25 years of music and entertainment. (1993)
The German Concert Promoter Celebrates His 25th Anniversary 1993 By Opening Up The International Market
One thing that no one in the live music industry should ever forget is that the most important people in it are the artists and those who pay to see them," says Marcel Avram. "There are many, many of us whose primary role is to serve this business, and while the public may envy us for the kind of work that we do, it is their applause for the actual entertainers that should provide us with the ultimate job satisfaction."
After a quarter of a century at the forefront of European concert promotion, Avram certainly knows a thing or two about pleasing both performers and public alike. His German-based company, MAMA Concerts & Rau, has firmly established itself as a leading force on the international stage, and the roster of clients practically reads like a Who's Who of the popular music scene—from Michael Jackson to Rod Stewart, Frank Sinatra to Whitney Houston, Prince to Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton to Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen to AC/DC, Liza Minnelli to Michael Bolton, Eros Ramazzotti to the Rolling Stones, Jose Carreras to...well, the list just goes on and on.
Such well-earned success ties in directly with a company policy of continually adapting to the tastes and trends of a business that never stands still - as well as taking the initiative and creating a few new ones. Still, Avram does not classify himself as a trendsetter. "Moving on to new things just comes naturally," he says. "One simply develops new ideas and tries to realize them."
MAMA Concerts & Rau is also a leading European light when it comes to expanding its operation on a worldwide basis, and while Avram asserts that "flexibility, creativity and understanding are the key to the '90s," a few days spent at his company make it abundantly clear that it is sheer hard work that has opened the door to success. There's a reason the company's notepaper used to bear the legend "MAMA never sleeps."
It's 9 a.m., any day of the week, at the MC & R offices in the heart of Munich. The first priority: one of the secretaries must put yet another new roll of paper in the fax machine, while Avram attempts to surface for air amid the sea of messages swamping his desk. (As if all this isn't work enough, there will no doubt be a similar pile awaiting him at home when he finally arrives there.)
The early part of the day will be largely occupied with telephone calls to Southeast Asia and the Far East, while the afternoon will see similar activity in relation to Europe, the U.S. and South America. Avram, in fact, only spends about 50 days each year at the Munich base, and so he takes the opportunity to delegate assignments in person to senior management colleagues before company business takes him back on the road to all places East and West. These include such new territories as Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Santiago de Chile, Mexico City, Dubai and New Delhi.
Marcel Avram likes to deal face-to-face with his business partners and a 10-hour plane flight will often be deemed preferable to making telephone or fax contact.
The simple fact is that Marcel Avram likes to deal face-to-face with his business partners, and a 10-hour plane flight will often be deemed preferable to making telephone or fax contact. In addition to an enviable ability to speak six languages fluently— and to understand several more—Avram's comprehensive experience has also endowed him with fine-tuned character judgment.
"I often don't need a contract," he explains. "When I meet somebody face-to-face and judge him or her to be honest and dependable, then a statement such as 'I give you my word' is far more important to me than something put down on paper. It is a gentleman's agreement, and over the years there have been many times when I've valued and appreciated such deals."
Whether the agreements are indeed spoken or on paper, Avram's working relationships with his artists invariably tend to be long-term ones. Enormously dedicated to his work, he is consequently able to gain artists' confidence and respect. This quality in turn enables him to book acts such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Simple Minds and Yes, which are not to be found on the rosters of any other European agencies.
One artist who falls into this category is Rod Stewart. Avram first met him when Stewart was still a member of the Faces, back in the early 1970s, and today the rock and soul singer can lay just claim to being one of the most popular and successful artists in the world. It was in 1972 that, together with the Faces, Rod first performed for MAMA Concerts at an open-air festival in Germany. Just over two decades later, as a solo act, he can fill huge arenas as well as entire stadiums.
Avram also collaborates directly with managers and record labels. Says Avram, "Agents are immensely important, particularly in the matter of helping up-and-coming artists take their first steps in the business. But it is also important not to forget the promoters who provide the financial backing to actually get these artists started."
At one time, Stiefel Phillips, the company managing Rod Stewart, was also looking after the affairs of Prince, and it was therefore not long before Avram established a line of communication with the man from Paisley Park and promoted his 1990 European tour. "Fritz Rau used to do his tours," points out Avram. "Therefore, even if I weren't doing it, Fritz would be— so it stays within the family. Fritz said to me, 'Marcel, thank God you got Prince, so I haven't lost him!' And I said, 'If I hadn't got him, you would have him anyhow!'
"I have to say, though, that Prince and I have what I describe as a telepathic relationship. I mean, if you communicate with him on the same wavelength its okay. To communicate with him means just being around. We have done several European tours together, and the last one was the most successful. He is very professional. He comes to the show hours before time, and even if he doesn't look at me I can tell he is watching everything."
In the case of Michael Jackson, it has evidently been somewhat easier to forge a much more formal working relationship. Indeed, Avram has become one of the superstar's closest advisers, a ready confidante and at his disposal nearly all of the time. The two men first established contact in the '70s, during a European tour by the Jackson Five, the German leg of which was promoted by MAMA Concerts. Once the Jacksons had gone their separate ways, the working relationship between Jackson and Avram really began to develop, and in 1988 the European section of the former's debut solo world tour was directed by Avram in conjunction with the London-based BCC.
"Michael Jackson is, on one hand, a very sensible businessman and, on the other, an extremely creative and sensitive musician with feeling," says Avram. "He helps so many children in so many different countries, and as one of the founders of the Heal The World Foundation, he has donated an incredible amount of his earnings."
Avram loves his native Romania and regularly donates money to help the country's economic development. In 1992 he was endowed with diplomat status by the Romanian government and was made the Romanian Ambassador at Large for Special Projects.
