The fantastic and challenging world of being a Concert Producer in SA. In my Professional Opinion

By Dr Ivor Blumenthal

Imagine having personally interacted with 300 stars amongst which are Sir Elton John, Michael Buble and all of the band members of One Direction or One Republic. Imagine having promoted over 1600 shows. 10 million South Africans have paid to come and watch his concerts.

Attie Van Wyk is that person. I had the privilege of interviewing this man who has ensured that from young to old we are royally entertained in this country. You can listen to the podcast of my interview on my “Contemporary Business” show on 1485am. by “Liking” facebook.com/conbussa  or on our website at conbussa.co.za.

An Accountant by profession and song writing, music producer by choice, he is grateful for the progression of his career in the early days, saying,  “Everything revolves around figures” and implying that he is grateful for his initial training as an Accountant. There is a belief that parents the world-over share when confronted with artistic and entertainment choices their children wish to pursue. Earning a degree in a recognised profession makes the parent more comfortable that if a child’s choice to be a musician or actor fails, there will always be something to fall back upon. Attie has proven that perspective true and importantly he has proven that having studied to become a professional has stood him in good stead when following his passion.

In 1989, having been a record producer for a long time before that, he started a concert production business called “Big Concerts”. The company started off by promoting local artists such as Chicco and Yvonne Chaka Chaka at venues such as Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Purchases of sound and lighting companies led Big Concerts to promote larger concerts. The first International concert he was fortunate to be involved with was with Ray Phiri and Paul Simon appearing in SA in 1992.

Van Wyk admits that on-occasion “Big Concerts” has competition, which serves only to “muddy the waters”. There are Jazz, Comedy and Theatre promoters in SA and these are areas, which Big Concerts are not interested in competing in. However, Big Concerts cherishes its hegemony in the area of arranging – big concerts.

Success is only success when it is able to translate into money at the gate in this Industry. Van Wyk has a unique insight into the difference between artists and stars and their respective financial value. In our interview, we discussed the business of bands contrasting One Direction with One Republic. He describes One Direction as a “manufactured” band surrounded by excellent songwriters and musicians. This band is purely a business, which has garnered a huge following of fans around the world and continues to do so. Contrasted with that is One Republic whom Attie characterizes as purists and excellent musicians themselves. One Republic’s lead songwriter has caused this band to become a “hit-making machine”.

Having said that and in unpacking the business perspective of concert promotion, 183,000 paid to watch One Direction, the “manufactured” band in SA whereas only 25,000 paid to attend the One Republic concerts.

What struck me about the One Direction concert in-particular was how badly organised and presented the entire show was. When, during our interview, I challenged Attie on this he replied that the quality of content and the actual production of the show is an immense challenge for concert promoters. They have very little say in the production or the content of any show they are involved in promoting. They cannot even choose the supporting act. Promoters are not even able to choose backing music in these shows. He refers to big artists and bands as “delivered machines”. He says of these acts that “they come in and do show after show worldwide in the way they are used to and have planned it”.

An additional frustration for promoters is when these artists turn up 45 minutes to an hour late on stage, which seems to happen often. “The likes of a Rihanna, a Gaga or a Justin Bieber are known for turning up late on stage. Luckily when we promoted them we got them on stage on-time”. The frustration, which accompanies the success in promoting International artists in SA, is palpable during my interview with Attie Van Wyk.

A massive frustration for Big Concerts is the exchange rate and the fact that at nearly R13 to the dollar, many top artists prefer to go to countries such as New Zealand and Australia than to come to SA. “We are dealing with Paul McCartney at the moment for dates in November. We know he wants to come in but with the exchange rate the way it is performing at the moment we are $500,000 short of what they require.” He travels in a big entourage of over 100 people who need to travel with him and it is “just very difficult in these times to make the lucrative offers”. He complains that deals, where negotiations started 6 months ago, have to be re-negotiated because of the continual fluctuation of the exchange rate. “We lose a lot of acts to the first world territories and including the Middle East. Agents and Managers say show us the money….a comfortable profit”.

One of my favorite bands is Maroon Five and when asked about it Attie admitted that he is in negotiation to bring them out in 2016 for stadium shows. The decision he needs to make is whether Maroon Five are a stadium act and whether the projected net revenue will make such a tour sufficiently lucrative for everyone concerned.

Ultimately it is about the money. Concert promotion is a business after all!