Inside the USA’s concert scene
The United States is the largest concert and event market in the world, yet there is only a handful of truly national promoters. Most touring is made up of a string of dates promoted by a network of regional promoters.
The sector is led by the goliath Live Nation. The other players in the industry are AEG Presents, LiveStyle (Electronic), Cardenas Marketing Network (CMN Presents), OCESA, MGM Resorts International, HYBE, and Another Planet Entertainment. There are also several well-known independents, such as Nederlander Concerts and Danny Wimmer Presents.
Between them, they account for the bulk of the country’s national promoters. Live Nation, for instance, holds stakes in C3 Presents, Red Mountain Entertainment, House of Blues, OCESA, and many others. AEG Presents includes The Bowery Presents, PromoWest Productions, Goldenvoice, Concerts West, and many more. HYBE recently acquired Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings, and Big Machine. They are responsible for recent tours by The Weeknd, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bad Bunny, BTS, and others, as well as major US festivals like BottleRock, Governors Ball Music Festival, Coachella, and more.
These giants continue to evolve, build, and acquire as the US demand for live entertainment continues. On the schedule for 2023 are Janet Jackson, Parker McCollum, Bono’s book tour, Bruce Springsteen, Morgan Wallen, Jill Scott, Def Leppard/ Mötley Crüe, and more.
According to Pollstar data, 2022 was the highest-grossing year for concerts, with the top 100 North America tours bringing in $4.8bn, way ahead of even 2019’s record-breaking $3.7bn. These tours sold 42.8m tickets in 2022 compared with 39.1m in 2019, demonstrating the pent-up demand in the market after everything ground to a halt during the pandemic.
Drilling into the detail, 2022 saw a significant rise in grosses at amphitheatres – up 18% on 2019 to $814m, with ticket sales up 2% to 12.6m, according to Pollstar Box Office reports. Arenas and theatres, however, didn’t fare as well, seeing a 2% drop on 2019’s numbers, to $4.49bn.
“We are still recovering. My business is nine to 12 months in advance of the current date”
But things aren’t necessarily as rosy as that picture might suggest. “We are still recovering. My business is nine to 12 months in advance of the current date. So, therefore, we are just now beginning to get paid from post-pandemic bookings, and our artists are just getting fully up to speed now,” said Jim Nestor, founder of the Jim Nestor Agency, who books a roster of award-winning blues and Americana artists internationally and in North America.
While the USA is something of a bubble in its own right, it’s not immune from global issues, and things such as the war in Ukraine, energy prices, and supply chain shortages that affected the rest of the world also had an impact here. Agents and promoters found themselves digging into granular details like never before, such as whether artists could get busses, crew, riggers, and so on.
The sheer number of shows also was a factor, with ticket sales patterns bearing little resemblance to pre-pandemic models. Ali Hedrick, agent at Arrival Artists told Pollstar: “There was so much competition, plus so much health and economic uncertainty at times that ticket counts were erratic and unpredictable.”
Economic problems throughout the country have derailed some scheduled tours for the year – inflation, supply chain issues, high shipping, transportation costs, and weaker currencies overseas have hit the live industry hard, and artists are being upfront with their fans about the costs touring brings.
“Far and away, my main problem in the UK and Europe is the devaluing of the pound and euro,” said Nestor.
International artists Animal Collective, Santigold, Little Simz, Sampa the Great, Moonspell, and Shinedown canceled scheduled tours or individual dates for 2022, citing financial difficulties. Anthrax and Stryker had to cancel dates due to tour bus shortages and travel fees.
“It’s been a mixed bag, but overall, it’s been positive”
“Being an independent artist, I pay for everything encompassing my live performances out of my own pocket, and touring the US for a month would leave me in a huge deficit. As much as this pains me to not see you at this time, I’m just not able to put myself through that mental stress,” said Little Simz on social media of her touring cancelation.
It shows that the everyday touring market can still be a challenge for the US business if you aren’t selling out stadiums like Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, or Elton John. Musicians returning to the road are being met with a more unstable landscape. Covid is still a threat, at least financially, and inflation is soaring.
“[For] those located outside of large metropolitan areas, selling out during the week can be challenging, but that’s often when the artist might have availability,” says Lisa White, director of communications for Nederlander Concerts.
Nederlander was behind A.R. Rahman’s three sold-out shows in three different markets, Bob Dylan’s three sold-out shows at the Pantages Theatre, and has seen an increase in show numbers for the Vina Robles Amphitheatre, which it operates.
Despite those successes, promoters remain cautious.
“It’s been a mixed bag, but overall, it’s been positive,” reflects White. “There are so many artists who are eager to tour, which presents the challenge of trying to accommodate as many as possible while still retaining audience interest and ticket purchases. Specifically for our Latin shows, the results have been incredibly strong nationwide since July 2021, which has certainly helped in our recovery.”
