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Live Music's (Good) Problem: Too Many Competing Headliners

by Dave Brooks
November 08, 2018, 11:13am EST

A decade ago, the concert industry worried that the eventual retirement of superstar acts like The Rolling Stones would bring a decline in business because few up-and-coming or established artists were being developed to take their place. But fast-forward to 2018, and the industry is facing the opposite problem: No one wants to come off the road, while a glut of new streaming sensations are trying to muscle in, pushing up overall revenue while intensifying the competition.

“We’ve gone from worrying about not having enough headline talent to now having to play air traffic control with all of the big arena and stadium tours that went out this year,” says Bob Roux, president of U.S. concerts at Live Nation. “We are routing tours for 2020 and even 2021. There are just a lot of artists that want to be on the road.”

The hypercompetitive environment has been a boon for concert promotion giant Live Nation, whose ticket revenue rose 7 percent in the second quarter of 2018 and sponsorship revenue is up 12 percent over the same quarter in 2017, according to Live Nation’s Security & Exchange Commission filings. The three biggest outings of the year -- Ed Sheeran’s Divide Tour, Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour and Beyoncé’s On the Run II with Jay-Z -- are on track to gross nearly $1 billion in combined ticket sales, up from the $600 million that the top three tours grossed in 2008, according to Billboard Boxscore.

But not everyone is cheering as the race for venue space and fans’ dollars intensifies. While some tours by newcomers like Post Malone have grossed north of $20 million in 2018, other runs by older acts like The Smashing Pumpkins have struggled to compete, with only a handful of shows selling out on the 30-year-old rock band’s reunion tour.

The growing diversity of acts on the road, meanwhile, is forcing the live industry to grapple with another challenge: lack of diversity within its own ranks. This year, every major festival from Coachella and Lollapalooza to Austin City Limits had multiple hip-hop headliners -- a change from years past. But there are relatively few executives of color at the top of the live biz.

“As an industry, we have not done enough to tackle diversity, and now we’re trying to play catch-up,” says WME partner Kevin Shivers, who, along with the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, helped curate “Out of Balance: Does the Touring Business Need an Inclusivity Rider?,” one of 20 panels at Billboard’s Live Music Summit Nov. 13-14 at the Montage in Beverly Hills. The Live Music Awards on Nov. 13 will honor John Mayer with the Legend of Live Award, as well as Sebastian Maniscalco, Billboard’s first comedian of the year, and artist of the year Shawn Mendes.

Inclusion is one of many topics slated for debate at the annual conference, which examines the long-term health of the live-music business and the challenges ahead. Top artists, agents, promoters and managers will discuss everything from ticket pricing and mental health on tour to the tricks of maintaining an independent spirit in an increasingly homogeneous festival market.

Mendes will join his manager, Andrew Gertler, to discuss his touring strategy, while rising artists including 2018 American Idol winner Maddie Poppe will participate alongside longtime road warriors. Dropkick Murphys founder Ken Casey and his manager, Jeff Castelaz, will talk about the band’s decadeslong success (see page 58), and New Kids on the Block will take the stage to talk about their upcoming 53-city North American Mixtape Tour and how they still sell out arenas. The group may have predicted the secret to success for any artist in today’s heated touring market way back in 1988 with the name of their debut album: Hangin’ Tough.
 



YOUR GUIDE TO THE SUMMIT

During two days of panels at Billboard’s annual touring conference, the industry’s power players will delve into everything from ticket-pricing strategy to festival overload, and will honor the year’s top performers, venues and executives with an array of awards (see panel highlights and the complete list, below).

DAY 1: Nov. 13

“Masters of Illusion: The Magic and Money Behind Successful Hologram Tours” (9 a.m.) They’ve got Roy Orbison, Ronnie James Dio and Amy Winehouse. But do hologram tours have a long-term future? Paradigm agents Dan Weiner and Seth Malasky discuss with Base Hologram’s Bob Ringe and Marty Tudor.

“Representation Matters: Agents at the Top of Their Game” (11:25 a.m.) Artist Group International’s Marsha Vlasic, Madison House’s Nadia Prescher, United Talent Agency’s Cheryl Paglierani, Creative Artists Agency’s Alli McGregor, WME’s Samantha Kirby Yoh and Paradigm’s Corrie Christopher Martin talk touring power with Billboard West Coast editor Melinda Newman.

“Rock the Bells: Meet Hip-Hop’s Next Generation of Festival Promoters” (4:30 p.m.) Vibe editor-in-chief Datwon Thomas interviews the promoters behind such hip-hop festivals as J. Cole’s Dreamville Fest, Broccoli City and Rolling Loud.

