A Visit To Paris’ Island Of Music: La Seine Musicale
La Seine Musicale is easily one of the most spectacular concert buildings in the world. Sitting on the river Seine, overlooking the vast city of Paris like an ocean liner, it is a sight to behold.
The well thought-out architecture continues inside, where the building’s 6,800 and 1,150-seat auditoriums were implemented with impeccable acoustics in mind. It’s a place that warrants a visit even during the day when no particular show is on, just to take in the design.
Parisians, and anybody visiting the city on the Seine, seem to agree. It didn’t take long, from the moment coronavirus restrictions dropped early last year, for the audience to return. Whether that’s “just a post-COVID effect, I don’t know,” says Olivier Haber, CEO of La Seine Musicale. “But we sell tickets. For the moment, we are scheduling concerts and shows until 2026, which is unheard of. Before COVID we were planning 18 months ahead, or two years at max, but never three or four.”
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The last six months in particular made Haber very optimistic about the upcoming year. They culminated in a three-month-long run of Starmania, a musical as important to France as West Side Story is to the U.S. That run alone sold 300,000 tickets. To put it into perspective, La Seine Musicale sold half-a-million tickets in the entire year 2022.
It speaks volumes about the building’s management that it was able to return so strong post-pandemic. “It was really important for us to manage this period well, because after two-and-a-half years we had just reached the point where the venue was well known, artists were coming, the public was also coming, and then came COVID,” Haber said.
The team at La Seine Musicale maintained contact with its audience by putting on live streams, podcasts, creative videos and communicating regularly through the available digital channels. And because popular French TV network TF1 is a shareholder, the building even hosted TV shows, mostly around music, during lockdown.
At the very least it allowed artists to continue to perform at the venue, and their fans to still see them. “It was very different from what we should be doing,” said Haber, “but it kept us alive.”
Aside from that, the team kept busy rescheduling concerts, and maintaining the facilities, including the new restaurant Octave, where artists can mingle with the audience if the like.
La Seine Musicale also houses rehearsal and recording studios, which got used a lot during the shutdown of live. La Seine Musicale can host big names and licences in the Grande Seine main hall, and classical and jazz concerts in the all-wooden, 360-degree Auditorium, making it a building that caters to an audience still capable of and willing to buy tickets.
“People are coming back most easily to these kinds of shows: the big U.S. and UK names touring worldwide are selling a massive amount of tickets, quite easily and quickly,” Haber explained, adding that it was the same for the big French artists.
The ratio of international to national concerts is about 70/30 at La Seine Musicale. And while the French are generally very patriotic, authenticity is even more important to them. So, when the buildings hosts international musicals like West Side Story or Mamma Mia, it will host the original versions, not a translated one.
“We are an island of all kinds of music and shows. We host everything from classic to musical to rock and roll to pop to metal, metal, and we love to mix things up – even during the same evening, hosting two very different concerts for different audiences. We have big venues and need to reach a large number of people. This only works if we keep the quality high,” he said.
Past international concert highlights include Björk, Sting, Marcus Miller, The Killers, Simple Minds, Kylie Minogue, Seal, Archive, Afropunk, ZZ Top, Dido. 2023’s schedule includes Janelle Monae, Lang Lang, The Blaze, Earth Wind & Fire, and Norah Jones.
Artists arrive at the venue by boat, crossing the Seine, which is all part of the experience-driven philosophy that shapes the building. Visitors can bring their kids, who will enjoy learning about sound in the Seine Lab, which is part of the building’s vast day-time offering. Or bring a book at read in the lush gardens that separate the two auditoriums. The gardens also serve as the backdrop to any outdoor event at La Seine Musicale, be it a concert or a film screening on the gigantic 823-square-meter LED screen.
After selling 500,000 tickets in 2022, Haber expects to land somewhere in the area of 700,000 in 2023. Promoting both in-house and third-party shows, La Seine Musicale also sells tickets through its own channel. And while Haber can observe a general ticket price increase on many tours, he’s aware of the economic crisis in Europe, and its effect on people’s spending power. The only other item on the balance sheet where prices could be raised is rent.
“There’s not elasticity between the two, so we have to be very, very cautious in the way we price,” he said, adding that despite the challenges ahead, the future also held a lot of promises: “We are very excited for 2023 because of all the new kinds of music we’ll be hosting. New artists bring in new audiences, who will discover La Seine Musicale for the first time. That’s really what motivates us.”