By Jose Oliveira and Rosine Alleva, Journalist/Photographers–Rock At Night France Correspondents
Location: Paris January 24, 2017
From Medicine to Rock ‘n’ Roll
Gérard DROUOT created his own production company in 1986, one of the most important and successful European Rock Entreprises, “GERARD DROUOT PRODUCTIONS” based in Paris. He’s known as a magnetic promoter who is specialized in attracting huge acts from diverse genres of music. He produced AC/DC, Joe Satriani, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Lenny Kravitz, Elton John, R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Santana among others. But also a long list of French artists and big events (the 40th and 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with Amnesty International, Nice Jazz Festival…)
He could have been a French doctor if he would have finished his medicine studies. But finally, forty three years ago, afraid to send someone to the grave, he decided to blow some stardust on the Rock planet instead!
Rock At Night (RAN) recently interviewed the distinguished rock promoter in Europe, Gérard Drouot. Please check out the fascinating interview below!
RAN- Before approaching the showbiz what did you do?
Gérard Drouot – it’s forty three years I’m working in the field of concerts. Mainly rock, pop, jazz and today classical music as well and more, but before I didn’t do much. I was a student in medicine for many years before realizing that I was more attracted by concerts organization. Maybe was I afraid to make a wrong diagnostic and send somebody to the grave, because I would have made a mistake. At least, by organizing concerts, I try to give happiness and send some stardust to the people.
RAN- And you do this pretty well!! Can you tell us about your first steps in the business, I believe it was in Strasbourg?
GD- Not really, It all began in Reims. In the office you can see a concert poster I did on December 13th, 1974 in Reims, my home town, where I studied medicine. It was one of my very first concerts and, with the support, the friendship and Assad DEB’s collaboration (today responsible for the CORRIDA Company and the CIGALLE, I organized a concert with TANGERINE DREAM and NICO, in the Cathedral of Reims. This concert attracted 5000 people, much more than expected. We speak about 1974, a big success! The concert had been broadcast live on the radio, by France Inter. It was incredible. The same evening, in a rock broadcast managed by Pierre LATES, there were guests including a famous photographer who worked a lot for Rock&Folk magazine, Jean-Pierre LELOIR. A concert which opened me the doors to the media and to the profession. Suddenly people were wondering who was this young 22 years old guy who organized it. I don’t take this as a glory, but it helped me to awaken the interest of professional people. And a few months later, a producer from Strasbourg HARRY LAPP, called me and hired me to come to Strasbourg, end of 77. I continued my adventure in Reims with Music Action Reims association. I believe my first official concert was on April 16, 1974, a few months before the TANGERINE DREAM one, with the French band MAGMA! What is funny, is that I’m going to produce MAGMA in about 10 days in Paris, at the OLYMPIA. They’re the artists I work the longest with. I first thought it was LEONARD COHEN. When he died last December, I found the first concert poster I did with him, in 76.
RAN- It’s going to be a very special moment, I imagine! What were the biggest difficulties at that time for the organization of these concerts? It wasn’t that easy I guess.
GD- Oh! It was much easier than today! There were less documents to be filled. Things were more agreed on trust, by word of mouth. Today we are restrained, watched everywhere. For sure it’s to try to improve things in a more formal way, which allows more safety. It is true that the paperwork, the authorizations, the contracts changed the situation a lot.
RAN- And what did evolve since then?
GD – What evolved the most, is the technique. The sound, the light were relatively simple at that time. Today there is a mad rush towards bigger shows, perform in bigger venues. There were no stadiums in France, only the BEATLES, filled stadiums in the USA! Today artists can afford this. I am going to produce LES INSUS in September, two dates at the Stade de France, with probably 150 000 people! Forty years ago when an artist performed in Paris, he sold 2000 to 5000 tickets. Today we count up to 50, 100, even 200 thousands tickets.
RAN- Sold in a few minutes! Beyond the great quality of the artists, in the 70’s the light show was one of the main poles of the show attraction. GENESIS, YES and PINK FLOYD were truly the precursors. What is the place of France nowadays in the European circuit for Rock concerts?
GD- France holds a good position but England is actually the first Rock market in Europe. We, here, have a lot of shows, upper to countries like the Scandinavians, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, or Spain. I think we must be in 3rd position, behind England and Germany! But it all depends on artists, on the country regions, seasons, economy, and the music styles. But France remains an enormous market. Especially Paris, in view of its population. The other big french cities do not manage to compete with the capital in terms of attendance.
RAN – The largest part of concerts in France are organized through GDP. What is, today, the percentage in terms of competition?
