We’re Here, We Over-Index, Get Used To It! The Big Business of LGBTQ+ Music Fans

Linsey Best / Courtesy of LA Pride / Christopher Street West Assoc.
– Kehlani
Loud & Proud: Kehlani performs at the 2018 LA Pride Festival and Parade.

Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter Kehlani could barely contain her elation in the days leading up to her record-setting, sold-out performance at LA Pride on June 9, her first of several headline slots on the Pride Festival circuit that month. Tweeting to her 586,000-plus Twitter followers on June 6, the 23-year-old Oakland native exclaimed, “SO ESSITED TO PERFORM AT PRIDE AHHHHHHH THESE REHEARSALS ARE SO CUTEEEEE.”
Kehlani wasn’t the only one hyped for the event. Her appearance on the bill, coupled with the steady growth of Pride events across the country in the years since 2015’s landmark same-sex marriage ruling by the Supreme Court, led to the first sellout in the West Hollywood concert’s 48-year history. It was a major coup for festival organizers Christopher Street West, who also booked Icona Pop, DJ Wizz Kidd and LGBTQ+ pop stars Superfruit and Kim Petras for sets earlier that evening. 
But before Kehlani could even take the stage, L.A. Pride reached capacity around 9 p.m., by which point more than 100,000 people were estimated to have arrived at the celebration with lines winding far down Santa Monica Blvd. When police in riot gear and helicopters reportedly appeared, the City of West Hollywood made a joint decision with L.A. County’s Sheriff and Fire Marshal to close entry for the remainder of the evening, leaving over 1,000 paying ticketholders unable to gain entry. 

Photo: Chris Tuite/Courtesy
– Tove Lo
at the 2018 Los Angeles Pride Music Festival

And to make matters worse, Kehlani’s set was plagued by audio and production issues, leaving large portions of the capacity crowd unable to hear her performance. “This is unacceptable,” Kehlani said at one point, as the hundreds of angry attendees who took to social media shared in her frustration. 

“Yes, they riot just like straight people,” says Dina LaPolt, a power entertainment lawyer who reps Fifth Harmony, Britney Spears, deadmau5, Steven Tyler and Tinashe and lives with her wife in West Hollywood. “You know the LGTBQ community is starting to get parity with the straight market when a packed-out pop concert has a near-riot because its over-sold and pop stars have  production SNAFUs.”

L.A. Pride’s growing pains marked a turning point for one of the music industry’s most influential, fastest-growing market groups. LGBTQ+ audiences’ discerning taste and long-term loyalty has long been the make-or-break rubric by which many pop acts have been measured for career longevity (Christina Aguilera paid her respects to the community with a surprise appearance at LA Pride’s June 10 parade). 
And in recent years, the number of mainstream artists who publicly identify as part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum has grown considerably long: in addition to Kehlani, who came out as queer in April, there’s Hayley Kiyoko, Janelle Monae, Sam Smith, Troye Sivan, Tove Lo, Frank Ocean, Halsey, Sia, St. Vincent, Courtney Barnett, Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander, members of hip-hop collective Brockhampton and many, many others who are currently toplining festival bills and selling out venues ranging from large clubs to arenas and stadiums.
Troye Sivan
Scott Legato / RockStarProPhotography.com
– Troye Sivan
The Fillmore, Detroit, Mich.

 It’s no wonder that Nielsen Music found in its research for 2017’s U.S. Music 360 report, exclusively shared with Pollstar, that LGBT consumers are 11% more likely to attend live music events than non-LGBT consumers, 33% more likely to say “Music helps me identify who I am” and 40% more likely to say “It is important for me to attend a live performance of my favorite musicians/bands.” LGBT live music attendees typically go to more than 16 events a year (compared to 10 for the average U.S. live music attendee.) They’re willing to spend, too: 52% of LGBT consumers are more likely to have spent money to attend a music festival in the past year, as part of a buying power that in 2015 was measured by market-research firm Witeck Communications at more than $917 billion in disposable income for LGBTQ+ Americans alone. 

