The live business is imploding.
Common wisdom is it has to do with price, but it appears that the cancer of the major labels is starting to impact gigs. You see, nobody wants to see the ACTS!
But it's more than that. The heritage acts, the ones that have supported the business for years, nobody wants to see them either.
Make no mistake, people want to see Celine Dion, the Eagles, and even Kenny Chesney, at almost ANY PRICE! And Green Day might not be charging much, but they could and still sell out. But when you dig deeper…
Let's start with the Zooma Tour. My initial reaction was it was cancelled due to Trey Anastasio's overinflated sense of self, thinking that he meant as much solo as he did with Phish. And I do believe that's an element, that people were buying culture along with Phish's music and there's no culture with Trey. But then I checked the grosses. In theatres, LARGE theatres, Trey sells out. The Fox in Atlanta, the Auditorium in Chicago… Could it be less of a factor of not enough fans and more of an issue of Trey's fans NO LONGER WANT TO GO TO THE BIG SHOW AND SIT MILES FROM THE STAGE??
Yes, hate to break it to you, but Phish fans are in the neighborhood of thirty now. And when you hit that age you start to have money. And you no longer want to rough it, no longer want to commune with your buds. Rather, you'd prefer to drive your near-luxury automobile and pay a bit extra for convenience.
But it gets worse. Who ARE the acts these thirtysomethings want to see in mass quantities?? Who ARE the acts that have been working for ten years that hit this demographic that can draw like the baby boomer superstars and the fortysomething U2? I'm scratching my head, I can't think of ANY!
Then let's get to the new acts. That tour with the rappers? The one with SNOOP DOGG! The teflon-coated, always in the press superstar? Rappers don't do well in concert. This show ain't no guaranteed sell-out, FAR FROM IT!
But it's not only rappers… Look at Maroon 5. Clive's darlings have sold out a number of 10,000 seat arenas. But they only did 75% business in St. Louis. Maybe an anomaly, but the real question is, WILL ANYBODY WANT TO SEE THEM FIVE YEARS FROM NOW??
Then there's the other end of the spectrum. The tour with Joe Jackson and Todd Rundgren. I just heard Joe on XM last night. A true talent. I used to see him ALL THE TIME in the seventies and eighties. Todd…he's God in my book. But not in too many other people's books. Oh, the show sold out in New York City. But is doing half capacity, barely over 1,000 people elsewhere. Bottom line? The baby boomers are done. That's it. Kaput. They've become their parents. There IS a hard core who will support the old acts, who will come out, who are fans. But the majority of baby boomers see live music as spectacle, they only want to go to the big shows, the ones that cost over a hundred dollars a ticket. Otherwise, they'd rather stay home and watch a DVD. Or go out to dinner and purchase a hundred dollar bottle of wine. That's right, the demo is OVER!
At least the baby boomers lived through the heyday. When music drove the culture. The generation after them lived through the advent of MTV, but if Culture Club reformed and went on tour today, how many fortysomethings would CARE?? Yup, as this generation, the true Generation X, ages, THEY'RE only gonna want to see the big acts, and WHO ARE THEY?
The younger generation… They think that music is something you dance to, in a club. Just watch MTV for instruction, that's the key activity on all the reality shows, dancing and drinking and flirting. Music is NOT a key element. It's just the grease, at most.
You can't steal a live performance, you can't download it off the net. And no matter how fine you. make the theatres, it all comes down to the acts. And major labels haven't been making acts you want to see, want to BELIEVE IN, for a LONG TIME! The Good Charlotte and Simple Plan tour can't sell out six thousand seaters. Hell, in some places it can't sell out THREE THOUSAND SEATERS! And the vaunted radio shows, the ones stacked with "stars", the shows everybody thought were cannibalizing their business, people aren't clamoring to go to those EITHER! Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, Ryan Cabrera, all the fresh faces the media tells us RULE culture…it's just a hype, they, along with the aforementioned Simple Plan and others, could only pull 10,000 people, fifty percent capacity, at the 93.3 show at Coors Amphitheatre in Chula Vista. Yup, hate to tell you, the public just doesn't care. At least not in the numbers that the hype machine tells us they do.
