Another Upbeat Touring Season on the Horizon

by Dan Daley
in The Biz
Among the upbeat signs of a successful season for the live music industry is the number of mega-selling pop act that have signed on for festivals in 2017, keeping those crowds coming.
Among the upbeat signs of a successful season for the live music industry is the number of mega-selling pop act that have signed on for festivals in 2017, keeping those crowds coming.

Inside every little universe within the big one, we all share clocks time-based on their own chronological markers, and for live sound, the clock tends to start around this time every year as the major tours begin to roll out. The good news is that things look about the same as they did in 2016, which was a very good year for music touring.

According to Pollstar’s numbers, last year’s Top 100 Tours of North America grossed a record $3.34 billion — up 7 percent over 2015’s $3.12 billion. The top 100 acts sold a record 43.63 million tickets — over 1.5 million more tickets (a healthy 4 percent increase) over the previous year. The average ticket price also hit record levels at $76.55, up 3 percent (or $2.30) over 2015. The Top 100 Worldwide Tours generated $4.88 billion in sales, on over 60 million tickets, which was up about 4 percent over the previous year and just a bit short of the record $5 billion set in 2013.

We’re seeing a consumer base willing to pay for live music, something they are more reluctant to do when it comes to the recorded stuff. Twenty touring artists reached an average ticket price of $100 or more — an all-time high — and we saw several vault the $200-plus bar, including Barbra Streisand ($260.20 a ticket), Madonna ($216.01) and Jennifer Lopez ($206.69). I can’t say nobody blinked at those rates, but buyers certainly didn’t seem to balk at them.

As historically important as young concertgoers are to the business, it’s apparent that the Boomer and Gen-X crowds showed that they’re still in the game last year. Desert Trip, which brought together Boomer favorites including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, The Who, Neil Young and Roger Waters, set a new world single-event record with a massive gross of $160.1 million over two weekends.

This is a trend that cannot sustain itself forever — last year saw several artists exit the stage for good, such as Prince, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and George Michael. Paul Simon, George Strait and Rush’s Neil Peart were among several high-profile artists to hang up their road shoes last year, citing the toll that age was taking — but at least for now, we are respecting the hell out of our elders.

Residencies Helping the Cause

On the traveling DJ side, the future looked a bit more ominous, as Avicii, DJ Fresh and Sound Remedy all announced they were calling it quits for touring last year. Yet at the same time, extended residencies in places like Las Vegas and Ibiza are still on the table.

In fact, as predicted in this space over a year ago, concert residencies continue to increase in numbers for the small-but-growing cohort of music stars able to get the audiences to come to them instead of the other way around. Rod Stewart, Elton John, Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn, Shania Twain, Britney Spears, Cee Lo Green, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, Pitbull, John Fogerty, Diana Ross and others have done time in Vegas in the last year or two.

Residencies are definitely good for the artists, who see typical touring overhead costs slashed and who, along with their mixers and other support professionals, enjoy the ability to really get familiar and comfortable in a venue. That, in turn, is good for the fans, who get a better, more confident concert experience when the performers know the room. The promoters and venues are certainly pleased — they get confirmed bookings on a long-term basis. SR providers, along with other rental venders, enjoy the same predictability, not to mention less transportation damage and fewer capital-equipment losses, which may let them feel secure enough to invest in additional systems to compensate for the ones sitting in an extended-show booking. That, in turn, is a boon to pro audio and other equipment manufacturers, who could see sales increase.

Still Plenty On Tour

Back out on the road, while some major-artist tours remain rumors, others have been announced, including veterans like Bon Jovi, Bruno Mars, John Mayer, Katy Perry, U2, Iron Maiden, Metallica and Roger Waters. Newer generations, like The 1975 and Sturgill Simpson, will also be hitting the asphalt.

It’s generating some warm and fuzzy feelings out in speakerworld. “Based on order volume, new customers, and feedback from sound companies, 2017 is shaping up to be a great year for VUE — and perhaps a record for the touring industry as a whole,” says Ken Berger, CEO of VUE Audiotechnik, which is aiming for its piece of the robust music-touring market, as are a number of other brands relatively new to the sector. “Even when you factor out excitement for our first large-format line array system,” he adds, “there are key signs that this demand is rooted in key market fundamentals: virtually all the touring companies we are talking with express that they are over-committed and need more inventory to deliver on their summer schedules.”

Veterans of the touring market, though, know they have to keep a close eye on various barometers as they move towards the spring. David Brooks, application engineer and touring liaison at L-Acoustics, notes that it’s typical this time of year to experience an uptick in demand from rental houses and artists. “That translates into an increased demand for product in March and April in preparation for the summer season and then again in August and September, marking the start of a second touring cycle,” he says. However, Brooks notes, there’s only so much predictability these days. “One of the more challenging aspects of the cyclical nature of the business is that sound providers can only forecast potential need for the current year’s touring cycle,” he explains. “The tendency is for contracts to be signed closer and closer to the tour or festival kick-off date, and, of course, providers cannot place orders until they have a signed contract in hand.”

More Good News

Speaking of festivals, that market may be seeing a trend that could bode well: more big-selling pop acts signing up for them. That included Beyoncé in her first festival appearance, at Coachella in April, along with Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar – until Beyoncé, pregnant with twins, was advised to bow out, and fellow Super Bowl halftime show alum Lady Gaga was announced as her replacement.

Other popsters to infiltrate the festival landscape in 2017 are Lorde (Coachella/Governors Ball) and Maroon 5 (BottleRock). If they bring new money to the festival box office, it could help offset some of the dismal outcomes that EDM saw last year, with the collapse of SFX and the fact that not a single EDM act made Pollstar’s Top 100 Tours chart.

It may no longer be necessary to write about live music’s dominance of the music industry’s economics. This coming touring season may make what heretofore has been an exception the rule. It’s good to be the king, but, as Shakespeare’s Henry IV told us, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Touring will have to face significant challenges in the near future, including the continued and inevitable loss of boffo box office legacy artists and any possible recession that we are statistically overdue for. But we’ll leave that for next year. In the meantime, as for this summer, it looks like it’s going to be five o’clock everywhere.