Matthieu Drouot On Staying True To His Father’s Legacy

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Matthieu Drouot, CEO of Gérard Drouot Productions.

Gérard Drouot was part of the first generation of promoters in France, who created the live biz from scratch in the 1970s – alongside people like Pollstar Impact International honoree Jackie Lombard, Jean-Claude Camus, Gilbert Coullier, Pascal Bernardin, and others. Drouot began his career working for Harry Lapp in Strasbourg, close to the German border, where he also founded Gérard Drouot Productions in 1986 – the company that would bring international superstar like AC/DC, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Joe Satriani, Santana, and more to France for the first time. When his business had taken off, Drouot moved its headquarters to Paris, where it remains to this day, on Rue Vivienne, right in the heart of this vibrant metropolis.

Gérard would often bring his son Matthieu to shows, who recalled two in particular that sparked his love for live music: “I don’t remember the exact date, but my father was promoting Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at Bercy, which is Accord Arena today. It must have been 25 years ago, their agent was Rod MacSween, who I still work with today. My father was also promoting a French band from the Caribbean called Kassav’, one of the most successful touring world music acts ever created. These two shows really taught me what live music is, the emotions it can provide to people, and that’s really when I fell in love with it.

“Now, it took me some years to realize it could become my business, because when you’re a teenager, you don’t necessarily want to do what your father does. But one day after business school, I found my father late in his office, still sending faxes and printing out emails. I remember asking him, if he needed help, and him responding with ‘yes’. That’s how I began working with him. I still wasn’t sure whether it was something I would do all my life, but ever since seeing the Page and Plant show, I thought that if I didn’t at least try, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I knew how special my father was, and I understood how special this business was. That was more than 15 years ago, so I think it was good to try it.”

Drouot didn’t think he would have to take on the reins of his father’s company as early as he did, but the responsibilities were imposed on him, when Gérard passed away in January 2022, “the toughest year of my life,” according to Matthieu, “and I say that after thinking that 20 and 21 had been be the toughest.

Promoter Gérard Drouot Dies At 69: ‘A Huge Loss To The Whole Of The French Music Industry’

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Gérard Drouot at Pollstar Live! 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee (from left): Gerard Drouot Productions’ Gaëtan Grivel, Gérard Drouot, Helen Drouot, and UTA global head of touring Neil Warnock. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for The Agency Group)

“When my father learned in 2018 that he got leukemia, I was convinced that he would be strong enough to deal with it. To go through all the treatments, including chemotherapy, you need to be mentally super-strong, which he was. Everyone around us also thought he’d deal with it, and we were all highly surprised that it didn’t go as well as planned. When we got locked down in 2020, it was the first time in 50 or 60 years that he couldn’t see live music on stage. For me, it was big, but for him, it was huge. I will never know, how much of an impact the lockdowns and what we went through during COVID impacted his ability to deal with the illness.”

Just a month after the Drouot’s passing, France began opening up venues again. “We had to restart our business, and I had to reopen the office after months of unemployment for most of our staff. Everything happened at the same time, and I think the passion for live music is what helped me deal with it. I also have a fantastic wife, who gave me the best support. And I have a great team, who want to protect my father’s legacy and ensure that what he taught us won’t be forgotten, including how to provide the audience with the happiness they are seeking when they buy a ticket,” he said.

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Of all the values and skills passed down from father to son, the attention to detail sticks out. “For some people, he was this larger-than-life business man, because he was doing a lot of shows, and grossing a lot of income. And because he helped some of the biggest legends in the business, the U2s, AC/DCs, Bruce Springsteens, get where they are today. But for me, working with him every day, what I remember most, is him paying a lot of attention to details, even if the show was an easy sellout,” he said.

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Ticket for James Brown at Accor Arena, back then known as the Palais Omnisports Paris Bercy, on Dec. 19, 1996.

