Aerosmith might be back in the saddle, but many other groups on the road this summer aren’t doing quite so amazing.
John Mayer, Drake, Lilith Fair, American Idol, Christina Aguilera, Jonas Brothers, The Eagles, Limp Bizkit, 50 Cent, Rihanna, Maxwell and U2 are part of a cast that has recently either canceled, rescheduled or postponed dates.
Ticket sales are down 17 percent from last year for the top 100 tours, according to Pollstar, which keeps international concert tour data.
That should be scary news for artists at a time when the industry is increasingly geared toward making money on the road through ticket sales and merchandising rather than album sales.
Though the slowed economy is a key player, so is the new industry model itself. With album sales taking a major hit, more artists are forced to fire up the tour bus and head for the road, leading to more shows than concertgoers have dollars.
To compensate, ticket sellers are getting creative. For Lilith Fair, prices were slashed in half, but that didn’t prevent the tour from ultimately chopping 10 dates. The festival was able to make its stop at Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheater earlier this month.
Lilith Fair, unlike others, faces a unique problem, however.
Drake, Mayer and U2, for example, had to cancel due to injuries or personal reasons. But Lilith didn’t. Bumping up the highest ticket prices from the $50 range to more than $250 didn’t help.
Relevance is the larger issue. Back in 1997, Sarah McLachlan had a fresh idea to give women a place to perform and hone their craft in a strongly male-centric festival industry.
Now Lilith Fair has outlived its usefulness by achieving its aim. In 2010, women are vital to the success of large-scale festivals such as Bonnaroo or Coachella. Indie rocker Cat Power is offered as one of the top draws for next month’s Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco.
In a similar way to Lilith, Limp Bizkit has a problem with relevance.
Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst’s ill-conceived rationale for the group’s postponements poorly concealed the problem: “We like to see less seats in front of the stage and more floor filled with fans going bananas.”
In other words, venues have seats and Durst’s band was having difficulty filling them.
But you don’t have to be a nu-metal also-ran to be struggling this summer. The Jonas Brothers sacked a month’s worth of gigs because they chose to “reorganize some of the North American tour dates,” according to a fan club statement, so they could focus on Europe, Central America and South America.
When even the teen heartthrobs are “reorganizing dates,” you know it’s a cruel, cruel summer.
Other efforts to combat the decline led to Ticketmaster offering no service fees in June for all Live Nation amphitheaters, which included the Shoreline, Concord’s Sleep Train Pavilion and Wheatland’s Sleep Train Amphitheater.
The result is a Darwinian golden rule: Whoever has the most gold rules.
Those with the gold this summer are Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Bon Jovi and the James Taylor/Carole King twin bill. Those tours have all sold well. Bon Jovi did not even cancel dates when its singer recently tore a leg muscle.
Still, the success stories are few and far between in what is shaping up to be an ugly summer.
It’s one thing when Lilith Fair or Limp Bizkit can’t cut it. They appear past their expiration dates.
For Drake, Mayer or U2, family matters, illnesses and injuries happen.
But when Rihanna, JoBros and The Eagles are having a hard time putting butts in seats, that is a worrisome sign.
Those are hot artists or legacy acts, the kind that promoters typically consider a sure thing.
When even a sure thing isn’t reliable, vocalists of all genres will soon be singing the blues.