While the recorded music business continues to suffer, the live touring 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.