She adds: “Budgeting was a challenge because our budgets for things like labour and production expenses are mapped out many months in advance, with inflation by the time the shows happened, everything cost more. Also, it depends on the type of show – for some of our older [demographic] shows, there may be a little bit of slow down, as people are purchasing later.”
Festivals and blockbuster headline shows have remained strong in the US
Nevertheless, festivals and blockbuster headline shows remained strong in the US in 2022. Electric Forest, the electronic music and arts festival, is already sold-out for 2023. Tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour crashed the Ticketmaster platform, and the live music sector shows no signs of slowing down, despite the obstacles.
Live & online
Streaming live concerts continued to thrive in the US markets throughout 2022, yet another result of the Covid quarantine. The virtual event platform has made it possible for live music to go on, regardless of the circumstances.
Verzuz, created by urban/hip-hop artists Timbaland and Swizz Beatz is a popular virtual environment with a focus on virtual music. Veeps, created by Good Charlotte brothers Benji and Joel Madden, saw Live Nation purchase a majority stake. The digital landscape is here to stay with metaverse concerts (Ariana Grande) and the comfort of staying at home. With inflation, the cost of travel, parking, dealing with a lot of people, and hotel expenses – livestreaming at home with family and friends outweighs the potential costs.
Three out of four people attended online events throughout the pandemic, according to data by a division of United Talent Agency, called UTA IQ, and 88% indicated they plan to continue even though in-person events are back. The growth and adoption of technology platforms help bridge the gap between live concerts and virtual music streaming.
One solution artists have struck on to iron out the economic challenges of touring is to do a residency. This probably helped Las Vegas hit the top spot in the 2022 Pollstar Concert Rankings, with a reported gross of $197.2m from 1m tickets and 292 shows. It was followed by Los Angeles ($152.4m from 1.66m tickets and 199 shows), New York ($116.3m/1.4m tickets/881 shows), San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose ($105.5m/1m/214) and Chicago ($86m/1m/458).
Among the artists sticking in Vegas are Adele, Aerosmith, Carrie Underwood, and Usher, while 2023 will welcome global stars like Luke Bryan, Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, Katy Perry, and Bruno Mars. The market is so hot, in fact, that Garth Brooks’s Live Nation-promoted residency recently added dates into 2024 due to “extraordinary demand.”
“Latin artists have been incredibly strong nationwide since July 2021, which has helped in our recovery and demand remains for them and marquee artists”
Younger stars are becoming more open to playing shows consecutively in the same location due to the cost benefits. Harry Styles played Madison Square Garden in New York City 15 times in a row – saving on travel costs. He did the same thing in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Austin.
Billy Joel has played Madison Square Garden monthly since late 2013 and hasn’t stopped, except for a Covid hiatus. He plays his 86th show there in December. The Garden residency has sold approximately $180m in tickets thus far. Live Nation’s president of touring, Omar Al-joulani told The New York Times that he expected 30 residency-type engagements for 2023. “That’s including a big Vegas year.”
However, having artists on the road is the bread and butter for most promoters.
Nederlander’s White explains that collaborations between local artists and packaging them for shows has been a successful method for artist building, promotion, and enticing artists to get out on the road. “Fans get more value for their money with multiple artists on the bill.
“Latin artists have been incredibly strong nationwide since July 2021, which has helped in our recovery and demand remains for them and marquee artists.”
She adds: “Investment could be a barrier for new artists, but there are also lots of acts on the Mexican and Urban side who are quickly coming up with strong traction off one song leading to growing social media numbers. A&R of their music, social media/digital strategies, and a strong management team are key to developing new artists. Additionally, engaging with fans online is so important, as is leaning into the fact that users on platforms like TikTok don’t expect videos to be as polished as content on other platforms.”
“The more people pay for shows, the fewer shows they can go to — that’s a fact”
Looking ahead, there’s a sense of bullishness in the US market – with a healthy dose of caution. Seth Hurwitz, chairman of promoter and venue-owner I.M.P., told Pollstar: “I never doubted that people couldn’t wait to get back to shows. And right now, they seem to have an insatiable appetite for it. But they got to run out of money at some point, don’t they? We already have eight sell-outs at Merriweather [Post Pavilion] for late 2023… it’s nuts.
“Unfortunately, my prediction is that people will continue to rationalise treating tickets as a fluid commodity and try and milk the public for all they’re worth. While this may earn the big acts top dollars, it will keep people from affording to go to the smaller shows that build acts to get to that point. The more people pay for shows, the fewer shows they can go to — that’s a fact. As a small and midsize venue operator and promoter, this is something I have to care about.”
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