‘I Wouldn’t Recommend My Children Enter This Business Today’: Q’s With André Béchir, Founder Of ABC Productions

André Béchir
– André Béchir
Founder of abc Production

Pollstar reached out to André Béchir, one of Switzerland’s most experienced concert promoters, to talk about the state of business at the turn of the year.

Béchir headed up the Good News Productions AG since 1972,  which was sold to DEAG in 2000. He remained on board as senior advisor until 2008. The following year, he founded ABC Production, which promoters some 80 concerts, festivals and shows per year, attracting around 300,000 visitors. In 2013, CTS Eventim bought a majority stake in ABC.

Pollstar: How do you stay successful in a relatively small, but highly competitive market like Switzerland?
André Béchir: Thanks to old friends – agents, managers, promoters – who are loyal. Unfortunately loyalty in our business gets rarer and rarer. Money talks!
We all need to remember where we came from. For a promoter, the most important thing is the audience. Without the audience even the best artists and promoters cannot survive.
It means we need to be much more responsive to the audience and offer a real service. That’s where we can still set ourselves apart.
What’s the dynamic among promoters in Switzerland?
It’s dog eat dog. Even though we have a Swiss Music Promoters Association, there’s no solidarity. There are no arrangements of any kind between promoters, like making sure there aren’t too many hard rock shows in one week. We are all focused on ourselves, we do not have a lobby for our music!
What doesn’t help is that the venues aren’t considerate of what’s already on, but instead accept every event. Resources are limited, and consumers are constantly deciding what shows to spend their money on.
The venues don’t care if the promoter loses money or not. What matters most to the buildings is the rental and catering income, at least that seems to be their philosophy. Again, there’s no real amicable collaboration unfortunately.
You’ve been promoting concerts for almost 50 years now. Has it ever been different?
It always depends on venue management. I’m aware that people aren’t doing as well as they have 10 or 15 years ago in this competitive market, but that’s true across all branches of economy, even retail or engineering. We have the opportunity to raise the level of quality, but some venues have reduced their efforts to the absolute minimum of opening and closing the doors, it seems. 
Not many are investing blood, sweat and tears into this business anymore. But without blood, sweat and tears – that’s my opinion – you cannot achieve anything in life, especially in the field of entertainment, where you need passion and heart in addition to the accounting and the numbers. The latter is necessary, too, but in the long-run we, the artists and the venues need spectators.
We have a lot of catching up to do. We need to start working together and not against each other.
Pink at Letzigrund Stadion
Marco Masiello
– Pink at Letzigrund Stadion
The show on July 30, 2019, was promoted by abc Production

Are you referring to the fact that the promoter pays for the entire show while carrying all the risk?
Let me put it this way: when I buy a sandwich, the middle is usually the best bit. If I look at our business, the middle bit, which is us promoters, is the worst. On one side you have the artist giving guidelines, on the other side you have the local costs. We as promoters carry all the risk at the smallest margin.
I don’t blame the artists as much. They pick out the most lucrative offer, which is legitimate. But if we want to keep the Swiss market exciting, we will need venues and promoters to show some mutual understanding, instead of mutual distrust.
How much help is being part of CTS Eventim when it comes to navigating these challenges?
We’re lucky to be part of Eventim Live. I’m grateful that there’s a man like Klaus-Peter Schulenberg. First of all, he’s a music fan, which is very important. He also needs the numbers to be right, of course, but he lets the promoters be promoters. Klaus-Peter Schulenberg is a man with visions and he understands the business.
In Europe, you have Live Nation, with high offers, then there’s AEG and Eventim Live. I’m pretty sure, in terms of market share in Europe, it is Live Nation and Eventim Live and AEG as strong competitors.
I’m proud to be a part of Eventim Live with ABC, because we wouldn’t be able to bear the risk on a long-term run. 
Live Nation started operating in Switzerland in 2016. Can you feel its presence?
It would be wrong to say that we cannot feel the presence of Live Nation in the market. We might feel it less than people expected, as Live Nation had to find out that people in Switzerland also put on their pants one leg at a time. You cannot make the impossible possible, and you cannot charge any kind of price.
It’s a small, trilingual country with eight million inhabitants. The size alone dictates the potential in the market.
What would you say to a young promoter, who wants to set foot in this business?
The question of money has become much more important, not just because artists demand more money, but also because the costs of touring have surged. It’s clear that a young promoter has to enter the game via the clubs.
Club shows are difficult to realize if you’re not already an established promoter, as only few artists sell out clubs. However, there’s also the chance that an artist that makes a name for him or herself in clubs, can make the jump to arena level.
I would never recommend my own children to enter this business. I’m aware that I also entered it at one point in time, however, entering this business today is much more difficult, and many times over. It also has to do with laws and regulations the payment of advance payments and more. It certainly doesn’t make life any easier for a young promoter or booker.
However, nothing is impossible. It just takes perseverance and entrepreneurship. And it also requires humility, that’s for sure.
Lineups and tours are booked way in advance these days. Do you observe the same in your market?
We’re selling tickets for concerts in autumn 2020. I’m always amazed at how far in advance people buy tickets. I don’t even know what I’m going to do in January or February yet. Looking at the calendar, we’re occupied earlier and earlier, not just business-wise but privately as well. It’s a totally different way of planning. 
Supply and demand suggest that it’s not wrong. The market decides. If the people want to book tickets a year in advance that’s fine, as long as the promoter can back the money in case of a cancellation. Which brings us back to the advantage of having CTS Eventim as mother company, which not only guarantees the money, but also does a great job in terms of ticketing.
Is the Swiss market saturated?
We promoters are gamblers in the widest sense of the word. The consumer decides. Especially with artists you might never see again, like Elton John, or artists, who don’t tour much, like Celine Dion, the demand is high.  Major shows do well. Mid-size shows are difficult. And it’s hard to place new bands.
We’ve got too much of everything: too many concerts, too much sports, too much TV, too many alternatives. We have everything in abundance, which makes the situation more difficult, but that’s the same everywhere.
Where do you see the live business headed in the next years?
Festivals like Tomorrowland show that it’s all about the experience. You need to be able to sell a complete experience, not just the concert. Food and beverage, the friendliness of staff, and the concert, the whole experience. You can’t rip people off. We need to realizing what the audience wants.
When I go to watch the ATP Finals at the O2 in London, I have certain expectations. I’m coming to be entertained. And the entertainment isn’t just coming from the game on the court, but it starts when being welcomed into the venue. You don’t want to feel like they’re chasing you out after the show either. We need to revive the experience, instead of trying to save money. We need to make people feel safe, say hello when they arrive and goodbye when they leave. I think, to a certain extent, we’ve forgotten how to develop these concerts into events.