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"There has been no meaningful artist development for close to 10 years. The biggest problem is that the record industry, which drives everything, in tandem with the radio and live industries, can’t find a significant way to nurture talent anymore."
——Promoter John Scher

THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT

Multiple Problems May KO This Year’s Prime Touring Season
On paper, this summer’s touring schedule looked like a sure thing. With a power-packed lineup that includes the return of such concert-package name brands as Ozzfest, Lollapalooza and Warped; '70s icons Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Kiss and Aerosmith; pop stars Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera; rap rulers Jay-Z and 50 Cent; and country superstars the Dixie Chicks and Alan Jackson, this summer initially appeared to be shaping up as one of the most lucrative in recent memory.

Unfortunately, what looks good on paper doesn't always pan out in the real world. At this point, the summer looks largely disappointing, with little of the sizzle industryites had hoped would drive ticket sales.

Indeed, summer ticket sales are soft in some markets, as a glut of shows, competition for the concert dollar, the struggling economy, months of lousy weather, competition from multi-band radio shows and the continuing downturn in the music business have combined to put a major crimp in the touring business this year.

"We have an industry that has managed once again to ignore reality," says veteran concert promoter and Co-CEO of Metropolitan Talent John Scher. "The economy is in bad shape, there’s fear of congregation, ticket prices and service charges are out of control. It’s no wonder that this summer will at best be mediocre."

According to CAA head of music Rob Light, the summer-concert picture isn’t uniformly bad, however. "There are eight or 10 really good tours: the Warped Tour, John Mayer/Counting Crows, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith/Kiss, Tim McGraw, the Dixie Chicks," he says. "I think the Summer Sanitarium Tour will be really healthy. But in general, there’s some malaise in the marketplace. In the Southeast, parts of the Midwest and smaller markets, where the economy has been hit hard, they’ve had some tough times."

Artist manager Irving Azoff agrees that many of the A-level shows are doing fine: "The Dixie Chicks and Fleetwood Mac have done phenomenal business. Sales for Steely Dan have been very good. Justin and Christina are doing well in most cities but have had some problems in places like Denver, Little Rock and San Antonio. Bon Jovi is huge, and Aerosmith/Kiss is doing great business, even at big-ticket prices. Journey/Styx is a complete success. better than anyone expected.

"The Eagles are playing multiple dates in many cities and selling a normal 90%, at huge prices. The tour is going great, although the promoter [Concerts West] overpaid, and they are not making any money. While Springsteen is huge, especially on the East Coast, even he is having a terrible time in some cities like Denver, Little Rock, Memphis and the Carolinas. But in general, it’s the B- and C-level and some rock shows that are taking a hit."

"We are learning hard lessons right now," Scher asserts. "From a live perspective, we’ve stuck our heads in the sand for too long. The lack of creating new headliners falls at the feet of the radio and record industry consolidation. There has been no meaningful artist development for close to 10 years. The biggest problem is that the record industry, which drives everything, in tandem with the radio and live industries, can’t find a significant way to nurture talent anymore. Most of the successful touring bands today had their start in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. What’s that about?"

"Most of the newer acts haven’t had a chance to develop a following," Azoff says. "The business these days, with its desire to turn a profit as quickly as possible, doesn’t allow for the development of a fan base."

All is not lost, however. While new artists like Norah Jones and Linkin Park dominate the airwaves and sell millions of albums, the old folks are cleaning up at the box office. Last summer, five of the top 10 grossing tours were acts that came of age in the ‘70s: Billy Joel/Elton John (back out again this year in a co-bill), Springsteen, Aerosmith, Neil Diamond and the Eagles. Three others came of age in the ‘60s: McCartney, the Stones and Cher.

Insiders predict that the top tours this summer will include Fleetwood Mac and Springsteen, as well as the Aerosmith/Kiss and John/Joel double bills.

And that’s not all, folks: Boston, Steely Dan, Heart, Meat Loaf, James Taylor, Chicago, Jackson Browne, ZZ Top, Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar, David Lee Roth and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are also hitting the sheds and arenas in the coming months.

Most promoters across the country were caught off-guard by the season’s slowdown. However, Los Angeles-based promoter Andy Hewitt, who books the Hollywood Bowl and various Las Vegas locales, is having a banner year. "For Bill [Silva] and me at the Bowl, it’s the biggest year we’ve ever had. The Hard Rock [in Las Vegas] is also having its biggest year ever. We have limited the amount of dates at the Bowl. It’s a more confined season now, we dont need 30-40 shows."

Hewitt attributes the concert sales slump primarily to high ticket prices. "You can’t ask all of America to pay Las Vegas ticket prices and be successful. It’s the main thing plaguing the business right now. Look at the unbelievable acts on tour now, and they are not selling out. Realistic ticket prices make for a better chance of a successful tour."

