live, the new paradigm?

Live music is the new paradigm in the business in the music of business, it seems everyone is saying.

Ryan Walsh of Hallelujah the Hills interviews Will Sheff of Okkervil River:

I read an interview where you mentioned that your yearly salary as a musician was similar to that of a 7-Eleven employee. Does that money mostly come from shows?
Yeah, mainly from shows and songwriting. Now my salary is more like a 7-Eleven manager. So that’s a step up. But most people make money from shows, not from record sales. When I was over in Italy, they were saying no one buys records anymore. So the new paradigm is, it’s all about the live show.

The Financial Times has a much more extensive article about it, particularly in terms of the UK live music scene:

In an age of media fragmentation, digital disruption and rampant piracy, live music is one of the few parts of the entertainment industry to be enjoying impressive growth. In the US alone, ticket sales grew by 16 per cent last year to $3.6bn, up from $1bn a decade ago according to Pollstar, one of the few research firms attempting to measure the fragmented business. The audience has grown by 50 per cent in that period and average ticket prices have more than doubled.

Unlike Prince or the Rolling Stones, who also packed the O2 arena this summer, U2’s new albums still routinely top the charts. But even Bono and his fellow band members have seen a stark shift in their business model.

“Twenty years ago, we were losing money on the road,” says McGuinness, who keeps the same share of U2’s takings as its four better-known frontmen. The 1987 Joshua Tree tour sold out but the profits were only about $5m – just enough to fund the making of a spin-off film, Rattle and Hum. Last year, when U2’s Vertigo tour wrapped up after 131 shows and 4.6m tickets, it had grossed $389m, McGuinness notes, making it the second most lucrative on record after the Rolling Stones’ tour in 2005. In 20 years, the average ticket price for a U2 concert has risen from about $12 – about the same as a CD – to $85, five to 10 times what many physical albums sell for.

The article also focuses on the arena band market. It would seem that bands from the top to the bottom would be covered if they have a good live show and build up a live fanbase.

At least in Britian 70% go to one concert a year, while only 18% go to concerts regularly (3+ times a year?). For the US, there’s a fairly comprehensive report from 2006, which shows only 29% of the population go to any concerts, and that only 9% are concert goers or aficionados. Additionally only 1% of entertainment/ media spending and a small portion of music consumer spending is on live shows.

This leaves me to wonder: where’s this shift coming from and where’s the money going to come from? Concert ticket prices have increased, and especially for the indie rock shows, with the mainstreaming of the music, the audience has grown, too. But it still leaves me wondering if it’s enough to support this apparent paradigm shift or whether a few bigger bands along with, of course, promoters and ticketing companies (Ticketmaster sucks) are making more money and others are making the same along with decreased CD sales and higher gas costs.

I’m sure this would be a great set up if I thought I knew all the answer. I could write them right here. But I don’t have all the answers and I’m not sure if they’re all out there right now; it might take time to tell us.

2 responses to “live, the new paradigm?”

  1. andy (not andyl) says:

    Yeah, live music is the *new* paradigm. Unlike the last thousand years or so, which has focused so heavily on recorded music…

  2. adrian says:

    Well, if you really want to get specific about it, the paradigm over the last few thousand years for making a living as a musician has been royal sponsorship/ commissioning and steady work as a court musician. That hasn’t really existed for about a hundred and some years. In the meantime, it’s largely been recorded music that’s provided the income.

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