Every aspiring artiste that steps into Europe seems to dream of playing Amsterdam and enjoy the country’s cosmopolitan ambience, born of a rich legacy in international trade and influence.
After declaring independence from Spain in 1579, the Netherlands went on to become a major seafaring and commercial power in the 17th century, establishing settlements across the world.
It was a founding member of NATO and the European Union and was among the first countries to adopt the euro in 1999.
It has developed a powerful electronic dance music scene, producing home-grown acts such as Armin van Buuren, Hardwell, Martin Garrix and Tiesto, along with global festival brands such as Sensation and Mysteryland.
Majority-owned by Live Nation Entertainments (LNE), Mojo Concerts, which was founded in 1968, is the country’s dominant promoter.
It currently has shows with acts including Beyoncé and Jay-Z at the Johan Cruijff ArenA (cap. 50,000 – formerly Amsterdam ArenA), with tickets at €25-165 ($29-195), Ed Sheeran at the same stadium, with tickets priced at €45-79 ($53-93), Justin Timberlake at GelreDome (33,000 at €45-125/$53-147) and Eminem at Goffertpark (65,000) in Arnhem, with tickets at €75-99 ($88-117).
“Last year was a record year for us in which we sold 1.5 million tickets for the shows, festivals and exhibitions we promoted,” says Mojo vice-head promoter Kim Bloem.
“Urban, hip hop and pop music are quick sellers, and artistes build really quickly from 1,500 capacity on a club level into 6,000-capacity venues on the next run. Shows by artistes for a more mature audience such as Paul Simon, Roger Waters, Elton John and King Crimson are also doing great business and sell out in a flash.”
The promoter is also behind festivals Lowlands (55,000) in Biddinghuizen, Woo Hah! (30,000) in Tilburg and Down the Rabbit Hole (25,000) in Ewijk, and Bloem admits the plethora of events can have an adverse impact if care isn’t taken.
“As there are so many events, building crew, technicians, riggers and security personnel get exhausted as they are working crazy hours,” she says. “Equipment gets dirty so by the time you are building your festival mid-July a lot of it is not working. We need to make sure it stays a safe working place for everybody.”
Having staged 140 events in 2017, Mojo will attempt to increase this figure by 10 per cent this year.
“Mojo is celebrating its 50th anniversary and the business is stronger and more vivid than ever,” says Bloem. “Yes, the business is less personal, less rock ‘n’ roll and more bureaucratic at times, but still a lot of fun.”
Among other Mojo concerts are four dates with Roger Waters at Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome (17,000), Korean band BTS at Ziggo Dome and Camila Cabello at AFAS Live (6,000).
It also books the 60,000-capacity Pinkpop festival, which was headlined by Bruno Mars, Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters for its 49th edition in mid-June, and North Sea Jazz (20,000) at Rotterdam Ahoy (15,000).
Veteran promoter Willem Venema, who worked at Mojo many years ago, heads up his own Rotterdam-based company Double Vee Concerts, which is responsible for between 600-650 events annually.
“I think the state of the market in Holland is a reflection of the actual status of the Dutch economy – one of the healtiest in the world,” says Venema.
But he does admit to concerns over the number of shows taking place and the subsequent effect.
“The competition means there is a fight for every date or a festival spot,” he explains. “And acts are booking further in advance than ever before, plus a growing amount of artistes are charging ticket prices that do not always reflect their real market-value.
“That is why we mainly deal with loyal, experienced acts and agents, young and old, that focus on solid quality, in the long-term, and are not limited to simple questions like ‘can we have more money?’”.
The Jesus and Mary Chain at Maassilo (5,000) in Rotterdam, Eels at Tivoli (2,000) in Utrecht and Lindi Ortega at Amsterdam’s Paradiso (1,500) are among Double Vee’s shows.
As well as promoting, Amsterdam-based Friendly Fire also works in artiste management and booking, with Fat White Family, Maximo Park and Macklemore on its roster for Holland.
Established a decade ago, the company was acquired by German pan-Europe festival promoter FKP Scorpio Konzertproduktionen, which is 51 per cent owned by ticketing giant CTS Eventim’s Medusa division – also based in Germany, in 2012.
“The economy seems to be picking up and live shows are doing well,” says MD Rense van Kessel.
“Artistes fees are rising though, especially when it comes to festivals and this is not just affecting us, but is an international issue. Big artistes are eating up the budget and the other bands often have to fight over what’s left.”
Festivals organised by Friendly Fire include Best Kept Secret (25,000), which featured Arctic Monkeys, The National and LCD Soundsystem and Indian Summer Festival (25,000) featuring ANBU, Beats by Esko and My Baby. It also stages open-air series Amsterdamse Bostheatre, with Jessie Ware, alt-J and Glass Animals among performers.
Further shows include James Bay at Melkweg (1,500), Kensington at Johan Crujiff ArenA (50,000) and Haim at Paradiso.
