The North American concert business rallied from a dismal summer to post a tiny increase of 0.2% for the year, according to Billboard Boxscore. Total grosses for 2004 were $2.22 billion.

The North American concert business rallied from a dismal summer to post a tiny increase of 0.2% for the year, according to Billboard Boxscore. Total grosses for 2004 were $2.22 billion.

Worldwide numbers, driven by a comparatively stable European concert market, saw an increase of 0.4%.

On a per-show basis, which many consider a more telling barometer for the health of the business, North American concert grosses averaged $172,990, down from $174,238 last year.

North American concert attendance was down 5.4%, reflecting a decrease of more than 2.5 million people. Average per-show attendance fell 6% from 2003 to 3,669. This continues the decade-long trend of dollar growth outpacing that of attendance.

"The consumer is speaking loud and clear, and has been for the past several years," says Jerry Mickelson, co-president of indie promoter Jam Productions. "They're telling us ticket prices are too high, and it doesn't take an economist or a journalist to figure this out."

Interestingly, all of the promoters with a national presence -- Clear Channel Entertainment, AEG Live, House of Blues Concerts, Jack Utsick Presents and Nederlander -- reported increases in total grosses this year, as did most independents. "Gross reflects gross and means nothing as to whether you made money or not," says Rick Franks, president of CCE's Cellar Door Concerts in Detroit. "You can have a very high gross and still lose a lot of money."

With more than $1.3 billion in grosses from involvement in 7,009 shows reported worldwide, CCE remains far and away the dominant force in live entertainment. AEG Live, the subsidiary of deep-pocketed Anschutz Entertainment Group that promoted such 2004 shows as Prince and Usher, continues to chisel away at CCE's dominance. AEG Live had a hand in promoting 987 shows that grossed $454 million, up from $341 million in 2003.

"In spite of it being a very bad summer, this was our biggest year ever," says AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips, "both from a gross and a net standpoint."

HOB managed to do more with less in 2004, with grosses up $30 million to $250 million from 2,898 shows, 100 fewer than in 2003.

Outside of the "big three," some promoters experienced significant increases. Jack Utsick Presents, for example, has quietly become an international force, involved in 656 shows this year that grossed more than $108 million in 2004, doubling last year's business.

Some regional independents also fared well. Nashville-based Outback Concerts jumped into the top 10 for the first time in 2004, reporting $34.2 million in grosses, up from only $8 million in 2003. But other independents saw declines. Chicago's Jam Productions went from $73 million to $44 million in co-promotes, and nearly $60 million to $33 million in solo promotions.

Despite the travails of 2004, concert industry pros remain an optimistic lot.

"Overall, I think the business will be stronger in 2005, and everyone will respond favorably to the issues around ticket prices, guarantees, marketing, etc.," says Alex Hodges, executive VP of HOB Concerts. "We really do have the same objectives as the agents, the artists and the managers. We want successful shows and as many sellout shows as possible."