Economist Will Page unwraps the touring bounceback
Economist Will Page says the live sector is “winning attention in the experience economy” after revealing that UK music fans spent £2.1 billion (€2.4bn) on gig tickets last year.
The author and former chief economist for Spotify and PRS for Music presented his latest groundbreaking research last month.
Writing in Music Business Worldwide, he reported that the volume of live music events in the UK was down 26% from 2019 to 2022, but the amount spent on tickets was up 22% in the same period – surpassing £2bn for the first time – while spend on recorded music also exceeded £2bn.
“What we’re seeing is akin to a productivity gain: getting more (box office spend) from less (concerts),” said Page. “That could be driven by supply (higher ticket prices) or demand (preferences for bigger events). Inflation will have a role to play, too.”
Page also found that music in the UK stadiums and festivals now make up half of all box office spend, compared to 40% in 2019 and just 23% in 2012.
“While 2022 still provided multiple challenges, as does 2023, the appetite for that unique, communal gig going experience is clear”
In response to the findings, Jon Collins, CEO of trade body LIVE, tells IQ it is “fantastic to see the enormous demand for live music across the UK”.
“While 2022 still provided multiple challenges, as does 2023, the appetite for that unique, communal gig going experience is clear,” says Collins. “Working together and with government, we have an opportunity to grow further and faster. As part of that, it is critical we support our grassroots venues, festivals and, of course, the artists themselves. A vibrant and diverse range of venues located across our towns and cities will give artists the chance to establish a career and fans the opportunity to develop that gig-going habit.”
Here, IQ sits down for a Q&A with Page to delve deeper into his analysis – and gets his future forecast…
How did your findings compare with your expectations going in?
“It felt like there was a lot of ‘stoked up’ demand from the consumers who had suffered during the pandemic, as well as ‘stoke up’ supply from bands who couldn’t tour during lockdown. I was confident UK box office spend in 2022 was going to surpass 2019, but didn’t honestly expect the figure to begin with a ‘two’ – that is £2.1 billion! At the same time, spending on recorded music passed the £2bn threshold. So I expected a bounce back, but the scale of the bounce was unexpected.”
In your opinion, how sustainable is the level of business reported?
“There’s headwinds (namely inflation and interest rates) and there’s tailwinds (innovation in production and ticketing) to consider but I’m confident the sector is sustainable. Live music is constantly ‘upping its game’ in the experience economy. I was at The Weeknd at London Stadium and you could see the diverse 80,000 strong audience opted for this experience over so many other options – be it Netflix or going abroad. Live is winning attention in the experience economy.”
“UK gig-goers spent more on stadiums and festivals in 2022 than they did on all of live music in 2012”
Given that stadiums and festivals have more than doubled their box office shares, where does that leave the rest of the sector?
“To add some more colour to this observation, UK gig-goers spent more on stadiums and festivals in 2022 than they did on all of live music in 2012. But, we have to be careful with knee jerk reactions here – especially when people argue the explosion in stadium shows is at the expense of the grassroots. The majority of those fans who went to see Coldplay at stadiums, I don’t think they would be interested in going to Camden on a wet winter night to support the grassroots. But we’re also talking about a bigger overall pie than there was a few years ago.
“If you accept this point, then what we’re witnessing is something I explore in my book Pivot Eight Principles for Transforming your Business, which is that customers are interested in the thrill of a bargain (Spotify at £9.99 a month) the thrill of a luxury (Coldplay at £119 a ticket) but not what’s left in between. I think you can see this everywhere, be it how we shop (those who shop at Aldi and Waitrose) or buy flights (fly with EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic).
“But to reiterate the demand-side point, I don’t think this explosion in demand for stadium shows is stealing business away from the grassroots. Sure, there’s a dependency issue to explore on the supply-side on the need for grassroots to generate headliners of tomorrow. Protecting those stages is as important as ever and beyond the scope of the research here. There’s certainly some ‘knocking of heads’ to be done between promoters, streaming services and labels.”
“We really are in uncharted waters where an artist like Wizkid – who is definitely not a household name – is selling out the state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium”
What do you consider to be the biggest opportunities and threats for the market at this point?
“I think this ‘gin and tonic’ relationship between spending more on subscriptions and then spending even more on live music is so intriguing and really needs unpacking. The chart below paints a picture, let me add some ‘tone’ as it’s worth asking a few ‘what if’s?’
“What if growth in music subscribers were to stall this year, would that lead to a negative knock on effect for live music?
What if the ‘mental budgeting’ meant consumers were to cut their music budget, either unsubscribing or reducing their gig-going frequency?
