For the touring industry, these are now —officially— the best of times. “The concert business is basically on fire,” says veteran agent Dennis Arfa, president of Artists Group International (AGI).
Anecdotal information from virtually every stakeholder in the live music business—including buyers, sellers, venues, vendors, ticketers and other ancillary providers—confirms the touring industry has been having a banner year since last spring.
|2013: The Year in Music|
Now Billboard’s own metric, the Boxscore chart, validates these boom times from a numbers standpoint, with the most positive and promising trends of this century.
The dark days for the industry that marked the close of this millennium’s first decade are not only firmly in the rear view, but now appear to be an anomaly, as 2013 Boxscore reports soared to a record level of $4.8 billion in gross ticket sales worldwide. That’s up nearly 30% from last year and up 9% over the biggest Boxscore year ever—2009—the year before the touring bubble burst after a decade of growth.
In 2009, warning signs were plentiful as grosses outpaced attendance and a handful of mega-tours belied an industry with a distorted value proposition and disenfranchised fans.
But, four years later, all signs point toward continued growth as the industry remains focused on providing value and customer service, international markets continue to open, new artists are developing solid foundations and selling tickets across several genres, and new-media marketing tools come to bear in quantifiable ways.
Unlike Nielsen SoundScan figures, Boxscore numbers depend on the consistency and accuracy of reports from promoters, venues, agents and managers, and represent just a fraction of the overall value of the live business. Therefore, if Boxscore only shows us a slice of what’s actually going on out there, the metric is still a useful barometer for gauging the overall health of the industry. If nothing else, Boxscore brings numeric context to what those in the trenches have been telling us all year—and those two metrics don’t always run in parallel.
But this year, numerous indicators, including the Boxscore chart, point to a robust business that is still very much in growth mode. In fact, with all the non-reporting tours, concerts, events, soft-ticket shows, casinos, private concerts and international plays, the touring industry is surely at its highest level ever, with fans worldwide ponying up a conservative Billboard estimate of more than $15 billion annually for the in-the-moment experience that only live performance can offer.
It is a rare situation for the news to be so positive in every aspect, with double-digit increases in many different metrics. Worldwide, concert attendance is up 26%, according to Boxscore, with the number of shows increasing by only 5.8%. Also from a global perspective, per-show gross is up 20% and per-show attendance is up 18.5%.
North America has had a remarkable resurgence for a business that not so long ago seemed to have lost its place in the public consciousness. The total gross is up 26% and total attendance up 23%, with the total number of shows up less than 5%. By contrast, in 2012, North American Boxscore grosses were up a modest 1.7% and attendance was down 6%.
The North American numbers hold up on a per-show basis, with the average gross in North America up 17.4% and average attendance up 17.8%, the first time the latter has outpaced the former perhaps ever in the modern era, and a reflection of more conservative pricing overall.
More important, the pricing doesn’t skew downward due to deep discounting or fire sales, as the industry at large has moved away from price slashing and focused more on “right pricing” out of the gate.
What’s true in North America for the overall business is also true for Live Nation, the world’s largest promoter. In North America, Live Nation concert ticket sales are up 15% year-on-year to more than 20 million, with prices remaining relatively flat for the past several years, according to Live Nation North American Concerts co-president Bob Roux.
“We’re obviously ecstatic about the results this year,” Roux says. He adds that Live Nation amphitheaters enjoyed their best year ever, which flies in the face of any concerns that the burgeoning festival business might be negatively affecting sheds during the summer months.
And the North American numbers aren’t skewed by a red-hot Canadian market, as has been the case in the past. In that most mature concert marketplace of all, the United States, gross ticket sales are up 30% and attendance is up 27%, with the number of shows increasing just 6.6%.
These are just numbers to crunch. But no one would argue that 2013 hasn’t been a fortuitous year, and by far the most robust one for the live industry since the Great Slump of 2010, a year marked by cancellations, postponements, sudden “illnesses” and widespread industry finger-pointing. In the end, the tailspin of 2010 led to a large-scale cessation in Boxscore reporting that still hasn’t resumed previous levels.