Avram, for his part, loves his native Romania, and he regularly donates money to help the country's economic development. As a result, having already been awarded Germany's highest order of merit by President von Weizsäcker, in 1992 he was endowed with diplomat status by the Romanian government and was made the Romanian Ambassador at Large for Special Projects.
During a 1992 trip on the Orient Express with Michael Jackson, in the midst of his "Dangerous" tour, Avram took the opportunity to talk to him about the plight of the Romanian orphans. Jackson was familiar with the subject, having seen the distressing pictures of starving children broadcast on American television, and he duly agreed to lend his help to the charitable cause by performing a concert in Bucharest. He simply found it hard to believe that many of the kids there had never even been to a concert.
For Avram, this was a factor that required careful consideration, and throughout the tour he used every available chance to jet to Bucharest. There he would give television interviews and have Jackson's promo videos broadcast—not to help sell tickets, but rather to familiarize the Romanian children with Michael Jackson and therefore prepare the way for the artist's first-ever concert in Bucharest.
His efforts did not go unrewarded. On the evening of the concert, October 1, 1992, Jackson surpassed himself and turned in a performance that the audience would never forget. His newfound fans in Bucharest reacted more enthusiastically than at any other date on the tour, and for both performer and promoter this was a landmark occasion.
Yet Bucharest was just a start. There are still more territories awaiting their first exposure to major Western popular music concerts, and Avram are keen to explore such possibilities. The countries themselves, on the other hand, stand to benefit not only from the public standpoint, but also in terms of the local show promoters having the opportunity to experience first-hand how a large-scale production is properly structured and accomplished. "The Chinese government, in fact, has already invited Michael and I to go there," reveals Avram, "and we will do so as soon as possible."
"The first show MAMA Concerts promoted were by The Who, the second by Pink Floyd, the third by Deep Purple," says Avram. "And I can still remember every detail of those concerts."
MAMA Concerts' initial involvement with Rod Stewart and Michael Jackson came about at a time when their respective solo careers were about to take off, but it was quite a different situation with Prince, Chris de Burgh, Simple Minds, Dire Straits and Tina Turner. In Turner's case, a successful career during the '60s had faded somewhat during the first half of the next decade. But when Marcel saw her perform in 1972, he thought she was a knockout and has been a fan ever since. Record sales were limited, live-appearance attendances had diminished, but then the genius of her manager, Roger Davies, came into play. He saw to it that her raunchy image was revamped and updated, and arranged for her to record a new album—which would establish Turner as the vanguard exponent of a new pop-soul sound.
"I listened to the 'Private Dancer' album and was absolutely knocked out at what I heard," recalls Avram. "Tina sounded better than ever. Clearly, Roger had helped her to once again realize her tremendous potential."
Avram subsequently met with the two of them, and the result was a cautiously booked tour and a series of carefully considered television appearances in Germany. At the time, in addition to numerous local networks, there were only two nationwide channels in existence. Avram's involvement and experience in this field go back a number of years. There was "Rock Pop In Concert," which featured three to four bands performing on separate stages. Recorded live for later transmission, the show attracted the likes of Dire Straits, Simple Minds and U2, as well as numerous other acts that preferred to play live on TV rather than mime to a playback. In the early '80s, Avram started producing "Peter's Pop Show" for the ZDF network (currently known as "The ZDF Pop Show" and presented by MTV's Kristiane Backer). During the ensuing years, numerous other productions followed. In 1991 a Rod Stewart concert special was broadcast nationally in both Germany and Austria, and in 1993 a similar presentation, featuring Michael Jackson, was transmitted on RTL. This year, SAT 1 supported MAMA's Frank Sinatra European dates as well as the four-city "Rock Over Germany" extravaganza, attended by more than 850,000 people over the course of two weekends and featuring Stewart, Prince, Chris de Burgh, Joe Cocker, Duran Duran, OMD, Jon Secada, Foreigner, Peter Maffay and, yes, Tina Turner.
So it has been as a result of this type of experience and connections that, together with precise timing and promotional know-how, numerous artists' careers have benefited. Turner, for instance, within a year of her relaunch, was playing major venues instead of small clubs. In many cities throughout Europe—and especially in Germany— she was required to give multiple performances, and it was her rediscovered success there that partly served as the basis for a worldwide comeback that few would have predicted just a short time earlier. It was an incredible return to form for one of the greatest stars of the decade.
"Throughout my career, I have always needed a challenge," says Avram. "Everybody can do the usual, but when you have reached a certain level you have to offer something extraordinary, something unique."
Avram cites his courage and will to endure as the source of his own self-confidence. He learned to struggle and fight at an early age and says, "One should never forget where one comes from." To him, this is not just a saying but a statement of fact that constantly spurs him on. "I have had to fight," he admits, "like a 15-year-old kid in the slums of Harlem who wants to get out. I was poor long enough. I want my children to have an easier life."
For Marcel Avram, adversity and oppression were practically a way of life right from the very start. Born in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, he was only a year old when World War II broke out in 1939. Invasion by the German forces led to dire and tragic consequences for the Jewish people, and for the next six years, the Avram family faced the constant threat of deportation, incarceration and eventual death. Only the Greek passport of Marcel's father saved the family from such a fate. Although the Soviet liberation of Romania in 1945 ended any direct threat to survival, life for the Avrams was nevertheless still one of hardship and deprivation.
Avram states that his vocation was really determined by two main elements: "the music I heard from my mother, who was a dance teacher, and the gift for business and management that I inherited from my father."
Then the State of Israel was founded in 1948 and events took a dramatic turn. "We were among the first immigrants," Avram recalls. "After arriving by boat in Haifa, we were accommodated in the San Lux reception center, which amounted to living in tents and was quite depressing. My father became ill, and so we were very happy when we were able to find a tiny apartment— just 130 square feet—beside a hospital in Jaffa."