What if one of the large DSPs were to go all in with a promoter and bundle subscription and ticketing?
When I watch what Dice is doing, I think a lot about this.”
Your 2022 forecast was on the money; what are your predictions for 2023?
“Bigger, and more stadium-heavy! I’m going to ask IQ readers to think long and hard about this headline More than 1 million attend London concerts in a week. That’s insane! We really are in uncharted waters where an artist like Wizkid – who is definitely not a household name – is selling out the state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. I think those headlines are going to become the rule, not the exception, across the UK in 2024.”
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ILMC 35: The View from the Top
The stadium concert boom is showing no signs of subsiding according to the live music heavyweights who convened for ILMC’s The View from the Top panel.
Chaired by UK-based economist Will Page, yesterday’s (2 March) session at the Royal Lancaster Hotel brought together ASM Global’s John Boyle, Sophia Burn of Live Nation and Marty Diamond of Wasserman Music, alongside Jenny Hutchinson of Bristol Ashton Gate and Rocio Vallejo-Nagera of Real Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium.
US-based Diamond, agent for acts such as Coldplay and Ed Sheeran in North America, described 2022’s touring business as “amazing” and said this year was shaping up to be even better, but warned against oversaturation of the market.
“Coldplay put up stadium dates recently. We put up a very brief run in ’23 that blew out, we are looking further down the road: Ed Sheeran is on fire. Our SZA tour blew out. Our Kendrick ‘[Lamar] tour blew out,” he said. “Business is gangbusters, but there is a bit in the middle where there are going to be winners and losers. The fans can’t consume it all. It’s like we’re at the table now and everybody just keeps bringing out plates. And at some point, you’re full.”
Diamond went on to discuss his concerns around pricing the events.
“The desire for people to come together and have a shared experience is the big thing, post pandemic… And I don’t think that’s going away”
“My real fear with it is – and it’s so interesting, because I’ve worked with two massive clients that are so ticket price sensitive in Coldplay and Ed, largely because they understand… that a consumer isn’t necessarily buying two tickets, they might be buying four tickets,” he said. “That’s a commitment to a pocket. It’s a big ask for people. So we have to approach the future in a cautionary way.”
Nevertheless, Burn described demand for tickets for Live Nation’s summer stadium tours by artists including Beyonce, The Weeknd, Coldplay and Depeche Mode, as “just crazy”.
“I understand the pricing question but I think people are really keen to be together,” she countered. “Harry Styles’ crowd is just the most wonderful group of people partying together and making friends and I can understand the appeal of that after Covid where you could see maybe your three best friends if you tried.”
Boyle, ASM’s global chief content officer, suggested there was a strong correlation between the pandemic and the rising number of stadium shows.
“I think the desire for people to come together and have a shared experience is the big thing, post pandemic… And I don’t think that’s going away,” he said.
“Live Nation has 180 stadium shows in Europe this year versus 120 last year. That’s 50% growth. Is that sustainable? We’ll see… I want to be optimistic that it is”
He added that co-headline tours and curated bills such as Def Leppard & Motley Crue’s run with Poison and Joan Jett were most likely a sign of things to come.
“If you like metal, you’re going to this,” he said. “Packaging, so that you can get to a stadium level, is important. There are only so many acts that can do stadiums on their own: the Beyonces, the Coldplays, the Stones. So I think the packaging component is going to be important moving forward. And when you talk about the pieces of the pie, the middle is the hard part it really is. I’m told Live Nation has 180 stadium shows in Europe this year versus 120 last year. That’s 50% growth. Is that sustainable? We’ll see. I don’t know. I want to be optimistic that it is.
“In America, what I can tell you is we manage about a quarter of the NFL stadiums in major markets. There is not a weekend available this summer for a show. Everything is booked every single weekend.”
Bristol’s Ashton Gate Stadium hosted The Killers and two nights with Elton John in 2022 after welcoming the Spice Girls, Muse, Rod Stewart and Take That in 2019, and head of venue and events Hutchinson said the indications were that the post-Covid upswing was sustainable for the industry.
“We’re back to a new and better normal, I would say, and it will be much more exciting when we have a new stadium in Madrid”
“We thought it was just a knee jerk reaction from everything being shut down, but actually we’re seeing even more growth,” she said. “We’re seeing bigger events, big audiences and bigger spend, so the new normal for us actually looks pretty good.”
Former Live Nation Spain partnerships director Rocio Vallejo-Nágera was recently hired as head of large events and concerts at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. The stadium will have both a retractable roof and pitch – enabling it to stage live music shows all-year-round – when it reopens at the end of 2023 following the completion of its extensive renovation.