For example, midway through 2010, as the downturn started hammering summer tours, Live Nation, the world’s largest promoter, stopped reporting all shows as a matter of course, although it still does frequently report certain top-end tours upon request and all shows from its Global Touring division. Live Nation claims to present some 20,000 shows annually, and this year only reported 2,623 to Boxscore. But, in perhaps yet another positive indicator of the business’ health, Live Nation reported 54% more shows this year than last.
WHAT’S DRIVING THE NUMBER?
Touring is, as ever, a cyclical business, and mega-tours by U2, the Rolling Stones or Madonna tend to skew the numbers upward due to higher ticket prices, larger venues and global footprints. But this year’s strong numbers came in a year short on such mega-tours, with even the Stones playing a comparatively paltry 23 shows. This year’s top 25 tours, while populated with acknowledged superstars, featured artists with more conservative ticket prices. This was a “meat and potatoes” kind of touring year, yet one where fans turned out to see a wide range of acts, in varied stages of their career arc, from diverse genres, all of which bodes well for the overall popularity of live music.
“I’ve never seen so many superstars in so many genres,” AGI’s Arfa says, pointing out that the fragmentation once considered a bane of the industry is now a bonus as multiple genres are fielding solid acts capable of selling lots of tickets. “There’s something for everybody. There’s a lot of population out there, and most people are bored to death. So going to a show is a big event for most people,” Arfa says. “And you don’t need the same audience for every show. If a fan goes to a few shows a year, that’s all we need, whereas we used to need them to go to 10 or 12. My generation, we had to get everybody to go.”
Getting people to go depends on the industry presenting acts that fans want to see at prices they’re willing to pay. But first the fans have to know about the show. One primary reason why more tickets are selling today is because of the extremely targeted and efficient marketing opportunities afforded by new media and strategic use of mobile, social, email, channel marketing and digital sales channels. Many in the business would agree that this is the year the industry at large significantly moved the needle in using data analytics to sell more tickets and tackle one of touring’s great obstacles: lack of awareness.
As far as fielding compelling tours and pricing them correctly, 2013 was a year where the stake-holders got it right.
“I hate comparing years, but as an overall theme  was one of the most intelligently booked, promoted and embraced concert years in my recent memory,” Creative Artists Agency managing partner/head of music Rob Light says. “The packaging was smart, the scaling was smart, ticket pricing was smart, the way shows were put on sale was smart, across everybody. People really went at it with a very intelligent, fan-friendly point of view for the most part.”
With a $3 billion annual talent budget, the touring business depends on a healthy Live Nation, the industry’s only public company, which posted record earnings in 2013.
Among the tours and concerts that Live Nation promoted in 2013 were Justin Timberlake/Jay Z, P!nk, Beyoncé, Rihanna, One Direction, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Swedish House Mafia, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Roger Waters, Kid Rock, Mumford & Sons, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and Imagine Dragons.
Live Nation also increased its presence in the EDM festival space, with record attendance at Electric Daisy Carnival, HARD, Paridiso and Digital Dreams, “and we also had record attendance in our festival, amphitheater, arena, and clubs and theater divisions,” Live Nation Entertainment CEO Michael Rapino says.
“On a global basis, live music is exploding,” Rapino said at the sold-out Billboard Touring Conference (yet another positive indicator). “Artists are pricing better, there is great fan demand, [and] it’s the best place to spend two hours for the price. We’re seeing a great supply of artists filling the venues, [and] when you add globalization to that, we think that the live business is booming and has a long growth period ahead of it.”
AEG Live, the second-largest promoter, put up record numbers in 2013, as predicted by former CEO Randy Phillips a year ago. With tours by such acts as Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney and George Strait (the latter three with the Messina Group), along with a busy global network of regional offices, AEG Live reported grosses of more than $1 billion for the first time in its history, up a staggering 97% from 2012. AEG Live’s Goldenvoice division also produced the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals in Indio, Calif., with the former producing the highest boxscore in history at $67.2 million.
