Why Rock Still Rules the Road
Why Rock Still Rules the Road

These days it's rare to see any musical artist make the jump from playing large clubs and theaters to arenas. But after 10 years of development in the touring space, the Black Keys will support their latest album, El Camino, with a North American arena headlining tour, beginning in March. The Arctic Monkeys have been tapped as support.

Black Keys manager John Peets of Q Prime says there's "a leap of faith" involved with making the move to large-scale venues, but feels the blues-rock duo has gained enough momentum in recent years to give it a shot. So far, the band's March 12 concert at New York's Madison Square Garden is sold out ("in 15 minutes," according to a tweet from Keys drummer Patrick Carney [@patrickcarney] on Dec. 9), with a second show added soon after, Peets says.

U2's '360' Tour Gross: $736,137,344!

In addition to the Black Keys, Coldplay has already announced a spring arena trek and it's believed that Nickelback will play large venues in 2012 as well. In 2011, rock tours grossed more than any other genre, pulling in $1.7 billion from more than 5,700 concerts that drew 22,957,774 fans, according to Billboard Boxscore. Keeping in tradition with past years, the top 10 rock tours of 2011 were by veteran acts. Leading the top three spots were U2 ($293,281,487), Bon Jovi ($192,947,951) and Roger Waters ($180,844,170).

Concert promoters, booking agents and artist managers generally agree that rock touring is alive and well. Aside from superstar rock acts that have little trouble drawing fans to headlining concerts, touring industry observers believe the future lies in smartly packaged events with an affordable ticket price.

Billboard's Year in Touring

John Reese, founder/president of Synergy Global Entertainment (SGE), has mastered this formula in recent years with rock festival tours like the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival and Rockstar Taste of Chaos.

"It gives the music fans a lot more bang for their buck," says Reese, who co-produces the tours. "I'm looking at [the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival] poster right now and [fans] can see nine bands for generally what the price of a two- or three-band package [goes for]."

Reese, whose company produced more than 230 music events in 12 countries in 2011, plans to launch several new rock tours and festivals in 2012. He declines to give specific details, but says they'll be organized as a joint venture between SGE and 5B Artist Management.

Joe Litvag, a senior VP at AEG Live in St. Louis, which co-produces such midsize festivals as Rock on the Range, Rock Fest, Rocklahoma and Carolina Rebellion, says that attendance continues to grow at many of his festivals. He notes, however, that there aren't enough upcoming and midlevel acts breaking through to the next level in the active rock genre.

"With the direction the major labels have gone over the last few years-most of them are pretty much out of the rock business, except for the well-established rock acts-these smaller artists are having to rely on independent labels to try and get their career to the next level," Litvag says. "It certainly can be done, but the incubation period is a lot longer with an active rock act than a pop act."

At a time when rock acts are touring more often to make up for lost revenue in recorded-music sales, it's crucial for bands to be more creative with their live show, the Agency Group's Ken Fermaglich says. The agent-who books such bands as Staind, 3 Doors Down, Paramore, Creed and Hinder-says that many acts are getting smarter about offering fans unique concert experiences.

"I'm having conversations with bands about being smart and trying to see that it's important to create interesting content that isn't necessarily the same old thing," Fermaglich says. "Bands are recognizing that they need to reinvent themselves or try some different things when they want to go out and work."

He points to Creed as a recent example. This spring the group will perform its albums My Own Prison (1997) and Human Clay (1999) in their entirety at theaters in select U.S. cities. The Scott Stapp-led band will spend two nights in the same city, performing one album each night, along with songs from later releases Weathered and Full Circle.

Creed fans have responded well to the concept. "Ticket counts are great and the tour is going to be awesome," Fermaglich says.

SGE's Reese agrees that rock bands need to start thinking outside of the box if they want to continue selling concert tickets.

"I am seeing bands that are playing too many dates and they're not making it special for the fans," Reese says, noting that ticket counts have decreased as a result. "It's important that when we develop new concepts and touring ideas, we bring cool elements to it, price it right and do all the things necessary to make sure it's special."

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