The problem isn't that there's competition for the entertainment dollar, the problem is this competition is BETTER! Playing video games, watching a DVD in your home theatre, SURFING THE NET AND IM'ING! They're MUCH more enjoyable than the live SHOW! And, until new acts, that drive the culture, are built, expect business to continue to be soft.
I'd say the only bands worth seeing on a consistent basis are the ones the indie kids are into. I'm not armed with any empirical data, but the bands that resonate with their fans, make good music, and deliver a good live show will always do well. Maybe not stadium filling blockbuster numbers, but at least good enough numbers now that may continue to grow into Wilco-sized numbers (multi-theatre dates, but def not big shed / arena / stadium size:
Decemberists, Bloc Party, Spoon, Sleater-Kinney, Arcade Fire, Pixies, Nails (can do bigger), Queens, Mars Volta, Stripes, Dears, plus rising alt/metal/emo bands (too many to list, but I guess they're the domain of club shows until the summer package tours kick in every summer), and whatever big Latin artists play to sellout crowds at Universal, pardon me, um, Gibson at Universal Amphitheatre.
But yeah, it ain't pretty out there for big sheds looking for bands to fill seats. I still go to three shows a week (or more), but industry folks are an anomaly — none of my thirtysomething friends back in Alabama (most of which are married with kids) give a shit about live music anymore, telling me it's too much of a hassle to pay for tickets, parking, food, merch, babysitter, etc
youre totally right about zooma. the venues were too big and the ticket cost too high. no one is gonna go spend a day at shoreline ampitheatre in mtn view to see those bands. but im confident that if they booked the greek theatre in berkeley for 2 shows, they woulve sold out.
but if you look at the big summer classic tour, which is the 6 band tour of bands all with associations to Madison House, including New Monsoon, its doing well. we intentionally picked smaller venues, mostly minor league ballparks that will hold 9000, and we've kept our ticket price down. our tour is very easy to digest. good chance if you like one of the bands on the bill, you probably like several of them. weve made it real easy to identify who we are marketing to. anyway theres still a long way til show time, but i think were gonna do well.
At a party over the weekend the topic of concerts came up. Most of my fortysomething friends are what you would consider "die hard" music fans who continue to see a lot of shows and purchase a lot of music. But I do think that ticket price is a BIG part of the issue – especially when the Rolling Stones are charging $400.00 / $160.00 per ticket for a decent seat. Same thing with U2. $160 bucks. While we can all afford these prices, it was the consensus during our discussion that we are INSULTED by and refuse to pay that much to see ANY act. (Not that it makes any difference – they still sell out anyway). I'd rather go to the House of Blues or Hard Rock Live any day, and don't mind paying $35 to $50 to see a good show at those venues. Those acts are the ones that will be getting my money – and I'll probably do the old fashioned thing and buy a tshirt and a CD, too. AND I'll buy one for my kids who I'm taking to these concerts so they can experience what concerts used to be about… GOOD MUSIC.
I recently took my daughter to the Green Day concert when they passed through Orlando. Sold out show. And one hell of a show at that! I'm not a fan, but was impressed with the fact that ALL tickets to this show were the same price, and it was a REASONABLE price compared to what most tickets cost these days for an arena show.
Regarding Trey, your theory of the aging Phish fan may have some weight BUT the central reason why Phish fans aren't support him much (or the Zooma Tour) – is that Trey's new band, 70 Volt Parade, is very LACKLUSTER. There is an overwhelming sentiment that this new Trey project is 'band' and not worth seeing. It is certainly not worth seeing more than one show of in a year, let alone a tour.
This circulated around the internet within a couple hours of the Zooma Tour cancellation. This is a parody of the message that Trey posted announcing the break-up of Phish:
Last Friday night, I got together with Les, Ray, Skeeto and Peter to talk openly about the strong feelings I've been having that 70 Volt Parade has run its course and that we should end it now while it's still on a high note. Once we started talking, it quickly became apparent that the other guys' feelings, while not all the same as mine, were similar in many ways — most importantly, that we all love and respect 70 Volt Parade and the 70 Volt Parade audience far too much to stand by and allow it to drag on beyond the point of vibrancy and health. We don't want to become caricatures of ourselves, or worse yet, a nostalgia act. By the end of the meeting, we realized that after almost two months together we were faced with the opportunity to graciously step away in unison, as a group, united in our friendship and our feelings of gratitude.