“The business is less personal, less rock ‘n’ roll and more bureaucratic at times, but still a lot of fun”
Expecting to promote 250 shows this year is Breda-based Greenhouse Talent – an off-shoot of the Belgium company of the same name – following up on the success of sold-out concerts with Justin Bieber and Celine Dion, both at GelreDome last year.
“Live music has never been as popular as today,” says Greenhouse promoter Tom Ketelaar.
“The Netherlands is usually an early adopter of trends within Europe and this makes us an interesting and strong market to break acts. But the market can also be unpredictable as fans tend to hop from one favourite artiste to another.”
Although Ketelaar believes the festival sector is becoming congested, that hasn’t deterred Greenhouse debuting American and country festival Once In A Blue Moon (15,000) this August at Amsterdamse Bos. The line-up includes Seasick Steve, David Crosby and The Mavericks, with tickets €60 ($71).
“There is always room for a good and unique idea, and the Dutch like to experience new events,” he adds.
Among other Greenhouse concerts are Billy Ocean at Paradiso, Dionne Warwick at Koninklijk Theater Carre (1,700) in Amsterdam, Helene Fisher at GelreDome and Jason Derulo at AFAS Live.
Specialising in electronic dance music events ID+T has a steady stream of festivals taking place over the summer, the biggest of which is 60,000-capacity Mysteryland at Haarlemmermeer – extended to two days in 2015.
Now in its 25th year, it is the longest running electronic festival in the world. Two-day tickets for the event, featuring Alesso, Axwell Ingrosso and Fatboy Slim, cost €120 ($142).
“Luckily, we are in the position where ticket sales for our events are going really well,” says ID+T’s Rosanne Janmaat. “Amsterdam Open Air [20,000] sold out in a matter of days, the Saturday of Mysteryland sold out months in advance and all of the other festivals are ahead of schedule.”
According to Dutch research body EM Cultuur, the country has 832 festivals (including cultural events), with an overall 18.2 million attendees and that means offerings need to hit the right note.
“The industry is undoubtedly maturing,” says Janmaat. “Standards are raised because the offer is getting bigger and people can easily make comparisons thanks to the internet and social media. Festival organisers can’t get away with just booking a great line up – the festival needs to be well arranged from A to Z, with a story line, stage designs and proper logistics.”
ID+T’s festival portfolio also includes Milkshake (16,500) at Amsterdam’s Westerpark, Welcome to the Future (25,000) and Festival Macumba (10,000). It also stages festival brand Sensation in the Czech Republic, Thailand, Spain and Poland.
Run by Rob Berends and Hilde Spille, Paperclip Agency was founded in 1981 and will book around 50 shows this year.
Although ticket sales are good Berends, says a rise in sales tax (commonly known by it’s UK acronym, VAT) from six to nine per cent, due to come into force on 1 January, could have a negative impact. But he’s also worried about a lack of emerging talent.
“Almost everyone in the business is worried about the lack of new acts and concerned about the lack of opportunities for growth for new acts,” he explains. “Like many major players have said for years our current headliners are generally the same as 10-15 years ago, and there is no-where near enough new talent breaking through.”
Paperclip has shows with The Nomads at Grenswerk (550) in Velo, Delinquent Habits at MEZZ (600) in Breda, and a six-date tour with 10cc’s Graham Gouldman and his Heart Full of Songs acoustic band, playing venues such as Theater Figi (550) in Zeist, Eindhoven’s Muziekgebouw (400) and Amsterdam Concertgebouw (450).
“Ticket prices are high but that’s good for today’s business,” says Berends. “It is bad however because punters do not have money available to spend on smaller shows with new acts.”
Renamed as the Johan Cruijff ArenA earlier this year in tribute to one of the country’s most well-known footballers, the former Amsterdam ArenA is able to accommodate a capacity of up to 68,000 for concerts.
“A lot of stars who perform here are football fans so that legacy is important to them,” says stadium marketing manager Jeroen van Iersel. “It’s a reminder that only legends perform here.”
Having held shows with acts such as the Rolling Stones, Robbie Williams, Muse and U2, this year the stadium welcomes two nights with Beyoncé & Jay-Z, Ed Sheeran, Kensington and Toppers in Concert.
Built 22 years ago it was the first European stadium with a roof, which is kept closed for concerts, and has recently updated its sound system and installed LED stadium lights and sensor-driven follow spots, available for shows, plus HD Wi-Fi for 4G networks.
“We are investing in quality not quantity, so we’re widening concourses and making more room for guests,” says van Iersel. “Business models for artistes have changed and they need to make more money from stadium shows.
“It’s more expensive for them but more artistes are ready to take the risk.”
“Big artistes are eating up the budget and the other bands often have to fight over what’s left”
Rense van Kessel
In Arnhem the GelreDome is capable of hosting 41,000 people in-the-round and can also transform into an arena-like configuration for 20,000 people. It also has a retractable field, allowing it to become concert ready in under five hours.
On average the venue hosts seven or eight concerts annually, with Justin Bieber, the Rolling Stones and Celine Dion among recent performers.