Vallejo-Nágera shared her pride at the rise of Spanish language music globally, and said the country’s domestic market was also on an upward trajectory.
“Spain, especially Madrid, was quite open during the pandemic,” she said. “Everything was absolutely closed for three months, but then we did have shows – you had to be sitting down, you had to wear a mask, etc – but there was a time where Madrid was Vegas around 2021. It was the most fun city in Europe. So I think we’re 100% back to normal. We’re back to a new and better normal, I would say, and it will be much more exciting when we have a new stadium in Madrid.”
“A year ago today, Harry Styles had not played a stadium in the UK. And when I think of Harry Styles today, I think of him as a very well established stadium artist”
And Burn indicated she had few concerns about the next wave of stadium headliners coming through.
“A year ago today, Harry Styles had not played a stadium in the UK. And when I think of Harry Styles today, I think of him as a very well established stadium artist,” she said. “There are so many: Wizkid has done the first stadium he’s ever done here, The Weeknd is playing stadiums for the first time this year. There’s so much to come that I’m not really worried.
“Plus, these are still great artists. The Eagles played last year and it was amazing Bruce Springsteen’s coming this year, the shows are sold out and half of my inbox is requests from the 20-year-olds in the office that are dying to see Springsteen, so I think it’s fine.”
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Economist Will Page on UK’s live music resurgence
Former Spotify and PRS for Music chief economist Will Page has delved deeper into his forecast for the resurgence of the UK’s live sector in a new Q&A with IQ.
Page, the author of Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles of Pivoting Through Disruption, presented his groundbreaking research last month, based on his analysis of consumer spend on live and recorded music since 2019.
He noted that in 2019, British gig-goers spent GBP £1.7 billion on concert tickets – a fifth more than the £1.4 billion that consumers spent on recorded music in the same 12 months. But in the pandemic-hit 2020, live takings collapsed 90% in the UK to just £200 million, whereas spending on recorded music accelerated by 6% to breach the £1.5bn watermark.
However, as lockdown eased in 2021, UK recorded music reached close to £1.7 billion, whereas live spend staged a partial recovery to £700m.
And in an upbeat conclusion, Page suggested the sector’s recovery was on track to be “more like a slingshot than a rebound”.
“Wallets are set to be squeezed further this year and next,” he said. “That said… the imperative is for all of us – policymakers, professionals and performers – to come together to unlock the ‘coiled spring’ demand for music on British stages up and down the country.
“Now the dust has settled, let’s remind ourselves that music is the alchemy in the room that brings us together. And with the pandemic finally behind us, those rooms will surely be packed to capacity. If the collective ‘we’ get this right, it’ll be more like a slingshot than a rebound.”
With that in mind, IQ sat down with Page to expand further on his findings…
“Everyone needs to be reminded of the intimacy of the live music experience”
Given the UK is in the midst of a cost of living crisis, what impact do you expect that to have on the bounceback of the live business?
“There’s psychology at play with the current crisis; the fact that prices are still accelerating matters as we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel. If/when they stop accelerating, the psychology will change and change fast. I’m quietly confident that inflation will return to something we’d call normal soon, but remember we haven’t had a normal (real interest rates above the rate of inflation) for over a decade!”
There has also been a lingering reticence to return to live shows from a certain segment of the audience, how does that factor into your projections?
“This could be genuine, lingering, doubts about the pandemic, but it’s more likely inertia. To combat that, I think the industry needs to optimise for reach over revenue, get more people to attend at least one event, as opposed to a few people to attend many. Everyone needs to be reminded of the intimacy of the live music experience – once experienced, they’ll never go back (to their sofas, Pringles and Netflix, that is!).”
“Live music faces costs just like all parts of the entertainment economy, but may benefit from the tough times as well”
Are there any other factors you are concerned about that could impact the resurgence?
“Yes, I think there’s displacement effects to consider. There’s an old expression that goes ‘Domino’s Pizza wins in a recession as people dine out less’. I think that can be applied to live music – in that consumers might push back on European short breaks which might set them back £400 in flights and hotel and invest that money in domestic live shows, which with a meal, travel and child care could be a £200 bill. Live music faces costs just like all parts of the entertainment economy, but may benefit from the tough times as well.”
You noted in your analysis that, since the London Olympics, all the growth in UK live music was contained within stadiums and festivals – increasing their share from 23% in 2012 to 40% in 2019. Why do you think that was and do you expect that trend to continue?
