Summer Concert Season Isn’t Delivering for Big-Name Artists

Image Credit: iStock, 9parusnikov

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Maybe the show must not go on.

As summer concert season heats up, major acts on the arena circuit like Porter Robinson and Charli XCX are seeing sales massively underperform. Recently, rock group the Black Keys canceled its tour entirely. So what gives?

The Undersold Mystery Tour

Concert ticket sales had a massive 2023, as fans of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé shelled out big bucks to see the massive pop sensations live. In fact, Live Nation, the Ticketmaster parent company that’s in an antitrust fight with the Department of Justice, reported its biggest year ever, with revenue exceeding $22 billion. But this year hasn’t exactly proven to be an encore.

While Live Nation recently told The New York Times that ticket sales are actually up through June compared to last year, a closer look at some major tours tells a different story. Justin Timberlake’s arena tour has seen many resale tickets slip below face value, and rapper Future’s opening show in Kansas City in July is far from sold out. Ditto the Charli XCX/Troye Sivan joint arena tour. Coachella, typically an instant sellout, had tickets available for its second weekend. Jennifer Lopez canceled an arena tour that had soft sales though family issues were cited as the major reason.

Why is live suddenly dead? Well, theories abound:

  • One idea is that too many acts became overambitious in choosing venues after last year’s marquee tours. In an expletive-laden tweet, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney implied the group was given bad advice when it agreed to an arena tour; it’s since parted ways with its two managers (one of whom is a former Ticketmaster CEO), and announced a more “intimate” (read: small venue) tour to come.
  • Another theory is that too many acts are touring at once, thanks to the streaming era flipping the nature of concert and record sales (records are now marketing for tours, not vice versa). One more leading theory is that last year’s “funflation” economy has simply passed, with fewer consumers willing to pay high prices.

Playing the Consumer Blues: It’s difficult to overlook the impact of Live Nation and Ticketmaster as a major factor. The Justice Department alleges Live Nation has a stranglehold on both ticket sales and music venues, possibly allowing it to push acts into trying to sell bigger and more expensive shows. “It’s just pure greed,” one anonymous veteran booking agent recently told Stereogum. “Live Nation needs to fill these big rooms, so they make aggressive offers and then the agents and managers take them.” The good news for anyone who didn’t spend an entire paycheck on Taylor Swift last year? That same money could get you into several poorly selling shows this summer.

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