Later on, Avram's parents managed to secure him a place at the Christian French boarding school, which was located quite close to their home. When Avram was 16, yet another move took the family to Germany. Two years later, Avram completed his schooling and joined his father's flourishing import-export business. Learning the ropes while traveling regularly back and forth between Frankfurt and Teheran, Avram eventually started his own fruit-selling business with his father's backing. He now states that his vocation was really determined by two main elements: "the music I heard from my mother, who was a dance teacher, and the gift for business and management that I inherited from my father."
Another major influence during this period, however, was the rise of rock 'n' roll music. Avram's first real contact with it was a Frankfurt concert by Bill Haley & the Comets, the first real heroes of the genre, who made a massive impression on kids all over Europe when they toured there in the mid-'50s.
"What I saw and heard was really fantastic," Avram recalls. "I was completely captivated. Rock 'n' roll was my music, and the concert was pure magic. After that, came the likes of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and popular music shows moved out of the small clubs and into the major concert halls and theaters. Discos began to open up all over the place, and the pop groups multiplied. The whole atmosphere of the entertainment business was irresistible to me."
Nevertheless, it was not until Avram was 30 years old, in 1968, that he met the group of people who were to initiate his move into a music-related career. One was Peter Hauke, who was a step ahead of Avram and already organizing concerts. In due course, the two men began to talk about business, and when Avram discovered that Hauke's company was in need of a cash injection, he seized the moment and stepped in.
Hauke had two major concerts lined up for 1968, one featuring Steppenwolf and the other the Beach Boys. The contracts were ready for signatures, but there was one little problem holding things up at the promoter's end: not enough money to pay the artists' fees. Avram was able to remedy the situation and in turn became Hauke's partner.
The fees were guaranteed, the contracts were signed, the shows went ahead, and Marcel Avram became a full-fledged concert promoter. Yet his initiation into the world of major-scale entertainment was far from trouble-free. Indeed, he soon discovered that a big name on the contract didn't guarantee big returns at the box office, and his initially optimistic expectations were often dashed when even sell-out concerts failed to deliver a profit. Time and again, Avram had to reach into his own pockets in order to bail the company out of trouble, and eventually the partnership with Hauke fell apart. Avram found himself investing more and more money into the ailing business and, after 18 months, he decided that enough was enough and called it quits.
Avram was not finished with the music business, however. Far from it. The whole experience may have left a somewhat sour taste in his mouth, but it nevertheless whetted his appetite and inspired him to rise to the challenge. As a result, in 1970 MAMA Concerts was founded in conjunction with junior partner Marek Lieberberg, who had been the press officer for the Hauke-Avram company. The first two letters of the names Marcel and Marek were combined to form the word MAMA.
Determined to learn from the mistakes of the past, the two men set about running the new business with total commitment. "We learned every day, with each concert, each tour, each group," recalls Avram. "The first show we promoted was by the Who, the second by Pink Floyd, the third by Deep Purple, and I can still remember every detail of those concerts."
The fledgling company was presented with an ideal niche in the fast-developing German rock and entertainment market, and it moved in swiftly to occupy it. In due course, the business expanded rapidly, as the inspired approach of delivering the right bands at the right time set new standards nationally. Indeed, it was in large part thanks to MAMA that the German concert scene began to realize its true potential. Among the acts to profit from this development were Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Yes, Uriah Heep and Neil Diamond.
Chris de Burgh, on the other hand, was playing to virtually empty houses on his first-ever headline tour of Germany, yet Avram never lost faith in his ability and his star potential. Today, still promoted by Avram, the Irishman fills arenas and tops festival bills. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that manager Kenny Thomson, associate Dave Margerison and Avram are the very best of friends.
In the early '70s, the potent fusion of musical talent with a highly professional style of presentation meant that the stature of artists and promoter both grew as the audiences increased in numbers. Pink Floyd, for instance, kicked off 1971 by playing some of the larger clubs in Germany, and by the end of that year the band had graduated to the first open-air festivals there. The group moved up to large concert halls and, ultimately, sports stadiums. "Floyd is now a worldwide institution," comments Avram, "and one of the five biggest bands on earth."
MAMA Concerts, meanwhile, was priming itself to take a page out of Woodstock's book. "I followed the  Woodstock event very closely," explains Avram, "and I determined to stage similar events in Germany featuring really big names. The first festival I created was in Speyer in 1971. The second, in 1972, was on a piece of land in the middle of the Rhine near Germersheim, and it was the biggest festival ever seen in Germany up until that time. It featured 30 acts appearing over the course of three days, including Floyd, the Doors, and the Faces with Rod Stewart."
At that time, MAMA Concerts was the only company presenting outdoor shows in Germany, and the stylish way in which it did so dramatically altered the landscape of the live entertainment business there. Avram and Lieberberg were determined to build on this solid and fast-growing reputation, and more major events soon followed.
There were, for example, the first concert tours of Germany to be undertaken by both Diana Ross and the Jackson Five; and Leonard Cohen's visit in 1972 was the first pan-European undertaking by MAMA Concerts. With the business expanding so rapidly, there was an urgent need to find larger premises, and Avram duly rented new office space on Munich's Sendlingerstrasse as an adjunct to the Frankfurt office.
Then, in the late '70s, Marcel Avram took the logical and inevitable step of visiting one of the countries whose music provided the lifeblood for the MAMA Concerts agency. He went to the United States with the specific intention of making vital contacts there and digesting all of the information he could about the U.S. scene. The visit was instrumental in generating new ideas for the company and widening the scope of activity while providing a clear focus of direction. Above all, however, it reinforced Avram's commitment to careful planning and to always acting in the best interests of the artists and their music. The results were soon plain to see.