So the 10,000 Lakes Festival will be the final 70 Volt Parade show. We are proud and thrilled that it will be in the fine state of Minnesota. We're also excited for the Bonnaroo show, our last one together. For the sake of clarity, I should say that this is not like the time between Higher Ground and Richmond, which was our last attempt to revitalize ourselves. We're done. It's been an amazing and incredible journey. We thank you all for the love and support that you've shown us.
— Trey Anastasio
On the mark, as usual! The way I put it – and I promote on the small club level – is simple: People don't lose interest in music when they advance into their mid-20s, but they sure as hell lose interest in standing around in a smoky club waiting for the headliner to come on at a quarter to midnight.
But give a grownup audience nice surroundings, an option to eat a meal, and a show that starts at 8.30 and gets 'em out and on their way to bed by 11, and you get results. In Toronto, I sell out most of my shows a week before they happen, and with cover charges up to $35.00 (o' course, that's Canajun, but still!). You've probably not heard of any of these people (but you ought to
And a reasonable ticket price for the experience is vital. I'm appalled by the sheer greed of artists like The Eagles, Celine, Elton John etc….
Will anyone see them 5 years from now?
You hit the nail on the head. Will anyone give a FUCK about any of these dipsoable pop bands 3 years from now.
You may not like 'em but people are still turning out to see Motley Crue!
I have an observation you may be interested in – Maroon 5 as an example – they are still a young band, notwithstanding the fat they've sold x million copies of their most recent album. They should probably be playing halls in the 3-5000 range. Not 10,000. They'd be selling out. Plus ticket prices are too high. I'm 53. I was raised in Northern California and Fillmore and Winterland were my stomping grounds. Back in the day, it would cost me the equivalent of 2 hours pay for a ticket to see, for example, T-Rex, or the Allman Bros. If the scale were the same today, $15-30 per ticket, shows would be selling out.
You've got some great points, Trey's self-importance and coke habit killed Phish. And it was partly culture that was sold with Phish. Being a 30-something I'd still go to see Phish at anywhere. But Trey, no one cares. And adding Ben Harper to the bill on Zooma?? Please. Trey is worth 3500 seats and Ben 1500-2000. Does this add up to Irvine Meadows aka Verizon?
I struggle with the issue that the business is imploding. Considering that Prince had the best tour last year, Metallica is still huge and a 30-something audience, and DMB still sells, though losing steam.
I still see that pricing is an issue. Like a CD the youngsters don't want to pay top dollar for a concert ticket to a sub-par performance. The older set has more money than the 30-something set, which is trying to raise a family, and therefore the older set is buying the heritage acts at $150/ticket and willing to still buy CDs. The younger acts can still sell tickets, they just have to be at the $20 30 range. Taste of Chaos, Warped, Green Day.
Its value for money… much like the $17 CD for 5 decent songs isn't worth it, the $75 for 70 minutes of bad vocals and a drunk guitarist isn't.
It isn't just that compelling and lasting acts haven't been (and still aren't being) bred; or that the live biz has been over-relying on heritage acts for so long now it's comical; (no different than the labels desperately scraping the vaults for the last 20 years); or that consolidation in both promo and ticketing killed incentive and competition; or that prices are absurd; or that conditions at some venues suck. It's many things at once — and just as it is on the recorded end — everyone blames someone else.
Often overlooked — and an issue that has also contributed greatly to this continuing spiral — is that this is an industry that has historically and fundamentally treated its customer (and the media) very, very badly on many levels and we all know it. Now that the product isn't what it once was, and there are more exciting and comfortable ways to spend leisure time and dollars, of course the customer is choosing to forgo the bullshit long associated with concert-going (or that he thinks may still be associated with it, even if at certain venues the experience today is indeed smooth). It's tough to get away from the fact that the institutional culture was always one of — hell, they'll line up for anything. They'll trudge through mud; tolerate shitty food; insulting treatment from "security" guards; hours of traffic; blazing sun; disgusting bathrooms, and (back in the day) endless waits on the phone for some phantom Ticketmaster rep who rarely materialized – and when she did, presented with a rigid script and an IQ of about 30. (Problem with your order? Dream on if you think there might ever be a meaningful resolution). Meanwhile, core fans, real fans, the truly devoted — continue to watch the best seats go to scalpers, while enduring unconscionable gouging at the hands of both brokers and artists.
