#TBT: The One Thing That Always Works for Live Entertainment

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: You Won’t Find the Future by Polishing the Past.

As I’ve written before, it’s looking like a difficult summer for the folks who make money selling and performing concerts. Typical of the commentary is this piece in the New York Post, which I’ll excerpt a bit of below:

“Some are blaming the low demand for tickets on the weak economy and prices that are simply too high for the public to swallow — the average concert ticket price hit $69 in the first quarter … [industry magazine Pollstar Editor Gary] Bongiovanni said there are simply too many artists out on the road and ‘in any market from New York to Des Moines there are going to be losers.’

The same three problems are being identified over and over again: prices, the economy and oversupply.

Today’s economy is an all-purpose excuse for any business anywhere about anything. If a businessperson blames the economy, it’s best to just go ahead and ignore them. It’s like a football coach blaming the weather for losing a game, when both teams played in the same weather. Perhaps one just adjusted better to the new reality of a rainy field.

Oversupply is the result of high levels of interest, and high prices are the result of a lag between past and present reality. The market should correct those quickly enough, and as we can see, it is. However mighty the new Live Nation might be, it’s not more powerful than the marketplace. I’ve been saying that for years.

But I don’t believe these are the real problems.

Instead, I believe the real problems are first, that the so-called concert business has been living on the ‘trust fund’ created by the Great Rock Boom of the ’60s and ’70s for a long time, and is now eating into the principal.

Second, that business has not recognized the end of the Rock Boom. During a boom, a lot of things work. Everybody’s a genius. After it’s over, you have to come up with other reasons and ways to get through (and yes, everybody’s an idiot, or at least that’s how it feels), and in live music, that adjustment hasn’t happened. At least not yet. They have generally assumed that the future would be like the past, with different musicians once the old warhorses just couldn’t do it anymore.

Take it from a veteran of Web Boom 1, the Dot Bomb Era, Web Boom 2 and whatever it is we’re going through now.

In fact, the one thing that always works is constantly working hard to build good demand for your product/show/etc. and delivering something great to people. You’ll look like a laggard during the boom, but you’ll catch up and surpass people later. You’ll never stop getting better and cyclicality or even the economy will be irrelevant to you.

And that’s the real opportunity for live music. On a small scale, this is being done, but on the large scale, companies like Live Nation and AEG have the opportunity to figure out and, if not own, at least lead the future. There’s a formula, and it works, but they’re not going to find it by modifying the old formula. In many ways, it’s not perhaps as good as the past, though in other ways it’s better. It doesn’t matter because the past is no longer available anyway, so what’s the point of comparing?

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