Is the stage set for the live music business to return to the record levels the industry saw in the first part of this decade?
A wide range of indicators point to another robust year for live music as the sector gears up for the meat of the season.
Most stakeholders agree that 2012 was a healthy year for touring, and Billboard Boxscore numbers concur. The slump of 2010, more than ever, seems a perfect storm of a bad economy and an industry that didn’t batten down the hatches, and ever since the clouds have been clearing.
Of course, those clouds could form again, but the lessons about pricing and strategic planning remain fresh. Those precepts, along with healthy trends in music, the growth of festivals and international touring, and sophisticated, synergistic marketing, could well propel the live biz back into the record books.
Touring, as ever, is a cyclical business dependent on who’s on the road. But the fragmented nature of music, so often a hindrance in building large audiences, is now playing in the industry’s favor. Mainstay genres like country, pop, rock and R&B/hip-hop are building and maintaining headliners, and upstarts in the realm of neo-folk and EDM are adding spice to the mix and have become real contenders in the offerings of tours and festivals on an international level.
At the same time, proven superstars like Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Bon Jovi, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones are selling tickets like they should (or are expected to as soon as those tickets go on sale). The same could be said for the festivals and “event” tours like Jay-Z/Justin Timberlake.
Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest promoter, is promoting scores of shows by the likes of McCartney, Springsteen, Beyonce, Jay-Z/Timberlake, the Eagles, P!nk, Mumford & Sons, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, John Mayer, Pitbull/Ke$ha, Kid Rock, Lil Wayne and other major stars. Live Nation co-president of North American touring Bob Roux says early sales are up about 20% from a year ago, and the Live Nation machine is clicking on all cylinders: “We have the strongest teams you can find anywhere in the live entertainment business, [including] our social/digital marketing group, our revenue management and pricing department, our hundreds of local marketers located in every major city across the country and our world-class promoters and tour producers.”
Live Nation’s closest rival, AEG Live, is predicting the biggest year in its history, sparked by tours by the Stones, Bon Jovi, Leonard Cohen, Justin Bieber, Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift (the latter two with TMG/AEG Live), and a thriving festival division with Coachella, Stagecoach, Jazzfest and others.
The largest independent promoter and festival producer in the United States, C3 Presents, reports strength across the board. EDM fests remain strong, country festivals are thriving with Live Nation’s Watershed and Faster Horses, and Neste Entertainment president Gil Cunningham says events like Country Thunder in Wisconsin; Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, Alberta; and Country Thunder in Arizona are all trending up.
So now the live industry seems fully prepared to maintain its mantel as the primary driver of revenue and artist development in the music industry. What follows are some events and tours to watch for the summer season.