That far too few industry people don't buy tickets like a regular guy, don't park in the regular lot, sit in a regular seat, and wait on all the regular bathroom and snack-bar lines for the regular fare, also contributes to ongoing issues of quality control. I can't think of many industries that could continue to slap around the customer this way and still be successful, let alone survive. Maybe when the product was scary-great. But today? And now that it's clear that their won't even be a next generation of $200 acts — that when Mick and Paul kick it really is truly over – what's even left to have faith in? Somebody change my mind . . .
People aren't excited about these acts, precisely because the hype machine INSISTS that people be excited about these acts. And when the hype machine INSISTS people be excited, people start to realize the only dignified thing to do is not be excited.
Plus a live show is about music, and major labels are about product. Going to see a product on stage makes no sense. I need to see Gwen Steffani on stage about as much as I need to see any other product on a stage. Live! Tonight! Dawn liquid dishwashing detergent! I'm standing on line for an hour for this? In the time it takes I can go home, enjoy the product, read a book or watch a movie, and keep my dignity. The aptly named Product Managers at majors have been conditioned and rewarded for approaching music as product for so long, they've probably eroded any draw their acts might've had. People have smelled a rat so many times by now… every album released is "The most eagerly anticipated!" follow up, unless of course it's the "The year's most eagerly anticipated!" debut. Every album that has scanned one "unit" north of 500k is a "Platinum smash!"
And visually every photo of these acts INSISTS that the act is hip, beautiful, freshly styled and scrubbed. It is absolutely no mistake that you never see the face of one person in Apple's iPod advertising, and that the ad doesn't exclaim "Over 2 million already sold!". God…how lame would you feel carrying around an iPod if everywhere you looked were ads with "iPods are the coolest gadget to have! A must have!" — Entertainment Weekly
Add to all of this the fact that everyone knows these acts aren't gonna be around long enough to merit investing your time in seeing them live and getting into them, because they'll get one or MAYBE two albums and then they're dust. If the most eagerly anticipated debut doesn't become the platinum smash including the #1 hit single, the act is a goner. It's like: are you going to be the fool getting all into the girl you KNOW is going to be leaving town in three months if she doesn't get famous? Yikes.
I agree with you nearly ALL the time, but explain this to me……I was at the 93.3 show because we had Simple Plan on the show. It was completely SOLD OUT…..all the way to the lawn. In fact, when the band did "Perfect", they flipped the lights on, and for as far as the eye could see, it was wall to wall people…….Simple Plan followed Gwen and it was the same for her as well.
Now as a radio show, the station gives away a TON of tickets on the air, to sponsors, clients, etc etc., but when it comes to recording gross for POLLSTAR, etc etc, the giveaways must not count–otherwise how can you account for the fact that your information says the show wasn't clean, but my eyes told me something COMPLETELY different.
Blame the Eagles. The common wisdom is right – with the typical show costing north of 75 bucks a ticket, there's a ton of attrition. Seeing a show isn't a casual thing, at most I can afford two or three a season. CDs have doubled in price over the past 15 years while concerts have quintupled, and then some. Do you think the poor schmuck who paid 400 dollars for the Stones has anything left ovefor Joe and Todd? Feggedaboutit.
The Wiggles are doing alright.
I haven't been to a concert in years Last one was Elton John with my wife and in-laws and I felt like a fish out of water No wonder the concert business is off I read your missives about the live business tanking and you are dead on I am not interested in the crowd and the rip off of $15 parking and $10 beers I would rather watch it at home on my home theatre
The acts the thirtysomethings want to see: John Mayer, Radiohead, Dave Matthews, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, No Doubt, Dixie Chicks. All acts with a crowd in their 30's that have toured multiple times to selling at least 13,000+ in my neck of the woods. It's not the hey-day of live music but there's plenty of acts still doing good business.
I agree with you whole heatedly with your point that the entertainment value of a video game beats the entertainment value of a younger demo concert. Good Charlotte and Simple plan should cost $15 or $20. Kids care about value the same way the Baby Boomer cares about their VIP experience. But we are an industry of greedy pigs and no one entity (promoter, manager, agent) can control pricing for the greater health of the business. It must come crashing down before we can rebuild it.
