By John Gerome -- AP Entertainment Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — If you want to sit in the really good seats for a Keith Urban concert this summer, a pair of tickets will put you about back about $170. But in a nod to the tough economic times, the country superstar has also priced some tickets as low as $20 per seat, so fans won't need to stay home because they can't afford to go.
"They may be to the side, but they still have a good view of the stage," Urban said recently of the discount tickets. "It's a way for us to allow those people that are a little hard up for cash to come and see the show."
"It's a balance for me," Urban added, "because we want to put on a good show. I'd make every ticket $10, but we'd be up there with a megaphone and a flashlight with some colored paper over it."
The concert industry has been impervious to the recession and high ticket prices over the years. Last year in North America, the average box-office gross was up 18 percent and the average attendance up 6.3 percent, according to Billboard magazine.
But with the economic news getting worse by the day, artists and concert promoters are trying to make sure fans come out to the stadiums, arenas and concert halls this year by offering ticket deals and other incentives.
No Doubt is giving away a digital download of their entire catalog in exchange for the purchase of a premium ticket ($42.50 before taxes and fees). Coldplay plans to give concertgoers a free live album, while U2 is pricing at least 10,000 tickets to every show in the $30 range (though the top price will still cost a hefty $250 a ticket).
And alt-country star Lucinda Williams, also worried about the economy and miffed about fees tacked on to her concert tickets, is offering a credit on concert merchandise, about $7 on clothing and $5 on CDs, and on merchandise on her online store, lucindawilliams.com. The offer is through July 31 to accommodate people who attended her shows before the announcement.
"I understand that this may only be a small gesture and in no way solves the problem long-term, but I feel that it is important to try and do something to make it a little easier during this time," she said in a statement.
Promoters are also offering deals. The Stagecoach country music festival in Indio, Calif., (Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and more) cut the cost of two-day passes to $99 from $167 two years ago. Two other popular summer festivals, Bonnaroo and Coachella, are offering tickets on layaway.
Summer is a busy time for the concert business. Live Nation, the world's largest promoter, estimates that more than 50 percent of its annual profit comes in the summer months.
But with this year's economic uncertainty, promoters could have a tougher time filling seats.
"In a crowded marketplace in difficult economic times, you want your show or event to stand out as something people recognize as a deal," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of the concert industry publication Pollstar.
Rocker Stevie Nicks, who's currently on a reunion tour with Fleetwood Mac, said times are so bad, the band doesn't know if it can afford to go overseas: "It's so expensive to do that that you put people out of business to go play for them. It's affecting everybody."
Live Nation offers a $10 Tuesday promotion for some shows and is expanding its four-pack plan, where fans can buy four tickets for the price of three. Last year, Live Nation offered the four-pack deal at 66 percent of concerts in the venues it owns. This year, Live Nation plans to expand it to at least 75 percent.
"Through this we're saying, 'If you reward us by bringing your friends, we'll reward you by bringing you a cheaper ticket,'" said Jason Garner, Live Nation's CEO for global music.
AEG Live President and CEO Randy Phillips said the entire industry is more price-conscious this year, including artists. As an example, he cited Michael Jackson's summer shows at the O2 arena in London.
"The top ticket price is 75 pounds ($110). People think I'm crazy because we can get 150 pounds ($220). But we'd rather play before more fans and have a lower gross," Phillips said.
In some ways, Phillips said, an ailing economy can help the industry. When people splurge in hard times, they're more likely to go to a concert or a music festival than take a vacation or buy a car.
Still, Phillips predicted, "The other shoe is going to drop ... this rampant unemployment has to affect our business."
Live Nation's Garner is more optimistic. He said the $50 average ticket price for a concert is a good value compared with sporting events and other live entertainment. Based on early ticket sales, he expects business to remain strong in 2009.
Rascal Flatts' Jay DeMarcus agreed, saying concerts and other forms of entertainment may provide some relief for those going through hard times.
"People will always need that break, that escape from reality, I think that's why people have continued to buy tickets and show up at our shows," he said. "I think it's an opportunity for them to take the whole family for at least a couple of hours and forget about (everything) that's going on."
AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody in New York contributed to this report.
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