2018 THE YEAR IN LIVE: The Industry Weighs In (And Everything Is Awesome!)

Rational Exuberance:
Ben Birchall / PA Images via Getty Images
– Rational Exuberance:
With many in the live business saying 2018 was their best year yet and data to support that assertion, many in the industry are feeling jubilant as 2018 comes to a close. Here, festivalgoers watch Ed Sheeran, the highest grossing touring artist of all time as of this year, perform at the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England.

By nearly every Pollstar Boxoffice measure, 2018 was a stellar year for the live industry. 

We received, inputted and verified more than 44,000 records (thank you Team Brad Rogers, Chad Ivie, Mike Oberg and Arien Fisher!). This included a record-setting total gross of more than $10.4 billion and 152.1 million tickets sold. And for the first time ever, Pollstar’s combined gross of the Top 10 of our Worldwide Top 100 surpassed $2 billion. 

This jaw-dropping year was led by the highest-grossing single-year tour of all time by Pollstar cover artist Ed Sheeran, whose Divide Tour grossed $432 million and is followed by another record-breaking tour: Taylor Swift’s $345 million reputation Stadium Tour. Both surpassed U2’s eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE run from last year, which now sits at No. 3 all time with $316 million grossed. 

But it’s not just Boxoffice data that tells us everything is awesome (to paraphrase Tegan & Sara’s theme from “The Lego Movie”), it’s listening to our industry, who universally substantiated our data with their own stories of growth, success and innovation.

“Our year’s been amazing,” said Dennis Arfa, founder and CEO of Artist Group International.  “Obviously Billy Joel sold out eight stadium shows, and his run at Madison Square Garden continues with 12 sold-out shows for the fifth consecutive year. 

Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper had an amazing tour. Metallica continues to kill it on the highest level you possibly can. The Smashing Pumpkins reestablished themselves as arena headliners. Hall & Oates continue to do great business in arenas. Our year with Def Leppard and Journey was through the roof, we did 10 stadiums with them and sold over 1 million tickets. Kidz Bop had the most successful amphitheater run last year as the brand continues to grow to epic proportions. Ghost whas now risen to the point where they’re playing arenas like the Forum and Barclays.

AGI’s range of tours and approaches reflects the fact that there’s never been more ways to mount a successful tour. “Is this my best year ever?” Arfa asked. “It’s amongst them.” 

Perhaps there’s no greater indication of the year’s thriving live business than the success of its largest business. “We expect 2018 to be another record-breaking year for us,” Live Nation President Joe Berchtold wrote in an email. “Overall, we are on track to sell 90 million tickets to concerts across more than 33,000 shows and spend more than $6 billion producing concerts, making us the largest financial partner to musicians. Each of our divisions – concerts, sponsorship and ticketing – continues to grow and deliver as we fulfill an ever-expanding desire for concerts around the world.”

Live Nation, a public company, has yet to release its Q4 financials, but the live entertainment con-cern’s show count in Q3 grew by 17 percent with average ticket pricing up 14 percent. In the same period, according to Live Nation, artist earnings grew by $300 million across 6,000 shows and fan per capita grew nearly $3 a head to $27. Additionally, adjusted operating income for sponsorships is expected to rise by double digits by the end of this year and some 
7-9 percent growth in ticketing revenue is also expected. 

But it’s not just the major promoters for which everything seemingly came up roses. “We just had our best year of the last three in concerts and of course the Neder-lander family and Broadway theater projects did great,” said Alex Hodges, CEO of Nederlander Concerts. “We did about 500 different events working at 45 different venues including concerts and special events.”

Hodges says one of his team’s biggest shows was at Papa Murphy’s Park at Cal-Expo in Sacramento (where Bill Graham used to have his amphitheater) for a show on Slayer’s farewell tour. While Nederlander shows ranged from country to comedy, rock and metal to symphonic, family fare to Latin, there’s one artist who may portend the future: “We did something totally cool and unique,” Hodges says. “It’s Hatsune Miku, a hologram who’s this little cute girl in these great little movies and songs. We sold out in San Jose at the City National Civic and could have done two. It was amazing. There’s a new female superstar about and it’s a hologram.” 