I disagree with you on your trey/ben analysis. How about ben fans don't want to see trey. Ask a ben fan if they want to be stuck with trey's stinky fans at a show. Your answer is no. How about fans of both acts want to see full 2 hour plus sets by each of the co-headliners. Do the fans know that they will get this? No. they call this a festival? With four acts advertised? Hello? Concerts 101 here. Does anyone know what zooma is? Was there any real advance press? No. Enough said.
How timely. I spoke with a friend a few weeks back, asking what shows he has seen of late.His response was "None -been checking out a lot on DVD though".This middle age former fan had been lost..now gearing up for serious couch surfing in this mid market Canadian city.I began to see the cracks in the ice widen and my paycheque in the industry became a question mark -now it's circling the drain as deep now I know you speak the truth about the live market.
It's like the theatre business -the few shows that are $100 a pop are no brainers.People pick a show for the summer, blow the wad, have bragging rights -status. Elton John, Billy Joel, to a degree McCartney (I don't really want to see Paul after the Superbowl schmatlz),Tim McGraw,and a few others. The middle terrain has been reduced to super-sized clubs that hold a few thousand and charge large amounts for beverages -because they can. In some major markets it seems like 80% of the shows end up there. They usually have a favourite wal-martish concert firm they deal with for the lions share of the gigs and ALWAYS ask which ACT the date is on hold for (if you don't LIE guess where THAT tidbit of information goes). Same game with the soft seaters -it's bad enough playing daily heads up hockey with the other carinivores in agency -promoter world but when the venues get down and dirty the playing field gets seriously tilted against the mid sized and up and coming promoters.Add to the mire a greatly reduced roster of developing artists on major labels and it all becomes about the next Rod Stewart tour.
Pitchfork isn't perfect but at least it's something -god knows we have all but COMPLETELY given up on radio to have any meaning in our lives with the execption of a few markets.Even those so called cutting edge stations seem to have become addicted to hyping bands already long in the tooth like Oasis or The Offspring. As for SPIN -now a joke, yellow flag to AP and Magnet and three stars to No Depression. The fact that fans have a say with web cabals like myspace.com is good news BUT what happened to raw emotion and passion with the kids? Protest -outrage -the search for meaning..our planet has been turned upside down in the last 5 years in many many ways.I guess sitting in a split level house getting your brains sucked out via video games is the new normal.Denial is an ugly thing.
On Sir Bob. Why does it take Bob Geldof to raise the alarm bell yet again? Hopefully he will have the good sense to include some important (real) acts like Arcade Fire (gave all the money to Hatian relief after shows in Toronto) or Billy Talent (played a low key Tibetian Relief concert )…and what's up with the FREE shows Geldof is planning? Did I hear that right? I'd be a little concerned about anarchy.Good luck Mr.Geldof.
Great points as usual. I think I've told you this before but we're doing the coolest things of all — house concerts. Thanks to the screwed up nature of pay to play and play for free we're been hosting concerts with some of LA's biggest acts playing here at our house at the beach. there's a growing movement of folks like us doing this. We basically find acts we like on the local scene and set up house concerts using EVITE. we get the money up-front (to secure a place) and get 30 – 40 folks at our house. we do it "Hollywood Bowl Style" where everyone brings a bottle of wine and we have small foods, cheeses, etc and have a helluva Saturday night. Everyone comes out a winner. The artists typically leave with $600 – $1000 worth of ticket and CD sales, we get a great intimate experience with "real" talent and all of our friends absolutely love it.
If you'd like to try one of these out I can give you a "press" invite and you can see for yourself. Our next house concert is July 23rd with a great emerging talent named Marina V. We live in South Redondo close to the beach. These kinds of events restore your faith in it all.
