A prosperous country with a booming festival scene and yet more domestic artistes reaching arena level and growing overseas, the only problem Norway seems to have is a lack of venue capacity at certain crucial levels. Neil Bracegirdle reports.
The northern-most country in Europe, the Kingdom of Norway is renowned for its mountains, spectacular fjord coastline and its population’s adventurous spirit, which once saw Vikings sail huge distances to raid foreign lands and conquer local tribes.
Things have calmed down since those distant days and, since discovering offshore oil and gas in the late 1960s, the economy has prospered, with the country’s standard of living among the highest in the world.
Despite oil prices diving in 2016, the economy has since stabilised and last year GDP grew by 1.5 per cent.
Due to the unforgiving conditions in the country’s northern territory, the majority of Norwegians live in the south where the climate is milder and there is easy access to mainland Europe.
Unsurprisingly this is also the hub of the live music market, with Oslo and increasingly Bergen regularly welcoming international acts.
The dominant promoter is Live Nation Norway (LNN) which has enjoyed sell-out shows this year with acts including Bruno Mars at Koengen (cap. 23,000) in Bergen, Metallica at Telenor Arena (20,000) in Bærum, Guns N’Roses at Valle Hovin (30,000) and Imagine Dragons at Oslo Spektrum (10,500).
“There are no big problems in the market but the biggest change is that there’s less traffic in Q3 and Q4 these days,” says LNN head promoter Martin Nielsen.
“We used to have lots of tours between 1 October and 20 December, as people wanted as much space as possible between the headline run and the festival season, but now we see an increase in Q1 and Q2. I’m not complaining but if I could choose I’d spread it out a bit more.”
Over the last few years LNN has promoted an average of 190 shows annually and expects to reach this figure again this year.
Although clearly thriving, Nielsen says he is wary about the consequences of rising ticket prices.
“When the fees increase at stadium level it impacts what you’re able to charge on arena level and those prices impact what you’re able to charge on theatre level, and then the same down to clubs,” he explains.
“Right now you’ll struggle to find a club show ticket without paying 240-285 krone [$29-34]. “This is what people become used to paying so it won’t hurt the buzzing acts or the hottest shows, but I believe it will impact the ones who didn’t get as many radio plays or label support.”
LNN also has an impressive summer event portfolio with its Findings Festival at Bislett Stadium (15,400), which took place for the fifth year in August, featuring Zara Larsson, Tiesto and Sigrid, and was a sell-out. The promoter also enjoyed a two-day sell-out with the launch of Trondheim Rocks (19,000), headlined by Iron Maiden and Volbeat.
“Oslo is a venue short if you’re looking to do a show around 2,000-3,500 tickets as there are no options between Sentrum Scene [1,750] and Spektrum [3,500-9,000],” he says. “In Bergen there are no alternatives above Grieghallen [2,300], which is hardly ever available, so promoting bigger shows there outside summer is very difficult.”
Among further LLN shows are two nights with Roger Waters at Telenor Arena (configured for 19,000), with tickets at 860 krone ($104), Britney Spears at the same venue (configured for 20,000) and priced at 640 krone ($77) and Slayer at Oslo Spektrum (7,700) at 540 krone ($65).
Also based in Oslo, promoter and booking agency Atomic Soul stages around 1,000 shows across domestic and international artistes.
Forthcoming concerts include Courtney Barnett and Leon Bridges, both at Rockefeller (1,350) in Oslo, Shawn Mendes at Oslo Spektrum and Twenty One Pilots at Telenor Arena.
“Oslo has a lot of concerts, but there is a good spread around the country these days and the majority of our shows are selling extremely well,” says Atomic’s Mark Vaughan.
“It’s important that we analyse the particular market when pricing the show and not overprice the tickets, which can be a temptation with fees and currency rising.”
He says a drop in the strength of the krone against the US dollar and euro in recent years has played a part in increasing ticket prices, but demand is still high for the right event, such as the company’s Sommertid (55,000) festival, which was held for the second time in July, featuring Eminem, Pusha T and Onklp.
“It was the most tickets sold for an event in Norway ever,” says Vaughan.
“A lot of festivals are doing amazingly well, but the over-saturation has caused a hit to some sales. We still believe a strong concept and good environment for punters is the key.”
Elsewhere Vaughan is keen to see an indoor arena built in Bergen and a new 3,000 to 4,000-capacity venue in Oslo.
Among FKP Norge shows are Franz Ferdinand at Sentrum Scene (1,750), with tickets priced at 400 krone ($48), Bon Iver at Oslo Spektrum at 550 krone ($67), Anna Calvi at Parkteatret (450), priced at 220 krone ($27) and George Ezra, also at Sentrum Scene at 350 krone ($42).
