‘People Who Die Earlier Retire’: Q’s With Professor Jens Michow, Founder Of Germany’s Promoters Association

01 Prof Jens Michow
A life dedicated to live: Prof. Jens Michow spent the last three years fighting even harder for this industry than in the 37 years since founding the association representing the German live entertainment industry.
Photo courtesy BDKV

Prof. Jens Michow has truly led a life dedicated to live. From launching his own concert agency in the 1970s to founding Germany’s first association for the promoting industry in the 1980s to opening a law firm specializing in entertainment in the 1990s, Michow has been an active part of this business for almost half a century.

When Michow announced that he was going to step down from his duties as president of Germany’s association for the promoters and events industry, BDKV, Pollstar reached out to reflect on his impressive career.

Pollstar: What is your state of mind now that another eventful year for the German live entertainment sector is coming to an end?

Prof. Jens Michow: I was sincerely hoping, that after two years of Corona we’d finally return to normality. But then this idiot in Moscow started the war in Ukraine with the result, that – besides the sad and horrible situation of the people in Ukraine – all of Europe suffers under the energy crisis. And that happened at a time when the German concert business was still far away from a real restart. 

You’re one of the men in this industry that must have seen and done it all. Is it still accurate to say that you’ve never had to deal with a more challenging scenario than the one posed by a worldwide pandemic, now leading into a cost-of-living crisis?

It is more than accurate, indeed. In fact, these past two years have made me age faster than two years would normally do. I was sitting in front of my computer seven days a week for at least eight hours per day, talking and writing to [BDVK] members and hundreds of politicians, giving radio and TV interviews, having up to four digital conferences per day, writing articles and press news. No holidays, no fresh air, no golf, no walks, no garden. That’s everything but healthy. Even the family suffered as they only saw me for breakfast and dinner. That was the most depressing part. The sole remuneration for all of this was quite a bit of success, which was achieved together with colleagues in affiliated branches of the music and promoters industry and helped our members to economically survive.

How do you maintain a calm mind and continue to deliver, even under intense pressure? Any tips or tricks?

Actually no. Or yes: my goal is success. If this is hard to reach, you must not give up but just work harder. And if I achieve a success and an honest ‘thank you’ and recognition from the people I’m working for from time to time, that gives me the strength to keep on working.

The business returned with a vengeance in 2022. What was the most challenging part between supply chain and personnel shortages, increased prices, and a market oversaturated with live events? And what were the most important factors in overcoming those challenges?

We are far away from overcoming any challenges. During the lockdowns, we were all of the opinion that the people’s hunger for culture would be so huge, that every concert would be sold out once the crisis was over. We were wrong. Whenever concerts are full today, most of the tickets were already sold in 2019 – on that year’s cost basis, and not taking into account today’s inflation as well as the cost increases on all fronts.

However, looking at the huge festivals of last summer with up to 120,000 attenders, politicians and media people presumed that the business must run well again. It’s almost like they thought we were only pretending to still be in trouble. But there are festival promoters who lost a fortune with sold-out festivals and concerts. 

03 Young Jens
A young Jens Michow playing the guitar at school. / Photo courtesy BDKV

If you look past the concerts of the superstars, most of the new concerts announced during the pandemic or later this year all but flopped. Of course, the amount of postponed concerts has led to an oversaturation of the market, but there are more reasons why concerts aren’t even close to being sold out. Some people are afraid to catch the virus, some changed their leisure time activities during the pandemic, others are waiting to see how reliable concert announcements really are and are therefore refraining from buying tickets. And now we have the latest attack [on people’s spending power], which is the development of costs in general. If your heating costs amount to double or even triple of what you used to pay, the first place you start saving are the expenses you spend on leisure. 

Hence, our sector didn’t overcome anything. We are far from handling the economic consequences of the pandemic and are now being overrun by the energy crisis. It’s just horrible.

How have you motivated and led your teams through this challenging time? 

They, too, were distracted by the amount of work that had to be done. They came to the office willingly instead of working from home.

What do you predict in the coming year for the live events business? And what will be important to make it through this next challenge? 

It’s really hard to say. It will mainly depend on the development of the war in Ukraine, on the development of the pandemic, and the development of energy-prices and living costs. If any of those go in the wrong direction, then 2023 may become the worst year [for the live entertainment industry] ever. 

Contrary to 2020 and 2021, it looks as if we may not be able to count on financial help from the state. Our new minister of finance declined any new support programs for the economy. We have no assurance for concerts that get cancelled for future pandemic reasons. It’s all quite different than in the past years. That’s why many promoters – apart from those working with superstars – are most concerned.  

You’re retiring at the end of this year. Please share your emotions, looking back at 37 years of representing the interests of the German events sector. 

Oh, I’m far from retiring! After being the managing president of BDKV for 37 years, it’s time to leave the place to younger people. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop working. I’m partner of a law firm for entertainment law, which is actually doing quite well and needs me more than before. I will go on to promote the German Live Entertainment Award. I’m the owner of a sponsor acquisition company. And let’s wait and see whether there is still something else for me to do in the association business. So, I’m definitely not retiring. People who retire die earlier.

