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With a Looming Recession, Will Music Fans Still Buy Concert Tickets?

Economic forecasts look bleak, but live-industry experts still expect to see global growth in 2023.

This past summer, the second-largest U.S. bank, Bank of America, looked at how its customers’ spending on entertainment for the month of May compared with a year ago. What researchers found was surprisingly positive for the touring industry, and there are signs the good news is holding steady, at least for now.

Spending on concert, theater and movie tickets in May was up across all income groups. Moderate- and high-income earners — households bringing in over $50,000 and over $125,000 in annual income, respectively — exhibited the most pent-up demand, with spending levels up more than 40% in May compared with May 2021.

Demand among lower-income consumers — households earning less than $50,000 a year — was up almost as much, rising roughly 38% year to year.

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In October, Bank of America surveyed its customers again to ask if they expect to increase spending in the next 12 months in a number of categories including in-home entertainment. With inflation cutting into or erasing most Americans’ pandemic cash buffers, credit card spending is on the rise, and with companies proactively laying off staff in anticipation of a recession, 21% said they plan on reducing what they spend on in-home entertainment either moderately or significantly in the next 12 months. (Sixty percent said they planned no change to their spending.)

Bank of America does not have current data on whether consumers plan to cut back on concerts and other entertainment outside their homes, so the live-music industry will have to hope that consumers will pare down their audio and video streaming service subscriptions so that they can continue seeing their favorite acts at local venues while enjoying their concession fare and buying merchandise.

Goldman Sachs analysts expect they will. Although they predict growth in the global live-music industry to slow somewhat next year, they forecast it will still put up a 4% compound annual growth rate from 2023 to 2030.

In 2022 so far, the industry has seen 5% growth in revenue despite a number of high-profile tour cancellations. Growth this year is on par with the 5% compound annual growth rate the industry experienced from 2007 to 2019.

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Looking at the numbers on a more granular level reveals that the global live-music industry grew most sharply between 2007 and 2009 at the onset of the global financial crisis.

During that time, industry revenue rose from $17 billion in 2007 to over $20 billion in 2009, according to research by Goldman Sachs. But between 2010 and 2015, the industry had several years of essentially no growth as the effects of the crisis — unemployment above 10%, nationwide foreclosures — caused deep financial pain.

Even then, the live-music industry grew overall by roughly $3 billion, from $22 billion to $25 billion, during that period of austerity.

Music is often called recession-proof, and while that may hold true, the touring industry feels vulnerable, given the on-again, off-again reality that artists, promoters, venues and their support have had to contend with through the pandemic. For now, industry experts say consumers continue to spend, the industry’s revenue will continue to grow, and even in a worsening economic climate, the shows will go on.