The birthplace of ABBA and Spotify, both of which have had a dramatic impact on the worldwide music business, Sweden not only has a thriving digital music market but a buoyant live music scene that is seeing a strong demand for homegrown and international talent. Christopher Barrett reports
Sweden’s live music market benefits from a relatively strong economy and the high spending power of the majority of its 10 million population.
The krona may have fallen in value significantly against the euro and US dollar in recent years, which has had a knock-on effect on ticket prices for shows by international artistes, but music fans still seem willing to pay the price for top-level artistes.
Recorded music revenue increased by four per cent to 1.5 billion krona ($158.3 million) last year, with digital music sales accounting for 90 per cent of the total, according to IFPI Sweden.
The most recent figures available from industry organisation Musiksverige reflect a live music scene in very good health.
“We are a small market so the revenue can fluctuate depending on the launch of new festivals or the number of big tours taking place in a particular year, but revenue from live music is growing faster than any other music business sector,” says Musiksverige’s Joppe Pihlgren.
However, there has been a spate of small to mid-size venue closures in Stockholm, including Kraken (cap. 800), Debaser Medis (700) and Kägelbanan (600).
There has also been some festival failures, most notably Bråvalla (50,000), once the country’s biggest festival, which was indefinitely cancelled by promoter FKP Scorpio in 2018, following several alleged rapes and sexual assaults at the event the previous year.
By far the dominant player in the market is Live Nation Sweden (LNS), which has filled the void left by the Bråvalla with US festival brand Lollapalooza (40,000) taking place on the same weekend and in the same part of the country.
Another major LNS event is Sweden Rock Festival (33,000), in which the company acquired a majority stake in 2016. Traditionally focused on heavy rock, the June event’s line-up included Kiss, Def Leppard, ZZ Top and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.
Also controlled by LNS, which owns festival and concert promoter Luger are Summerburst (43,000) and Way Out West (30,000).
The company promotes around 300 shows annually by international acts, but LNS MD Anna Sjölund is most enthusiastic about the arrival of Lollapalooza, which featured Foo Fighters, Travis Scott, Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish and The 1975.
“We are really pleased that the response from the audience has been so overwhelmingly positive. It shows it was time to do a large scale festival in Stockholm,” she says. “We’re now already deep in to the planning of next year’s event, and we’ve learned so much about this great site in the middle of Stockholm.”
Another highlight for the company was a three-night run by Swedish House Mafia at the 40,000-capacity Tele2 Arena, with overall ticket sales of 114,629.
In 2017 Live Nation Entertainment-owned Ticketmaster Sweden (TMS) secured exclusive ticketing for the venues controlled by Gothenburg’s Got Event, which include Ullevi (43,200), Scandinavium (12,000), Lisebergshallen (3,500) and Bravida Arena (6,500).
TMS MD Kristian Seljeset says Rammstein’s sold-out shows at Ullevi and Gyllene Tider’s sold-out summer tour have been among the highlights of a good year.
“It is all about mobile tickets these days, but we still have fans who are keen to hold on to something physical, so our Collector Ticket offering has proven very popular,” she says.
Founded in 1991 and based in Stockholm, LNS subsidiary Luger promotes around 500 shows a year, while also acting as a booking agency for Swedish acts.
Luger’s shows include Florence + The Machine at Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe (16,000) and two sold-out dates by Mumford & Sons, with ticket prices ranging from 575 to 850 krona ($61-90), and in June it staged an outdoor show by Bon Iver at Mölleplatsen (10,000) in Malmö.
The company is also a major festival operator, handling events including Way Out West, which takes place at Slottsskogen in Gothenburg during August, with weekend tickets priced 1,895 krona ($200) and a line-up including Cure, Solange, James Blake, Christine & the Queens, Stormzy and Cardi B,
June saw Luger promote the first Lollapalooza Stockholm, in partnership with LNS and US promoter C3 Presents. Tickets cost 2,695 krona ($286).
“Artiste fees continue to increase due to what we are told are the rising overhead costs on tours these days,” says Luger’s Natalie Ryan-Williams. “Ticket prices are being pushed higher than we feel they should be on some concerts and events, and this can sometimes affect the attendance.”
