Lacklustre Gig Sales – Has Live Music Hit Saturation Point?

Nothing worse than playing your ass of to an empty room.

Nothing worse than playing your ass of to an empty room. (Photo credit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelz1/)

This time every year, thanks to what should be known at the festival season (January to April), east coast capital cities are inundated with international acts looking to extend their stay with a good ol’ fashioned side show.

So what I ask is; have we reached saturation point? I have it on good authority that two recent tours from international artists sold below expectation. One of those acts struggled to get the Corner Hotel two thirds full, yet the same act sold out the Hi Fi Bar back in 2009, which is of comparable capacity.

Some might suggest that it’s poor economic times that are causing these underwhelming ticket sales. There is no doubt that attending a show falls into most people’s discretionary spending, and the prices we are forced to pay in Australia is well above world average. However, Australia is very strong economically and recent consumer confidence figures say that consumer confidence is higher than it was in March 2009. So why the lacklustre sales?

I had one theory put forth that music fans are now much more fickle; that they now go with short term trends and no longer stay with an artist for their career. I personally don’t think this is a new phenomenon although seems to be linked more towards popular music audiences, not your niche styles such as world, jazz, blues and funk. Artists playing to these audiences have to substantially prove themselves before they will be accepted. Once that audience does accept them, they are in for the long haul, so long as the quality is sustained.

Further to this, if fickleness is really a problem then why have both Prince and Bruce Springsteen been able to sell out stadium shows (multiple shows in Springsteen’s case)? Whilst both have continued with solid release for decades, neither has replicated the commercial success they had in the 80’s and early 90’s. If this fickle argument was true, then both these artists would be playing much smaller shows, with much less hype.

For me personally, I was hit with saturation point a few years back. I’m always happy to part with my hard earned cash to go and see a live show (even at the exorbitant prices we play in Australia), but now there are just too many shows and not enough money in my wallet. It is especially true this time of the year; if the same artists came out with a month between them, I’d be there for sure, but with them all touring around this festival period, it is simply impossible.

The unfortunate thing about this is that it makes the promoters reluctant to bring more acts out. Whether they blame economics conditions, fickleness, or saturation, once they start to feel that shows aren’t going to sell out, investing in international acts will be considered too risky.

So whilst economics does play a part, I feel that saturation is the real villain here. People are willing to pay good money to see quality international artists, but most are unable to afford to see three or four artists within the same month. This leaves promoters in a sticky situation, bringing artists out at a different time of year’s means no festival gigs. No festival gigs increases the risk to the promoter and decreases the pay for the artist. Alternatively, continuing this saturation during the festival season potentially leaves prompters out of pocket, artists playing to a half full rooms, and fans disappointed they had to make a choice between so many quality shows.

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