In May of 1980, MAMA promoted the first edition of what has now become an annual event—the Munich Reitstadion open-air festival. The inaugural concert was headed by Fleetwood Mac and Bob Marley.
In the early '70s, MAMA Concerts was the only company presenting outdoor shows in Germany, and the stylish way in which it did so dramatically altered the landscape of the live entertainment business there.
A year later, fans flocked from all over the continent to see the historic staging of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" at the Dortmunder Westfalenhalle. By that time, it was very clear that MAMA Concerts was providing services that went well beyond the scope of conventional concert promotion. The organization of press conferences, album presentations, television and radio appearances, and even career advice were all on the agenda. Eventually, in 1985, this ever-expanding workload necessitated another move to larger premises. With this came the establishment of the company's present headquarters on the Promenadeplatz in the center of Munich.
In 1986, after 18 highly successful years together, Avram and Lieberberg decided to call it a day and go their separate ways. Avram took a 100% share in MAMA Concerts and operated out of Munich, while Lieberberg decided to go independent in Frankfurt.
Yet, within just over a couple of years, Avram had gravitated back toward a partnership. He took the entire concert industry by surprise when he merged his own company with the prestigious Lippmann + Rau to form MAMA Concerts & Lippmann + Rau, Germany's largest concert promotion agency.
In May 1980, MAMA promoted the first edition of the annual Munich Reitstadion open-air festival. The inaugural concert was headed by Fleetwood Mac and Bob Marley.
"For years, Fritz Rau and Horst Lippmann had been my idols within the business," says Avram. "But I was somewhat in awe, and I couldn't ever quite summon up the courage to talk to them—not, that is, until October 1988, when I spent some time with Fritz."
"For my part, just prior to my 60th birthday I was thinking seriously about my future as a promoter," adds Rau. "You see, Lippmann + Rau had become a one-man show because Horst had not been active for many years. Then a promotion colleague of mine suggested that I talk to Marcel. We met, we talked and we became partners."
Simple as that. Says Avram, "The only mistake we made—and we both agree on this—was that we left it until January 11, 1989, to merge our companies. We both would have profited by doing it 14 years earlier. Fritz is a fantastic guy—an extremely calm and clever man, with a very lucid mind."
The merger was labeled "a marriage of elephants." The fusion of MAMA Concerts, with an annual gross revenue of 52 million marks (approximately $33 million), and Lippmann + Rau, with its annual gross of 35 million marks ($24 million), was considered by many to be a virtual monopoly, constituting a major threat to competitors, some of whom sought intervention by the antitrust commission.
Such pleas, however, apparently fell on deaf ears. During the ensuing years, the annual gross of MAMA Concerts & Rau has increased to a massive 120 million marks ($80 million), representing a rise of approximately 38%. The company currently presents an average of 800-plus events a year, with 65% of its income generated by Anglo-American artists, 25% by German acts and 10% by Italian performers.
In terms of audience figures, however, Germany still stands as MAMA Concerts & Rau's major market, and the 1990 reunification of the country offers even greater potential. At the same time, the company is also extremely active in numerous other territories: Austria and Switzerland have traditionally been involved in the MAMA scheme of things, and since 1979 the field of operations has been extended to include Scandinavia, Benelux, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
"To me, expanding on an international level involves chemistry," explains Avram. "What with my father being Greek, my mother being Romanian, and all of us living in Israel, it is hardly surprising that I am used to foreign countries and the different mentalities of their people."
Today, Avram looks after the interests of artists such as Simple Minds, Chris de Burgh and Rod Stewart throughout Europe. There is undoubtedly a wide range of new possibilities on the horizon, with the advent of the single market providing for the free flow of people, goods, services and capital among the 12 member states of the European Economic Community—which boasts a combined population of around 340 million people.
One enterprise from which Marcel feels that the European territories could vastly benefit would be the construction of amphitheaters, similar to those in the United States. "The 20,000-capacity Waldbühne in Berlin is a good example of one that already exists over here," he says. "Having a venue that can accommodate between 10,000 and 12,000 fans under cover and a similar number out on the grass is perfectly geared for events taking place between April and October. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, even Britain—all needs this type of facility. This could be the future for Europe. I think it would be very successful, and I for one would like to be involved in such a venture."
Since 1989, the company has gone out of its way to pursue a global strategy, and this has enabled Avram to produce the worldwide tours of megastars such as Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart. Jackson's "Dangerous" tour involved the most complex staging and production ever devised for a rock operation.
There were no less than six technical supervisors keeping an eye on rehearsals for the shows in Los Angeles and transmitting computer graphics back to the U.K. in order to cover any necessary changes to the set. Production equipment weighing more than 160 tons was flown from Los Angeles (where it took two days to load) in two giant Antonov Russian freight planes to London's Stanstead Airport, before being transferred to 65 trucks. And last, but certainly not least, there was the all-important traveling entourage. From the U.S., this numbered a modest total of 145 people—rising to 235 when additional crew members were brought in from Europe. In all, they traveled in 13 different tour buses, while Jackson himself flew in a privately chartered Boeing 727.
As for the tour itself, an unexpected complication arose in Israel. When a date and time—Saturday, September 18, 8 p.m.—were announced for Jackson's open-air performance at The Park in Tel Aviv, the Rabbinic Representative (RR) objected that it would contravene the laws of the Jewish Sabbath.