All things considered
In January, Maloney Concerts and Blixten & Co were among six companies to be acquired by Waterland Private Equity and absorbed into the newly launched independent Nordic promoting powerhouse All Things Live.
As well as Maloney Concerts, All Things Live comprises ICO Concerts in Denmark, Norway’s Friction and Atomic Soul Booking.
Maloney Concerts was founded by David Maloney with backing from FKP Scorpio, where he was head promoter for a time. Now branded All Things Live Sweden, its shows this year include Shawn Mendes at the Ericsson Globe, Andrea Bocelli at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg and an open-air show with Gods Of Rap at Skansen (7,000) on the Stockholm island Djurgården.
“So far all our shows this year have been sold-out or close to sold-out so it has been a strong year,” says Maloney, who also runs the Sabaton Open Air (20,000), which was founded by heavy metal band Sabaton and takes place over four days in August at Lugnet in their home town of Falun. Other acts on the bill include Apocalyptica and Candlemass.
“For every festival that closes in Sweden, two new ones open,” says Maloney. “Artistes are being forced to decide what festival to do based on offers, or potential offers in other countries. That’s wrong and not good for the future of our business or for the artiste’s fans.”
Also now part of All Things Live, Stockholm-based Blixten & Co was founded in 2006 by Leif “Blixten” Henriksson. It primarily works with local talent and among this year’s projects is a tour by Benny Andersson’s Orchestra, which features the former ABBA star alongside Tommy Körberg and Helen Sjöholm. The band sold 36,000 tickets across eight shows in July.
The company also promotes the Melodifestivalen, an annual touring song competition organised by Sveriges Television that determines who will represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest.
“The tour takes in six cities with the finale at Stockholm’s Friends Arena [75,000],” says Henriksson. “Every year we sell around 125,000 tickets priced between 250 and 900 krona [$26.50-95]. It attracts around three million TV viewers every Saturday during the six-week period.”
“More and more people like to go out, to take part in live events and socialise with friends, it seems that is becoming increasingly important to them,” he says.
A major competitor for the newly formed All Things Live is FKP Scorpio Sweden, which also has offices in Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and Austria.
FKP will promote around 200 shows this year, including Rammstein at Stockholm Stadion (35,000), Hans Zimmer at the Ericsson Globe and New Order at Dalhalla (6,000), a former limestone quarry in central Sweden.
“We have a lot of big names this year and our shows are going extremely well,” says Blixten & Co’s Rickard Nilsson. “But when it comes to smaller and up-and-coming artistes, it’s still a bit of a struggle.”
Independent promoter Triffid And Danger Concerts (TDC) promotes around 150 shows each year, and occasionally concerts in Norway, Denmark and Finland.
Among concerts the Gothenburg-based company has worked on this year include Toto and Dream Theatre at Gasklockorna (6,000) in Gävle, with tickets priced 650 krona ($69), and Behemoth/Lamb Of God at Partille Arena (5,000) in Gothenburg, with tickets at 550 krona ($58), and King Diamond in Fryshuset Arena (3,500) at 595 krona ($63).
It also promotes the annual Gefle Metal Festival (6,000) in of Gävle.
“This autumn we’re doing a run of shows with D-A-D, we have 10 shows all over Sweden at venues with capacities from 700 to 1,300,” says TDC’s Edward Janson, who is another concerned with the deterioration of the club-venue landscape in Stockholm.
“With the recent closure of Debaser Medis and Kraken, it is difficult to find a suitable club there for many acts,” he says.
“Also, the euro and the US dollar have become a lot more expensive compared to the krona, and so that has made the fees for international acts much more expensive in the last couple of years,” he says.
Monstera Agency & Promoters focuses primarily on electronic music, promoting club and arena concerts by international and Swedish artistes for more than 15 years. Based in Stockholm, it is headed by CEO Karl Törnros and senior promoter Thomas Antonsson.
Shows this year include Ritchie Hawtin, UB40, Fatboy Slim, with the latter playing a short tour of the country in venues ranging from 1,000 to 1,300 capacity, with tickets prices 425 krona ($45). It also runs electronic music event Department Festival (4,000) in Stockholm, which takes place in May and this year featured Axel Boman, Paula Temple and Sama.