GD – No I don’t have the largest part of concerts! Maybe the largest part as Producer, Independent promotor. But today more and more big companies are interested to produce live performances, with more or less success. In France, since a decade, LIVE NATION (a subsidiary of an American company) took up a French office and has a lot of success. But does not necessarily fetch all the artists. When LIVE NATION America or England is on a world tour with COLDPLAY, BEYONCE or any other, they also come to France. They also signed big French artists as INDOCHINE or PATRICIA KAAS. On the international level LIVE NATION is at present the biggest structure in France. I am maybe the biggest independent company but not the biggest all over! I have the biggest tour with the band LES INSUS, the former “TELEPHONE”, expected since a long time and who trusted me to make them turn after they reformed!
RAN- Yes! There you realized a masterstroke! There was such a craze in France for the reformation of this band and so many refusals from the musicians concerning a possible reformation! And here, magic is the right word, you succeed in what seemed impossible!
Did you feel the effect of the crisis in your business?
GD- Yes, of course. The country and Europe were unfortunately bereaved by the terrorism attacks which led to a crisis. In 2015, in particular after the BATACLAN attack, the end of year sales, which traditionally are very strong around Christmas time, were decimated, catastrophic. A loss on the tickets sales estimated at 1 million euros!! There were helps, funds to support the promoters to hold the financial shock but it didn’t exceed 10 %! I had to cancel tours because people were traumatized and did not go out anymore.
RAN – How can you explain the prohibitive prices of some concerts, not only in Paris, but also in other cities? Is this due to the substantial increase of the fees?
GD – It is prohibitive from the moment it’s not sold. The word “fee” is an old word! There is no fee anymore! Often the artists self produce and have a very important profit – sharing with the incomes. The wish to win more is real. Somebody asked me, why the tickets for the U2 concerts are so expensive, I suppose it’s because LIVE NATION and U2 want to earn money! I do not see other explanation (laughs). I’ve always been surprised that when artists play in stadiums, the tickets prices are not cheaper!! I still don’t get it! Nowadays, the artists take advantage of this situation to increase the tickets prices. But the market is free and people are not forced to buy tickets. Another reason is that since a few years, the black market developed a lot in the USA and in particular in England. When the artists put a ticket on sale at 50€, and the week after it was on resale on Internet at 100 or 200€!!! If people were ready to pay such sums, why not pay it to them directly. Forty years ago, compared to the income of people and the purchasing power, the tickets price was lower. Today it became something very important. There are often concerts at 100, 150, 200€, even more!
RAN – DONOVAN LEITCH asked at his last German tour (2016) 3000€ a person, and 13 people a day to have lunch with him!! Where is the Rock spirit in all this?
GD- I don’t know anything about this. It has nothing to do with the Rock n’Roll spirit. It is only a way to make money! This is not so expensive!! You know, you can invite big Hollywood actors “to dinner” at your table and it’s going to cost you $500 000 or even $1000 000!! Yesterday evening I was at a SIMPLY RED’s private concert at the Salle Pleyel, here in Paris, for the sales representatives of a company. These private concerts become a real fashion!
RAN – Are there calculated risks in this profession?
GD- We try to calculate them. We try to gauge what is in the best interest of the public for an artist. It’s precisely my work, trying to know if such artist is good at the Palais des Congrès, the Olympia, the Zenith, Bercy, if I cannot exceed 50€ for the ticket price or if I can put 100 or 150€. Here is the alchemy between expenses, capacity of the venue and ticket price. This is how we manage to make a financial quotation to the artist. Fees remind me a little a catalog with the picture, the name of the artist and opposite the price! That doesn’t exist!
There are artists I earn money with and later I lose money with! The wheel turns! Nothing is won in advance! I made one of the most beautiful tours in 2016, artistically speaking, with NEIL YOUNG, who made fabulous concerts and in the end, the result was a rather important deficit! Here we are! Will I stop working with NEIL YOUNG? No I hope not!
RAN- Is there an artist you would sign blindly?
GD- BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN!!! Without hesitation.
RAN – How many people do you employ in your company?
GD- I employ thirty three permanent people!
RAN – 2016 was a very prolific year regarding concerts for you. How does it look for 2017?
GD– We are in January, nothing is settled yet. There are quite a lot of things awaiting for signature but it all appears normal. I have two” Stade de France” with LES INSUS. LIVE NATION will present COLDPLAY, DEPECHE MODE, U2 and GUNS & ROSES in the same stadium. So, LIVE NATION and GDP are the only ones for the moment to organize these mega concerts.
RAN – How do you deal with the actual musics? How do you discover new talents? Have you time to listen to the radio or other communication networks? Or it is your son Matthieu who advises you?
GD- Unfortunately, I don’t have too much time! Because I dedicate most of it to the office. But I became a vynil records fan again. Finally the quality of the listening is better than on CD, even if my hearing is a little bit failing with the age. I don’t like compressed music. I didn’t like the MP3 at all, it is not music anymore! I listen to less music than before! If you count the hours in the office, to sleep, to have lunch or dinner, there’s not much time for me left.
RAN –Didn’t NEIL YOUNG try to seduce you with his revolutionary audio system, the PONO?