“Ticket sales are generally slow during the summer and tend to pick-up around mid-August, but the market seems stable,” says FKP Norge’s Stian Pride.
“It’s been a while since there was grumbling about ticket prices in Norway. If they’re too high, people don’t buy them, so it’s a balancing act that promoters need to get right.”
On average, the company aims to stage 100 shows a year and Pride says he’d like to see more outdoor summer shows following on from the visit of Eminem at Voldslokka (55,000) and Guns N’Roses at Valle Hovin.
“We certainly have a lot of international acts visiting, so there’s not much missing here – from the mainstream to the marginal,” says Pride.
Founded in 1996, Bergen-based Talent Farm stages 80 shows a year, with highlights so far including Iron & Wine at Sentrum Scene, The Blasters at John Dee (400), located downstairs in Rockefeller, and Wovenhand at Blå (350), also in Oslo.
Although business is good, owner Trygve Kvandal says the growth of the festivals, which he claims are attended by more than half of the 5.3 million population, is having a detrimental impact
lower down the live music ladder.
“The massive growth of music festivals has taken away some of the focus and energy from smaller venues and shows, particularly outside the bigger cities,” says Kvandal.
“Competition for dates is still fierce among up-and-coming acts, but increased government support is necessary to improve the situation for smaller venues struggling to keep up their activities.”
Other Talent Farm shows include Ane Brun at Oslo Opera House (8,000), Molina at John Dee, and The Pretty Things at Hjorten Scene (350) in Trondheim and Union Scene (800) in Drammen.
Booking agent and promoter Time Out Agency works with artistes such as J Hus and Wishbone Ash, along with domestic acts including Emilie Nicolas, Sondre Justad and Bernhoft.
It’s biggest show of this year was two sold-out dates with Marcus & Martinus at Oslo Spektrum (config. 9,000).
“We are fortunate to work with big domestic artistes that sell a lot of tickets,” says MD Thomas Olavsen. “We haven’t had many shows that haven’t gone well in 2018.”
In the main the company, whose core business is as a booking agency, operates in venues ranging from 1,300 to 9,000 capacity, with ticket prices between 200-900 krone ($24-109).
“We probably book around 700 shows a year and promote between 25-30,” says Olavsen.
“In some cases the ticket prices are high on international artistes, and the main reason is competition that increases the artiste fee, and then ticket prices to make the budgets work.
“The festival market has also increased a lot in the last 10 years, and most of them are doing really well. It is tough sometimes to advise our artistes not do more than 10-15 festivals in Norway. Some of our artistes could have done three times that number.”
With offices in Oslo and Bergen, Stageway Talent combines artiste management with booking, tour production and promoting.
The company’s main focus is working with homegrown artistes, but it also regularly promotes shows by international acts such as Roger Hodgson at Grieghallen (1,500), Jethro Tull at the Oslo Konserthus (1,600), two shows with Melody Gardot at the Oslo Opera House (1,400) and Ben Caplan at John Dee.
Stageway’s Sigve Prestnes says the company typically promotes around 200 shows per year, the majority by local acts.
“There are a lot of really good and exciting new artistes emerging on the scene these days,” says Prestnes. “International successes include Aurora, Sigrid and Astrid S, who are proof of the vibrancy of our market, and there’s more to come.”
Other Stageway concerts include David Crosby at Grieghallen, Blackberry Smoke at Sentrum Scene and Lissie at Rockefeller.
With a capacity of 20,000 the Telenor Arena is the country’s largest indoor music venue, hosting recent shows by Britney Spears and Roger Waters.
Opened in 2009, the arena has teamed-up with mobile app LiveStyled to further improve its customer experience.
“As well as including pre-pay and pre-order functions for food and beverage services, with location specific menus and special offers, the app has in-built social media features including selfie frames and voting and competition functions, which were designed to encourage further audience engagement,” says marketing manager Morten Hammer.
Telenor also has a range of VIP facilities, including 40 sky boxes, an executive lounge for 96 people and a premium lounge for 600.
Other acts playing the venue this year include Metallica, Justin Timberlake, Sam Smith and Queen + Adam Lambert.
Currently closed while work is carried out to increase its capacity from 10,500 to 12,000, Oslo Spektrum will be 30 years old in 2020.
Before shutting in June, the venue had hosted shows by acts such as Paul Simon, A Perfect Circle and A-ha.
