It appears that the recession has not affected concert sales. Just look at the Pollstar 2009 mid year business analysis. People will always need the escape and the experience of live music, and tough economic times aren’t going to stop them apparently. Last year “the average box-office gross was up 18 percent and the average attendance up 6.3 percent, according to Billboard magazine” writes John Gerome of CBS News, who also notes that many musicians, promoters, and distributors are offering discounts and promotions of various kinds to help fans be able to afford their shows. Live Nation, for example, sometimes offers a four-pack deal (four tickets for the price of three) in essence rewarding you for bringing your friends.
Perhaps this trend is similar in a sense to alcohol sales. People certainly don’t stop drinking during tough economic times, but they might go out less and instead buy liquor at the store or choose cheaper drinks when they do go out. As far as concert tickets go, strapped fans will still go see their favorite bands. They’ll just buy crappier tickets.
Artists (well… some of them) are still making a ton of money from ticket sales. “Just ask Bruce Springsteen, Brit-pop singer Lily Allen, musical comedy duo the Flight of the Conchords, or indie-rock darling Neko Case, all of whom put on sold-out concerts in Boston in the last month,” says Sarah Rodman of the Boston Globe. In the era of steadily declining album sales, concerts are the life support that musicians continue to cling to.
MC Lars, who still makes royalties off of his older stuff on iTunes told us, “…for the newer stuff — the only way to get heard is to be out on the road as much as possible and playing clubs and all that because really with the recession and with kids knowing about bit torrent… the answer is to be on tour if you wanna make money as a musician – OR to write songs for commercials and not have any desire to be an independent musician!” He is a shining example of the DIY artist who is not afraid to try new things and get creative, especially when it comes to interacting with his fans.
This article in the Sydney Morning Herald presents some similar views from down under. “A lot of acts are putting out records to promote their tours,” says Michael Gudinski, the managing director of Frontier Touring Company. “In the old days you used to tour to promote your record.” Back then touring gave you the exposure needed to sell albums, which equaled revenue. Of course now the internet has forced the music industry onto its knees and slashed record sales. It has, however, graciously opened a new window of opportunity for the concert industry. “With the advent of the internet, which I regard as the radio of the 21st century, the potential concert-going audience in this country, in my opinion, has quadrupled,” says veteran concert promoter Michael Chugg.
As music 2.0 continues to evolve and present us with surprises, fans are increasingly becoming participants in the industry, rather than just passive observers and consumers. Take posse.com, for example, which “is turning fans into ticket agents. A music lover receives a commission each time someone clicks on a link or ad on their social networking page to buy a ticket to a show.” Pretty slick. Fans are becoming savvier, hungrier, and their expectations have changed.
One strategy being utilized by artists and promoters as a result is offering fans access to exclusive content, merch, and other VIP type goodies. Elliot Fox, the Director of Marketing & Promotions for JDub Records (a nonprofit record and event production company focused on new Jewish music, building community, and cross-cultural dialogue), explained that they are combating unfavorable conditions by developing new incentives and marketing strategies in order to reach their existing fan base while also building new ones. “The key to keeping fans loyal while also attracting new ones is being able to offer added value and additional content to users. For example, we can offer a free album download with purchase of a t-shirt or a free label sampler for fans who follow us on twitter. We are also in the process of launching a membership model where fans can pay a yearly subscription fee and will automatically receive our next 4 releases both physically and digitally. We feel that providing fans with a steady flow of new content allows them to feel connected to what the artists and label are trying to do.” Word.
The smart artists are figuring out ways to thrive in the current economic climate. Some attempt to make their live music experience accessible to a broader audience by offering tickets at a variety of price points. Others attempt to convert casual fans – who perhaps listen to, purchase, or illegally download their music but don’t go to concerts – into loyal fans. It’s the loyal fans who are most likely to go enjoy and support their favorite musicians even in tough times. It’s the loyal fans who might skip the family vacation to Hawaii this year but still splurge on a road trip to a music festival or decent seats at that U2 concert. Deep artist/fan connections are critical to success in music 2.0 and in most cases it’s what both the fans and the artists want – which is another reason why remix culture is still gaining momentum.
Another group diving headfirst into the artist/fan lovefest era is John Brown’s Body. Their manager, Seth Herman, pointed out numerous ways JBB is actively making themselves available to fans. “Basically we went right back to the grassroots level- replying to every email, sending everyone who buys merch at our online store a thank you, and giving away free tickets to a show if there is room on the guest list.” When touring they even take it a step further and reach out to local bands who are willing to pre-sell tickets and they’ll sometimes work with promoters to give the local band discounted tickets so they can bring out their friends. As we recently discussed, JBB is also working with The Hector Fund to pay for their international tour through “artistfunding.” The opportunities afforded fans through that particular collaboration are absurdly cool.
As we stumble blindly through the foggy terrain of this new musical frontier, trying bold new things and getting intimate with the music and its creators in totally new ways, at least we can count on one thing: Live music is here to stay.