“We urgently and desperately need to reopen our venues without restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated,” says Germany’s Michael Brill (Marcus Pietrek / Courtesy D.Live)
D.Live CEO is among Impact International: UK/Euro honorees
The moment the first lockdown hit Germany, event company and venue operator D.Live immediately focused on projects that could be realized under an event ban and, more importantly, on helping to bring back events as soon as possible. The company pioneered the drive-in theater show in Germany, attracting 100,000 visitors to more than 90 events at Autokino Düsseldorf between April and July 2020.
Other major projects since March 2020 include delivering D.Live’s Mitsubishi Electric Halle as Europe’s first drive-in testing center, offering 24/7 PCR testing to the public. D.Live was responsible for design, logistics, technical equipment, communication and operation, and about 200,000 people have been tested on site.
In December 2020, Merkur Spiel-Arena became Germany’s first vaccination center, processing more than 630,000 people to date. Since March of this year, D.Live’s PSD Bank Dome has also operated as a testing center. PSD Bank Dome was also the site of Germany’s first post-lockdown arena show, promoted by D.Live: Ehrlich Brothers in September 2020, performing in front of 2,500 people. While the event offered “hope and vision for an industry,” according to D.Live CEO Michael Brill, it also made clear that production costs under “corona conditions” aren’t economically viable.
Brill and his team also launched a major investment: 14 million euros for technological improvements, renovations and additions to the D.Live portfolio of venues, which included rebuilding the backstage facilities of Mitsubishi Electric Halle and PSD Bank Dome,as well as implementing technology to reduce energy use.
Brill, one of 35 people in the first class of VenuesNow and Pollstar Impact International: UK/Euro honorees, spoke to VenuesNow European Editor Gideon Gottfried about the lockdown, the return and the lessons learned.
Germany still seems undecided when it comes to a reopening strategy. How does that impact your work?
Modern culture in Germany has been on hold for too long by now. Our industry was not able to quickly position itself to protect our business interests properly against governments and authorities.
As most Germans have been vaccinated by now, we urgently and desperately need to reopen our venues without restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated. We already observe a change in customer behavior which may have a negative impact to our business over the next years. Especially young people need to reconnect in person and need to be inspired by live music. We will be facing a long path to get back to “pre-corona” conditions.
What made you pioneer the drive-in shows in Germany, and are you happy with how they went down?
Less than a week after the first shutdown in March 2020, we chose to move on despite the pandemic and explore each and every option we could possibly think of to keep our passion alive. From that time on we continuously created new business models, of which some turned out to be successful, some failed, (and) others helped us to continuously adjust our business to the changing “terms and conditions.”
The feedback on the drive-in shows was overwhelming. Working with brave artists, agents and promoters, we have managed to produce something “magical” in this difficult time. We were able to stage live concerts, shows, an opera gala, pole vaulting competition, a boxing fight and DJ sessions as well as a movie theater, introducing the first standards for show production during the pandemic. We were even able to hold religious services and weddings. The fact that around 100,000 visitors came to the drive-in theater and concerts exceeded all our imagination.
When Germany was hit by heavy floods in summer, you repurposed the sand intended for one of your projects. Can you explain?
As part of our 1,800-seat outdoor movie theater located at the Rhine River, we also operate a “Beach Club.” When the flooding occurred, we simply turned around and provided these 100 tons of sand, amounting to about 10,000 sandbags, to people in need. We felt that there could be no better purpose for our sand at that moment.
What has this past year and a half taught you, and how will it impact your business?
Even during the worst crisis, you will find opportunities and chances. It was the best decision to carry on even in a situation when suddenly everything seemed impossible.
Pausing for longer than a couple of weeks has a major impact on a team’s ability to perform. Within the last 18 months we have observed a change in society, daily life and certainly our industry in “fast forward mode” — more than ever we need to permanently reinvent and adapt our business!
The record industry ignored the changes in the market caused by digitalization, and it took decades for the industry to recover. We need to be much smarter and should not wait for things to “simply return to what they were.” This will result in a fatal error.
Any personal takeaways from the pandemic?
Don’t wait for what you always wanted to do — the right time is today. Things may be completely different tomorrow.
How have you motivated and led your teams through this challenging time?
The most important thing was to maximize communication within the team and to open our minds and discuss all possible ideas and concepts. As the implementation of the drive-in concerts was immediately successful and created international awareness, we felt pumped up with positive energy which kept us going all through this pandemic so far.
We all felt that our innovation and work have a real impact and purpose to our community. Especially the tears in the eyes of the elderly after their first vaccination at our center, which immediately brought their lives back to normal, touched all of our staff.
We also worked in parallel on various projects to keep frustration levels low if some of them failed.
We kept reduced working hours to an absolute minimum and since February 2021 we were back to full time. We also carefully listen to personal sorrows and fears, trying to individually take care of each one of us.
What do you predict in the coming year for the venue business?
Hard work to adjust to the changes of the market, especially to a potential change of mindset of our audience. We do not expect the business to stay the same. We will have to adjust to the market conditions constantly and be open for new business models and ideas.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishments in your career and why?
The success and quality of what we do and deliver depends primarily on the individual staff and the team behind it — not the market, venue size and available content. For me, succeeding in providing the right organizational structures, environment, responsibilities, empowerment, and motivation to create the ultimate management team where each individual feels they have the “perfect job” — that is the biggest accomplishment.
“Bleibt alles anders,” a quote by German singer and songwriter Herbert Grönemeyer. It translates into “Everything stays different.”
Most memorable concert/event
I’m too old to only pick one: Frank Sinatra at Cologne Cathedral Plaza, 1993; New York Knicks at MSG; Germany’s premiere of Riverdance in 1997; promoting the Klitschko-Adamek heavyweight fight at Wroclaw (Poland) Stadium, 2011; the first drive-in concert ever with Alligatoah, 2020.
Artist or venue I’m most looking forward to seeing once things open back up properly
Venue: Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle; artist: Rammstein at Merkur Spiel-Arena, 2022
Go-to song that cheers me up when I’m in a bad mood
“Tage wie diese” by Die Toten Hosen. Alternatively, “I Don’t Like Mondays” by The Boomtown Rats and “Friday on My Mind” by The Easybeats.
The one thing I love most in life?
To wake up every morning!