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Live music in Germany – part 1: A thriving market

Key figures from Germany’s thriving live music industry tell Richard Morgan how they’re beating the sluggish economic recovery.

Richard Morgan writes…

The last few years have not been the best time to be involved in the live music industry. On a European, national and local level, fewer people have been attending fewer concerts and events, buying less music and generally having less associated fun. It’s not all bad, of course – in the UK, for example, the government’s Live Music Act is helping grassroots venues get fans back to gigs, while music formats like vinyl and downloads are experiencing somewhat of a surge in popularity – but overall, it’s safe to say that the industry really has felt the pinch of the economic downturn.

In Germany, things couldn’t be more different. Indeed, Europe’s largest economy barely seems to have been affected by the global financial meltdown, as evidenced recently by everything from a stunning 2011 Eurovision Song Contest in Dusseldorf (pictured – photo: Ralph Larmann) to a huge showing at March’s Prolight + Sound in Frankfurt. At PL+S, three quarters of exhibitors polled considered the economic situation to be ‘satisfactory to good’, while an enthusiastic 80 per cent rated the current economic situation in the sector as better than a year ago.

These figures are promising – the rest of the continent could certainly use some of that optimism, at least – so we decided to ask some of Germany’s key live music industry movers and shakers if things really are as good there as they appear to be from the outside.

A thriving market
Perhaps unsurprisingly, everyone we spoke to had good things to say about the current state of the market in Germany. “The live music industry in Germany is flourishing,” says Thomas Holz, key account manager for rental (artists and engineers) at Sennheiser. “I would even go as far as to say that this is currently the best market [globally] besides the US.”

International event agency POOLgroup’s head of touring and entertainment, Tim Humpe, also sees positivity across the board. “I don’t think there’s a big difference between the German industry and the rest of Europe,” he says. “Live entertainment is still a growing market, and national – as well as international – artists are executing profitable tours in Germany’s smaller and bigger venues.”

Wolfgang Garçon, however, is slightly more cautious. “Oh, it depends on whom you ask,” says the managing director of united-b, a distributor Garçon formed in late 2013 after leaving his post at Atlantic Audio a year previously. “I know people who are very satisfied with the German market, but some others are not. In general, I think the German market is working well. Maybe it’s not as strong as Asia in the last few years, or North America today, but without any doubt it is the strongest in Europe.”

Audio engineer Jens “Bubbes” Steffan, who’s worked with the likes of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Ray Wilson, says: “I think the music industry in Germany is really huge – one of the biggest markets in Europe – and very important for acts and singers. If you look at big live shows like the Eurovision Song Contest, most of the equipment and techs, engineers etc, are from Germany.”

Meanwhile, Nico Ubenauf, CEO at multinational events firm satis&fy, has noticed changes in the industry’s scale and speed of working, although he does not think these developments are confined to Germany. “We are experiencing a very fast moving business with the decision-making process happening on even shorter notice that we had ever imagined a few years ago,” he says.

“We are also seeing a stronger divide between small local business and the high-end large production side of the market. It is much more difficult for young and smaller companies to get into large scale productions. Speaking with my colleagues from around the globe, there seem to be far more similarities with these changes happening around the globe than there are regional differences.”

Going global
On a positive front, Ubenauf believes that the global outlook of German firms – alongside strong training and education programmes and their willingness and ability to speak the universal industry language, English – has been key in helping them win international business. “Germany has been a very competitive market in the last 15 years, and it seems to get more competitive each year,” he says.

“We have seen a substantial deflation in pricing for lighting, sound and AV services over the years. Due to the low pricing for labour and equipment, German suppliers are becoming increasingly more attractive for the international touring business. Compared to some of our European neighbours, Germany has very few labour regulations –therefore more and more neighbours are using skilled German labour for their productions. Combined with our excellent three-year apprentice programmes for technicians and our fairly good language skills, German companies are becoming a real alternative to the ‘usual suspects’ in the international live music and touring business.”