Recently I heard talk of rising gasoline prices becoming a primary factor in the demise of small acts touring around the United States this summer. It seems that the garage band, R&B act, Blues act, self contained Top 40 group, Jazz act or Gospel group can no longer afford to pack up the van and hit the road to do shows. As with most things in the music business the major companies have changed the way the “game” is played and are doing well. Concert tours from January to June grossed $1.05 billion in North America, the same as the midyear gross in 2007, according to a report this week by Pollstar, a trade magazine that measures concert revenue. The top grossing acts were Bon Jovi with a gross of $56.3 million, followed by Bruce Springsteen, with $40.8 million, and Van Halen, with $36.8 million. In addition to rock and pop, country acts placed high on the Pollstar list. Kenny Chesney is No. 4, with $35.3 million; Rascal Flatts No. 8, with $25.4 million; and the bill of Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood grossed $18.5 million to reach No. 11. With the exception of Kanye West (No. 6, with $31.6 million) and the Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige tour (No. 7, $30.7 million), hip-hop is largely absent.
The under representation of Urban based acts has me wondering what could be the cause? I feel that it is a combination of several factors that has lead to this particular moment in history. First the art of creating a song has been drastically reduced within the Urban community. The songwriter has become more of a cadence rhyme than a professional gifted in the art of weaving a lyric. Popular songs today are totally concerned with sexual prowess and have nothing to do with the concept of love and harmony. The few songs that are GREAT lyrical pieces are regulated to late night radio or specialty radio shows and have no place on video television programming.
Singers have become dependent on “auto correct” in the studio and can not carry a tune if you put handles on one. I listened to the BET awards over this past holiday and without looking at the screen I did not hear ONE singer that was in key. Many of today’s acts feel that vocal pyro techniques and not solid lyrics and a GREAT controlled voice is what‘s needed to interpret a song. Add into that the physical gyrations needed to sell on stage and you have one HOT MESS. There was a time when a popular singer could sit on a stool and weave a full hour’s show of love, heartache, misery, joy, happiness and more emotions within every person in the audience.
The current producer driven songs have one major fault in them, and that is the inability to have a REAL melody and not a 4 note change within the entire tune. To produce a song and not know why you use certain chords and notation is like performing heart surgery without going to medical school. You know the heart is there but you really don’t know exactly how to make it better. Couple this with the music sample community and you not only have a hot mess you have a hot STINKY mess. Music education can cure this problem. Learning how music works and the HISTORY of music makes all the difference in the world.
Most Managers today do not know how to find the best performance out of their artist. Where is it written that you must take your clothes off to make your music song better? How can you find excellence when you do not know what that really means? Good managers assist the act in developing a positive show that not only absorbs the potential audience but also assists the act in growing and understanding what it takes to keep a certain caliber of performance. A good manager also develops merchandising to be sold on tour to help the bottom line and to ensure a stronger fan base.
Not everyone in the industry is so worried. Live Nation is doing strong business on some of its most important tours, said Jason Garner, its chief executive for North American music. Madonna’s tour, which begins in Europe next month and comes to the United States in October, is already 90 percent sold out, he said. Coldplay’s summer dates are also 90 percent sold out, and the New Kids on the Block reunion, starting in September, is at 80 percent, a Live Nation spokesman said.
Lil Wayne all though having sold over a million records of his latest album debut has yet to reach the Pollstar Top 50 Touring acts. Boy George, Neil Diamond and Stevie Wonder are ALL making more money on tour than the majority of major label Urban, Jazz, Blues and Gospel based acts.
There are many 3D environments that now have “Virtual Live” performances where artist avatars are performing on screen while the artist performs at their home. In fact there have been several artist collaborations across continents creating these virtual live performances.
The business is changing rapidly, how will you grow?