Take Bongiovanni's data archive on Beyonce, dating from 2003. Sure, there are good paydays. On June 1, for example, she -- along with Florence and the Machine, Timbaland and other acts -- sold out England's Twickenham Stadium, grossing north of $5.1 million. But one night of millions does not make a living on the road.
Over the 195 shows Bongiovanni tracked, Beyonce grossed an average of about $1.1 million per show.
"Keep in mind," Bongiovanni said, "the cost to tour comes out of that gross." And for a slick, high-produced performance event such as a Beyonce tour, the costs are sky high.
Mark LaFay, an Indianapolis-based former concert promoter who has produced more than 450 shows and runs a creative technologies agency called Sonar Studios, has put a live event settlement sheet online that specifies the costs an artist such as Beyonce faces: facility fees, ever-rising seat taxes, promoter fees, advertising, design, barricades, catering, promotion, security, sound, lights ... and many others.
LaFay points out that stars of Beyonce's caliber structure their tours so event promoters split much of the risk, and experienced acts have become adept at digging into new revenue streams such as parking and merchandise.
"But still there are astronomical expenses," LaFay said. "Factor in management fees and I would say of that $1 million gross, maybe 10% finally flows to the talent."
Live music Is getting old fast
The scary part is that low margins, high risk and a lower overall total market size are not actually the biggest problems facing the live music industry in the digital age. What really is the 800-pound gorilla in the live touring room is the miserable job the information economy is doing in creating tour-worthy acts. Of the top tours for last year, only a very few -- say, Coldplay -- were also in the Top 10 for single sales.
"At some point the actuarial tables are going to take over and The Rolling Stones and The Eagles will stop touring," Bongiovanni said. "Can Taylor Swift replace Madonna on the road? I am not sure. But who replaces those retiring acts -- and those ticket sales -- has been the question for the last 10 years."
Bongiovanni is hopeful a new generation of non-musical large scale events such as Cirque Du Soleil, Walking with Dinosaurs and World Wrestling Entertainment will be a hedge against a digital-age music industry struggling to create new live acts.
"Thank god we have the Harlem Globetrotters to put butts in seats." he said, "If not, I would be worrying."