The boom times extend to independent pro- moters like Phoenix-based Danny Zelisko, who says his Danny Zelisko Presents promoted more than 150 shows this year primarily in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Albuquerque, N.M.
“The top acts that toured in 2013 did better than ever before. The public’s thirst for their favorite stars seems to be unquenchable,” Zelisko says. “Very few empty seats is music to my ears.”
Austin-based C3 Presents’ reported boxscores increased by more than 57% in 2013, with involvement in more than 800 shows that generated $124.3 million in box office. C3 remains a force in the booming festival business, with Lollapalooza in Chicago selling out in advance and the Austin City Limits Music Festival success- fully expanding to two weekends. “The festival business was stronger than ever this year,” C3 partner Charlie Walker says, “and in talking to our peers, it seemed like that was true for most of the promoters.”
|2013: The Year in Music|
That seems to be true in San Francisco, where Another Planet Entertainment enjoyed “our best year ever,” according to Gregg Perloff, president of APE, co-producer of the Outside Lands festival with Superfly Presents. “We took on a new festival, Life Is Beautiful in Las Vegas. The Fox Theatre in Oakland [Calif.] continues to be the hottest venue I’ve ever been involved in. We were up in Tahoe, we were up at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley—sales were very strong. It was a spectacular year. I’ve got no complaints.”
APE, which Perloff says presented about 700 shows in 2013, thrives on diversity, presenting acts ranging from Placido Domingo to a five-night run by Swedish House Mafia that sold 42,000 tickets at the 8,500-capacity Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco. “I’m in the middle of a market that’s on fire with the tech industries. We have a very young and active audience that has disposable income,” he says. “I wish I could tell you it’s all of us, but we’re very fortunate we do business here.”
BOOM TIMES CONTINUE
One would be hard-pressed to find a year where so much optimism prevails for the coming year. “Next year will continue the same run,” Light says. “The packages will continue to be really smart, the whole marketing of tours is smart — although it’s happening much further in advance. When I look at everything we’ve got on the road, international is going to be bigger than ever. The major tours are going to be enormous. I feel really good about next year. I don’t think this was a blip. I believe we —the business— really got it right this year on so many levels, and we’re going to continue. I’m very, very bullish.”
If there’s a potential speed bump, it’s a familiar one. “The only pitfall I see is when, as an industry, we get greedy, start to push the ticket pricing, stop pack- aging, oversaturate markets, push artists too fast in their growth process,” Light says. “But as an industry, we’re just much more aware of how we put tickets out there. Generationally, where we are now, I don’t see people making the mistakes of the past.”
Perloff does see one area where the business is potentially breaking bad. “Some producers are putting shows on sale way too early,” he ays. “It’s good to get up and on sale, but when you’re 180 days away from a date, they’re hurting acts and the business. There’s an appropriate length of time when you should go on sale. When the greed factor takes over and you just want to bank money, that’s a mistake. This is people’s hard-earned money—why should you be holding their money for 180 days on just a regular show?”
Not only do some shows that go up months in advance lose their sense of urgency, Perloff believes that when fans buy way out, they might not be able to afford a ticket to a show that’s happen- ing sooner. “As an industry, if you really want to do the right thing for an artist, you’ve got to be careful about when you put a show on sale,” he says.
But, in general, Light feels the industry will continue to “grow upon what we’re learning,” he says. “If there’s one thing that will be interesting over the next year or two years, it is how labels approach the whole process of putting out records, because I’m just not sure that a 12-song CD is critical anymore to the process. That will be the most interesting thing for me to watch: how artists release music as it relates to their touring, and how we both use it to promote tours and how we use tours to promote album releases.”
Today, touring is “the gold mine of the music business. That is what this is,” Arfa says. “It’s a great time to be a successful live act.”