With a circuit of relatively new arenas across the country and established artistes staying for more than just one show in the capital, Poland’s promoters sense their market is close to being accepted as an important part of mainland Europe’s touring circuit. Tom Ambrose reports
You only have to roll the clock back a couple of years and you would find a very different Polish music scene.
Back then, still reeling from the global recession, promoters and venue owners had to push against a tide of wage instability and economic uncertainty.
Major international artistes often only visited the country to play one show, usually in the capital Warsaw, before swiftly moving on to richer pastures in neighbouring western markets. That was if they didn’t bypass the market altogether.
But, according to those at the sharp end of the live music scene, things are starting to change for the better. Government statistics released this year show the average monthly income to be 4,900 zloty ($1,299) – a modest increase on previous years but still well behind the west.
Many major acts now play several shows across the country, while perhaps most importantly, the average wage has stabilised, even beyond the reach of affluent Warsaw.
Despite this, Poland is still behind western Europe and ticket prices for concerts remain on a par with other countries where the average wage is much higher.
It throws up an interesting dilemma for promoters and artistes alike. The disparity between average income and expensive tickets for major acts means shows do not always sell-out – that is if an appropriate venue can be found.
“The only real challenge is that, nowadays, bands want to play more than one city in each market or even multiple shows in one city,” says Grzegorz Kurant of Live Nation Poland (LNP).
“It is still difficult and we lose some tours sometimes because of that. But it’s changing and we’ve managed to do double the numbers for Iron Maiden and Roger Waters each at the Tauron Arena [cap. 15,030] in Krakow and the Ergo Arena [14,600] in Gdansk.
“We also did very well with Depeche Mode at the Tauron Arena, Atlas Arena [13,000] in Lodz and Ergo Arena this year. Things are looking good and shifting in a right direction.”
LNP events include concerts with Lenny Kravitz at the Atlas Arena, with ticket prices ranging from 195 to 425 zloty ($52 to $113), Metric at Warsaw’s Klub Stodoła (2,000), where tickets cost 79 zloty ($21) and Mark Knopfler at the Tauron and Ergo arenas, which go on sale in November.
“Ticket prices in Poland are at or almost at Western level nowadays and they sell, so we do not really have a problem with artistes’ costs anymore,” he says.
“But the number of shows we can play in the market as per the point above proves to still be an issue and we cannot offer multiple shows to some of artists who easily play a few shows per country in the West.”
Alter Art is the biggest independent promoter in Poland and promoted the world-renowned Open’er Festival (80,000), held each year in Gdynia on the site of a former airport.
Headliners this year included Arctic Monkeys, Gorillaz and Bruno Mars, while tickets cost 659 zloty ($175) for the four-day event, including six nights’ camping. It sold out every day in 2018 for the first time, as well as similar success at their other festivals, Orange Warsaw (30,000) and Krakow Live (30,000).
Founder Mikolaj Ziolkowski says, “The live music market in Poland is stable and, if anything, growing. All the main acts are here every year. This is a time of prosperity and people are spending more money on events.
“It has been a record year for us and, along with our other events such as family entertainment, I am positive for the future.”
This is supported by the fact that 80 per cent of ticket holders to Poland’s premier music festival, Open’er Festival, was from the country itself, with just 20 per cent visiting from abroad.
Other Alter Art shows have featured acts such as Blossoms at Klub Stodoła (2,000) in Warsaw and Kodaline at Warsaw’s Palladium (1,500).
Ziolkowski bringing Poland in line with its European rivals is a state-of-the-art arena in the capital, Warsaw.
He adds, “We have just had local elections in Warsaw and the new government has made strong statements about a new arena in the city. It hasn’t happened in the past as it has been behind the stadium and subway in terms of priority but I think it will happen now. It is the missing point for us.”
Michal Koch from Metal Mind Productions in Katowice believes once an international band experiences an atmosphere in Poland, they cannot help but want more.
Metal Mind promotes shows by artistes such as Slash at the Atlas Arena, with tickets at 240-370 zloty ($64-98), A Perfect Circle at the Tauron Arena (210-320 zloty / $56-$85) and The Australian Pink Floyd Show at the Torwar Event Hall (6,304), where tickets cost 180-260 zloty ($48-69).
“International bands are always interested in doing a gig in Poland – we all think that it’s all about the craziness,” he says. “I have seen some serious mosh-pits during concerts, but it’s all done with safety and looking for each other.
“Regarding the money, there are many affordable bands that we would love to book, but sometimes the schedule just doesn’t fit.”
Other events the company is promoting include Fish at Klub Kwadrat (450) in Krakow, and Warsaw shows with Godsmack at Progressja (2,500) and Clutch at Proxima (500).
Marcin Stolarz, CEO of the Spodek Arena (11,500) in Katowice says it can sometimes be a struggle to fit all the shows they want to put on into their schedule.
He says, “The main challenge is to fit in all bids in the calendar well in advance while tours are mainly planned in shorter perspective. This makes us give up some great shows and the schedule gets tight with time. All we can do is try to incentivise our clients to plan much earlier.”
One solution could be more performance spaces within arenas – for example, Poland’s newest venue, the Arena Gliwice consists of a 17,178-capacity main hall, a 3,000-capacity second arena, and an exterior performance space able to accommodate 10,000.
All about the money
One of the country’s most successful festivals is Soundedit in Lodz, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.
It is held at the city’s Klub Wytwórnia (2,000) and has featured artistes including The Orb, Orbital, The Opposition and Morcheeba.
Soundedit’s director Maciej Werk says he and, as a result, the city is hampered by a lack of viable venues for medium-sized acts, while major acts are able to play at Atlas Arena, which has hosted Elton John and Green Day.