“Andrew Bud, a statistical inspiration to me and also the founder of iProov, taught me an inconvenient truth of the long tail in 2008: when you offer more choices, people want more hits. We’re clearly seeing that play out here. Also, there are simple economies of scale effects to consider, as big means bigger margins. Finally, when you play festivals you’re often told not to tour theatres – that tips the scales even more.”
“When I look at the global success of Dua Lipa, that makes me so proud of a UK music export success, but also concerned as I can’t really think of any British act to emulate her since”
When you predicted the comeback will “be more like a slingshot than a rebound”, what sort of timescale did you have in mind?
“Let the data do the talking. I was so grateful to the PRS for Music team for enabling me to work with their data from 2019-20-21 as we can learn about the recovery, let’s wait to see what the data tells us at the end of 2022. Since publishing my work in Music Business Worldwide and Financial Times, many companies have shared data to suggest that this year will be the slingshot and set new box office records. It sure feels like 2022 is well on its way to being a slingshot.”
Are there any closing thoughts you would like to add?
“Going back to the long tail, we need to think about the smaller venues as a seed bed for future growth. I worked on a piece for The Economist in 2015 looking at the average age of festival headliners. To be clear, I don’t want to sound ageist. I respect the sentimentality that makes live music so special. I love thinking about how many of those fans who went to see Coldplay weren’t born when Yellow was released! But… I do think that the live industry doesn’t have a long list of headliners in their 20s like we did when Radiohead did Glastonbury in the mid-to-late ’90s. I have no time for ‘bs’ scaremongering but that, I feel, is a legitimate concern. When I look at the global success of Dua Lipa, that makes me so proud of a UK music export success, but also concerned as I can’t really think of any British act to emulate her since. To go back to our statistical analogy, this lopsided success of live music reminds us we need the long tail to feed the head.”
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Why the UK’s live biz is set for major resurgence
The UK’s live music industry is set for a dramatic post-lockdown resurgence, according to Will Page, the author of Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles of Pivoting Through Disruption. Below, the former Spotify and PRS for Music chief economist presents his groundbreaking research.
This article was first published by Music Business Worldwide and we thought it was so good, that we wanted to republish it. Our thanks to MBW publisher Tim Ingham for agreeing.
‘Ships passing each other in the night’ is how I described Britain’s live and recorded music industries in a Billboard article during the dark days of lockdown, June 2020.
Streaming had become a ‘stay at home stock’, front loading growth in subscribers and streaming volumes. By contrast, live music had been all but silenced by the restrictions put on our freedoms to curtail the pandemic.
That article provided the evidence base to help policymakers, and contributed to the UK Government announcing a GBP £1.6 billion funding package for the arts the following month, and then the UK Government launching a £750 million insurance scheme for live events the following year.
What matters, as one Scottish Chancellor constantly told me, is ‘evidence-based policy making, not policy-based evidence making’.
I was indebted to the UK’s PRS for Music, which licences live events so that its songwriter members can collect performance royalties when their songs are played at concerts.
Its data on the British market, combined with data on recorded-music spending by the Entertainment Retailers’ Association, allowed me to model consumer spend during a time of crisis.
Now, they’ve let me update the analysis.
The exclusive insights garnered from this work are jaw-dropping. Buckle up.
Live vs recorded music spend. (Anyone remember 2019?)
Let’s go back to when the world was normal.
In 2019, British gig-goers spent GBP £1.7 billion on concert tickets (or ‘box office’), a fifth more than the £1.4 billion that consumers spent on recorded music in the same 12 months.
Combined, British music fans spent a total of £3.1 billion on music in 2019.
(Also: this concert spend captures only the primary ticketing market — what’s commonly known as the ‘face value’ – and ignores secondary markets and ancillary spend.)
Then, music was silenced from our stage, but surged on our phones.
In the surreal year of 2020, ‘box office’ collapsed 90% in the UK to just £200 million – whereas spending on recorded music accelerated by 6% to breach the £1.5 billion watermark.
As lockdown eased in 2021, streaming’s success continued, pushing UK recorded music spend closer to £1.7 billion (ironically, the same value of the UK box office before the pandemic), whereas live spend recovered some of its losses capturing £700 million in box office (still less than half what it once was).
The importance of ‘wallet share’ – and how UK consumers spend just 0.2% of their money on music
We can stack both components of the British music industry on top of one another and add a final piece of the puzzle: wallet share.
The team at the Office of National Statistics who studied Covid’s impact on UK consumer spend kindly provided me with data on recreation and culture spend. This enabled me to measure total UK spend on music as a share of what is often termed ‘the entertainment dollar’.
