The touring industry’s long road to recovery is over. Both numbers reported to Billboard Boxscore and, to a larger degree, discussions with promoters and agents point to a touring business in a boom period that, barring unforeseen circumstances, could last for years.?
“There is no question that business is up,” says Marc Geiger, worldwide head of music at William Morris Endeavor. “The industry got a scare and reacted appropriately, and the whole industry did that to an extent. The market is very healthy right now. We’re seeing it—I think everybody’s up.”?
“I am a happy camper,” adds Mark Campana, co-president of North American concerts for Live Nation, the world’s largest promoter. “We are selling tickets.”
?Creative Artists Agency (CAA) managing partner Rob Light is seeing similar conditions. “Last year we had to contend with the election and all that distraction. [But now] the economy has truly turned, there’s great talent out there, the packaging is better, the pricing is smarter, and when everybody’s rowing in the same direction it really works,” he says. “The marketing is smarter. Social media and the Internet have made it easier to talk to your consumer—the consumer who is interested has a way to find out very quickly what’s going on. Across the board everybody has been much smarter about the whole thing.”
?From clubs, arenas and amphitheaters to stadiums and festivals, the debilitating slump the industry endured in the latter part of the last decade now seems firmly in the rear-view mirror. Traditionally, midyear Boxscore numbers aggregated in June are smaller than the previous year’s, given the tendency for numbers to come in later. Not so this year, with both gross revenue and attendance up significantly over last year for the period of Nov. 1, 2012, through May 31, 2013.?
Global gross revenue is up nearly 16% from a year ago, according to Boxscore, and attendance is up 5.6%. In North America, where many of the top tours are just gaining steam and much box-office muscle has yet to be flexed, the gross is up a whopping 17% and attendance is up a modest 1.5%, although with 16.5% fewer shows than what was reported for the same period in 2012, that concert count isn’t an unusual situation for Boxscore.?
What’s particularly encouraging is that the strong numbers reflect a wide range of genres, events, venues and tours.
?Geiger attributes a number of factors to the boom, primarily the “continued high value of the live experience” and “the quality distribution of music in the market, and all the different things that are going on—communications, social, improved marketing.”?
Many things influence a market upswing or downturn. “It’s smarter [talent] buying, smarter ancillary coverage by the promoters,” Geiger says. “It’s a maturity in the bigger companies—AEG, Live Nation, others. They’re not recent congloms and aggregations; they’ve actually had enough time to operate and operate well. I hate to say ‘improvements’ in the aftermarket—but it’s improvements in the aftermarkets, trusted [resellers] like the StubHubs, the Platinums. The audience doesn’t have to be like trained monkeys and jump at 10 o’clock on Friday for an on-sale.”
?Still, more sophisticated marketing strategies in the digital age may well play the largest role of all. “You now have penetration. It’s not a newspaper ad and a small radio buy. It’s a completely different animal,” says Geiger, who credits “the distribution of music, and the ease that consumers can get into it, the deepening relationship they have with the artists because of the digital world. It’s not just an album cover and maybe a story in Rolling Stone, if they’re lucky.”
?Marketing has changed dramatically during the last three years, Campana says, and Live Nation’s exhaustive consumer research indicates that it’s working. “Fans feel they have better information in a more timely fashion,” he says. “Getting them quality information in a timely fashion in an easy format—smartphones. That’s helping us sell more tickets.”
?Of course, it always boils down to the artists that are touring and how they approach their road work. “A big factor is people used to look at touring as pure promotion for an album or whatever,” Geiger says. “The length of time that touring has been said to be at the top of the food chain—even though I know that it’s just part of an ecosystem and that’s overstated—people are more careful and protective, not making mistakes in that world, because they know it’s a lot of bread and butter and looked at as more important than it ever was. There are more places to play, more types of places to play, more choices.”?
If the two leading promoters, AEG Live and Live Nation, are suffering, then the industry is suffering. Fortunately for hundreds of touring acts and thousands of shows, both are doing well.
?“We’ve had a great first half,” says John Meglen, co-president of Concerts West, the touring division of AEG Live. The live entertainment division of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which has had its distractions with the departure of CEO Tim Lieweke and the ongoing Michael Jackson trial, has rolled out nine of the top 25 tours, including Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, Justin Bieber and, under the TMG/AEG Live banner, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney and George Strait.?
“Touring-wise, we’re doing very well,” Meglen says. “We finished the Rolling Stones’ tour of North America, which was very successful—we sold out every show. Taylor Swift is sold out. Chesney is doing amazing numbers. Bon Jovi sold out. Bieber is just starting his run—sold out. All of the different touring groups, Barrie Marshall and all of his P!nk stuff internationally, and the [Paul] McCartney shows, all of Louie [Messina]’s stuff, Deborah [Rathwell]’s stuff out of New York—she’s doing the Bieber tour. We’ve just had a tremendous year, and everything looks really good for the future.”