While sales on both coasts for such major package tours as Summer Sanitarium, Lollapalooza, Warped and Ozzfest are pretty good overall, in the Midwest, Northeast and South, many seats will be left unsold. In certain markets, no matter what the show, arenas will not sell out. "A couple of markets are just dogs," says Light. "But I’m not announcing that this summer is dead and over."

Here’s a look at how the package tours are faring:

Summer Sanitarium, featuring Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Deftones and Mudvayne, kicks off July 4 in Detroit and ends Aug. 10 in San Francisco. Some shows on this tour have already sold between 30,000-40,000 tickets.

Lollapalooza 2003, featuring Jane’s Addiction, Audioslave, Incubus, Queens of the Stone Age, A Perfect Circle, Jurassic 5 and The Donnas, kicks off July 5 in Indianapolis, and wraps Aug. 23 in Seattle. Tickets have been soft in markets like Detroit, where less than 10,000 have been sold, but have sold somewhat better in major cities.

Ozzfest, featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Disturbed, Chevelle and The Datsuns, among many others, gets started June 28 in San Antonio and goes through Aug. 28 in West Palm Beach. Ticket sales are solid, as metal never seems to die.

Warped, featuring such bands as Pennywise, The Used, The Distillers, A.F.I., Rancid, Mest and Simple Plan, gets going June 19 in Boise and ends Aug. 10 in Asbury Park, NJ. Here again, tickets are selling briskly.

The two tours with the most solid branding—Ozzfest and Warped—are doing the best business in this crowded market. Interestingly, though, ticket sales for Lollapalooza, the prototype package tour, are suffering.

"The Warped Tour appeals to a very specific audience that knows exactly what the day is going to be about, knows how much music they’re going to get, what the experience is going to be—and it’s priced low enough that all of these other factors don’t matter," Light explains. "In the case of Ozzfest, the tour is probably down a little bit, but here again, it’s easy to reach that audience.

"With Lollapalooza, even though it’s a great show, I don’t think the name has quite the same impact we all assume it does. To an 18-20-year-old kid who’s into Audioslave and Jurassic 5, it doesn’t have the same meaning. And there’s a whole generation of kids who don’t know who Jane’s Addiction is and what Lollapalooza is about. I also think the stations that Lollapalooza needed to help promote them are so busy promoting their own shows that they haven’t even gotten to it yet."

Add to that the fact that headliner Jane’s Addiction’s new album has yet to be released and no new material from the band has been issued in years, and you have the makings of potentially disastrous ticket sales.

William Morris Agency head of music Peter Grosslight, whose company owns a piece of Lollapalooza, has a more optimistic view: "Lollapalooza will be ultimately successful this year. Some people are overreacting. The negative is much more an industry perception than a reality. There’s an enormous amount of traffic this summer, and a lot of the shows are of similar genre. Overall, the business is very healthy; what we are seeing, however, is in part a byproduct of high ticket prices. We’re seeing stronger sales closer to the events. A lot of shows this year went on sale extraordinarily early, and that has had an effect on ticket sales overall."

"I don’t think you can say this tour is a disaster yet," Light agrees, "because we don’t really know how it’s going to play out. Take Summer Sanitarium: When the shows went on sale, the initial counts weren’t great. Now, here we are eight weeks later: Metallica is starting to roll, Linkin Park is selling, that tour is going to turn out fine. Sure, therell be a bad date or two—that happens to everybody, other than the Chicks, whose tour is a winner coast to coast."

"One of the problems facing the touring industry is putting these tickets on sale before the artists have any new product in the marketplace," says The Firm’s Andy Gould, whose company has nearly all of its artists touring this season. "There’s no excitement in the marketplace because there are no records out when the tickets are put on sale. The Dixie Chicks had a huge record out before their concert tickets went on sale, and a sold-out tour followed. Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and the Deftones did not have releases out before Summer Sanitarium went on sale. The same for Lollapalooza’s Jane’s Addiction, and I think ticket sales are suffering because of it."

Despite the negative factors conspiring to undermine the concert season, some believe that the market, like everything else in the music industry, is cyclical and will get back on track.

Light has hope for the future of the concert business—provided some salient issues are addressed: "I still think there’s a really healthy business out there. It’s not dead and over, like the record business. We’ve just got to look at the signs and say, ‘OK, how do we fix this?’ And it really is fixable.

"The live entertainment experience continues to be a happening thing. If the economy gets healthier, if radio puts more time into promoting these tours, if we adjust ticket prices, if we spread the year out so everything’s not packed into the summer, then I think we’ll see it get healthy again."

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