Drouot recalled the lead up to a 1996 concert by James Brown at Accor Arena, back then known as the Palais Omnisports Paris Bercy. “It was summertime, and he took me in his car on a Sunday to check out billboards. He had bought 100 billboards in Paris to promote the show, but when he got the ticket counts on Friday, he became suspicious, as they weren’t overwhelming. So, we drove around Paris, which is a lot harder to do nowadays, to check out billboards. And we found that some were missing. To me, it was all a game, I got really excited when I spotted a missing billboard, laughing out loud, but my father was mad, and I didn’t understand why. As it turned out the ad agency had sold the same campaign three times to three different clients.”

Drouot isn’t a big fan of the word industry when referring to this business. “Our job as promoters is a boutique business, it’s about paying attention to details, even for the big shows. We don’t just go on site to meet the artists on day of the show, we really promote the show, we invest in marketing, we talk to PRs, on the phone and face to face, we find festival slots, and we fight for avails. The business has changed, at leas a bit, over the past 20 years. There’s a lot more paperwork, a lot more emails involved today. It’s not always easy, but I try and remember what he taught me, because that’s how you grow artists from theaters to arenas, and sell out each building along the way.” Drouot is convinced that it’s this attention to detail that ensures artists are still coming to GDP, even if there’s competition from global competitors offering global tour packages.

Eros Ramazzotti at Accor Arena, promoted by GDP. (Picture by GregH Photographer/GDP)

Drouot is confident that 2023 marks the year people start buying club tickets again. “I feel like everything is back, business is really strong in Paris and the provinces as well. And what I’m finding is that the kids are not afraid of spending a lot of money on tickets. When I do an act like The Scorpions or KISS, and I charge €80 for a ticket, the older generation will give me stories of when they saw The Scorpions or KISS in the 1980s for $10. The kids don’t make that comparison. I sold out Accor Arena with Måneskin, and tickets averaged around €50 or €60. The young audience understands the value of a ticket, and is happy to spend that money, and more. And many of them are in their twenties or even younger, their parents pay for their ticket. Can you imagine the money they will be able to spend on live entertainment when they are 50 or 60 years old? It’s a very good sign for our business.”

Drouot also owns the Hellfest brand, promoted by Ben Barbaud, who was forced to raise the ticket price quite substantially in 2023 due to the increased production costs and price hikes on all fronts. The 60,000-capacity event still sold out in under an hour – about the same time it would have taken GDP to sell out all tickets for Bruce Springsteen’s two May-dates at Paris La Defense Arena, had the system not crashed under the demand. “Usually, when I go on sale with Bruce, we sell 20,000 to 25,000 tickets on opening day, and the rest along the way. But this time, we sold out 70,000-plus in a day,” Drouot said.

Accept performing at Paris’ infamous Bataclan, promoted by GDP. (Picture by GregH Photographer/GDP)

In today’s economic climate, independently operating companies stand out. The question always arises: how long can they survive, seeing that turning a profit only ever seems to get tougher. GDP is flourishing, that doesn’t mean Drouot hasn’t contemplated the question. Being the pioneer that he was, his father had temporarily entertained the idea of joining forces with TF1, one of the country’s biggest TV networks. What is more, offers from the usual suspects were made at various points in time. But, at least for now, Drouot is comfortable with the way things are.

“I spoke to Carl-Leighton Pope at ILMC in London last week, and he told me I was the only independent promoter on his Michael Bublé tour. I don’t want to say, I’m never going to sell. But my father passed away last year, and I’ve been working alongside him as independents for 15 years. I don’t think I’m going to be the one to sell his company a year or two after his passing. I feel I have to prove myself and stay true to the legacy he’s left. The artists seem to like that we’re independent. If I joined Live Nation tomorrow, I may lose some CTS business, and vice versa. Right now it just doesn’t make sense, maybe in a few years it will. But my focus every day is not to contemplate whether I want to join a corporate company, but to sell tickets and route tours. It’s my mojo, my engine.”

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