Oh Là Là: Doing Business The French Way

La Seine Musicale
– La Seine Musicale
Sitting in the middle of the river Seine, like a concrete cruise liner

There’s a real buzz around live music in France, particularly in Paris, around which some 80 percent of the country’s music industry is concentrated. Pollstar spoke with venue operators, promoters and agents to get a feel for the state of live entertainment in La Grande Nation.
The country’s National Center for Variety and Jazz Music (CNV) just published the 2017 figures on the French live entertainment market. They show a year-on-year increase in every area that matters: 65,420 paid performances (4 percent), 26.4 million paid admissions (9 percent), an average ticket price of €35 (5 percent), and €930 million ($1.1 billion) in ticket revenues (15 percent). 
Successful editions of large-scale festivals including Eurockéennes de Belfort, Musilac in Aix-les-Bains or the first French edition of Lollapalooza in Paris played an important part. What is more, the French capital’s West End got two brand-new music venues last year that also sold a lot of tickets: Paris La Défense Arena, which has been operating almost exactly one year, and La Seine Musicale, which opened in April 2017.
Olivier Haber
– Olivier Haber
General manager of La Seine Musicale

Both venues look spectacular: the former thanks to countless glass and aluminum scales that make up the façade, the latter because of its shape resembling a concrete cruise liner in the middle of the river Seine. Pollstar asked the GMs of both venues about the state of business.

“In total, we hosted 450,000 people at more than 300 events in the first year,” said Olivier Haber of La Seine Musicale. The building’s main auditorium holds between 2,000 and 6,500 people and boasts one of the largest stages in Europe.
A second, spherical 360-degree auditorium has a maximum capacity of 1,100 people and is made entirely of wood and designed by acoustic genius Yasuhisa Toyota. It is the perfect hall for classical concerts, but Haber wants to also invite artists that don’t usually play acoustic concerts in these kind of places. “The idea going forward is to have a special intimate night with a big superstar the day before or after they play the stadiums,” he explained.
According to Haber, France’s live music industry is “quite healthy. It’s reflected in the many venues that have been newly built or refurbished in the past years, especially in Paris. We can now really host the best shows in the world.”
None other than Bob Dylan performed the opening concert at La Seine Musicale. Since then, the venue has hosted an eclectic mix of shows, including musicals such as West Side Story, the farewell concerts of French icon Michel Sardou, the Alvin Ailey dance troupe from New York, family shows such as “Holiday On Ice” and more.
Haber’s programming philosophy – “a balance of all genres with a high-quality standard” – proved successful. “For ‘West Side Story’ we sold some 85,000 tickets, which beat the previous time the musical resided in Paris. We also beat some historical figures of Herbie Hancock, who usually sells just under 2,000 tickets when visiting Paris. We sold 3,300.”
Haber takes it as proof that people are embracing the new venue. “It’s a place belonging to its suburbs and the people living in it,” he said.
A few kilometers up the Seine lies Paris La Défense, one of the city’s most important business districts. Right in the middle of it stands a 40,000-capacity arena by the same name. It opened as U Arena almost exactly a year ago with three Rolling Stones concerts, Oct. 19-25.
The arena’s director, Philippe Ventadour, has since secured a naming rights deal with the man in charge of Hauts-de-Seine, the Paris département where La Défense is located in (Patrick Devedjian, president of the département’s general council). Paris La Défense is also the name of the company thatorganizes all business activities in the district.
Philippe Ventadour
– Philippe Ventadour
General director of Paris La Défense Arena

“Between opening in October and the end of July, so in 10 months, we’ve sold around 450,000 tickets. We’re principally the home arena of [the Racing 92] rugby team, so we sold around 150,000 tickets across seven games. For the concerts with the Stones, Roger Waters and the French artists that played here, we sold around 200,000, and the rest was sold for sports events like super cross, soccer and basketball,” Ventadour told Pollstar.

He said business was good, but mainly for the big players. In a recent meeting of the country’s live entertainment association Prodiss, it emerged that the small promoters and sports companies are quite worried about the market dominance of giants, including Live Nation, AEG, Femalac and Lagardère. “The small promoters and venues are not earning very well, they’re operating solely on passion,” Ventadour explained.
He added, “whether you’re working for Beyoncé or for a small artist, it’s considered the same business, but it’s not. Small venues produce small shows and live on small money. I’ve always worked for big arenas, I have no idea how small venues of 300 capacity hosting 300 to 400 shows per year and earning €3,000 per night make it work. €3,000 is the price it costs to open one door at Paris La Défense Arena. Of course, we’re doing the same job, but not in the same way.”
Iconic French promoter Jackie Lombard, who promoted the opening concerts at both La Seine Musicale and Paris La Défense Arena, called the multi-nationals and monopolies “the big issue” in this day and age. She was instrumental in building France’s live business from scratch, and has been working with every great name out there since 1979. Lombard told Pollstar, that she couldn’t have achieved the same success in today’s industry, where control is much more concentrated.
One man, who isn’t worried about corporate domination is Clotaire Buche, co-founder and head of booking & creative at Junzi Arts, a Paris based company that develops acts through the prism of the live performance, focusing on a small roster, which includes Woodkid, Chassol, Aaron, Broken Back.
He said the ongoing consolidation “does not bother us, it is pointless to bother. We are focused and do our best to deliver 100 percent. Major and indies will keep on coexisting, just as is the case in other industries, such as fashion with H&M and AMI, or watchmaking with Swatch and Richard Mille, or in the restaurant business with McDonald’s and Joel Robuchon’s Atelier.”
Clotaire Buche
– Clotaire Buche
Head of booking and creative at Junzi Arts

He said the internet has broken down barriers. “One of many examples: Solange [Knowles] shazamed Chassol’s music at an Art exhibition in New Orleans, since then she’s been a strong supporter. She tweeted her admiration several

times and eventually invited him to support her at Radio City Hall in New York, and the Greek Theater in San Francisco, and then asked him to record with her.”
According to Buche, what shaped the business besides the online revolution is the evolution of of transportation and aviation. “There are more reliable flights at a good cost than ever before. It is now possible – and not that expensive – to go surfing in Biarritz in the morning, to have meetings in London in the afternoon and to attend a show in Paris or Brussels in the evening.”
This chimes with what Live Nation France MD Angelo Gopee had to say last month, when Pollstar questioned him for a focus piece on Europe. He pointed out that the internet gave artists a worldwide platform, irrespective of their heritage and even language. “U.S. and UK artists have long been planning their entire touring year between Asia, Australia, South America, Europe and the U.S. Only now is this also the case for Frech artists. For us French promoters and artists it’s a great opportunity.”
Gopee believes that “we need to keep up the communication with all  stakeholders in music, our interests are aligned after all, we just need to face the future together. All together we can bear the future, all together we can work in the interest of the artist, all together we will create a new model for music.”
Paris La Défense Arena
– Paris La Défense Arena
The facade is made up of countless glass and aluminum scales