There are numerous religious rules regarding the Sabbath observed by orthodox Jews from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday each week. For instance, the use of motorized transport of any kind—cars, taxis, buses, trains—is forbidden. Even the state-owned El Al airline is grounded during the Sabbath hours. Even though the Tel Aviv gig was due to start at 8 p.m. - a full four hours after the end of the Sabbath - the RR reasoned that visitors from all over the country would be traveling throughout the day to reach the venue. Therefore, if the concert were to go ahead as announced, he would have no option but to refuse the kosher license for the sponsor, Pepsi, making it illegal to sell the drink again in Israel.
Avram tried to compromise by suggesting a start time of an hour later, pointing out that the entire country can be traversed in less than five hours. The RR refused. Moving the concert forward to either Thursday or Friday was also impossible, because, by sheer chance, these happened to be the days when the Jewish New Year would be celebrated. So, what to do?
"Without further delay, I decided to postpone the concert until the following Monday," recalls Avram. "That was the only solution. After all, we might have some Christians among us and of course they ought not to work on Sunday!"
It is due to Fritz Rau that German superstars such as Peter Maffay and Udo Jürgens are now incorporated into the MAMA roster. Theirs are household names in Germany and, as such, they sell massive quantities not only of their recordings but also concert tickets. Yet, thanks to the ever-dependable Anglo-American aversion to all things that are not spoken or sung in English, they—and their numerous European counterparts— are practically unheard of outside their home territory. What with MAMA's expanding international influence, however, and its dedication to music right across the spectrum—from pop to R&B, classical to folk, reggae to traditional Schlager—things could be about to change.
In the meantime, another major contribution by Fritz Rau to the company has been his introduction into the fold of such internationally renowned acts as Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Jethro Tull and Roger Whittaker. And, since the merger, relations with the likes of the Rolling Stones and Prince have been intensified and strengthened. Meanwhile, some very firm friendships have been forged with many of the clients on MAMA Concerts & Rau's books.
When soccer-mad Rod Stewart is on tour, a football game is organized at least twice a week—with Stewart, Avram, the accountant and the management forming one side, and the road crew the other. "This is a must," says Avram, "but it is not without its little problems. On one occasion, I got injured in a tackle and had my leg in plaster for weeks. On another, Rod bet me that the crew would win. I backed my own team, but for once we lost and I ended up having to buy Rod's white Ferrari sports car!"
When soccer-mad Rod Stewart is on tour, a football game is organized at least twice a week—with Stewart, Avram, the accountant and the management forming one side, and the road crew the other.
There are safer ways in which Marcel Avram can indulge his interest in sports. For example, he has staged WWF wrestling in Germany for the past three years and he is currently looking to bring American gridiron NFL games to Germany.
There has been much curiosity as to the working relationship between Avram and his partner Fritz Rau. Although they are both clearly very strong characters—an attribute without which they would not be where they are today—there is never any clash of temperaments. "We never quarrel," says Rau. "And not for one moment have I regretted going into partnership with Marcel. He is one of the few people in this business who works even harder than I do!"
According to Rau, the secret of the partnership's success is that both men have a deep respect for one another. "He doesn't want to make another Avram out of me and I don't wish to make a Rau out of him," he says. "He accepts me for who I am, with both my weak and my strong points, and I respond in the same way toward him. Were this not the case, the partnership just would not work. So after five years, I can honestly say that we collaborate extremely well."
"What we have to offer at MAMA Concerts & Rau is a fully cohesive unit," adds Avram, referring not only to the 30-strong staff based at the Munich headquarters, but also to an organization that has reciprocal working arrangements with a number of partners across Europe: Thomas Johannson of EMA Telstar in Sweden; Leon Ramakers of Mojo Concerts in the Netherlands; Andre Bechir of Good News in Switzerland; Maurizio Salvadori of the Trident Agency in Italy; Pino Sagliocco of the Creative European Group in Spain; Michel Perl and Paul Ambach of Make It Happen in Belgium; Alvaro Ramos of R&R Productions in Portugal; Jackie Lombard of Inter Concerts in France; and Barrie Marshall of Marshall Arts, Barry Clayman of BCC, Danny Betesh of Kennedy Street, Barry Dickens of ITB, Tim Parsons of MCP, Rod McSween and Harvey Goldsmith in the U.K.
Yet the MAMA Concerts & Rau Company is not solely concerned with concert promotion. Thanks to the wide-ranging background and experience of its senior colleagues, it is also well-versed in the disciplines of recording, marketing, merchandising and artist development.
Klaus Boenisch, for example, managing director of MAMA Concerts GmbH, is also a qualified lawyer, whose working relationship with Avram began in the '70s. In those days, Boenisch worked for MAMA Concerts in order to help finance his law studies and, once he had graduated, he joined CBS Records in Frankfurt as assistant to the managing director. He then formed his own concert promotions company and, in 1987, returned to MAMA Concerts and took over the post of general manager.
Today, in his role as MD, he concentrates on two major tasks: "We have to recognize new trends and market them well in order to enrich our already successful repertoire with young, upcoming artists," he says. "This is the only way to remain competitive in the future."
The other aim is to branch out into other areas of the entertainment industry. Boenisch places particular emphasis on family entertainment, resulting in such promotions as WWF wrestling, the Chinese National Circus and the German tour of "Sesame Street."
"The advent of the single European market, plus the public's growing use of electronic media, forces a promoter to not only recognize new leisure activities right from the start, but also to market them on an international level," observes Boenisch, conceding, "It often takes a lot of courage to outgrow old habits."
Deputy managing director Gerd Ludwigs, on the other hand, specializes in marketing. He was around when Avram launched MAMA Concerts in 1970, and after stints elsewhere—including a spell as the head of international A&R for a group of major record labels—he returned to the company in July 1992.