“I am limited by artiste costs, as well as the venue size. That’s the problem, there are no 3,000 to 5,000-capacity venues here. Werk says, “Bands like Dead Can Dance, Nick Cave or PJ Harvey have to play in a sports halls with no atmosphere and infrastructure.
“All artistes should be keen to play Poland, because we are a good audience. We treat all our guests at Soundedit very well, kind of like a family business atmosphere.”
Karolina Pomina, from Lion Stage Management, says that while the average salary is increasing every year, it is still significantly smaller than an average salary in Western Europe.
“Naturally, it has an impact on how much we can spend on cultural events and ticket prices are frequently set too high,” she says.
“It is difficult to expect a drastic and rapid change in this matter because artistes’ fees remain on the same level as in Western Europe, while the production costs don’t differ that much.
“What’s interesting is that sometimes really expensive concerts can influence sales for shows happening some time later in the year, because purchasing a couple of expensive tickets can really impact on a family’s budget.”
In the country’s west, Lukasz Minta from promoter Go Ahead, based in Poznan, speculates that while the situation is “getting better and better every year”, there are, from time to time, issues that prove that there is still some work
to be done.
“On the other hand, I think the situation for headline shows is really great. Even without proper venues in some cities there is more and more concerts happening in all big cities.
Ticket prices are now on a similar level as their western counterparts. The same can be said about offers presented to agents. However, the salaries are still lower than elsewhere in Western Europe which means shows of international acts are mostly directed to wealthier groups of people in bigger cities.
Recent Go Ahead concerts have featured Years and Years, Tom Odell and Editors at Warsaw’s Torwar Event Hall and Alan Walker at the Poznan Congress Center (2,000), with had ticket prices from 105 to 130 zloty ($28 to $34).
Concert-goers may not traditionally think of Poland as a hot-bed for vibrant, young acts taking the global music scene by storm. But scratch beneath the surface and there is an upsurge in popularity for homegrown talent.
While British and European acts set their sights on ‘cracking America’, Poles aim to break the west – but it is not such a simple route to success.
Janusz Stefański, co-owner and co-founder of Prestige MJM, says that the sale of concerts by Polish artistes has been complicated for many years. The municipality of individual cities invited Polish performers to events organised by them and made their concerts available to the public for free. He believes that, as a result, it has been difficult to sell Polish artists on purely commercial terms later.
“However, the situation in this field is slowly changing,” he says. “On the one hand, there are artistes who attract the audience like a magnet. An example here is Dawid Podsiadło, who sells his concerts one hundred per cent and in facilities that can seat several thousand fans.”
Podsiadło is touring the nation in the winter, with tickets sold out for two nights at Wroclaw’s Hala Stulecia (10,000), the Tauron Arena, Ergo Arena and the Torwar Event Hall. The only date remaining on sale is at the HSW Arena (cap. 6,200), with tickets at 99 zloty ($26).
That is why he Polish Export office has recently been formed with the aim to promote Polish music abroad.
LNP’s Grzegorz Kurant says, “There’s a handful of young Polish acts who are selling incredibly well in Poland, but not necessarily abroad. There’s not been a local act so far whos managed to break it in the West.”
Despite nagging concerns over the rising cost of concerts, and entertainment more generally, compared to the average salary, there is still cause for optimism among those on the front line in Poland.
Janusz Stefański says Prestige MJM has had to develop “dynamically”, having recently come out of a period where every project proved to be an organisational or financial challenge. According to him, the future of live music in Poland is as bright as it ever has been.
“We organise more and more events every year. I think the challenge we will soon face, will be the organisation of concerts outside of Poland. I am sure it is only a matter of time,” he says.
Metal Mind’s Michal Koch is similarly upbeat about his company, adding that the best is yet to come for fans of live music in Poland.
“At the moment we’re in the tough process of booking and managing contracts,” he says.
“I cannot spoil the big names, but our concerts include Slash feat. Myles Kennedy in February, The Australian Pink Floyd Show in April and there is still our beloved Metalmania. Metal Mind is always true to the ideals – let’s do what’s best for the fans.”
Go Ahead’s Lukasz Minta is already looking ahead to 2019 he is excited about two big arena shows planned for Twenty One Pilots and Florence and the Machine at the Atlas Arena in Lodz.
“We also announced Bastille, Years and Years, Zaz, Tom Odell and I believe that we are in a really good place as a company,” he explains. “We also do good business with newcomers and just moved Dodie to a bigger venue, the Blaze show is also looking nice as well as Yungblud and Don Broco.”
But, despite the glints of positivity, there are still some concerns over the age-old problem of lack of investment.
Soundedit’s Maciej Werk says, “I’m still frustrated at how little private money is invested in the country’s arts and culture. We still have a big problem with the ways in which we can get businesses to invest in culture.”
Marcin Matuszewski, from ticket agency eBilet, says that while artistes include Poland in their European tours, it is sometimes only a fleeting visit.
“I believe there is no problem booking international artistes to play here – the problem is with purchasing power that limits the shows that can be promoted.
“When there are sometimes five shows in Germany, there is only time for one in Poland and some miss us out altogether.”
eBilet has tickets on sale for events including Paul McCartney at the Tauron Arena and Slayer at the Atlas Arena.
Meanwhile, Ticketmaster Poland’s MD Katarzyna Suska says people are becoming “increasingly keen” to spend their cash on experiences and, therefore, expects 2019 to be a bumper year.
“Live music is on the up in Poland, and this growing demand is being met with more and more events coming to us which is wonderful to see,” she says.
“Attending a concert is now more of a regular event here than it once was, and not just in the big cities but in smaller regions of the country too.
“We’re excited for what 2019 will bring, and expect it to be a big year for live music.”