Back in the mid 80's I was, shall we say, on Dead tour. Which is my way of admitting that I wasn't paying much attention to Def Leppard at the time. Fast forward 15 years and I'm now promoting a Def Leppard date. By then, I was a bit more tuned in to the Leppard, but still, I wasn't quite sure what the big deal was and why they were still pulling in the fans. Come day of show we were about 90% sold, so the tour manager and I head out into the hall with an audit and seat map to identify the location of unsold seats and holds and to hopefully find some more seats on the side we could open. Looking at the map he sees about 100 holds right in the center on the floor spread out between the 5th and 15th row. "What are these?" he asks. "Band holds. Those are yours." I reply. "Nonsense…we don't need those. Put our guests up there." and he turned to his left and pointed to the somewhat obstructed view seats off to the side of the stage. "Those floor seats are for our fans. Release them and put them on sale. Anyone getting in for free can sit up there." Again, pointing up and to the side of the stage. And the the light bulb in my head went off. I get it. No wonder this band has fans. I've never seen any band do anything remotely as cool as sticking their guests in the boonies so that their fans can get the good seats. Talk about not abandoning your fans. No wonder Def Leppard STILL has it going on.
About 1 1/2 ago, NACPA commissioned Neilsen to do a study on teen interest in concerts. The results were alarming, but not (to me anyway) surprising. The short version of thier findings were that teens didn't really even think much about concerts amd were more interested in hanging with friends, watching DVD's, playing games, etc. You might be interested to track down the research and see the details for yourself.
There are many (in my opinion) reasons behind the lack of interest. But the biggest overriding issue is that the music and the artists just aren't nearly as important in kids lives today as they were to our generation. Kids lives today are infinately different than our own. Today's youth (by and large) isn't as passionate about life in general (look no further than 1973 youth's response to Vietnam/Nixon/Watergate compared to 2004 youth's non response to Iraq/Bush/no WMD). Music is just background in thier lives as opposed to the central focus OF thier lives.
All that being said, is it 'over'? Not by a long shot. 'Different'; unquestionably. What it probably means is more shows by more artists in smaller venues. Meanwhile acts like DMB inspire and unite hundreds of thousands of non baby boomers every summer and festivals like Coachella and Bonaroo bring together tens thousands to see live music. That being said, you're absolutely right in that the days of dozens of acts being able to fill large venues annually has seen it's best days.
Hip/Hop/Rap: they have not been able to translate the massive record sales and public interest into major concert draw for one simple reason; with few exceptions, their shows have zero entertainment value. Who wants to pay $40-$100 to see their heros walk about with a microphone in front of a DJ repeating the same rhymes you can hear on the recordings? The only exception that comes to mind was Dre's "Up In Smoke" tour 5 years ago that not only had a package of great rappers (Dre, Em, Snoop, etc.) but had STAGE SETS, great production value and tickets under $50. Was a big win for everyone (in the west anyway). See the Em/50 ticket sales for this year for the best example of this genre NOT working at the box office.
Thanks for doing a newsletter on this. I've been observing this and feeling/thinking the exact same thing myself. I don't go to live shows like I used to. In evaluating myself, I'm asking why. Who would I want to see enough to actually go? (Besides The Wildhearts.) I used to go to the annual Poison show (don't laugh) in Cincinnati; I always knew they would put on a great show and that they toured with acts who would be of interest to me (Faster Pussycat, Winger, Cinderella, Vince Neil, Skid Row…). ….The only answers I can come up with are rare, older bands (typically from Europe) that I wouldn't have a chance to see otherwise, like Sleeze Beez. As you say, the role of music has changed. It used to be that music and cult-type radio stations (like 102.9 WAZU) were catalysts in meeting and socializing with other people who had similar interests. Now, we have chat rooms and message boards for that. Live shows are doing much better (where I'm at) in the form of fairs and festivals where larger amounts of people are already there for the larger event. The free shows and festival shows have the better audiences here than an act touring on their own, for their own event, at their own venue. (Ohio State Fair vs. Hara Arena.) I know I prefer to see shows at/during other events. This is my observation.
Mark Edwards Edelstein:
Just a couple of thoughts on Maroon 5 in St. Louis. As a radio PD (please don't drop me from your list because of that) I had to work that show. True, they only did about 75% of the house, but it is a 16,000 seat arena. WAY too big for that act. And I'm guessing about a third of the people in there were the parents who had to take the kids to she show or were there to keep an eye on them. So they maybe only drew 7000-8000 FANS with lots of moms escaping to the bar during the show.
Dave Matthews kicked off his tour here last night. I don't care what Pollstar says, the place was not much more than 2/3 full. For the first night of Dave.
Tis a sad sad state of affairs…..
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