Marc Geiger, the scholar-like WME Partner and Head of Music, says this year’s massive successes are part of a larger “prolonged up” trend he is confident will continue. Much of his trenchant analysis is predicated on the digital revolution and consumers having access to music in continuingly increasing numbers. 

“The live industry is going to grow massively for 10 to 15 years and is going to be up every year,” said Geiger, who noted he’s given the same end-of-year answer for the past seven years.

“More artists are breaking, more music is being consumed, there’s more types and there’s less filters,” says Geiger, who estimates his division has put on some 36,000 shows this year. “The bottom line is more people around the world have an entire library of music on them and music becomes a better part of their life – whether it’s YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, it doesn’t matter – it’s music.”

Looking at genres, the WME Music head notes EDM’s rise a few years ago, hip-hop’s recent dominance and early signs of a rock resurgence and concludes “music trends are moving faster than ever because they are not driven by the industry, they are driven by consumers.” 

For Rob Light, the esteemed head of CAA Music and an over-the-top passionate music fan, too the “business is fantastic.” The live industry, he says, is healthier than ever and as healthy as it’s ever been across every genre. 2018 was “the best year we’ve ever had in the 20 years I’ve been head of the department, and we grow every year. It’s a real honor to say that.” 

He also points out that the business is becoming more broad: “Podcast tours are doing great, comedy has never been hotter, theater is fantastic, speaker series are doing great, the exhibition business – think about the Bowie show – has never been better attended.” Light points out that with the record business finding its footing through streaming, it’s a “wonderful moment to be in the business.”

Light’s optimism stems from the unique value proposition of live events. “The explosion of technology and the attachment to the device you text and watch everything through has created this counterbalance of wanting to experience something with humanity, wanting to be part of something live,” he says. “The two go hand in hand, so that communal experience of live events becomes more and more important in people’s lives. It’s the one thing you can’t duplicate on a screen.”

Barrie Marshall of London-based Marshall Arts, who this year had Pink and Sir Paul McCartney on our Top 100 Worldwide Tours, pegged the increase in live music to a larger social good. “It seems more people are buying tickets, knowing that they are going to have a great night out with people who are there for the same reason – to have a positive time,” Marshall said in an email. He explained that at shows, “Everyone is united in the music of their chosen event – and for a while at least, putting problems to one side. … Music remains the universal language and I think we can all be glad about that.”

While anecdotally and by all data indicators, the 2018 live market was go-go-go, several of the live execs spoke of challenges. “Ticketing issues probably would be my greatest frustration,” one said. “There’s inconsistencies with the system, a lot of times we’re losing to bots which slow things down and people can’t get in and they haven’t figured it out yet.” This was a sentiment shared by others. 

CAA’s Light mentioned several challenges. “The amount of tours, you want to be constantly conscious of cannibalizing the marketplace and making sure there’s enough room for everything. Directing traffic for all the agents and promoters is important. Continually being very vigilant about ticket pricing, you want to make sure you’re in touch with your fans and the pricing is right but at the same time not let the secondary market take the artists’ money – it’s a very delicate balance.” Another challenge the head of CAA music broached was the issues of breaking through so much clutter and information coming at consumers. 

As for 2019, every exec interviewed for this was incredibly optimistic. “Another big year,” is what Arfa forecasted for next year. Hodges, too, said 2019 looks to be another up year. “It’s a crazy thing,” he said, “but it’s only Dec. 12 and my team’s already got 100 shows confirmed in the next year. We are off to a good start.” 

Perhaps, then, it’s only fitting that we end on those immortal words to live by as sung by Tegan and Sara and written by Shawn Patterson, Jo Li and The Lonely Island and produced by the great Mark Mothersbaugh: 
Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when you’re living out a dream
Everything is better when we stick together
Some have said you and I are gonna win forever?
Let’s party forever!