Cancelled shows and tours by usually reliable marquee artists like Christina Aguilera, the Eagles, U2 (due to Bono's back surgery), Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair, Rhianna, John Mayer, Limp Bizkit, and the Go-Go's seem to belie the fact that the live music business is taking a beating this summer. Multi-act festivals like Bamboozle and the Country Throwdown Tour pulled the plug on some dates, while other tours by what were considered hot acts are experiencing slumping sales, among them Jonas Brothers and Kings Of Leon, according to sources.
Rumblings of a tough year for touring began a couple of months ago, with predictions ranging from "mediocre" to "bloodbath." Two main culprits may be at fault in what is shaping up as possibly the worst summer for touring since the mid 1990s: ticket prices and traffic. At the center of the storm is Live Nation, which controls the majority of summer touring, particularly at the amphitheater level.
Ticket prices have been a thorn in the industry's side for years, and ticket prices are a direct function of how much the act is being paid. Live Nation's detractors say the company pays artists unreasonably high guarantees in order to gain market share and keep its amphitheaters programmed and tap into ancillary revenues like concessions, sponsorships and parking. When an estimated 70% of touring traffic occurs during the warm months, ticket prices become more sensitive, as fans are forced to make choices as to which shows they will see.
Another issue created by traffic is heavy schedules make it tougher for each show to get the kind of promotional attention necessary, whether it comes from the promoter's own efforts or media coverage.
Also coming into play is the fact that many if not most Live Nation shed tours are negotiated and booked out of the company's West Coast offices, without a lot of local input about which shows are programmed and how much an act is worth in a given market. An act that's worth $250,000 in Boston may be worth only $50,000 in Cleveland, which should be reflected in local ticket prices.
Another factor cited by insiders is ill-advised touring by artists who either don't have a new album or single out, or have made the rounds too many years in a row. Without a compelling reason to go see an act, whether it's absence from the marketplace or a hot album or single, fans may be deciding to sit this one out.
Finally, there seems to be a level of skepticism from consumers toward the concert industry, much of it relating to numerous ticket add-on fees or high ticket and concession prices in general.
There are live music successes. Coachella, Stagecoach, Jazzfest and Bonnaroo all have done quite well. Tours by acts like Lady GaGa, James Taylor/Carole King, and Roger Waters are performing solidly under Live Nation, as is its entire country roster of tours. AEG's Justin Bieber, Black Eyed Peas, Taylor Swift and Bon Jovi, are also doing sellout business.