“The local market is strong but the Swedish audience is extremely picky,” says Antonsson. “If the artiste or the event has a strong connection with the audience, the ticket price is not the biggest issue. So if you have a good product it will sell.”
Monstera is on track to handle 300 shows this year, around 100 more than usual, but Törnros says the company could do more if it weren’t for the closure of so many key Stockholm venues.
“The impact is that we cannot always bring over all the acts that we would like because there simply isn’t room,” he says. “We feel the audience is asking for more and the market is open for it, but we just don’t have the space we need.”
Julius Production AB is owned by Julius Leisure & Entertainment (JLE), which was founded by Julius Malmström in 1972. JLE also owns ticket operation Julius Biljettservice and the Nöjesteatern (634) theatre in Malmö.
Malmström started out in the promotion business working with Live Nation Sweden CEO Thomas Johansson, and his EMA Telstar company in those days, with acts such as Wings and Santana.
His main project this year is a touring show celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, which will take place in 24 venues with capacities of around 1,000 each.
“The market is good, but only very strong acts sell tickets,” says Malmström. “There are too many live acts touring in the same period, particularly between September and December.”
Based in Svärtinge, south west of Stockholm, Skrikhult Production was founded in 1995 by Olof Wikström, working with acts such as Nazareth and Steve ’n’ Seagulls.
As a promoter and agency, the company works on around 100 shows per year and has local acts playing at festivals including Sweden Rock, RockOff (10,000) and Skogsröjet (7,000).
Wikström says the rising number of free outdoor concerts at venues such as amusement parks is negatively affecting the paid-for festival market, but in general the market is robust, not least the demand for home-grown talent.
“Sweden has always had a really strong domestic market,” he says. “We have several artistes that are able to sell-out arenas. The economy here is still pretty strong and tickets tend to sell well.”
Being very close to Denmark, the 15,500-capacity Malmö Arena has a catchment area population of four million people. Direct rail and road links make neighbouring Denmark’s Copenhagen Airport and the city itself reachable in around 10 minutes from Malmö, and so the venue is frequently visited by Danish fans who travel across the Øresund bridge.
Concert configurations at the arena range from 2,000 people up to the in-the-round maximum of 15,500. CEO Karin Mårtensson says the venue is due to host 32 live shows this year and concerts there tend to sell well.
“Malmö is a city of young people – the average age is 38, which suits the live entertainment industry very well,” she says.
Stockholm Live, part of US multinational venue management company AEG Facilities, operates Friends Arena, Ericsson Globe, Tele2 Arena, Hovet (9,000) and Annexet (3,400).
The Ericsson Globe hails as the world’s largest spherical building and Sweden’s national hockey arena. Among acts playing the venue are Post Malone, Nicki Minaj, Bob Dylan, John Mayor, Eros Ramazzotti and Ariana Grande.
“This year we’ve continued to develop our premium offerings at our venues,” says Stockholm Live director of communication Daniel Stålbo. “It has been a major focus for us this year and we are enhancing that offering with the opening of new premium lounges at both the Friends Arena and Ericsson Globe”
Based in Malmö, Tobbe Lorentz is a veteran of the business who worked as a promoter and agent at Johansson’s EMA Telstar before opening a local office for multinational booking operation The Agency Group, now United Talent Agency (UTA). Now working under the UTA banner, he represents acts such as Gogol Bordello, The Gaslight Anthem and The Hives.
“The Hives, Mando Diao and The Sounds will do an equal billing package at legendary outdoor arena Dalhalla in Rättvik on 30 and 31 August. All 10,000 tickets for the two nights sold-out in record time,” says Lorentz. “The first show sold-out in one hour and the second sold-out in two hours.”
While the club circuit is oversaturated and not helped by Stiockholm venue closures, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel, he says.
“The once-illegal 300-capacity underground Malmö venue Plan B has expanded and is now a legal venue with several rooms ranging from 300 to 600 capacity,” he says. “And there are tentative plans to open a 2,000 capacity room in the venue next year.”
ABBA and Spotify may have helped change the course of the worldwide music industry, but the ongoing success of concerts and festivals in Sweden are living proof that nothing beats the live music experience.