Founded in 1981 and making a lasting mark on the European events scene every year since, the last five years has seen German event specialists Neumann & Müller transcend the continent and branch into both the United States and the UAE.
Supplying their own unique creative brand of high-end event technology to the region, N&M has been responsible for some of the most visually arresting displays in both Dubai and beyond since 2007.
Following the Emirate’s successful EXPO 2020 bid, Sound & Stage sat down with long-standing CEO Eberhart Müller to find out a little bit about the company that looks set to be a firm fixture in the UAE for years to come...
Firstly, could you tell us your thoughts on Dubai’s recent EXPO 2020 bid success?
I think it is really good for Dubai, there’s a lot of work to do around it, but Dubai has the chance to do things that other countries cannot perhaps. There’s a great possibility to grow. I’m astonished at the change there’s been in the last three years alone.
When I came there were a lot of towers without cranes, things were not ready and I didn’t think they could re-build SO fast after the recession. We had an Expo in Germany in 2000, there was a lot of hope and expectation, and I think if you plan ahead and be smart it can be great for the event industry,
How long has N&M been operating in Dubai?
We did our first job in 2005 here for HQ Creative, an event agency, but we started in 2007. It came about through a contact by one of our partners at an agency here and - to us -Dubai seemed a great opportunity.
It was a big chance to enter a new market and other companies clearly thought this too and there was a lot of competition - admittedly more in the beginning than we thought. Now it’s every bit as hard as it is in Europe. And the events here are – I think – sometimes even bigger than Europe. For Neumann & Müller, the events we undertake in Dubai are certainly a bigger spectacle than elsewhere.
There’s been talk of building an indoor arena in Dubai to combat the historic summer slowdown in the events scene. What are your thoughts on this?
An indoor arena would be great but may not solve the problems in the summer. I think in the summer you find there are fewer people in town that organise and attend events, whether family, music concerts or cultural events.
With regards to the summer -the same thing happens in Germany and around the world, consumers and companies are on holidays, in July to September especially – things slow down. The peak starts in March to July, reduces in summer and starts again in September through to March.
All the big automotive fairs for example-which we do a lot of – are closed at this time, it’s the same all over the world. Dubai as a brand certainly supports the summer season by working with hotels to make special package rates for tourists but it’s still 50 degrees, so if the people come to Dubai in the summer, an indoor arena would certainly benefit the market.
Also you have to consider that in this summer period, all the world’s top acts go to the summer festivals in Europe and America, so attracting the very top talent could be hard.
What new technology in the production market has impressed you this year?
30 years ago the Pro Light and Sound exhibition in Frankfurt would be your first chance to see new technology, you’d wander through the stalls and see the new tech in the market. Nowadays, it all appears online, in newspapers and magazines, and the steps in new tech are a lot smaller. The speed of progression is a lot slower.
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LED comes up more and more, moving lights, mixing desks are all going over computer networks and so on. However, the constant improvement within signal network transferring is really strong. For example; audio that can link up from a truck to the front of house, to wherever a signal needs to be distributed.
It’s this type of technology – especially in terms of its flexibility- that has made a huge improvement in recent years. Not only in sound, but communication in the production from lighting to video, the likes of wireless microphones in the mixing desk, things like that have really stood out.
Compared to when I first started, I also think that tweaks and progressions in loudspeakers are a bit staggered and slow, but this year we have invested in a ‘new-old’ system, it’s a cone shaped speaker – similar to ones that were used 100 years ago in churches – the new ones are bigger, very long and you can change the direction of the beam by the computer.
It’s very new, and we’ve done a big event in Leipzig recently utilising it, in a big hall with stone and glass, and this new technology really made it special.
What are your preferred venue choices in Dubai?
One of our favourite venues is the Madinat MPV, it’s quite an easy venue to work in as indoor venues go. A lot of the hotels have got good access and rigging facilities and are a reasonable size and we can do quite a good production.
As for outdoor venues, one of the most popular now is the back of the Armani hotel and the Burj Island, with the backdrop of the Burj Khalifa and the fountains.
What projects have Neumann & Müller worked on in the ME over the last year that you’re particularly proud of?
Well, though it was technically started last year, the New Years Eve display at the Burj Khalifa is something we’re really proud of. It started at the end of 2012 but carried on until around the beginning of February 2013 for the entire Dubai Shopping Festival.
On New Year’s Eve we had a fireworks and live orchestra and after that it was video twice a night.
It was a real challenge, we brought a boat! And had a diver! At least one diver was there every day for two weeks. A lot of cabling had to run through the lake and obviously anything that goes in there has to go into protective cable routs because they clean the lake every single day. It was a huge project.
What is the division of the work in the Middle East for Neumann & Müller? Between corporate and Government work?
In Germany the government part of our work is less than ten percent, and in America there is no government work for us, but across the Middle East I would say government jobs constitute about 40 percent of our workload, the rest is probably on the corporate side of things.
As a brand we don’t tend to do rock n’roll music here. We all love music, concerts and the tourist scene – it’s our background in Germany after all -but the business incentive isn’t quite good enough. We did a project for a German band called Crow in 2013, and we said we would do it only for our costs. Because we wanted to promote the company, so it was for a different reason.
How do you find managing client’s expectations in the Middle East?
I think it’s always difficult. To use a car analogy, everybody wants a Mercedes 500 but the budget is closer to a Fiat 500! Other companies have the money and are able and willing to pay more, others don’t.
The problems come from companies who don’t calculate everything correctly and run the risk of losing money or being disappointed. But that’s a problem that is the world over. People undercutting and offering an impossibly low- rate makes the market harder to operate in.
Everything here revolves on short-term notice, in my opinion too short.
We do the job as well as possible and it’s good, but if we had more time we could do a little better, the planning period is a bit too little. Short-term notice is everywhere in our industry but here it can be particularly bad!
Regarding the EXPO 2020 once more, what plans does Neumann & Müller have to get involved in the lead up for it?
We are here, we are looking forward with a newer, even better crew to expand in the areas where we are happy. As for the Expo - we do world-wide Mercedes Benz fairs, and I’m sure they will be involved in it, so from that side yes we will be involved.
We’re definitely going to keep our eye on it...