Live music suffers as fans and stars age

By Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson / Financial Times / 12/30/10

Ageing acts and audiences, high ticket prices and a back injury suffered by U2 lead singer Bono conspired to drive down worldwide concert revenues by 12 per cent in 2010, an indication of trouble for one of the few healthy corners of the music industry over the past decade.

The 50 largest tours of the year had combined gross sales of $2.93bn, against $3.34bn in 2009, in spite of an increase of 4 per cent in the average ticket price to $76.69, according to Pollstar, which collects data from promoters and venues.

The North American market, which represents more than half of the global total, showed particular signs of consumers cutting back in a weakened economy. Gross sales for the top 50 tours in North America saw a fall of 15 per cent to $1.69bn.

Worldwide, the live music industry sold 38.3m tickets, a fall of 15 per cent, to a total of 2,650 shows, down by 8 per cent on the previous year.

After a decade of above-inflation increases in ticket prices, 2010 saw consumers “push back” against “overly aggressive” pricing by acts and their promoters, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar.

The average ticket in North America sold for $64.74 this year, down 2 per cent on the previous year.

“The concert business has been fuelled by the baby-boomer generation going to see acts that broke in the Sixties and Seventies,” Mr Bongiovanni said.

“At some point, these ‘evergreen’ acts are going to fade away, and there doesn’t seem to be a huge group of acts waiting in the wings to replace them.”

Only two of the top 10 touring artists – Lady Gaga and Michael Bublé – broke in the past 20 years, and older artists such as Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame, the Eagles and Leonard Cohen, typically filled larger venues and commanded higher ticket prices. Tickets to the former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney’s shows sold for an average of $138, compared with $48.90 for Justin Bieber, the 16-year-old Canadian pop star.

Digital Music News, an industry blog, calculated recently that the average age of a top touring artist reached 46 in 2009, with more performers in their sixties than in their twenties. The average age of a chart-topping singer, by comparison, was 29.

A recent report from Edison Research underscored concern that the industry’s audience is greying, finding that 12- to 24-year-old concert-goers now go to just 0.9 concerts per year on average, against 2.1 shows a year just a decade ago. Almost two-thirds had been to no concert at all in the past year.

A sustained slowdown in the live music industry could hit promoters such as Creative Artists Agency, Live Nation Entertainment and William Morris Endeavour, whose artists led this year’s league tables.

It could also set back recorded music companies that have sought wider rights deals to offset plunging CD sales and flattening digital downloads.

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