GD – Yes, yes, I bought it! It is magnificent! Really, you listen to music as on a vynil.
RAN- It’s incredible that he didn’t manage to find a wider echo for his product in the USA.
GD – Very surprising it didn’t work out!
RAN – Many promoters show publicly that they have a purely professional relationship with the artists whom they produce. Do you weave bonds of friendship with any?
GD- Friendship is too much to say. But I have privileged rapport, closer rapport, yes. With LES INSUS certainly. Because if I worked with them last year and will this year, it’s because I know them for forty years and I tried to set up the reformation of the band since about twenty years. It is not a coincidence if they decided to work with me. I am rather close to artists like MELODY GARDOT.
RAN- I think it’s you who launched MELODY GARDOT …
GD- Yes indeed. I recently talked with BONO, about U2, further to the fact of their production with LIVE NATION. We stay in touch, we will have a lunch this summer. MELODY is maybe the artist to whom I am the closest today but I know very well LENNY KRAVITZ, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and so many others but I do not necessarily go to visit them! LEONARD COHEN was not a close friend but we knew each other for forty years. That creates links! We called each other from time to time and I was invited in a ceremony in the Synagogue of Los Angeles, in the middle of December, a few days after his death. I was invited among the members of his family and his friends, that is a part of the artists’ long list with whom I worked throughout these forty years!
RAN- LEONARD COHEN invited me during his last visit to Colmar, to have breakfast with him. I met him after one of his concerts a few years before and we chatted about Portugal and the Portuguese Gastronomy. He had then told me, to live in MONTREAL in the Portuguese district. It was the most respectful man I ever met in the show business! To meet him and to discuss a little with him, was as to be received by the DALAI LAMA!!!
GD- Absolutely José! You’re right. It was an extraordinary artist and a man with exceptional human qualities.
RAN – France will be plunged this year into a presidential election. What do you expect from the next Government in the field of the Culture? Certain candidates recommend the VAT increase, which is again going to outbid the price of concert tickets.
GD- I don’t expect anything!! I’m not into politics and unfortunately I think that the politicians, whichever side, should think more about economy. I have already problems in managing a company with a turnover of Fifty million euros and with thirty three employees. It is a complicated, requiring and constant work, and when I see people who are elected to crucial positions in a country as France or the United States, that sometimes these people come from nowhere, I have doubts on their capacities at managing a country as big as France! Well, it is called the “democratic” system. I think that we reached the limits of this system today because we realize that behind that, in reality it is the power of the media and the money, who makes the rules! So, I am a little saddened to see the way the politics and the elections evolve at the moment.
RAN – I share your feeling completely !
Is there an artist who still feeds your dreams? Somebody who you would like to produce? NUNO BRAANCAMP, the Portuguese Promoter you know, still dreams to produce TINA TURNER!!
GD – I do not know if TINA will want to get back on stage but she is extraordinary! I never produced the ROLLING STONES! I did produce them individually: Charlie WATTS and KEITH RICHARD. Also MICK JAEGER when he came to sing at LENNY KRAVITZ’s concert in Paris. Yes, I would like to produce the ROLLING STONES!!
RAN – Will your son Matthieu succeed you in the company ? Are you going to retire?
GD- Yes, the succession is underway. Matthieu already has a role which becomes more and more important here. I am going to be 65 years old this year. Normally it’s when you retire. We know where we go, but I don’t know when I am going to stop. I always have the passion and the desire to do this job. And as long as these two qualities are there, the adventure must go on.
RAN- Do you give the opportunity to new talents to express themselves on stage, being the opening act to certain famous names?
GD- Yes, of course! I have a young French artist who has an English name, called French TOBACCO, who’s supporting many artists and now we try to start his solo career. Another very talented artist, Charles PASI and then also international ones like MELODY GARDOT, who in her early stages played in front of 300 people and today fills the prestigious venues. I also have an Israeli artist, Asaf AVIDAN, whom I started of absolutely nothing until I produced him in the biggest festivals and venues. And we are going to play soon at the Garnier Opera in Paris.
RAN – I’d like to say “bravo” for this current national tour you produce, with the band I consider as ” The Revival of the Rock’n’roll “, The TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT. I saw them in Portugal, Germany and France, last summer, and I was totally amazed. Transported into the magic of the Seventies!
GD – They are excellent, with a lot of potential and I hope that they are going to grow. And this evening they play at the “Divan du Monde” in Paris.
RAN – Yes I know, but it is sold out!
GD– You’re welcome this evening José! You’re cordially invited.
RAN – Thank you Gérard! It’s really nice of you. A message for FLORIDA? Did you already go there? I know you like the sun, palm trees….
GD – Unfortunately I only pass through Florida. It’s a beautiful place. I’m always in a run, you know.
Thank you very much! The telephone rang and already other tasks were waiting for this businessman….Businessman indeed!…but above all a Passionate Music Lover.
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Thanks for this BIG lesson, Jose Oliveira!