This has been one of the toughest summers in recent memory for music tours. Some of the biggest treks of the summer were partially or entirely called off because of injuries (U2), illness (Simon and Garfunkel, Mastodon), lack of preparation (Limp Bizkit, Christina Aguilera) and general economic malaise (Eagles). Even the normally-bulletproof Warped Tour has been experiencing soft sales.
In the past week, box office woes have forced the cancellation of seven stops on the American Idols Live! tour and 10 shows on the resurrected Lilith Fair.
With the economy still in a funk and joblessness holding steady, the main complaint about the concert industry has been the out-of-control prices of tickets. According to Pollstar, the average cost of a concert ticket in 2009 was a somewhat-astounding $62.57. Comparatively speaking, that’s a nearly 35 percent increase over the average at the beginning of the decade (in that same time period, the inflation rate has only increased 24 percent). And that’s not even taking into account transportation, concessions and merchandise, all of which push up the cost of seeing your favorite artist in concert.
At the same time, sales and attendance have not slowed on the big event festivals. While there are fewer of them than there have been in past years, the Big Three (Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza) have seen no real decrease in sales or attendance. Considering a three-day pass to any one of those events can cost upwards of $200 and even more money must be set aside for travel and food, that’s an extremely pricey investment (even with the layaway plans most of the festivals now offer, allowing people to pay for tickets over time). Of course, part of the draw of a festival is the feel of a big event, the possibilities created by eclectic masses of people and the opportunity to see dozens of bands stacked on top of one another.
Still, the existence of destination festivals doesn’t make your average arena tour any less special. Lilith Fair was always going to be a tough sell, mostly because founder Sarah McLachlan has been more or less missing from the mainstream music scene for nearly a decade. Still, it offers the chance for people without the means to travel to far away events to get a festival in the convenience of their local amphitheater. (Plus, it’s got a great rotating lineup, and even though the industry is slightly more friendly to women in 2010, it’s still rocky for females trying to make it on the road). And while “American Idol” just completed one of its worst seasons (both aesthetically and ratings-wise), it is still a show watched by 24 million people every week and features a handful of singers who have developed followings on the Internet. But perhaps people are willing to pay 30 bucks for that type of show, but not necessarily pony up 40 (which is the opening price for the cheap ducats at most stops). The twist is that most artists have relied more heavily on their touring revenue in the past decade because of eroding album sales (and because their labels usually don’t have any right to their concert receipts).
But what do you think is the biggest reason why tours are struggling? Vote in the poll below and let us know your thoughts in the comments! (And if your point of view isn’t represented, be sure to comment on that too!)