From German Discos To Stadiums: How Dieter Semmelmann Became A Powerhouse Promoter
Kai Heimberg – Dieter Semmelmann
Founder and CEO of Semmel Concerts
From starting out at his parents’ local discotheque in Franconia, Germany, to selling close to four-and-a-half million tickets across Europe in 2018, what sounds like a promoter fairy tale is the real-life story of Semmel Concerts founder Dieter Semmelmann.
Last year, the company submitted an impressive 1,197 box office reports to Pollstar, showing a total of 4,473,744 tickets sold and $272,162,482 grossed. But Semmelmann’s rise didn’t happen overnight. Pollstar asked the man himself what it took to become one of Germany’s, and indeed Europe’s, most successful concert promoters.
Germans love cover bands, and Semmelmann’s family satisfied demand at their Franconia venue. “Even back then, live performances appealed more to me than recorded music,” Semmelmann remembered. “I always watched the audience, which celebrated enthusiastically. I’ve always found that exciting.”
Toni Kretschmer – Roland Kaiser, one of Semmelmann
In this picture, the iconic Schlager singer thanks the crowd at “Filmnächste am Elbufer” in Dresden, Germany
While working at his parents’ business, Semmelmann learned how to put together live shows, from simple jobs like sitting at the box office to higher-level tasks like booking bands. “Even when I started my own concert agency, I was still taking care of everything myself, from doing posters to printing tickets. Which is why to this day I appreciate the people doing the tedious jobs. I know this is not an easy business, and the jobs it creates aren’t either,” Semmelmann explained.
“I believe what has influenced me the most is that I got to know this business from the ground up. It enabled me to make better judgment calls than somebody who hasn’t had that experience,” he mused.
Semmel Concerts opened in 1991. In 1995, Semmelmann was among the local promoters involved in the The Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour in Germany, his first taste of the stadium business. During those years, Semmel Concerts was the go-to local partner for major German promoters Marek Lieberberg and Peter Rieger, who let Semmel promote their international stars – including Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Tina Turner – in certain regions of the country as junior parter.
Semmel Concerts’ European breakthrough came when it promoted the German leg of bandleader James Last’s 1999 tour.
Robert Freiberger – Dieter Semmelmann
On stage at the Royal Albert Hall, where he joined James Last for his final UK shows in 2015.
In 2000, German live entertainment giant CTS Eventim acquired a majority stake of Semmel Concerts, which it still holds. Semmelmann utilized the synergy created by the partnership. “An aspiring promoter focusing on the north of Bavaria and East Germany wanted to widen its scope, and, on the other hand, had strong regional contacts that proved advantageous for the aspiring ticket provider Eventim,” he said.
And then came Helene Fischer. The superstar sold 1.3 million tickets across 87 dates between September 2017 and September 2018. Fischer’s 2018 highlights, according to Pollstar box office reports, include five consecutive shows at Berlin’s
Mercedes-Benz Arena, where she sold 57,428 tickets and grossed $4.91 million. Her stadium shows regularly grossed more than $3 million, including German dates at Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Arena ($3.14 million) and Stuttgart’s Mercedes-Benz Arena ($3.60 million) on July 21 and 22, respectively. Her highest-grossing stadium show, a June 29 gig at Munich’s Olympic Stadium, sold 51,917 tickets for a gross of $4.16 million. Meanwhile, ticket prices stayed below $100.
PRG LEA / Ben Pakalski – All good things come in threes
From left: Artist manager Uwe Kanthak, Helene Fischer and Dieter Semmelmann at the Live Entertainment Awards 2018 red carpet in Frankfurt, Germany
“Helene is a remarkable artist who demands everything from herself, but also from her team,” said Semmelmann, adding that she “is very awake – in the sense of being constantly curious – and combines multiple talents and factors for success.”
When asked about Fischer’s potential to tour English-speaking territories – given that she has recorded English-language songs in the past – the promoter didn’t reveal much. “Helene works and performs at the highest international level, and she is certainly part of that small selection of German artists, who could make the jump across the pond,” he said. “But the competition is immense.”
Semmelmann also described an oversaturated market. “The productions are getting increasingly sophisticated and, in combination with the international tours, are jacking up ticket prices,” he said. “Concertgoers will react to this at some point, and then the wheat will separate itself from the chaff.”
Germany’s market is interesting, because it’s composed of 16 individual states with cultures and media infrastructures that can differ vastly. Local promoters lend their knowledge to help international tours visiting the country, though large promoters operating in Germany are working to secure that expertise in-house, either by acquiring local promoters or opening regional offices to cover territories themselves.
Semmel Concerts began as a local promoter, working with legends including Madonna, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Pink, The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Coldplay, Paul McCartney and Metallica. Today, the company operates seven offices in Germany and has subsidiaries in Vienna, Munich and Berlin; few touring scenarios exist that the company can’t realize on its own or in collaboration with an international or local partner. “For certain concerts we’re certainly one of the best contacts in Germany and Europe, thanks to our network,” Semmelmann said.
Corporate events and exhibitions have also helped Semmel Concerts grow its portfolio. Semmelmann said his goal for these events is the same as major concerts: to entertain. “Semmel Concerts stands for entertainment, and the exhibitions are no exception,” he explained. “What is more, the international exhibition market works differently compared to the touring market, which has opened many doors for us. We’re excited to see how our Marvel exhibition, which we co-produce with Disney, is going to be received around the world. The Americans, for one, love it.”
André Kempner – Dieter Semmelmann
Literally at the wheel at Highfield Festival in Leipzig, Germany
And then there’s the festival business. Semmel Concerts promotes Leipzig’s Highfield Festival in cooperation with FKP Scorpio and is promoting Germany’s inaugural version of C2C: Country to Country, which arrives in Berlin on March 2 and 3, in cooperation with AEG.
Semmelmann thrives on projects like the German C2C. His favorite part of the job is taking something new and turning it into a phenomenon. “Building projects from scratch, as far as marketing and media are concerned, taking brands or event concepts no one has ever heard of and making them big and successful, that’s what motivates us on a daily basis,” he said.
The latest example is “The World Of Hans Zimmer,” produced by Semmel Concerts in conjunction with Steven Kofsky, Zimmer’s longtime business partner at RCI Global. Semmelmann promoted all 32 dates in Germany, Spain, Holland, the U.K., France, Belgium, Portugal, Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland, and also acted as producer and local promoter in several of the markets.
The “many incredibly exciting and inspiring encounters with great national and international artists” are why Semmelmann doesn’t get bored of his job. “I love my job, and I never really stop working, because every part of life, every situation, has the potential to spark creativity and new ideas,” he said.
Looking back on his career, Semmelmann wouldn’t change much. “There are certainly a few details one could have second thoughts about, certain projects one could have realized differently,” he said. “At the end of the day, however, even the projects one doesn’t like to remember have been valuable for the development of the business. So, yeah, for the most part I believe we did it right.
“And there are always projects, encounters and situations that drain your energy – ungratefulness, for example – as well as bad decisions that cost money. It is important to learn from it, forget it and look ahead.”
Going forward, Semmelmann wants to grow his business, and noted that “it is important that we continue to develop and refine our business in the coming years, and that we advance our own content, take on new ideas and potentially launch new business departments.”
Semmelmann concluded: “We’re going to increasingly bank on our international contacts going forward. Thanks to our reputation, I believe the future looks bright. Still, you have to stay alert at all times and not fall into complacency. Spotting topics and trends ahead of the competition has always been our strength.”