Top concert draws long in the tooth, grey in the beard
THE top money earner in the North American concert industry is a 60-year-old country singer who released his first album 32 years ago.
During the week ending Feb. 28, the average gross at a George Strait concert was US$1.34 million, which was good enough for the King of Country to earn Pollstar magazine’s crown as the top-touring act on the continent.
And he isn’t alone among older artists. Neil Young, who began performing in Winnipeg 50 years ago, was No. 3 on the list. The Who, which also formed five decades ago, ranked No. 5. Leonard Cohen, who performs at the MTS Centre Monday night, started performing in Montreal in 1948 and recording in the 1960s. He’s No. 6 on the list.
Only three of the top 10-grossing artists — Justin Bieber, Carrie Underwood and Eric Church — can be classified as new, in that they each released their first album some time during the past 10 years.
By and large, the people earning the big bucks in the music industry continue to be veteran artists, whose fanbase can afford to spend more money.
“The industry still is fuelled to a very significant degree by legacy artists,” said Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president for True North Sports & Entertainment and the general manager of the MTS Centre, which has booked all but one of the North America’s top-grossing touring acts.
To some degree, the list of top-grossing tours is distorted by the fact older acts charge more for a ticket, Donnelly explained. Some younger artists may be more popular, in terms of the number of paid customers they attract.
“If you’re measuring things by grosses only, then by default, the established acts push the needle up quicker. The argument is the younger guys like Justin Bieber do twice as many gigs, so he closes that spread,” Donnelly said.
But even if the list of top concert draws was amended to reflect audience size, only one or two different names would appear, Donnelly surmised.
Other acts would simply change position. The Biebs, for example, ranked No. 2 with an average concert gross of $1.25 million. But since he charged less for an average ticket — $72.51 vs. $84.13 for Strait — he actually drew about 1,000 more fans per show.
The week in question saw Cohen charge an average of $99.50 per ticket and gross an average of $889,000 a night. The top ticket price for his Winnipeg date, not including V.I.P. packages, is $250, which actually works out to $269 when you include taxes and agency fees.
Donnelly does not expect nostalgia acts to lose their lustre, even when they can no longer perform.
“I think the need and desire to hear Led Zeppelin performed live will never go away. So what we’ll see are acts who can perform the music even though the band no longer (exists),” he said, predicting the proliferation of “replica acts on an arena scale.”
If Donnelly is right, new artists will never have a chance at knocking nostalgia bands off the list of top touring acts, as generic versions of the Rolling Stones or AC/DC emerge to fill the demand to hear their music live.
An even more frightening thought: the Justin Bieber Experience could be touring arenas 100 years from now, either in the form of a hologram or a genetic reconstitution of the original. Top-grossing North American touring acts for the week ending of Feb. 28, according to concert-industry trade publication Pollstar 3. Neil Young & Crazy Horse Average gross: $1,006,485 Average ticket: $97.89 Genre: Rock. First performance: 1969 for the band. Young began performing in 1963. First album: 1975 for Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Young released his first solo album in 1968. 7. Cirque du Soleil: Quidam Average gross: $757,381 Average ticket: $57.28 Genre: Circus First performance (Cirque du Soleil): 1984 First performance ( Quidam): 1996 1. George Strait Average gross per city: $1,367,779 Average ticket price: $84.13 Genre: Country First performance: 1973 First album: 1981 2. Justin Bieber Average gross: $1,249,114 Average ticket: $72.51 Genre: Pop First performance: 2007 First album: 2009 4. Dave Matthews Band Average gross: $967,758 Average ticket: $73.76 Genre: Rock First performance: 1991 First album: 1993 5. The Who Average gross: $892,620 Average ticket: $91.98 Genre: Rock First performance: 1962 First album: 1965 6. Leonard Cohen Average gross: $889,177 Average ticket: $99.50 Genre: Singer/songwriter First performance: 1948 First album: 1967 9. Carrie Underwood Average gross: $534,340 Average ticket: $58.45 Genre: Country First performance: First album: 2005.
1986, at age three. 8. Trans-Siberian Orchestra Average gross: $559,545 Average ticket: $51.31 Genre: Rock First performance: 1995 First album: 1996 10. Eric Church Average gross: $370,588 Average ticket: $45.76 Genre: Country First performance: 1995 First album: 2006 Additional sources: Pollstar, Associated Press, All Music Guide and official artist