“LGBT consumers are huge music fans. They’re definitely an audience that the music industry should be paying attention to,” says Matthew Yazge, VP-brand partnerships and LGBT subject-matter expert at Nielsen Music. “They really tend to be superfans, really plugged in and overindex in almost every genre. Given how much of the music experience has moved into live, it’s not surprising that they’re leading the charge there as well.”
While a record 4.5% of U.S. adults identified as LGBT in 2017, according to polling firm Gallup, the definition of “gay-friendly” has broadened too, with countless other straight Americans identifying as allies of the community and supporting causes and companies with pro-LGBTQ+ initiatives. And with the tragic Pulse shooting in Orlando still only two years in the rearview, the need for safe, affirming environments has only heightened during Pride Month and the rest of the year. 
“There was a sense that the LGBTQ community was splintering over the last few years, that seems to have never happened,” says Craig Karpel, owner and president of LGBTQ entertainment marketing firm The Karpel Group, which helped promote Aguilera’s surprise appearance at LA Pride and has also worked on LGBT outreach programs with artists like Troye Sivan and Betty Who. 
 Kim Petras
Lindsey Best/Courtesy Christopher Street West Association
– Kim Petras
performing at the 2018 Los Angeles Pride Music Festival

“We’re at a point where people within the community really are needing the community right now, and wanting to be a part because there’s so much stuff going on outside that’s so unfortunate. That sort of speaks to why some of the Pride events are seeing such spectacular attendance. People’s need for community and being around people that are like-minded in who they love and care about is major.” 

Of course, as music gets more inclusive, the occasional controversy can even impact fellow out and proud LGBTQ+ artists. Sivan, who will embark on his largest American tour this fall in sheds and large theaters, caught flak among his massive fanbase (8.73M followers on Twitter alone) for inviting transgendered singer Kim Petras to open for him after she made controversial comments to NME regarding Dr. Luke’s alleged sexual assault of Kesha. Both Sivan and Petras issued thoughtful, candid statements to clarify their views on abuse victims, with Sivan pledging to donate a portion of the forthcoming tour’s proceeds to the Ally Coalition as well as RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network).
That same level of accountability is expected of brands and corporations who market to the LGBTQ+ community, particularly key Pride event sponsors like Bud Light, Alaska Airlines, Kaiser Permanente, Smirnoff Vodka, MAC Cosmetics, Uber, Delta Airlines, Skyy Vodka and many others. 
“The idea, particularly among millennials and Gen Z, is that this is a multicultural culture,” says Nielsen’s Yazge. “It’s not just people who identify as one thing that are demanding representation, it’s a culture of representation and inclusion and people who have friends and loved ones that are part of these communities. For brands who are reaching out and doing things, good marketing will pay benefits bigger than just the audience that might be represented.”
Back in West Hollywood, thankfully no injuries were reported at the over-sold concert. “We are sorry and would like to apologize to all who could not get in after the venue hit capacity,” L.A. Pride, the 501(c)3 posted on Twitter the following day detailing how patrons could use their tickets for Sunday’s events or receive full refunds. Christopher Street West (which perhaps ironically was founded in the wake of New York City’s Stonewall Riots) acted professionally and equitably as it explained just how the event was oversold – a teachable moment for other promoters as the music industry enters a new era of the LGBTQ+ boom.
Still, West Hollywood Mayor John Duran is proud of how far Pride celebrations have come, especially in his backyard. “The first pride parade was born here in Los Angeles in 1970,” he says. “We have come from a time when marchers covered their faces to a weekend in West Hollywood where more than 350,000 gather annually to celebrate pride. Our hotels are filled, every restaurant and bar does record business and it’s a huge economic boom for the Los Angeles area. Corporations from AT&T, Wells Fargo to the Walt Disney Company recognize the strength of the buying power in such a concentrated time and space.” 
Andrew Hampp is a music marketing consultant and founder of 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, CA.