Think about this for a wee minute: one pound in every ten spent today in Britain is on recreation and leisure – yet only two percent of that leisure spend (which pans out as just 0.2% of the grand total) is spent on live and recorded music.
Now, let’s get to our chart.
On the left, spend on recorded music in green, stacked with box office spend in grey. On the right, the red line represents the share of leisure spend.
The gin-and-tonic relationship of increasing subscriptions driving increasing gig-going increased wallet share from 2% in 2015 to 2.2% in 2019 – a bigger share of a bigger wallet.
As lockdown hit in 2020, wallets contracted and wallet share sank to 1.3% (less share of less money), recovering to 1.6% last year.
Now let’s figure out what these lofty figures mean for artists.
For live music, we strip out fees and taxes from the face value of the ticket and give the artist 75% of what’s remaining.
For recorded music we take the label’s own wholesale value of music and give the artist 25%.
Bizarrely, these assumptions throw up an 80/20 rule for 2019: 80% of artist income came from gigs, and 20% from recordings.
As live music is the main breadwinner for most artists, its silencing in 2020 overshadowed streaming growth, wiping 70% off their income.
If artists were struggling to make a living before we locked down the UK economy, then they had 70% less to make a living after.
And in 2021, the partial recovery in live and continued growth in streaming got artist income to only half what it once was. For individual artists, (less so for firms), that’s really tough.
While there’s no such thing as an ‘average artist’, an average pay cut of 70% raises questions of survival.
In 2019, live music income was bigger (and distributed among the few) while recorded music income was smaller (and distributed amongst the many).
The pandemic suddenly changed that mix.
As streaming has many more mouths to feed – and there’s nothing else to feed them with – it’s little surprise that the UK industry dragged itself through an arduous Parliamentary Inquiry during the lockdown years.
Now let’s focus on the ‘suffering and recovery’ in live music.
In a New Year essay I showed that, since the London Olympics, all the growth in UK live music was contained within stadiums and festivals – increasing their share from 23% in 2012 to 40% in 2019.
That’s at the expense of theatres, clubs and grassroots venues which have felt squeezed out of the British market, in absolute and relative terms.
The chart below neatly illustrates that the harder they come, the harder they fall: Stadiums and festivals lost more box office spend than arenas, theatres and clubs combined in 2020, reducing their share of UK box office down to a measly 10 percent.
From boom to bust to boom again, 2021 saw these outdoor events grow box office by over quarter of a billion, raising their share of box office to a record-breaking 45%.
To use ‘long tail’ language, the UK live industry has never been so ‘hit heavy’ – where the spoils go to so few events.
Where we go now
These insights throw up questions that a global industry can learn from.
- First, how much does scale matter in the recovery? Larger events owned by larger companies may have been better able to comply with the moving target of government regulations.
- Second, did travel restrictions give UK artists a leg-up in the UK festival rankings and if so, will it last?
- Third, we’ve had two years of stay at home ‘sofa-inertia’ (that’s Netflix and Pringles to you and me) so what will it take for behaviours to change and get us off our sofas and back into music venues?
Sure, we’re still a long way off our pre-pandemic peak of £3.2bn consumer spend and 2.2% share of wallet.
But back to Gordon Brown’s point about evidence-based policy making (and not policy-based evidence making), this work gives policymakers and industry professionals the necessary foundation to figure out what assistance and actions are required to get us back to where we once belonged.
This isn’t going to be easy.
Wallets are set to be squeezed further this year and next. That said, with the internecine nature of the Parliamentary Inquiry behind us, the imperative is for all of us – policymakers, professionals and performers – to come together to unlock the ‘coiled spring’ demand for music on British stages up and down the country.
James Taylor [not that one!] heads up music for Wembley Stadium. He sees this coiled spring(ing) into action: this summer, a record-breaking 16 concerts are taking place at the famous stadium with a staggering 1.3 million tickets sold; that’s the population of Edinburgh and Glasgow, combined!
Now the dust has settled, let’s remind ourselves that music is the alchemy in the room that brings us together. And with the pandemic finally behind us, those rooms will surely be packed to capacity.
If the collective ‘we’ get this right, it’ll be more like a slingshot than a rebound.
The author would like to thank: John Mottram and Frances Hodgson (PRSforMusic); Katherine Kent and Luke Croydon (Office of National Statistics), Liz Martins (HSBC Economics), Tim Chambers, Bill Gorjance, Ralph Simon, Entertainment Retailers Association and the BPI.
He would also like to share his thanks to Dice for their comprehensive data on the UK live events industry.
Will Page’s Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles of Pivoting Through Disruption is out now via Simon & Schuster (UK) and Little, Brown and Company (US).