In the meantime, since November 1992, a new division has been operating at the MAMA Concerts & Rau headquarters: Das Haus der Neuen Töne (The House Of New Sounds). Michael Loeffler, former owner of Hammer Promotion in Frankfurt, heads this division, and he keeps in close contact with what is going on music-wise in the world. Thus far, Loeffler has displayed a real knack for discovering bands of true potential— such as Living Colour, Spin Doctors, Smashing Pumpkins, Soul Asylum, Arrested Development, the Toy Dolls, the Mission, Teenage Fanclub and the Wonder Stuff, to name but a few.
There is a desire to branch out into other areas of the entertainment industry, with particular emphasis on family entertainment—resulting in such promotions as WWF wrestling, the Chinese National Circus and the German tour of "Sesame Street."
"The search for new talent is a vital aspect of our business," says Avram. "These bands are part of our future."
Also on the agenda is the launch of MAMA's new record label, which is aimed at providing young talent with the basis for a well-rounded, long-term career. The basic concept is to combine MAMA's touring experience with its knowledge of the recording industry, enabling bands actually to learn how to perform in a live situation before ctct entering a studio.
This was how things used to be in the pre-techno-pop era, when artists often had to ply their trade night after night for several years before they were signed by a record company. Today, the opposite is frequently true, with more and more recordings taking place in computerized, home-type setups and fewer and fewer engineers knowing what a real drum kit even looks like, let alone how to mike one up.
"Record companies today would rather put young talent into the studio and spend vast amounts of money on videos, instead of giving them the opportunity to gain live experience," says Dirk Hohmeyer, who will be running the new MAMA label. "This is the reason so many young bands, especially high-tech bands, do not play live. In the old days it was different. Bands were head-hunted by the record companies after they had made a name for themselves by doing live shows.
"It is therefore our intention to find talent and initially give people the opportunity to play live. This way they can both develop their material and learn how to work with an audience before going into a studio to record. In such cases, MAMA Concerts can arrange tours along with clubs, arenas or stadiums, because it is our belief that good craftsmanship and live music experience are the essential keys to a successful career."
Avram points out that, in terms of supporting an act, the policy of most major labels today is to spend the best part of an allotted budget on a large advance and then promote the act by way of video. Tours may also find favor, but nonetheless they are tied in with a record's release, and so it is often the scheduling that can let a project down. "If an album has been out four to six months, and you go to the record company and say, 'Let's do a tour now,' you won't get that much support," Avram warns, indicating that much of the funding is spent at the time of the record's release. "They do hope, however, that the tour will generate additional album sales.
"So the best record company support can be achieved if the album release and tour coincide. The days when record companies made up big shortfalls are over, because now we are in the video age. Videos can be played at any time all over the world, without the band having to go out on tour. So, invariably, more money is now spent on producing a video. After all, a video can always be made to look good even if the band isn't!"
After spending a quarter of a century in the business, and having scaled the heights of his profession, Avram is every bit in love with his job today as he was in the beginning. To him, there are always fresh challenges to face, new achievements to enjoy, and that extra special something keeps spurring him on. He still finds the same excitement in what he does.
"I am happy that I started out 25 years ago," he says in a reflective moment. "This does not mean that today I am no longer aggressive enough or do not have the energy anymore. I'm sure I'd still win out if I started now, but the early days were different. Of course, we didn't have the telecommunications we have now and the industry wasn't as developed—but this also meant that the main thing was playing music. There was less paperwork then because the business side was nothing compared to today. The productions were also a lot smaller. A big production would have two to three trucks. There were no light shows, no massive sound systems. Nowadays, a show becomes a piece of art, but I don't know if the music always matches up."
Avram feels that, for all the benefits, one of the major drawbacks of modern production technology is that, if an artist goes on the road with a smaller show than the time before, it is immediately deemed to be inferior. "The production really dictates the tour," he says, "not the music. If you have released a mediocre album, you can disguise this by putting on a big production.
"So the reality is that the money is actually being made by the trucking companies, the sound companies, the lighting companies—not the promoter. The promoter is the one who guarantees the fees, but he himself has no guarantee that he is going to earn money." While Avram asserts that artist guarantees are based on the estimated value of a performer and how many people he or she can attract to the box office, he also likens the method of doing this to having a price put on a work of art at Sotheby's. "The evaluation may be based, for example, on record sales, and while 80% of the time this may turn out to be correct, there is also another 20% where you go wrong," he says. "The Rolling Stones, for example, sell more tickets than albums. Or take Rod Stewart: although he sells a lot of albums he is an even bigger live attraction."
If, judging by attendance figures and box office receipts, an act's value has, in fact, been overestimated, Avram feels that, having done the best he can, he should be entitled to approach the manager with a view to renegotiating. "It should not have to be a problem," he says.
"I mean, when you go to a restaurant and pay a lot of money and the food is not what you expected, you don't go back there. However, I personally do not like to renegotiate. I am a man who keeps to his word. There has been the odd occasion when I have gone to a manager and said, 'I paid you too much,' but even then— with one exception—I never got anything back anyway. So, basically, I believe that the artist should be guaranteed his expenses, but the guarantee on top should be negotiated. After all, why pay X amount of money in advance just because people around the artist believe that X number of tickets will be sold?"
The basic concept of MAMA's new record label is to combine the company's touring experience with its knowledge of the recording industry, enabling bands actually to learn how to perform in a live situation before ever entering a studio.
Today, Avram continues to move onward and upward, forever diversifying and undertaking more and more activities on behalf of the artist, making it easier for him or her to concentrate on the job of putting on a first-class show for the people who spent their money on the tickets.
"As the producer of a tour, my responsibilities include transportation, hotel accommodation, and sound and sight production," he says. "I will take care of booking a hotel for, say Michael Jackson or Rod Stewart, and if they decide which sound and lighting systems they want to use, I will see to it that they get what they want.