DAY 2: Nov. 14

“Artist Development: What Does It Mean to Break Through in 2018?” (9:30 a.m.) Billboard Dance’s Matt Medved talks with United Talent Agency’s Steve Gordon, RCA Records’ John Fleckenstein and other insiders about what it takes to elevate an artist from the club level to the arena stage.

“Unmanagable: A Conversation With Father-Son Management Partners Irving and Jeffrey Azoff” (3:45 p.m.) Music’s most powerful family discusses the state of the live biz.

New Kids on the Block (4:30 p.m.) Thirty years after breaking through with Hangin’ Tough, America’s favorite boy band discusses its future touring plans and shares behind-the-scenes details from its recent concert at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. NKOTB’s management and agency teams weigh in on the secrets to their success. (Note: all times PST.)



YOUR GUIDE TO THE AWARDS

The Billboard Live Music Awards are Nov. 13 at the Montage in Beverly Hills. The finalists for this year's award are below.

LEGEND OF LIVE
⤏ John Mayer

After ringing in 2018 with a New Year’s Eve show at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Mayer and Dead & Company played to 500,000 fans this year, after he sold out five solo arena shows in Brazil in 2017.

ARTIST OF THE YEAR
⤏ Shawn Mendes

The singer, who has reported over $35 million in 2017 ticket sales, is prepping for his biggest tour yet: 67 dates, starting March 2019.

COMEDIAN OF THE YEAR
⤏ Sebastian Maniscalco

The Stay Hungry author is the first recipient of this award, having sold out Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre and five nights at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, plus booking four 2019 shows in Madison Square Garden.

CHIP HOOPER AWARD FOR YOUNG PROFESSIONALS 
Selected by friends and family of the late super-agent, Paradigm and Billboard staff.

⤏ Rebeca León, Lionfish Management

⤏ Brittanie Delava, AEG

⤏ Kelly Stelbasky, Live Nation

⤏ Jeff Krones, Creative Artists Agency

⤏ Alicia Karlin, Madison House

HUMANITARIAN AWARD
Selected by Billboard staff.

⤏ Kevin Lyman, Preventum Initiative/FEND

BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST
Selected by Billboard staff.

⤏ Post Malone

⤏ Maluma

⤏ Cardi B

TOP TOUR
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ Beyoncé & Jay-Z

⤏ Ed Sheeran

⤏ Taylor Swift

TOP U.S. TOUR
Based on attendance reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ Beyoncé & Jay-Z

⤏ Ed Sheeran

⤏ Taylor Swift

TOP DRAW
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ Beyoncé & Jay-Z

⤏ Ed Sheeran

⤏ Taylor Swift

TOP FESTIVAL
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ Lollapalooza Brazil

⤏ Life Is Beautiful

⤏ Outside Lands

TOP ARENA 
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ The Forum, Inglewood, Calif.

⤏ Madison Square Garden, New York

⤏ O2 Arena, London

TOP VENUE UNDER 10,000 SEATS
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ Auditorio Nacional, Mexico City

⤏ Radio City Music Hall, New York

⤏ Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas

TOP PROMOTER
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ AEG

⤏ Frontier Touring Group

⤏ Live Nation

TOP INDEPENDENT PROMOTER WORLDWIDE
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ Another Planet Entertainment

⤏ OCESA-CIE

⤏ T4F-Time for Fun

TOP AGENCY
Based on Billboard Boxscore’s list of the top 50 tours.

⤏ Creative Artists Agency

⤏ Paradigm

⤏ WME

CONCERT MARKETING AND PROMOTION
Based on industry nominations.

Travis Scott x Red Bull, Lyft, Snapchat + American Express

Marshmello x Bumble

Khalid x Hollister

TOP MANAGER
Based on industry nominations.

⤏ Andrew Gertler

⤏ Sharon Osbourne

⤏ Dre London

TOP COMEDY TOUR
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ Kevin Hart

⤏ Sebastian Maniscalco

⤏ Chris Rock

TOP CLUB
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C.

⤏ Brooklyn Steel, Brooklyn

⤏ The Showroom at the Flamingo, Las Vegas

TOP AMPHITHEATER
Based on grosses reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ Greek Theatre, Los Angeles

⤏ Hearst Greek Theatre, Berkeley, Calif.

⤏ Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles

TOP BOXSCORE
The highest-grossing event of the year, as reported to Billboard Boxscore.

⤏ Ed Sheeran: Wembley Stadium, London, June 14-17 (four shows)

⤏ Taylor Swift: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J., July 20-22 (three)

U2, Estádio do Morumbi, São Paolo, Oct. 19, 21, 22 and 25 (four)

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 10 issue of Billboard.