The stadium also has special plastic coating on the walls and roof interior which absorb up to 50 decibels of sound, rather than reflecting it back to the audience and has an electronic payment system called GelreDome Wallet for buying food and drinks.
Concerts in the coming months include Iron Maiden, Imagine Dragons, Justin Timberlake and Helene Fisher.
Opened in 1971 the Rotterdam Ahoy remains one of the country’s most established arenas and will stage 57 concerts this year.
“The market is good, tickets are generally selling well and the economy is going well, so we find that people are willing to buy tickets for most shows,” says commercial manager Jurgen Hoekstra. “There is especially a big demand for premium tickets.”
Although it benefits from staging North Sea Jazz, Hoekstra feels the ever expanding festival scene poses challenges.
“The running time for festivals keeps on going wider,” he explains. “It used to be just July and August, but now festivals are playing from June to September, which is not in favour of indoor venues.
“Perhaps with our unpredictable weather we will see an increase in demand for indoor festivals in future. There is always a roof over your head at Ahoy.”
Over the summer the venue will increase its capacity with the addition of 300 seats and is also planning to remedy what it perceives as a shortage of mid-sized venues in Rotterdam, with its new concert hall – the RTM Stage (2,750) – in the grounds of the Ahoy. Construction begins in July and the venue is expected to open at the end of 2020.
“It will cover shows that are just too big for clubs and too small for a full-size arena,” says Hoekstra. “We’ll also be able to remove the seats to make a standing concert hall for 7,000 visitors.”
In the meantime, acts playing the Ahoy include Arcade Fire, with tickets from €39 ($46), Queen and Adam Lambert, priced at €59 ($70), Afrojack (€50/$59) and 50 Cent (€59/$70).
Having celebrated its 5th anniversary last year Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome arena expects to stage between 95-100 shows in 2018, with Pearl Jam, Tino Martin, Bryan Adams and Roger Waters among them.
“We have such a proud past, and that can only mean that we are heading towards a promising future,” says marketing manager Susan Lukkien. “We see Dutch music concepts being born and getting mature. There is still a lot of potential in the market, as well as in ways of promoting entertainment and helping visitors in their pre and post-event experience.”
Lukkien says that despite ticket prices increasing, there has been no let-up in sales.
Other acts playing Ziggo include U2, Maluma, Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Santana and Shakira.
Formerly known as Heineken Music Hall, AFAS Live (6,000) was renamed in early 2017 following a sponsorship agreement with computer software developer AFAS Software. Opened in 2001, Mojo Concerts founder Leon Ramakers was among those who helped develop the venue, which is owned by Live Nation.
AFAS has experienced sell-outs with Demi Lovato, Jack White, Limp Bizkit and Camila Cabello. Of the 140 events it puts on annually, more than 100 are music concerts.
“We have created a restaurant and Legends lounge to enhance our hospitality during shows,” says communications manager Farzaana Zahoer. “Our guests now have the opportunity to have dinner and network before entering our Black Box to see their favourite artistes.”
Other shows featuring at the venue include Christine and the Queens, Passenger, Xavier Rudd and Bloc Party.
“We are heading towards a promising future”
Ticketmaster Netherlands sold more than five million tickets last year and reports strong sales for acts including Ed Sheeran at John Cruijff ArenA, Beyoncé & Jay-Z at the same stadium, as well as Shawn Mendes and Elton John, both at Ziggo Dome.
“The live entertainment market is incredibly strong,” says MD Aukina Buining. “We continue to see the market grow, with more artistes going on tour and more festivals being introduced.”
Buining says that she has been buoyed by the development of a number of home-grown acts, such as André Hazes Junior and Ronnie Flex, who are selling out venues across the country.
“People increasingly value experiences, particularly at live events and we don’t see that changing anytime soon,” she adds.
Rival ticketing company Eventim Netherland, owned by Germany’s CTS Eventim, has close ties with promoter Friendly Fire and tickets its festivals including Best Kept Secret and the 19 shows which are part of Amsterdamse Bostheater. But MD Henk Schuit sees problems surfacing in the festival sector.
“The [festival] market is struggling,” he says. “It seems to have spiked in 2016, declined in 2017 and organisers are having a hard time selling their tickets in 2018 as well.
“Bigger organisers have to invest deeply into their production value and line-ups to keep their renowned brands vital, driving up the stakes and ticket prices.
“On the other end, smaller 1,000 to 3,000 festivals keep popping up, offering still reasonable line-ups and experiences and finding their audiences at a fraction of the ticket price the renowned brands are offering.”
The vast majority of the 2,000 shows Eventim handles each year are musical theatre productions, but it also has concerts on sale with Kensington at Johan Cruijff ArenA and George Ezra at AFAS Live.
There certainly seems like plenty to be optimistic about, the key will be finding the right equilibrium with regards to the heaving festival scene, to ensure the positives continue to outweigh the negatives.
“Music has never more accessible than today,” says Ahoy’s Hoekstra. “People love music, people need music and live music is the best music experience there possibly is.”
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