"At the same time, here at MAMA Concerts we are more than aware that our role does not place us at the center of the universe. We don't want to be the biggest, but we want to accomplish the most professional job possible. And I am at my best when I am producing tours, using a global view. I am a promoter and I like to promote.
"I was born in this business and I want to end my life in this business."
Marcel Avram Speaks About The Business Of Music Shows
By Mike Hennessey
It is characteristic of Marcel Avram that, notwithstanding the host of memorable events and impressive achievements that have marked his 25 years as a concert promoter, he prefers not to dwell on the past but to look ahead to the future. Meticulous planning, vision and foresight have always been key elements in the Avram philosophy.
He says, "What has happened in the past is not so important—it is what is happening today and what will happen tomorrow that really count."
And when he looks to the future, Avram sees that "for concert promoters, the prospects are not as bright as for other sectors of the music and entertainment industry. I think that our branch of the business will, in the long run, be absorbed by the big record companies.
"The past years have seen major developments in the realm of mergers and of vertical integration. The big multinational companies have acquired more and more independents, and they have also taken over music publishing groups and merchandising companies. So they have a stake in almost every area from which their artists derive income.
"I think in the years ahead we shall see small promoters going out of business, because the risks involved in concert promotion today are huge. Record companies will develop their own concert divisions to organize tours for their contract artists.
"We in concert promotion and production have lagged way behind the record business over the years. The record companies have developed into huge worldwide industries and have become extremely powerful, whereas promoters are largely restricted to operating in one or two countries and are in a much riskier business."
But if you ask Avram why, when the outlook is so much better for record companies, he has remained in the concert promotion business instead of building a record empire, he says simply, "I am what I am. I don't want to run a record company, be an artist manager, an agent or a music publisher. They do a fantastic job, but for me those jobs are not exciting enough. Those people are not gamblers. A promoter, in addition to his creativity, his eye for developing talent, his flexibility, his know-how and his public-relations flair, also has to be a gambler. Record companies are gamblers to a certain extent, but they are not dealing with the same odds."
"What has happened in the past is not so important—it is what is happening today and what will happen tomorrow that really count."
For Avram, the risk element in his business is exhilarating. "I love the unpredictability of my business—the possibility of discovering someone today who might be huge tomorrow, and then to be able to say, 'I played a part in this big adventure that brought an artist from nowhere to No. 1.' "
Avram also knows the other side of that particular coin. "You discover a promising act performing in a little club and put up the money for the band to make a small club tour. The act might make money in two or three venues and lose money in four or five—and the promoter has to pick up the tab.
"The financial risk is bigger than ever today because we are facing a worldwide recession and a significant decline in disposable income. People are thinking twice before they spend money on concert tickets. In addition, the production side is becoming more and more expensive. The agents, the artist managers, the trucking, lighting, sound and security companies run very little risk. They always get their money. But the promoter can never be certain he will recoup his investment.
"Sometimes, we only start to earn money on the last 10% or 15% of the people entering the auditorium. You have a seating capacity of 1,000, but you start to make money only after the 800th person has taken his seat. And maybe you only get 850 people that night because the weather is terrible or because there is a major soccer game or a big movie on television.
"If you are a small promoter without substantial financial backing that can only happen two or three times. Then you are out of business."
Avram believes that, as a matter of urgency, the trend of escalating production costs must be reversed. "With major tours today we are getting millions of dollars in receipts, but we are also laying out millions of dollars," he says. "Production expenses are getting out of hand, and this situation cannot continue. There has to be control of expenses because we cannot control the income. We can spend less and still maintain the same profitability with less risk. I am not suggesting a return to the old days of using just three or four amplifiers, but the production costs are becoming crazy."
This year Avram was involved in the most ambitious undertaking of his quarter-century career—the worldwide Michael Jackson tour, which he saw as a unique experience for both himself and the artist. Says Avram, "We don't know whether we'll make money. We all hope at least to break even. Michael Jackson has a message to give to the world and was keen to take his big show to places where he never appeared before. From the start, the concerts were unforgettable experiences. People really had never seen anything like it."
Taking the Michael Jackson show around the world involves the use of two massive Antonov cargo planes—each able to carry 120 tons of cargo—a DC8 for the dancers and a Boeing 727 for Jackson.
"It was one of the biggest events of my life," says Avram. "I consider myself very lucky to produce this tour. I coordinated Michael's European tours in 1988 and 1992. When Michael decided he wanted to do a world tour, he asked me to produce it. It was a tremendous and exciting challenge for me.
"You know, for Michael Jackson, whether he goes on stage in Buenos Aires, Singapore, Bangkok or Mexico City, it is the same for him—same stage, same backing, same lights, same sound. But for me, the variations between one country and another are considerable. I am used to stadiums all over the world, and I know how to put a stadium show together. But when it comes to the matters of local taxes, airport clearances, different local conditions and regulations, logistics, weather, insurance, language, different mentalities and so on, it's a whole minefield.
"A promoter, in addition to his creativity, his eye for developing talent, his flexibility, his know-how and his public-relations flair also has to be a gambler."
"But I thrive on dealing with problems, on overcoming them and making things go smoothly. When Michael Jackson goes on stage, he puts all his problems behind him and concentrates 100% on his performance. He is, without doubt, one of the biggest artists of our time."
Avram says that one of the most gratifying aspects of his job is the warmth of his relationship with many of his artist clients.
"Rod Stewart—one of my favorite artists—is a really close friend. I go out with Rod, have dinner with him, and play soccer with him. We have been working together for more than 20 years, with one short gap in between. And now I am producing his world tour, which includes many American dates, open-air concerts in Canada and festivals in Europe. This is shaping up to become his most successful tour ever. His last album, 'Unplugged...And Seated,' has been an enormous success. He is also one of the world's greatest live entertainers, with a unique voice. I respect his talent enormously and I value his friendship equally."