“As well as additional seating we are also constructing a new foyer with bars, restaurants and 12 more retail spaces,” says CEO Wiggo Schie. “We decided it was a good time to do the work during the quiet summer months.
“It will further improve our flexibility. We already have loads of black draping so we can make a full house for 3,000 people and extend the capacity as we sell tickets.”
The venue is due to reopen on 10 September, with concerts by Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Bon Iver, Liam Gallagher and Shania Twain in the coming months.
Founded in 1999 Oyafestivalen (20,000), held in Oslo’s Toyen Park, has recently linked with multi-event organiser Superstruct Entertainment, run by Creamfields festival founder and former president of electronic music at Live Nation Entertainment James Barton.
“This partnership is about the festival becoming part of a larger group with common interests,” says Oyafestivalen head booker Claes Olsen.
“However, our festival will continue to be run by the same management, it will maintain the profile that our audience knows and loves and will remain a Norwegian company based in Oslo.”
Artic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Kendrik Lamar and Patti Smith were among headliners at Oyafestivalen this August.
Meanwhile, a partner of LNN, Bergen Live promotes around 100 gigs each year, as well as its Bergenfest (8,000) at Bergenhus Fortress & Castle, which featured a line-up including Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Queens of the Stone Age and Father John Misty.
Run by director Frank Nes, Bergen Live also co-promoted Bruno Mars at Koengen (23,000) with LNN, and has Kygo at the same venue in late August.
“Punters are still eager to attend shows,” says Nes. “We had a record number of tickets sold in 2017, nearly 150,000. This year ticket sales are looking to be close to that again and we’re
happy with that, as we have fewer open air shows this year.”
Nes is another who bemoans the lack of a mid-sized indoor arena in his city, particularly as domestic acts are drawing larger audiences.
“It’s a shame that we don’t have any decent indoor arenas larger than Grieghallen in Norway’s second largest city,” he says. “It’s pretty embarrassing really, and as an effect we lose out on a lot of opportunities through the year.
“Quite a few Norwegian acts generate a great amount of interest on the international scene and that in return is good for the local scene – it’s a positive spiral.
“We need to build on that so that we can further establish a robust and well functioning live music scene,” says Nes. “It is exciting times in that respect – Norwegian acts are selling tickets like never before side by side with international acts.”
Hot metal expands
Jan-Martin Jensen has been running Radar Booking for 19 years, with the promoter also staging Inferno Metal Festival (1,500) for the last 18 years.
Held at Rockefeller and John Dee the event is split between two stages, with 36 bands performing this year as the festival expanded to four days for the first time.
“We had headliners like Obituary, Emperor, Satyricon and Electric Wizard and sold out 1,500 tickets per day,” says Jensen. “Generally, it looks like festivals are doing really well. It has also been good weather for most outdoor festivals this year and that helps a lot for the beer sales.”
Another trend which is boosting festivals is the increase in music tourists visiting Norway.
“This year for Inferno we sold 63 per cent of the tickets abroad, to people from 47 countries,” says Jensen. “This is twice as much as we have done before. And more and more people are also traveling to Oslo for club shows.”
Among the 44 shows Radar is promoting this year are Kamelot at Sentrum Scene, with tickets 500 krone ($61), High On Fire at Blå (350), priced at 350 krone ($42) and Brant Bjork at Union Scene (1,100) at 360 krone ($44).
“Tickets are selling well, but late,” says Jensen. “Except for big names that sell out fast. For some club shows 40-50 per cent of the tickets are sold the same week as the concert. And since most people now buy the tickets on their phones, there are nearly no door sales.”
Having started out as booking manager for Molde International Jazz Festival in 1981, Rolf Bugge set up Next Step in 2000 in Molde, and has worked with artistes such as Bob Dylan, Bryan Adams and Van Morrison.
“It’s like the North Pole here, you have to think about the weather, so I try to do most shows indoors,” says Bugge. “Otherwise you can lose a lot of money.”
Working mainly in venues with a capacity up to 6,000, the company has staged shows with John Pine at Oslo Konserthaus and Kris Kristofferson at Olvashallen (1,240) in Trondheim. It also puts on tours with the Chippendales across Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Bugge says the festival circuit has expanded almost beyond recognition since he began at the jazz festival.
“From April and May through ‘till August, there are a lot of events – you can’t go to a city without it having a festival,” he says. “I think it’s too much. When I started Molde was the only jazz festival and now there are many. I think most jazz fans will go to one or two at the most each year, and that could become a problem.”
But for now supply and demand are in equilibrium.
“It’s a healthy market and most of the shows are doing very well,” says LNN’s Nielsen. “I don’t see any sign of this changing.”