Will Summer Concerts Sing the Blues?

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- After years of subpar concert ticket sales, the music industry is hoping to sing a happy song and shake off its recessionary blues this summer.

Last year was a little bit better for the music industry on the live performance front. According to Pollstar, a trade magazine that analyzes music industry data, the top 100 concert tours in North America throughout 2011 sold more than 54 million tickets, making $2.3 billion, and sales were 6% higher than the previous year. Apparently, concert tickets are a lagging economic indicator, as sales actually held steady in post-recession 2009 before plunging 15% in 2010, the worst season in 15 years.

It wasn't just the nation's economy that hurt the concert industry. It was also the confluence of ever-rising ticket prices crashing well past the $100 mark coupled with far too many acts to choose from, all vying for consumer dollars.

We took a look at some of the tours coming to a town near you this summer (and a few that aren't) to see what insight they might offer.

Bruce Springsteen

A perennial touring machine, Bruce Springsteen's marathon concerts have been praised over the years for being cathartic and uplifting.

The music industry is hoping that, like his songs of endurance in the face of adversity, they too will overcome their sorrows.

A bellwether of industry health is Live Nation Entertainment ( LYV), a leading live entertainment and e-commerce company. It produces more than 20,000 shows annually for more than 2,000 artists globally and is the parent company of Ticketmaster.

The company is optimistic for the summer ahead -- at least that's what it was telling investors in February as it closed the books on 2011.

"The concert business is off to a great start in 2012, driven by a solid early lineup of artists and healthy ticketing demand," said Michael Rapino, president and CEO of Live Nation Entertainment. "We believe that the industry has stabilized and expect the overall market environment to be much the same in 2012, with the fan's passion for our products mitigating any ongoing economic uncertainty."

In 2011, Live Nation saw slightly better news than the prior year. It saw sales increase 6%, to $5.38 billion from $5.06 billion the year before. That uptick helped shrink its losses from $228 million in 2010 to $83 million.

As for Springsteen, his Wrecking Ball tour, already under way in support of a new album of the same name, is his first with the E Street Band since the death of saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

It has a high standard to live up to, critically and commercially. His previous Magic tour of North America and Western Europe in 2007-08 netted $235 million in revenue, with three concerts alone at Giants Stadium selling more than $14 million in tickets.

The Working on a Dream tour in 2009 earned $167 million and 2003's Rising tour pulled in $235 million.

Tim McGraw/Kenny Chesney

Country music fans are likely to turn out in droves as Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw reunite for their Brothers of the Sun tour. They hit the states, direct from Australia, in June and hopscotch around the country through August.

It marks the first time in 10 years the pair have hit the road together. It comes on the heels of Chesney's Goin' Coastal tour, which drew in more than 1.3 million fans and was the year's biggest country tour. An Aug. 13 performance at the Meadowlands in New Jersey drew 55,000 fans.

The popularity and potential profitability of country music can be summed up in this little fact: Chesney out-earned Lady Gaga last year, with $84.6 million in ticket sales to her $63.7 million. (Teen songbird Taylor Swift beat both with $97.7 million in ticket sales.)

Rolling Stones

Would they or wouldn't they? That was the question fans of the Rolling Stones have been asking for months regarding a summer tour.

That speculation was based on the fact that the long-in-the-tooth British rockers celebrate their 50th anniversary this year.

Alas, there will be no jumping for Jack Flash -- at least not as things stand. It was decided, according to music industry rumor, that guitarist Keith Richards, who suffered a brain hemorrhage after falling from a tree in 2006 (cracking his head during a break from the Bigger Bang tour), might not be healthy enough for the grueling travel schedule a tour would require. A scaled-back set of performances are more likely, most in Europe.

Richards himself told Rolling Stone that the touring delay had more to do with the fact that the band "wasn't ready" and that 2013 might be a more likely time for getting back on the road.

A lot of satisfaction may be on the line if the Glimmer Twins do hit the concert scene once again. Their 2006 performances grossed more than $558 million, beating what was previously the most lucrative concert tour in history, U2's Vertigo tour, which raked in $377 million. The Stones, over the course of 144 shows, performed before more than 4.6 million people.

Before U2's Vertigo tour, the highest-grossing series was also the Stones', with $558 million netted from the Voodoo Lounge tour of 2004-05. U2 has since trumped all these results with a gross of more than $736.4 million earned by its multiyear 360° tour, which sold roughly 7.2 million tickets.

Michael Cohl, the promoter behind the Bigger Bang tour, was dubbed the "Howard Hughes of rock 'n' roll" by Fortune and is credited with the concept of "package" touring, an approach that gives bands near-total control over tour dates, marketing and all the money-making add-ons -- programs, shirts, DVDs, etc.

Cohl was also the driving force behind Michael Jackson's Victory tour, U2's PopMart and Yo Gabba Gabba! Live: There's a Party in My City!. He is a producer for the troubled Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which features songs written by U2.

Madonna

It shouldn't come as a surprise Madonna was the featured performer at this year's Super Bowl. Her behind-the-scenes marketing machine used the global spotlight to promote not just her new album, MDNA, slated for release this month, but to build buzz for a world tour that kicks off in Tel Aviv in May and heads to North America late this summer.

Fans and promoters alike will just have to keep their fingers crossed that the the performer doesn't end up stuck in Siberia. Madonna -- who owns a chain of fitness clubs in Russia -- has pledged to protest a law enacted this month in that country that outlaws homosexual, bisexual and transgendered "propaganda" when her roadshow passes through.

