What’s Killing the Concert Business

Billboard calls it the “Cruel Summer” because ticket sales are down and tour dates cancelled. It asks the question, “Can the concert business bounce back?”

Only a year earlier it looked like it was defying the economy providing the music industry with a rare glimmer of hope of late.

Billboard did a concert-goer survey again this year with the results unremarkable.

You know, concert-goers saying they hear about upcoming concerts from online/social network sites (63%) instead of radio (13%). Softball questions about how easy the ticket buying experience is (33% say easy and convenient, only 25% said a hassle but worth it). No tough questions about Ticketmaster and how much people dislike it.

That being said, the concert business is in real trouble.

The music industry is in bigger trouble and virtually everything music execs have done over the past ten years has backfired from suing consumers to stop pirating (it has actually increased every year) to seeking another music tax on the radio industry, the very people who made them rich for decades with free airplay.

Not to break anyone’s bubble, but radio programmers and savvy music people know that the universe available to attend live concerts has always been comparatively small. Even before Live Nation, the concert experience was a giant ripoff – the kind only a parent could support financially on a regular basis. The fees. The markup.

And in reality, the number of concert events even the most rabid fans attend is relatively small. In other words as big as the concert market has been in terms of dollars, it was that small when you factor in how few people out of the music loving population actually attend a live event.

Live Nation hasn’t made a consistent profit since it was purchased from Clear Channel, a consolidator that didn’t really know what it was doing when it bought into the concert business but sure knew when to get out. And the numbers are not paltry, Billboard claims last year Live Nation reported $2.5 billion in grosses – almost three times of closest competitor AEG and 41 million in attendance and 5,000 shows worldwide.

Nothing to sneeze at.

Yet, consolidation has failed another industry with two companies doing most of the visionary work and about all they can see is the traditional model – high fees to talent, large profits for themselves, too much reliance on a handful of superstars because the concert business doesn’t work without superstars. That, in and of itself, is a problem they don’t see.

If I hear Irving Azoff’s name one more time I’m going to be sick. Nothing personal, but can anyone think besides Irving? The concert business is an old man’s game and obviously long in the tooth. It could come back next year when the economy gets better but whether it will be a growth business again is what I question.

The music business is the same – same old white men. The concert business is down to a handful of old schoolers who are looking to the business they want to be instead of what consumers may want to support.

It’s business.

Not show.

It used to be show business – both.

The smartest dude in the world was Bob Sillerman who peddled SFX, the original Live Nation, to Clear Channel for about $4 billion so he could concentrate on Elvis. Has anyone ever noticed how fast and profitably Sillerman unloads companies that all have the “X” in the names?

Here’s what I think folks are missing.

The consumer has changed.

Just as in radio, print and even television traditional media folks do not understand that there is a new generation that holds the world in their hands most of the day. See how many pictures in People of celebrities photographed with their cellphones in their hands.

Tech gadgets are more important to them than even clothes or appliances. I know it’s true because The Wall Street Journal said so.

Seriously, there is a major shift in priorities for this generation and that may help explain why Apple has not had a recession when most other categories have. But the most deadly attitude traditional media companies can have is that once the recession ends…

You know the drill, things will get better as the economy gets better.

Yes, things will get better (duh) but a major sociological change has happened albeit during a prolonged recession and we’re missing it.

Even ballgames, sporting events and other venue driven activities are also subject to these major changes. One major market NFL team is producing an entire digital event for the people who attend their games almost as if they recognize that those attending the games are for a few hours an accidental social network. Smart.

There will always be a market for public events, but the nature of those events must change to cooperate with the inevitability of old tired concert venues running out of steam.

The music industry embarrasses itself by trying to force the same retro products on consumers who have enthusiastically and willingly embraced the mobile Internet and social networking.

Therefore, I conclude, if the concert promoters want to get people to attend live events they must change a multi-billion dollar business that is starting to erode. That’s not about to happen.

Some of my music industry students when they come of age may well have the answer if they keep their eyes off of Irving and focus on the consumer who would rather buy a mobile device than a new pair of jeans.

Or go to a concert?

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