The story of the down-on-his-luck traveling musician who plays to nearly empty venues is as almost as old as music itself. The so-called “starving artist” has not been a new concept for the last millennium at least. However, recent times have shown that it is not just the unknown coffee-house singers struggling to get an audience – during the 2010 summer touring season, even mainstream acts with a devoted fan-base have been unable to fill the concert halls and stadiums for which they have been booked.
Music news in past months has been filled with the somber announcements of soft ticket sales, canceled dates, and even tours that have been canceled outright. Rihanna’s “Last Girl on Earth” tour should have been one of the most highly anticipated tours of the summer, but several dates were quickly cut in response to lackluster sales. Other industry veterans – most notably, Christina Aguilera – did not even attempt to stay afloat in the disappointing touring season, opting to cancel or postpone their tours before tickets even went on sale. The long-awaited return of Lilith Fair has proven to be quite a challenge, as contributing artists quietly dropped out of the tour once seats failed to sell.
Some artists, on the other hand, seem immune to the flailing touring industry. Teen pop sensation Justin Bieber, pop powerhouse Lady Gaga, and the duo of James Taylor and Carole King are just a few of the acts that are keeping their heads well above water in regard to ticket sales. The stark contrast between these two categories of touring musicians – that is, those who cannot sell their seats versus those who have run out of room even in the “Standing Room Only” areas – raises an important question: why are consumers supporting some tours, but not others?
The economic climate in recent years provides the most obvious and convenient answer. While much of the nation tries to maintain their current standard of living, concert tickets are simply not a priority. This reality, coupled with the fact that tickets are more expensive than ever once processing and building fees are added in, suggests that consumers who still have the funds available to afford live music are choosing to see only one or two of their favorite artists rather than filling their summer calendars with shows.
Though a lack of disposable income is no doubt a large player in disappointing ticket sales, a tour’s production quality also deserves scrutiny. Many of the best-selling tours involve an intense combination of laser-lights shows, smoke machines, and dance-heavy musical numbers. With music more accessible than ever in both physical and digital form, it seems that consumers are beginning to favor live shows that feature vivid visuals in addition to the music. After all, a favorite song is only a touch of an iPod away, but the excitement of pyrotechnics and Jumbotrons is harder to find outside of a live concert.
Nevertheless, with expensive productions driving ticket prices higher, now is the perfect opportunity for live music fanatics to look into supporting lesser-known artists in addition to their mainstream favorites. A quick look through a newspaper or local music blog should give light to plenty of local shows for much lower prices. Additionally, many cities host free music festivals throughout the year such as Coney Island’s annual Siren Music Festival in New York City.
Are there any free events in your town? Where do you find out about inexpensive live shows? There is no better time than today to expand musical horizons and become a fan of the struggling, unknown traveling artist who will be one of the industry’s superstars tomorrow.