?At Live Nation, Campana says amphitheater ticket sales are up 26% over midyear 2012, which itself was up by double digits. “We watch our market share, so we can tell that not only is the industry selling tickets but we are grabbing market share, so we feel good about that as well,” Campana says. “As an industry, we’ve had a couple of years of rebuilding and recovering, and it feels good.”?
As Geiger referenced, part of the success is due to Campana and co-president Bob Roux settling into their gigs after battlefield promotions in the fall of 2011. Their focus was placed on allowing more local and regional market input on things like talent buying, ticket pricing and marketing. Campana says that he and Roux also met with the managers and agency heads to figure out pricing and packaging strategies to sell more tickets.
?“I have to say that when we all came out of 2010 and we saw it was a tough year, we knew there were definitely some issues going on,” Campana says. “I know the agents want to drive ticket prices in the right directions, the managers want to position their artists in the right-sized venues, and promoters definitely want the right band in the right venues at the right ticket price, and that doesn’t happen unless you have everybody pulling on the rope together.”?
Another priority: ending discount strategies and “fire sales” that many think devalued the live experience. In North America, Live Nation was faced with overcoming an entrenched consumer perception that for more than a decade had conditioned at least casual concert-goers to wait until the last minute to purchase discounted tickets.
?“We’re selling tickets with price integrity,” Campana says. Limited discounting is still utilized, but early in the cycle and through sales channels like Groupon and Travel Zoo, he says. “Occasionally we’re getting an agent or manager that comes to us: ‘Hey, we’re light on tickets two weeks out. What are we going to do, Groupon?’” Campana says. “We may, but more often than not we don’t. We’ve retained that price integrity and value mantra that was so important for us, and that is really telling the story.”
?Festivals and amphitheaters appeal to the same consumers: those who enjoy their music outside. But they haven’t cannibalized each other, as consumers are showing that not only do they enjoy the buffet of festivals but also the full meal of headlining shows.?
The festival business remains largely robust. In its second year as a two-weekend event with identical lineups, Coachella, produced by AEG Live’s Goldenvoice division, reported the highest gross in the history of Boxscore: $67,208,033. Goldenvoice’s other fest, the Stagecoach country festival, came in at $12 million—its biggest run to date.
?Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., sold out, as has Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and such events as Firefly, Outside Lands and Hangout are also doing well, though others have pulled the plug.
?What gives the industry reason for even more optimism is not only the growing marketing sophistication but also the growth of international markets. “We’ve always looked at it as a global marketplace, going back to Bon Jovi in the earliest days when [the band] broke worldwide, to the huge success that Katy Perry had last year,” CAA’s Light says. “The Internet allows you to talk to the world much more quickly, much more broadly and much more directly than you ever could. You can talk to them, and they can talk right back to you.”?
So, again, barring unforeseen circumstances, the touring industry is in an upward arc that could potentially last a while. “The pieces are in place, and the talent certainly is there,” Light says. “For all the people who were saying, ‘Where are the headliners coming from?’ I was always pushing back, saying, ‘They’ll be there. They always are.’”
?To Light’s point, many touring artists will impact the charts that weren’t even a factor a decade ago, including Bieber, John Mayer, Kings of Leon, Imagine Dragons, the Killers, Selena Gomez, Carrie Underwood, Pitbull, Ke$ha, the Avett Brothers, the Lumineers, 30 Seconds to Mars, Phoenix, Two Door Cinema Club, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, Miguel—the list of young talent goes on.
?“From my company’s point of view, I feel good about the next three years,” Light says. “I don’t want to be overconfident, but I feel very good about people’s relationship with music, and live music in particular.
“People like music, and the other good thing about this generation is that they’re not as narrow as we might have been growing up,” Light adds. “They like it all, and they’re taking it all in, and that’s part of where this [success] comes from.”
?So what are the potential land mines to this growth phase? Meglen is somewhat concerned that the success of the first half could cause issues in the second. “We’re in a really good space in the business—let’s just hope we didn’t take too much money out of the market in the first half so that any of us suffer in the second,” he says. “You’ve got to be very careful about putting anything on sale in the summertime now, because there’s so much out there. If you have something going out in the fall, you’re going to have a shorter window to get it on sale…There have been so many great tours out there, after a while you just take so much money out of the marketplace it always makes you a little bit nervous for the stuff in the fall.”?
Light’s view on potential speed bumps is simple: “The speed bump is always the same: greed and nothing more,” he says. “That’s always where we tend, as an industry, to blow it up, but I don’t see that happening. The Internet keeps us on a more even keel. We’ve lived through some hard times, so we’re smarter about how to approach the good times.”?
Campana believes a sharp eye on pricing, packaging and marketing will keep the ball rolling. “We have found ways as promoters to continue to promote and make people feel live music is a unique event,” he says. “We sell live. We sell ‘when the lights go down and the crowd screams, that can be the time of your life.’ And when we stop selling the idea of ‘concerts are exciting,’ we’re going to be in the ‘sit in front of your TV’ business. And that’s not what the live concert business is about.”