
With the market dominated by huge multi-national promoters and record labels handling the bookings of their acts via in-house agencies, Batzen says it has become increasingly important to develop new talent and get involved at all stages of their careers.
With Charlelie Couture the company has co-produced and released his latest album on in-house label Rue Bleue.
Just the ticket
Global conglomerate Vivendi, which owns Universal Music Group and acquired the UK’s See Tickets in 2011, has a major presence in the live music market.
It owns the L’Olympia and Theatre de l’OEuvre (326) in Paris, ticketing company Digitick and promoter Olympia Production (OP), the sister company to Universal’s U Live in the UK.
Last year OP promoted 1,200 shows, an increase of 50 per cent compared to 2017. It also owns four festivals, including the 50,000-capacity Garorock which takes place in June in Marmande, near Bordeaux, with a line-up including Marshmallo, James Blake and Christine & The Queens.
“A powerful line-up of artistes will always be important but equally important for a festival today is to build itself into a strong brand, to create a distinctive identity and a unique attendee experience which, in the long run, will always pay off,” says OP CEO Christophe Sabot.
Digitick CEO Karim Ayari says the company sells tickets for around 15,000 concerts per year, of which more than 60 per cent are digital. It also licenses a white-label ticketing platform for festivals and venues, which includes the option of a face-value ticket exchange platform.
“We are seeing double-digit growth but it is a very competitive market and we want to keep the value that is created by the industry within the industry and not let it leak to the secondary market,” says Ayari. “Our ticket exchange platform is being used by a lot of our big promoter and festival clients.”
Room for all
Built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, the 96,000-capacity Stade De France has seen some remarkable multi-concert runs in recent years including Ed Sheeran playing two shows there last year and Coldplay playing three the previous year.
Stade de France programme director Jean-Baptiste Goxe says the country’s biggest stadium offers concert formats from a 50,000-capacity option upwards, the usual is 75,000. Among the acts to play there this year are Metallica, BTS, Muse and Maître Gims. It will also stage Rockin’100, an in-house production.
“Rockin’1000 is the biggest rock band on earth, composed of 1,000 musicians who apply online to be part of the band,” says Goxe. “We have already sold more than 30,000 tickets and had more than 4,500 musicians request to play.”
Stade de France is enjoying robust concert business, which he says is a reflection of the current health of the French live music market.
Situated on the outskirts of Lyon, the Groupama Stadium opened in 2016 and was named Parc Olympique Lyonnais until it was rebranded the following year as part of a naming rights deal with insurance firm Groupama.
This year it will become the first provincial stadium to host an artiste for three consecutive shows when Ed Sheeran plays there in May, closely followed by concerts with Phil Collins and Coldplay.
“We will host five concerts in a 12-day period,” says Groupama Stadium head of events Pierre Duprat. “It will be a challenge for us, in terms of organisation and coordination, but we’re very excited about it. It has been great working with Live Nation on the Ed Sheeran shows.”
Owned and operated by French football club Olympique Lyonnais (OL), the venue is able to host concert formats from a 20,000 capacity upwards. OL is currently exploring the possibility of building a 17,000-capacity arena nearby.
“The live music market here is unbelievable, very strong and particularly for stadiums and arena concerts,” says Duprat.
Known as the U Arena until June last year, Paris La Défense Arena opened in October 2017 with three concerts by the Rolling Stones.
Located in Nanterre, western Paris, the €350 million ($395m) domed arena offers concert configurations ranging from 15,000 to 40,000. Recent sold-outs include Paul McCartney and Booba. Forthcoming concerts include two dates with Rammstein, Pink and nine nights with Mylène Farmer.
MD Quentin Debrand says the venue’s huge capacity and location means it is perfectly placed to host artiste residencies and that its size enables promoters to offer a range of ticket prices from the easily affordable to premium.
“It is a unique, modular, venue that is able to host stadium-size events,” says Debrand.
One of Paris’s most distinctive buildings, with its sloping walls covered in grass, the AccorHotels Arena (20,300) is also one of Paris’s best established major concert venues.
Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, the Arena has hosted shows by U2, Elton John and Beyoncé. Renovated in 2015, it offers 30 formats with capacities ranging from 7,000 upwards
It recently partnered with streaming platform Deezer to enhance its website, enabling users to listen to an artiste’s music while they navigate the site and consider purchasing tickets. Meanwhile the venue’s app, which is to be updated at the end of this year, already enables customers to do everything from ordering food to booking parking or a taxi, downloading music and buying concert tickets.
On the back of three shows by Drake and with forthcoming concerts including Elton John, Quincy Jones, Rod Stewart and Ariana Grande, CEO Nicolas Dupeux says business is buoyant.
“Last year was great and this year looks as good if not better,” he says. “We are seeing more and more shows in the arena, particularly international and French urban artistes.”
Among the issues Dupeux says he is keeping a close eye on are advances in security technology and the noise limit imposed by the Government.
“We are waiting or the latest developments to see what the exact impact will be,” he says.
Located in Paris’s Parc de la Villette, the 6,800-capacity Zénith opened in 1984 and is due to stage 110 shows this year, despite being closed for four months from July for while soundproofing work is carried out.
Among acts playing are Massive Attack, The Kooks, Mumford & Sons, George Ezra and Vampire Weekend.
CEO Daniel Colling says the number of events at the venue has grown steadily for the past decade despite ever increasing competition from new venues and festivals.
“We are witnessing a real change in the ecosystem of venues in Paris,” he says. “A few years ago, only a few venues shared a monopoly of shows. New venues have flourished in Paris and its surrounding area, multiplying the offer.
“As a result, existing venues have to be constantly reinvented in order to be competitive. It’s positive change.”
Renowned Parisian jazz club Association Le Duc des Lombards hosts more than 300 concerts per year and artistic director and talent buyer Sébastien Vidal says the 68-seat venue is partnering with other European jazz clubs, such as London’s Ronnie’s Scott’s (250), to stage events.
The club also promotes Nice Jazz Festival (10,000) and Django Reinhardt Festival (4,000) at Samois-sur-Seine.
“You have to fight super hard to get the headline acts you want and the price is more expensive every year so we need to invest more money in the line-up,” he says.
“There is a lot of pressure on ticket prices but the market can’t support the high ticket prices you see in the UK, US or Germany because French people are not in the habit of spending so much money on music.”