2011 In Review

In strictly business terms, 2011 was a relatively quiet year.

No major acquisitions shook the concert industry to its foundations. There were few major shifts in alliance that made everyone stand up and take notice – that is, unless you count a sudden defection of hip-hop agent Cara Lewis from William Morris Endeavor or Jay Marciano leaving MSG for an overseas assignment for Anschutz Entertainment Group.

Over at Live Nation, a decision one year ago to elevate well-respected Mark Campagna and Bob Roux to co-presidents of North America appears to have resulted in a solid business model and better morale among the ranks.

Speaking of Live Nation, the company did make one deal that went relatively unnoticed by the media: a strategic alliance with Universal Music Group, with Irving Azoff overseeing UMG’s roster of management companies. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the agreement combines the world’s largest promotion company, management company and ticketing company with the world’s largest record company. So there was that.

Meanwhile, independent agencies like Billions Corp., Windish and AM Only continued to carve out a bigger piece of the marketplace with acts like Arcade Fire, Foster the People and Tiesto. It was also the year where we learned that Charlie Sheen was not a viable touring commodity, and learned the difficulties of launching Spider-Man on Broadway.

But for all the year’s money, big cigars and inside maneuvers, it was humbled by the importance of life itself. In some ways, 2011 follows the tragic events of 2003, which quickly escalated from the E2 club stampede to The Station club fire. We took notice when a stage collapse in Ottawa nearly killed Cheap Trick and its manager, but that was too soon overshadowed by the horrific tragedy in Indiana. And they were not the only significant accidents, unfortunately. We will address these in detail, along with some other major events.

Ottawa and Indiana are the North American cities with the most notable stage concerns, but there were plenty of others. In April, thousands were evacuated from a Christian festival in Australia when the main tent collapsed after a substantial downpour.

And, in August, five people died at Pukkelpop in Belgium as a fierce thunderstorm shredded huge canvas tents and brought down metal scaffolding. Meanwhile, a camera boom collapsed during an OMD concert at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q at SXSW. In Rio de Janeiro, Iron Maiden shut down a show one song in when a barrier separating the audience from the stage collapsed. The events have motivated members of the industry to consider a best practices paper for event safety.

AEG announced in February it will forego renewing its Ticketmaster contracts and instead build its own ticketing platform. The system, named Axs, is being rolled out in baby steps and is not expected to have a full launch until late in 2012 or maybe even 2013, as contracts expire.

The new ticketing system for AEG is significant in several ways. One, it’s because AEG is Ticketmaster’s second-largest client, after Live Nation. Two, it will be powered by Outbox Enterprises, run by former Ticketmaster CEO Fred Rosen and partner Jean-Francoys Brousseau – meaning Rosen and his formidable skills are back in the ticketing business in a big way.

Moreover, Outbox’s technology, proven by selling tickets for owner Cirque du Soleil, is open-source and will test “the cloud” as AEG announces major onsales. And, finally, the service will not be centrally located – although Axs.com exists, the system will run on the back end of AEG’s multiple venue and festival websites. Critics and competitors say it will cause confusion for consumers but AEG says research shows such criticism is passé.

If there was one trend worth mentioning for 2011, perhaps it was the emergence of so many female artists on Pollstar’s North American and Worldwide Tours charts. Taylor Swift reigned queen of both, earning nearly $98 million in North America and more than $104 million worldwide, but she had some close competition from Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Sade.

Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Shakira were other notables, as was Adele, who had a strong showing before vocal-cord issues forced the cancellation of her U.S. tour in the fall. Expect Adele to make a big return in 2012 – especially following the Grammy Awards.