The bond of loyalty between artist and promoter/producer is of vital importance to Avram, whose personality combines hard-headed business acumen with unashamed sentimentality.
"When it comes to the matters of local taxes, airport clearances, logistics, weather, insurance, language, different mentalities and so on, it is a whole minefield."
"Loyalty is not such a commonplace thing in our business," he says. "You can work with an act for 15 years and then, suddenly, they leave you to go with someone else who offers more money. That happened several times to my present partner, Fritz Rau, and to my competitors. And it sometimes happened to me. For example, when I was working with my former partner, we had Dire Straits on our books. But after our joint company split up, the band decided to go with my ex-partner. I don't know why, because I was the one who got them television at the beginning of their career, and I was the person who really discovered them for Germany and took care of their shows right from the start. But maybe they had some other reasons.
"It also happened with U2, for whom I got television appearances and festival bookings. I knew that they were going to become big—with or without me (though perhaps sooner with me)—but eventually they signed with another promoter. And that's the way it goes. You win some, you lose some. But the reality is that we promoters still have to put up the money to promote and break new artists and we never know if they will remain loyal when they start to get successful. Up to now, 95% of artists have been loyal to me, but the 5% that left me—that hurts, because there was no good reason for them to go."
Looking to 1994, Avram believes that the touring season will be less active than it was this year. "This year has seen tours by Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, Guns N' Roses, Madonna, Dire Straits, Tina Turner, Prince, Whitney Houston, Eros Ramazzotti and Deep Purple. Everyone was on the road. There will certainly be fewer tours next year."
The bond of loyalty between artist and promoter/producer is of vital importance to Avram, whose personality combines hard-headed business acumen with unashamed sentimentality.
One of the major MAMA promotions next year will be a world tour of at least 80 concerts by Yes, accompanied by a large orchestra. Says Avram, with a typical lack of false modesty, "I have a lot of ideas for next year. I am a volcano of ideas. We will probably do a Neil Diamond tour of Germany and, at the end of the year, an AC/DC tour. And of course, all the time we will be looking to discover and develop new acts, to groom the stars of tomorrow."
Despite his prediction regarding the assimilation of the concert promotion business into the operations of the multinational record companies, Avram is completely confident that MAMA Concerts & Rau will continue to prosper for at least another 25 years. "I am not worried about the future," he says. "I have very talented colleagues in their 30s and 40s who will keep the company going. I think that by the time we get to the year 2000, I myself should be ready to step down."
The friends, business colleagues and worldwide associates of Marcel Avram can certainly be forgiven if they find that last remark a little hard to believe.
In terms of personal ambitions, Avram is quite clear. "The first priority is to remain healthy, to retain my family's love and to keep our relationship on a happy basis—which is not always easy for people in the music business spending a great deal of time away from home. I hope I don't fail in this. And I still want to go on presenting and producing new acts. We have highly promising artists like the Spin Doctors, Soul Asylum and also Lenny Kravitz, who I believe is going to be a major star. I am still a rock 'n' roll fan—you have to be in this business. You have to know the music, love the music and respect the music.
"Respect for the music and the people who make it is something that some of the people in the music industry tend to forget. It is especially important to respect the artists who try their best, even though their talent is limited. The other side of
that is to see very talented people who are lazy and self-destructive. That's a terrible waste."
Although he much prefers to look ahead rather than to reflect on the past, Avram retains some special memories of his 25 years as a concert promoter—not all of them happy.
"There have been some festivals I thought were runners that just didn't work out. One of my biggest disappointments was a huge touring festival I staged a few years ago with AC/DC, Motley Crue and Metallica, among other bands. The event was very successful in open-air venues in Mainz and in Munich, but indoors in Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund we could hardly fill the halls. Nobody could figure out why, and I still don't know the answer."
Not knowing the answer is not regarded by Avram as a totally negative state of affairs. "You don't always know what is right and wrong, but I think that is one of the good things about this business. You always try to get it right, but sometimes you just don't know."
"I am still a rock 'n' roll fan—you have to be in this business. You have to know the music, love the music and respect the music."
But the good memories immensely outweigh the bad. Avram recalls with enormous enthusiasm the Rod Stewart 80-concert European tour two years ago: "Unfortunately, Rod got a throat infection and had to cancel five or six dates. But that was a fantastic rock 'n' roll tour. We all loved that tour. The Michael Jackson tours have been superb. And the Tina Turner tours have been out of this world. She is a wonderful artist. Prince's last European tour was also outstanding."
One of Avram's most abiding music memories is that of seeing Ike and Tina Turner in Frankfurt in the late '60s, which he says was an unforgettable experience. "I will never forget the magical feeling I had, watching and listening to Tina on stage."
And does he get that same feeling today when he stands in the wings and watches one of his acts performing?
"When an artist is getting an ovation in a packed stadium and I come out and look around, I just think that a little piece of that glory belongs to me. And that's a special feeling."
"Yes and no. The thrill of the performance is the same. However, when I saw Tina, I enjoyed the music tremendously and I liked the way the musicians and dancers were performing on stage. But at that time I was not for a moment dreaming of ever becoming a promoter and producer of such concerts. Whereas today, when an artist is getting an ovation in a packed stadium and I come out and look around, I just think that a little piece of that glory belongs to me. And that's a special feeling.
"Another special feeling in this business is when you open the stadium doors and see an enormous throng of people moving into the auditorium. That is the joy and reward for all the hard work. It makes me feel that I am a very lucky guy."