Concert Industry Rushing To Make Shows More “Intimate”
One of the rallying cries of displaced OiNK users last week was “We’ll make up for not buying records by supporting the band on the road, mannn“–but if news out of Denver is to be believed, not everyone is lining up for concerts in lieu of buying recorded music. A slew of shows in the area, by artists ranging from Maroon 5 to Bill Callahan, have been downsized recently, with concert promoters moving the shows to smaller rooms after initial ticket sales were lower than expected. In the case of the Maroon 5 show, capacity was slashed from 18,000 to 3,600. (So much for their road jaunt helping out their soft album sales!)
“It must not have been selling well, plain and simple,” said legendary former concert promoter Barry Fey. “They must have been sure it was going to bomb, and now they just want to recover whatever they can. That, and the act doesn’t want to be embarrassed.”
Peter Ore, regional vice president of booking for Live Nation, declined to comment.
Moving Maroon 5 to the Fillmore makes sense for Live Nation, which owns the venue outright. At the Pepsi Center, Live Nation would have needed to rent the space from owners Kroenke Sports, and would not have shared in coveted receipts from food and alcohol sales.
“The difference is night and day,” said Square Peg’s Steinberg. “It’s very cost-effective. I’m sure that Live Nation was aggressive about the deal that moved the show down, and obviously the band doesn’t want to play an empty room.
“You see a band playing an empty room and there’s definitely a vibe that it’s over, and nobody wants that. Everybody wants to play a packed room.”
As the Post notes, Denver is the major destination for concerts in the Rocky Mountain region; it has the largest potential draw of any city between Chicago and Phoenix. But that may have the unfortunate result of too many promoters trying to horn in on the area’s ticket-buying power, which then drives up prices.
“Denver’s always been unique because people go to shows, but there are too many promoters overtaxing it,” said Steinberg, who formerly worked in Denver but is now based in Seattle. “Everybody’s looking for volume. It’s attractive to agents and managers, but it creates bidding wars. It’s one of the harder markets in the country not only to get the talent, but to sell it.”
All promoters contacted for this story blamed high ticket prices for fans’ general disinterest. Competition for the consumer dollar normally drives down price, but in the concert business, promoters scramble to offer artists the highest guarantee to snag them for their company.
“What’s killing our business is these high ticket prices,” said Fey. “The competition for the groups is so torrid that you pay them more than they’re ever worth. The only way to recoup that is to raise ticket prices.”
Fey pointed to the example of the Rolling Stones, a band he booked in 1972 for $6.50 per ticket. Adjusted for inflation the ticket would cost about $30 today, but the Stones now charge some fans hundreds of dollars to attend their shows.
“Acts think a certain level of hotness demands a certain guarantee, and you have ticket prices that go along with that,” said Outback’s Jason Zink. “If those aren’t matching what the public wants to buy, it just doesn’t sell.”
This is similar to the note of alarm Philadelphia concert promoter Sean Agnew sounded earlier this month, when he started a message board thread about this fall being a bad season for many of the venues and promoters in his area simply because more artists are trying to rely on touring for too much of their revenue, resulting in a glut of too many bands touring too often and demanding too much money. (The whole thread should be eye-opening reading for anyone who thinks indie bands will–or should–make the money they lose from lost CD sales on the road; lots of artists chime in as well.) Together, these two stories puncturing holes in the “road = best way to make money” myth makes me wonder if we should expect to see another slew of stories like this from the merch side, about oversupply of stuff resulting in the slow contraction of that industry, in six months or so.