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The Evolution of the Live Touring Business

While the recorded music business continues to suffer, the live music business is holding up rather well, propelled in the short term by legacy acts, but moving forward with smaller bands and festivals well poised to fill the shoes of the legendary bands as they retire. Here are some excerpts from a great piece by Dean Budnick with the Hollywood Reporter.

We’re at a fascinating crossroads. The modern touring rock industry emerged in the late ’60s, during the heyday of such venues as Bill Graham’s Fillmore East and West in New York and San Francisco, respectively, Jack Boyle’s The Cellar Door in Washington, D.C., and Don Law’s Tea Party in Boston. Rock music didn’t move into arenas until the early ’70s, a development that prompted Graham to close his clubs, announcing his decision via a letter to the Village Voice that decried “the unreasonable and totally destructive inflation of the live concert scene.”

So how are the smartest people in the industry preparing for the next big shift?

“We need fresh acts to appeal to new generations,” says Michael Rapino, president and CEO of Live Nation, the world’s dominant tour promoter. “The Rolling Stones was an epic tour, but it’s not a long-term business.” Rapino suggests that this process already is in motion, as six of the top 10 Live Nation tours of 2012 were by artists whose first hit was in the 2000s, including Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Jason Aldean, Drake, Rascal Flatts and Nickelback. “The beauty of this industry is there are always new acts to win our hearts.”

Chip Hooper, worldwide head of music at Paradigm, echoes this sentiment: “Today you’re talking about one group of bands, but what is contemporary and what is heritage just keeps changing as time goes marching on. If you took a snapshot of today, yeah, there’ll be some older artists who won’t be touring in a couple years, but then there’ll be new older artists because younger artists are getting older.”

Still, it remains an open question as to whether today’s concertgoers will continue to follow a singles artist like Rihanna into her dotage and whether they will pony up for the ever-escalating price for a live-concert experience. “As concertgoers age and inflation increases the price of nearly everything, ticket prices will rise in conjunction,” says industry analyst Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG. “When Coldplay play Madison Square Garden with a crowd averaging 50 years old rather than 30 years old, the higher-income-earning crowd will part with more money. The transition from The Eagles and CSN to Bon Jovi and U2 to Coldplay and Foo Fighters might be difficult for some interested parties — but the transition will occur.”

The answer might be to think smaller, says Tom Windish of The Windish Agency, which reps more than 500 acts including Foster the People, Gotye and 20 of the performers at the 2012 Coachella festival. “If I was a promoter, I would be analyzing which markets could use a 2,000- to 5,000-capacity venue and what obstacles are in the way to creating one,” Windish says. “As an agent, there are many cities where there is just not a suitable venue for a band who can sell this number of tickets. It takes time to open a venue of this size for many cities, and it can’t happen soon enough.”

So will all this work? Perhaps a more pointed question is: Can the live music industry survive the coming generational shift? Will young people show the same passion for live music as their elders — and do they have the income to support their habit? Tentative signs point to yes, based on festival attendance as well as the rising popularity of such performers as Mumford and Sons, Zac Brown Band, Bassnectar, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Vampire Weekend. At its core, the live entertainment industry is built on a certain ineffable, unquantifiable connection between fan and band, which is also why those legacy acts might not be leaving the stage anytime soon.

Read more from the Hollywood Reporter.

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2 replies
  1. Tamara says:

    I think that live music will always play an important role in the music biz. Now selling records…well we all know how that’s going:)

  2. Simon Smith says:

    There are multiple issues to consider here and some underlying assumptions that need to be addressed if there is to be any real debate about the industry going forward. And its not just about having disposable income. Wouldn’t everyones life be easy if it was a matter of simply saying that a new audience will grow older and fill the gap. Whilst that is conceivable in the short term with existing mid range acts, the bigger long term concern for the touring industry isn’t waiting for the next level of acts to emerge, but rather how to transition Gen Y into becoming music consumers of all mediums. I love the vibrancy of free culture but it has essentially eliminated business structures and the industry infrastructure that is considered to be necessary if you are to base potential outcomes on the old model used by heritage acts. Successful music doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is reliant on momentum generated by interdependent stakeholders that share a vested interest in breaking new talent. For the sake of the argument lets acknowledge that all of the heritage acts were broken with the support of record companies, mainstream print media, commercial radio and aggressive retailing as essential stakeholders, not to mention cultural engagement by their audience. If you were to remove any one of these in the past the collective synergy broke down, and the act failed. At a glance I see all four missing in the current environment so therefore they cant be relied upon to open the necessary markets that are required to build a base. So if thats the case then it only stands to reason that if what empowered older acts through the cultural embracement of their music as a “movement”, and if the previously mentioned industry infrastructure cant be used as a model for new acts, how do you create the momentum that is necessary to break new acts? It is counter intuitive to, on the one hand, conduct long range planning using research from the current market, whilst existing in an environment that cannot provide the necessary infrastructure and human resources required to replicate previous success.
    Should we not recognise that there has been a massive cultural shift not only in terms of participation but particularly with respect to consumption patterns? They don’t live and breathe it. The new emerging audience doesn’t engage with music at a cultural level the way that previous generations did: they don’t buy CD’s and nor do they listen to mainstream media. In fact the main reason most people attend dance parties is the social experience enhanced by cerebral additives. Although the hackneyed debate as to the relevance of record companies deserves no oxygen here, their historical importance is undeniable. There are a number of similarities with the recording industry “false dawn” that typified the CD boom that occurred in the mid 80’s – 90’s .
    Whilst the recording industry pumped their collective fist in the air, lets face it they were dining out on all of the previous generations of music fans simply replacing their old vinyl. It failed miserably in the long term
    In an eerily similar way the current music festival market appears to be heading towards a huge reality check as more festivals enter the market relying on a constantly overworked number of acts. History shows that industries die slowly over a long time…and then end suddenly.

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