There are high expectations for the Material Girl, moneywise. Her 2006 Confessions tour raked in nearly $195 million. The Sticky & Sweet tour in 2008 proved to be the biggest grosser ever for a solo artist and, at the time, the second-most lucrative concert series ever, with $408 million in ticket sales.

One arena where Madonna is sure to come out on top of the competition is ticket price. Seats for her upcoming tour run about $48 for the cheap, nosebleed seats. From there, prices are tiered at $93, $173 and $358. Also available are "VIP Tour Packages," a higher-cost alternative acts have turned to in an effort to maximize fan spending and make up losses from the reduced prices -- don't blame us, this is the story -- made necessary by sluggish sales since 2010.

For Madonna's Sept. 8 show at Yankee Stadium, these perk-including package start at $250 and culminate with a $2,500 "Ultimate VIP Package" that includes parking, a concert shirt, tour poster and "crowd-free merchandise shopping." (This could also be called the "Hey, ultimate VIP, thanks for paying $2,400 for parking" package.)

The roughly 35 million concert tickets sold in the U.S. each year are the main source of revenue for many artists. A breakdown of ticket costs was provided by Live Nation in a presentation for investors.

For a $55 ticket, approximately 5% went to taxes; service fees ate up $14; and promoters snagged $3. On average, performers net between 65% to 90% of what's left, depending on how close a performance is to the $30% earmarked for show costs.

The cost of actually putting on a show is what makes a big summer tour such as Madonna's -- filled with effects, elaborate staging and performers -- so expensive.

U2's last tour, for example, required a crew of nearly 160 behind-the-scenes workers, and each night's performance cost at least $750,000 (not including extra expenses such as the $2 million it cost to move the giant HDTV screen at Cowboy Stadium and $3 million needed to reconfigure its Montreal venue). The tremendous revenue generated by that tour is all the more impressive given that it took close to a year for the production to break even.

Beach Boys

Also celebrating their 50th anniversary this summer are the Beach Boys. Unlike the Stones, they will be on tour, an event that brings even the reclusive Brian Wilson back into the fold. In fact, it will be the first to feature all of the band's surviving original members in decades and is being produced by Wilson with executive producer (and band member) Mike Love.

The band has recorded new songs for an album that will be released in 2012 and, with record label Capitol/EMI will be featured in an anniversary marketing campaign that includes a career-spanning box set.

According to an official announcement of the tour by Live Nation, The Beach Boys continue to hold the Billboard/Nielsen SoundScan record as the top-selling American band for albums and singles. They are also the American group with the most Billboard Top 40 chart hits -- 36.

Kanye West and Jay-Z

Hype is a key ingredient for any big summer tour that hopes to stand out from the rest.

It is such strategy that has led rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West to take their 2011 recording collaboration, Watch the Throne, onto the road.

The pairing looks to capitalize on the success Jay-Z and West have had in solo tours, already netting close to $50 million in ticket sales. West may also be able to regain some of what he lost out on when the planned Fame Kills tour with Lady Gaga failed to materialize.

Jay-Z may also be veering into the lucrative world of promotion. According to the New York Post, he has been negotiating a $150 million deal for his wife Beyonce's post-pregnancy comeback world tour.

Van Halen

Don't kill the messenger, but those of you who went to high school in the 1980s should now realize Generation X nostalgia is big business.

It still might be a stretch to call Van Halen's current tour, which continues through the summer, an oldies act -- but not by much. Submitted as evidence is that the follically challenged David Lee Roth is once again at center mike after years of squabbles with the band's eponymous guitarist and a string of hired pipes that have replaced him. Also, any thoughts of youthful bad-assery should be immediately dispelled by these words: opening act Kool & the Gang.

The fact Eddie Van Halen's son is now a band member can only add to the realization of time's passage. After all, the band has been around since 1974.

The reunion tour kicked off late last year and will continue through the summer.

The last time Roth toured with the band, in 2007-08, 74 shows grossed more than $93 million.

Katy Perry

Even without hopping on a tour bus, artists can capitalize on the summer music scene.

In July, Katy Perry will release a 3-D concert film, Katy Perry: Part Of Me, a document of last year's California Dreams tour.

Concert movies have existed nearly as long as there has been rock 'n' roll. For artists, who derive far more money from touring than song sales, these movies can be a lucrative supplement to their bottom line.

This Is It, which pieced together footage from what would have been the late Michael Jackson's comeback tour, has made global box office of $261 million.

Less impressive, but still a nice bit of coin, were Madonna's Truth or Dare, with nearly $30 million and the concert film U2:3D with $23 million.

Fleetwood Mac

Even a boatload of cash isn't enough to soothe some egos.

Fleetwood Mac, one of the most popular classic rock bands of all time, was supposed to hit the road this summer. Now, it appears that not only are those plans unlikely to materialize, but that the band may never play together again.

That pessimistic prediction was offered by group founder Mick Fleetwood last week in a round of interviews.

Feuding between former bandmates and lovers Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks has long stressed and limited the band's output. The latter, at least according to Fleetwood in an interview with Playboy, has now said she "might" be up for joining a tour once she finishes promoting a solo album.

"I don't believe Fleetwood Mac will ever tour again, but I really hope we do," Fleetwood said.

If their last reunion tour is any indication, failing to make good on plans for an 80-date tour will kiss away more than $90 million in revenue and a not-too-shabby personal payday of more than $10 million for each band member.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.

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