Fruzsina Szép stands for passion, people and professionalism. Born in Hungary, since 2014 she’s served as the Director of the Lollapalooza Festival in Berlin – the largest music event the city has seen since the Love Parade. During her Masterclass for BIMM Berlin students, it was clear that success has not gone to her head. The fact that she could hang out with Radiohead, Foo Fighters, The Libertines, Beatsteaks and Paul Kalkbrenner seems like nothing out of the ordinary. She didn’t boast about large budgets, powerful sponsors or managing the precarious politics of meetings with furious representatives from former Soviet Republics, even though, at the time, the 2016 festival in Treptower Park was hanging by a thread. That is true poise.
Instead, Fruzsina spoke of the responsibility you take on when you agree to organise a festival for 80,000 people in Berlin. She shared her leadership strategies, one of which is to be open to personal discussions at any time, even if it’s far past midnight. Balancing the expectations of fans, investors, funders, politicians and sponsors comes with the territory. This is especially important when confronted with powerful opposition, as she was last year. Her opponents sought to prevent a massive event from taking place in the historically listed park, which is home to the city’s largest memorial for the Russian soldiers of World War II.
Her style of music management might be described as Zen-like. “You have to maintain good inner balance,” she says. “And it’s not really important what you studied in order to prepare for the job. What is important is that you speak many languages, learn from all your experiences and always remember to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” Her composure, adventurous artistic curiosity, and the absolute compassion with which she treats others, were the driving forces behind the fact that “many European professionals suggested me when the directorship for the Berlin Lollapalooza Festival opened up.”
She’s been well known on the festival circuit for many years. Before directing Lollapalooza, she was in charge of restructuring the Sziget Festival in Budapest. This entailed making the programme more diverse, increasing the number of stages from 30 to 60, and booking a full roster of new circus, performing arts and musical acts. Her reward: the audience size increased rapidly and transformed Sziget into one of Europe’s largest festivals.
Fruzsina’s music career began with an ambitious goal. Her parents had fled Hungary for political reasons and raised her in Germany. When she began university, she opted to return to Budapest: “When I was 18, I told my parents that I wanted to be financially independent,” she says. “It wasn’t easy, but I managed.” Her first job in the music industry was a summer gig on Lake Balaton where a major beverage brand had organised a gigantic music festival. “I was interested in every aspect of every event. After that summer, I was totally hooked.”
When she speaks, Fruzsina’s enthusiasm is infectious and she isn’t afraid to share her feelings. As she recalls the moment when security announced that the last visitors had left the 2016 Lollapalooza Berlin festival grounds and when she realised that the biggest challenge she’d ever faced in both life and her career had come to its conclusion without accidents, catastrophes or threatening situations, her otherwise unshakable voice cracks a bit and her eyes tear up… even now… even today… almost a year later.
On this afternoon, BIMM students were able to learn so much about festival organisation, sponsoring and stakeholder management. The Industry Walks are part of the Music Business course and strengthen praxis-based connections to the Berlin music industry. The students definitely came away with a strong impression of what is a rewarding but also extremely challenging job.
This article was written by Anna Jakisch, Communications & Project Manager at Buero-Doering