What’s been the most impactful change you’ve observed over the course of your career in live? 

You’re asking a man aged 72, born in 1950? The first personal computer only came out in the beginning of the 1980s, the first reasonable mobile phones were sold in the late 1990s, smart phones have been around for only 15 years. When I started Michow Concerts & Management – nowadays Michow Concerts Entertainment – in the 1970s and opened an independant record label in the 1980s, I was still writing down my clients’ addresses on filing cards. Not even the fax had been invented back then. And you’re asking me about impactful changes? There were too many.

But there was one change in the past two years that stands out: Zoom, Teams and other platforms allowed us to save an enormous amount of time. In the past, I sat on planes and trains for up to eight hours every week. Economizing that has made both work and life more comfortable.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishments in your career and why?

I started the predecessor of the BDKV, the former idkv, in 1985 with the sole goal to achieve the legalization of the agency and management business in Germany. At that time a funny law existed in Germany, which reserved the right to run agencies or artist management companies to the state. Were this law still in effect, nobody would have the right to run an agency or management business unless licensed by the German state. Between 1985 and 1990, I initiated a couple of court trials against the former federal employment office, to prove that their interpretation of the law was wrong. This legalized agency and management work in Germany and was the start of the former idkv, the cradle of the BDKV. 

02 LEA
Michow’s baby: The Live Entertainment Award, LEA, by far Germany’s most prestigious award ceremony for the live events sector.

In the 1990s I achieved the lowering of the so-called foreigner tax from 25% to 15%. As a result, there is no taxation on the income of performers from abroad in Germany on fees below €250.

Then there’s the development of the dual education of management assistants in event organisations. It finally introduced the professional training of future personnel in our industry, and marked the end of ‘learning by doing’. The men and women, who after a two-and-a-half year apprenticeship got their degree, are elementary for our sector, especially nowadays. It must be far more than 20,000 people who got their vocational degree since the start of this new profession in 2001.

I was able to initiate a couple of very advantageous changes in the German social security system, which nowadays benefit not only promoters but also performing artists. 

Possibly the greatest achievement, not only for German promoters and artists, but for
the entire industry in Europe, was the foundation of the collecting society for the neighboring right of promoters, the GWVR. The project was initiated by my law firm’s partner Dr. Johannes Ulbricht. 

Together, we’ve been working since the beginning
of this century to get the necessary licence from Germany’s patent and trademark office, and finally received it in 2014. It was still a long way to go until we signed our first collective agreement with the record industry in 2019. Now we are able to distribute royalties to our members. Even as we speak, we are negotiating deals with other users [of live music], like the German radio and TV channels, YouTube, or Facebook. The project is definitely unique. 

And again, all promoters and artists based in Europe may apply to have their rights taken care of by the GWVR, once recordings of their live shows get exploited in Germany. 

Finally, I don’t consider it immodest if I state that the support programs the BDKV in cooperation with other associations was working on and delivered during the pandemic, were worth a couple of billion Euros for our sector alone; 37 years are quite a bit of time. A lot of things did happen, and a lot of things had to be resolved.  

What do you intend to do with your new-found free time after this year? Or is this a misconception, and you’re very much continuing to keep busy with your legal practice and other commitments? Of course, my work as the managing president of the BDKV and its predecessors for almost four decades has been taking up most of my working time. 

To be freed from that will give me more time to play guitar, golf and to take care of my beloved rose garden, besides my remaining business activities. There’ll be more time to travel, and, finally, to not forget what is most important: more time for my family. 

Do you have a business philosophy you live by? 

Simply, ‘I will!’

04 Waldbuhne
The sector tried everything to keep promoting while Germany introduced some of the harshest COVID restrictions in all of Europe. Here are (from left) musician Roland Kaiser, Jens Michow, Alexander Ruoff (COO CTS Eventim), and Dieter Semmelmann (MD Semmel Concerts) in front of Berlin’s Waldbühne, where limited-capacity shows have been taking place whenever possible during the pandemic. / Photo by Britta Pedersen / picture alliance / Getty Images

Can you pick the most memorable concert/show of your life?

There have been many, but I’ll take the last one: a man at the age of 79 gathering 22,000 people around him and his band: Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones in August 2022 in Berlin – simply stunning!

Do you recall the moment you fell in love with live music?

When I started to build and lead a folk ensemble at school, which also marked the start of me playing the guitar, which I haven’t stopped since.

Do you have a favorite grassroots music venue to go see a show?

Well, I managed the quite well-known 1,000-seat capacity Markthalle in Hamburg for two years in the 1970s. I was proud that I was able to book bands like AC/DC, newcomers at the time, Fats Domino, BB King and many others. Nowadays, it’s quite rare that I find the time to visit clubs. But not so long ago I was in the legendary Knust in Hamburg. 

What’s the one thing you love most in life?

Of course, my partner! After having been married for 40 years, my wife died in 2018. I’m very lucky that I was able to find a new love at my age – my old school friend Veronique. After our school time, I didn’t meet her for more than 50 years, and now we’ve been living together for three years. Isn’t that a love(ly) story?