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Live music in Germany – part 2: Beery trends

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

In part one of this three-part feature, Nico Ubenauf of satis&fy; Thomas Holz of Sennhesier; Tim Humpe of POOLgroup; Wolfgang Garçon of united-b; and live engineer Jens ‘Bubbes’ Steffan gave Richard Morgan their thoughts on whether things in Germany, with its booming live music scene, are really as good they appears to be from the outside.

Beery trends
Another noticeable development in Germany over the past few years is a move towards smaller live events on a local level. “In Germany and in other European countries, there is a trend towards small but high-quality gigs, for example with unplugged music or small combos in little pubs and restaurants,” says HK Audio marketing communications manager Andreas Marx.

Marx believes the German fondness for beer and heritage may also be behind this evolution. “In Germany, particularly, the ‘beer trend’ tradition is finding itself in something of a renaissance,” he says. “Nearly every small town has its own ‘Oktoberfest’, and open stages in marketplaces in cities and villages are getting more popular.”

On a national level, there’s still room for huge stadium acts – the likes of classic staples such as Peter Maffay and Herbert Grönemeyer. As in the UK, live German comedy is also booming, as Thomas Adapoe, managing director of the eponymous adapoe event firm, confirms. “Take a look at German comedy artists,” he says. “Ten years ago it was almost impossible to sell out a 500-capacity club. Today, you can fill a stadium with an audience of about 15,000 people with almost the same artistic content.”

And Adapoe is keen for his firm, which was founded in 1994 as a two-person venture, to move up to work on larger musical events in future. “As a medium-sized company, we have our main focus on medium-sized events,” he says. “But, of course, we always grow with challenges, and at the moment we are also extending our capabilities in the direction of bigger live music events.”

Hey, big spenders!
Of course, for events like this to continue, it’s imperative that the German public is out in force, spending their hard-earned cash on live musical entertainment. So, while the average gig may have become smaller in terms of pure size, everyone involved in putting on a performance has had to up their game to keep the punters interested.

Satis&fy’s Nico Ubenauf agrees that standards have improved, and he believes that constant declines in physical music sales over the past 15 years have not had an effect on concertgoers. “The decline in the music market in general did not have a strong impact on the live industry,” he says. “The touring business actually picked up over the years and became more professional, especially with the growing expectation among guests to be well entertained for their ticket price.”

Sennheiser’s Thomas Holz agrees, and puts the success largely down to the financial crisis being less severe than feared – and the devotion of German music fans. “Germany was not hit as hard by the financial crisis as other countries, and while people may have saved money in this area, the live music business was not affected much,” he says. “The German live music industry has always been a solid source of revenue for artists, especially in times when album sales went down. German music fans are known to be incredibly true to their favourite artists, and this includes concert visits, too.”

But while commercial gigs and tours were flourishing, Holz reveals that corporate events have suffered. “What was affected by the crisis, however, was the corporate market – that is, corporate events, product presentations, Christmas parties and the like. Rental companies across the board were hit by a decrease in business, whether small or big rental houses.”

Jens Steffan has actually had more engineering work since the crisis kicked in. “I think the financial crisis hasn’t affected the live music business at all!” he says “For me, during that time, my personal business has increased by about 25 per cent. I think that in bad times, human beings want to have fun and get more quality for their money.”

Meanwhile, Juergen Langhorst, Bosch’s director of sales for MI, Germany, feels that medium-sized events have been hardest hit. “As in many business segments, the middle of the field is difficult to serve at the moment,” he says. “The big events have the budget to attract the needed attention, smaller events are [facing] less risks, but the medium events need almost the same amount of effort as the big events, but with higher risks and lower possible proceeds.”

United-b’s Wolfgang Garçon takes a pragmatic approach to the matter. “The Swiss writer Max Frisch rightly said: ‘A crisis is a productive state – you simply have to get rid of its aftertaste of catastrophe,’” states Garçon. “The financial crises obviously speeded up developments. I do not think that business disappeared in general or became less – in my opinion, it has simply transferred to someone else. Since 2007, I have observed that investments have been more considered and diversified. The capital market does not accept every fixed idea and unlimited capital expenditure is not available for every market participant.”

These thoughts aside, Garçon succinctly sums up his view of the live industry’s overall progress with the following: “What I do know is that the quality of all events is getting better.”