Once Again, Concert Business Sets New Records

from the well,-look-at-that... dept

While people who keep thinking that the "recording industry" is actually the "music industry" keep insisting that the business is in serious trouble, plenty of evidence of the actual market suggests this is a great time to be in the "music business." More musicians are making and distributing music than at any time in the past thanks to much cheaper means of production and distribution. And, as Rose M. Welch points out, the concert business continues to thrive, setting new records yet again. Last year we noted that 2007 was the best ever year for the live music business, and it appears that 2008 surpassed 2007 by 13%, even in the midst of one of the biggest economic downturns most of us have ever lived through. There is some concern about how the economy will impact 2009, but even if concerts decrease next year, it will be because of the overall economy, not because of any problem with "internet piracy," which has actually done plenty to help drive larger audiences to concerts by increasing the fanbases of many musicians.
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Filed Under: concerts, music industry, recording industry

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  1. identicon
    Anon2, 30 Dec 2008 @ 12:54pm


    This is a very good post, though don't put too much stock in the overall, worldwide figures -- bands that play to 10,000 to 20,000 here in the US sell out stadiums in the rest of the world, where concerts are not as common, so overseas grosses skew the figures. And the aggregate figures, both worldwide and North America, are heavily skewed by a very small number of HUGE tours. The fact is that in general, the live music sector is holding its own, certainly doing far better than recorded music sales, but it is hardly "thriving."

    But the general thrust of the post, and the comments, come pretty close to hitting the nail on the head. I've worked on and off for years (decades) with artists, and people who work with the artists, in a secter of the industry that literally paved the way for all the innovations that are now being slowly adopted industry-wide; from giving out free music and letting fans tape and circulate live performances, to selling tickets directly to fans, to having to make it on touring because these kinds of bands (jambands) have never sold many records/CDs. Even the Grateful Dead, for years the biggest touring act in the US, never really sold any consequential number of albums. Yet they managed, through luck and pluck and stubborn refusal to follow the industry's "rules," figured it all out and were extraordinarily successful (for a band of hippies, anyway), as have many bands that have followed their lead.

    There are some real factual inaccuracies -- just plain making it up, actually -- in some of the comments. First, only established bands with reasonably predictable and substantial ticket sales can command guarantees (up front payments), and even they are still dependent on ticket sales to make their nut. Only the biggest fifty or so touring bands can command big enough guarantees that they are not necessarily impacted by market-to-market ticket sales; most, even at the 1,000+ venue levels, are paid a modest guarantee against a percentage of the gross. This is actually good, it incentivizes the band to do its part (often more) to promote each and every show.

    Most bands, however, are at the other end of the spectrum. Somebody up there observed that Joe's pub is not touring. Wrong. Every band starting out must tour before they can break free of playing the Joe's pub in all but their home and eventually regional markets. Working your way up from Joe's pub to a 200+ venue in your home town literally gets you nowhere. It's just the way it is. I've worked with bands who truly understood this, and were prepared for the rigors of touring 150-200 nights a year, living in their van or peoples' sofas/floors, and the ones who get it learn pretty quickly either how to do all the ancillary stuff (promoting themselves, made much easier with the internet; recruiting street teams; hawking CDs at shows; etc.), or they bring on board someone who can. And they very slowly, painfully, grow their fanbase, first in this market or that one, then in surrounding regions, and if they are truly good, eventually in enough markets around the US to begin to emerge on the radar.

    But the dollars being tossed around in some of these comments are just absurd. It takes years and years before a band can play to 1,000 people, even in their home market. Most don't ever get that far; most in fact don't ever play to more than a couple hundred people in their hometown and eventually they give up. Which is fine, the "market" of music fans really does sort the wheat from the chaff, though a lot of truly genius musicians get left in the wake, finding other ways to earn a living, while pursuing their art with whatever energy they can muster simply because they are driven to do it. Same as it ever was, for painters, and sculpters, writers and poets, and musicians -- most of whom are, most of the time, happy just making their art and managing to feed and clothe themselves. Great art gets made anyway, because talented, genius artists are motivated by something that transcends dollars. The starving artist is not just urban legend, it's the way things have been forever.

