May 10, 2021

Festival Feeling At the Vaccination Centre: COVID & the Booking Agent


Until the live industry booms again breaking all entertainment records, thousands of cultural workers are fighting the pandemic in German vaccination centres. They are helping to save people’s lives. The respect they receive in these jobs is unusual for some. In this gigmit exclusive interview, booking agent Alexander ‘Äxl’ Schulze gives us a glimpse into live business in exile, the unrestricted agency working hours, bands that won’t survive the pandemic, and the festival feeling in the vaccination centre.

You Can Concert? You Can Vaccination Centre!

“Germany’s biggest legal mass event” recently was the headline of Spiegel magazine. This refers to the vaccination centre in Hamburg dealing with more than 8,000 vaccine doses every day. In the best mood, a remarkably large number of people from the event industry work here. Finally, the event manager, the booking agent, the artist and the bouncer join forces again? In Berlin, too, about 800 cultural workers now earn their money in vaccination centres – including the who’s who of the Berlin techno scene. “If you can do big concerts, you can do vaccination centres,” says Jens Quade from German Red Cross. They were a special type of character who is very good with people and keeps their nerve even in difficult situations.

Booker Äxl Backstage
Alexander “Äxl” Schulze from Magnificent Music Backstage in March 2020

The Booking Agent At the Health Department

Who are these people? What pushes them? And how are they doing in their new work? We asked someone who is experiencing it first-hand and seems to have found his purpose here. Alexander “Äxl” Schulze is a booking agent and a passionate and loyal live music nerd who has made his obsession a profession. In 2006, he founded the booking agency MAGNIFICENT MUSIC and books alternative guitar rock bands like Mother Tongue, Kadavar, DeWolff or Suzan Köcher’s Suprafon.

gigmit: Äxl, why do so many colleagues from the live sector work at the vaccination centre?

Äxl: Because the colleagues from the event industry are perfectly qualified to organise large crowds day after day and to design organisational processes.

We have been without concerts and crowded places for over a year now. How can we imagine a vaccination centre?

For someone who has been through a year of contact restrictions, a vaccination centre almost feels like a festival. It is a busy hall humming with activity. The staffing ratio is extremely high. As an inoculate, you are literally accompanied every step of the way. Everything runs smoothly together like an assembly line. And when you are finally vaccinated, it is perfectly organised down to the last detail.

What do you do as a booker now when there are no festivals and concerts?

Right now I’m working two jobs about 45-50 hours a week. A small part-time job that I already had before the pandemic. And as a new main job, 4-5 days a week at the health department. There I work as a contact person and a positive investigator. I identify people who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, isolate them and their household members, test the household members, identify contacts and quarantine them as well. The health department is constantly recruiting new investigators and with them, I conduct the training and coaching. In the meantime, I have also been assigned organisational tasks in the COVID department.

How has your professional life changed as a result?

Booking agent Äxl in his new office
“Found my destiny” – Äxl in his new office

Because of this work and the restrictions, my everyday life has become very regulated. I go to bed at 11 pm, get up at 6 am. Every day. In between, I work or spend my free time with walks and books. This is a stark contrast to my everyday life before the pandemic, which was characterised by unrestricted working hours in an agency and irregular times of the week and day. Through attendance at concerts, nightly actions, meetings with artists, partners and colleagues.

What are the booking agent’s skills that are particularly in demand in your new job?

Communication skills have given me valuable tools, but also the organisation and channelling of a lot of information, as well as the flexible reaction to constantly changing situations.

What experiences do you take with you from this job into your live music life?

I enjoy the advantages of a “real” job, i.e. being off work, not being self-employed, always being rewarded. The job at the health department is “on the pulse of time”, meaningful, action-packed, challenging and very exciting. At the moment I can say that I have found my destiny with this job. How things will go on after the pandemic is something I’m not sure about at the moment. I am very uncertain whether I will be able to find my way back into the booking business after a two-year break.

What happens to “your” bands and clubs?

Most of my smaller bands have withdrawn into the private sphere. So they don’t rehearse any more. Only a few have managed to use the pandemic to build and sharpen their digital profile or to be creative and record new material. So I fear that in general there will be many artists who may not return to the creative process as it was before the pandemic. Because they got out of shape. Or because they can’t connect to it anymore.

How will the live business change after COVID?

I am a fan of the Roaring 20s hypothesis. There will be a catch-up effect. The demand for entertainment of all kinds will be very high for the next few years. The industry will boom in any sector – from grassroots clubs to the biggest entertainers in the world – breaking all records prior to that. For every band that has quit, five new ones will startup. I feel the club scene is also very resilient. What we lose will soon be replaced by something new. Digitalisation is not a passing fad, but sustainable. Streaming and hybrid events will stay and continue to develop.

Looking back at the time as a booking agent: The after-movie to the MAGNIFICENT MUSIC FESTIVAL 2019

On a personal level, what conclusions have you come to?

Personally, I have learned a lot during the pandemic. For me, it’s a turning point. I would like the world as a global community to have learned something too. But it doesn’t look like it. And I finally want to see a live concert again. Yes, I’m determined not to miss any more of the gigs I’ve been dying to see. No more excuses! And only what I really want to see!

Thank you so much, Äxl!

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