    The typical deal for a band just starting out is a bad one, though a decent manager can sometimes push for a bit better: after the first $100-$200 or so in door money, the band gets 50%. And only of the door; they get zero from the bar, or kitchen. And they have to give up 15% or more of their merch sales to the venue/promoter. They are not -- as someone up there asserted -- "renting" the venue. The venue is the venue, and either it or someone else is the promoter, and the band is just the band. They aren't renting anything. Well, for the most part. Most small bands are charged not only for some/all of the costs of promotion, but they may be charged a fee for some of the staff as well -- front of house engineer, lighting director, etc. It's really not fair given that the house keeps all the bar/food, deducts promotion costs, and keeps half of the door, but they do own or control access to the venue, the bands need them as much if not more than they need any particular baby band, and again some bands are better than others at haggling.

    But the fact is, until a band can consistently sell a couple hundred tickets a night in at least ten or twelve markets -- and really it needs to be more -- they will not see more than a couple bucks by the time they get home. And bands that can't get past that level will eventually fade away; you need to break out across the country, hitting dozens of markets at a consistent 200+ tickets per night, and deliver 400+ in at least 4-5 home/regional markets, before you are worth anything at all. Booking agents won't bother with you; good managers won't return your calls; even small labels won't be interested unless you fill a very special niche; and you probably need a day job off the road to make ends meet (unless you have a generous girlfriend/boyfriend who is willing to carry you).

    More math: a five piece band, touring with all their gear, and minimal support (one or two people to help load in and load out, sell merch during the show, deal with all the things that need to be dealt with so the artists can focus on preparing for and delivering a great performance), means seven mouths to feed, a huge van with a trailer for gear, hotel rooms (3-4), gas, insurance coverage for the vehicle, trailer, gear and people, costs of promotional materials and shipping them to street teams, costs of comp tix for people who have helped you in any way (or who might), because there is no such thing anymore as truly free comp tix from the venue/promoter, and other costs.

    Then there are the off-the-road costs. Fanbase management is not free unless you are truly doing things primitively. You need to use high quality services for email list management, email design and setup, not to mention access to large email lists of people more likely to be into your music. It costs money to record, even if you are setting up in someone's home and mixing/mastering with Protools, because decent gear is very, very expensive, and it's not cheap to rent either. Musicans have to buy expensive instruments, effects, and all the other gear necessary to do what they do

    It all adds up to very significant dollars. And no sane person is going to invest in a band at that level. First, you tour; then you build fanbase; then, if you ever get to the right level, you might be able to attract some money, but that's an extreme rarity. Labels, especially independent labels, don't front any money whatsoever, and even a well-negotiated deal allows them to recoup whatever they have invested before the musician is entitled to a split. And, as this blog is fond of reminding everyone, there's very little money to be made selling recorded music anymore unless you are very big, or offer something special -- value added product -- while you are giving away loads of music for free to promote yourself.

    Bottom line: for a five piece band, unless you are grossing $2500 or more per night, you will not end up with much for the bandmembers to split at the end of the tour. And it is just positively absurd to assert that the band should just charge $40-$50 instead of the $20 -- or more realistically, $10-$15 -- that is being charged. You won't build up any fanbase at all that way. And until you are grossing $5k to $10k per night, you likely won't be making much of a living off your music, either.

    Gotta get to $20k or more per night before you can even buy your first house -- and twice that before anyone would consider you even modestly successful.

    Not whining here; it's the way it is, and as it should be. But people here have such a warped perspective, make up so many things, that I figured a long comment with some actual reality in it might be interesting to one or two of you. I've worked with baby bands, and bands selling 15,000 to 25,000 tickets a night, and there's no way to predict which baby band will become the next band filling large theaters and amphitheaters or even arenas. It's lots of hard work, dedication to the craft, surrounding yourself with hard working, bright, savvy, experienced people, putting in the many years, being truly incredible at what you do so that you consistently blow peoples' minds every night you play, elevating the buzz to higher and higher levels, and a very significant amount of luck.

    But in the meantime if you are an artist, the healthy way to look at it is that you are playing your music every night, and perhaps only having to wait tables or work construction or whatever for a couple months here or there before you hit the road again. What a life!

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