POPPIN’ OFF Live Music Biz EXPLODES In The 2010s

Kevin Mazur / WireImage
Change Is Gonna Come: AC/DC’s “Black Ice World Tour” was 2010’s top tour, grossing $194 million. The top 2018 tour, Ed Sheeran’s “Divide Tour,” grossed $432.4 million – more than twice that. Here, AC/DC performs at the “Black Ice” opener in Wilkes-Barre, Penn.

What a difference a decade makes. 

The live business grew by leaps and bounds over the course of the past decade as the concert industry became a thriving multi-billion-dollar international juggernaut. This while generating massive revenues, expanding international and domestic markets and creatively redefining the parameters of what a live performance could be both for artists and billions of fans alike. Along the way, this wildly dynamic industry embraced rampant technological innovation, developed fresh approaches to production, sponsorship, marketing and festivals and collected robust data strategically used in ways never before seen while driving the live industry to stratospheric heights. 
The growth of the live business between 2010 and 2019 was precipitous by every available metric. According to Pollstar Boxoffice reports, the average gross per show on Pollstar’s Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart between 2010 and 2019* was up a whopping 87% from roughly $674,000 to an estimated $1.26 million. Total gross was up 57% from $3.2 billion to some $5.1 billion, average tickets sold per show were up 36% from 9,585 to some 12,994 and average ticket price grew 38% from $70.33 to $96.86.  
The top worldwide tour in 2010, AC/DC’s “Black Ice World Tour,” grossed nearly $194 million and sold more than two million tickets. In 2018, the last available fully reported year, Ed Sheeran’s record-setting “Divide Tour” grossed $432.4 million, 123% more than “Black Ice,” while performing before 4.8 million fans, a 135% jump. While the combined grosses of the top ten worldwide tours in 2010 was $1.04 billion, the combined grosses of the top ten worldwide tours in 2018, a record-setting year, was some $2.06 billion – a 98% rise. 
So what’s the manifestation of all this? Take a look around. Right now, you could see a slew of incredible, possibly life-changing performances by a huge range of artists across the globe. This week included David Byrne’s envelope-busting “American Utopia” on Broadway; Wonderfront, a massive new independent festival with top talent launching in San Diego; the legendary Madonna at Los Angeles’ Wiltern; the cast of acclaimed TV show “Schitt’s Creek” at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre; Aerosmith’s “Deuces Are Wild” at Las Vegas’ MGM Park Theater; country breakthrough artist Midland at Vicar Street in Dublin, Ireland; Kanye West’s Sunday Service at Joel Osteen’s Houston church; Ariana Grande at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena; Bad Bunny at San Francisco’s new multi-billion-dollar Chase Center; Latin Grammy-winning Spanish artist Rosalía at Paris’ Salle Pleyel concert hall; New York house legend Louie Vega at Tokyo’s ageHa; singer-songwriter Passenger at Johannesburg’s Ticketpro Dome; and Shawn Mendes at Sao Paulo’s Allianz Parque – among so much else. Exhale. Ten years ago, much of this couldn’t have happened.
Then, the music business, like many other businesses, was still reeling from the Great Recession, the historic downturn ignited by a housing and financial crisis in which roughly 8.7 million jobs were lost between February 2008 to February 2010. It was the most severe economic meltdown since the Great Depression. The music business, especially the recorded music sector, was simultaneously under the duress of a cataclysmic downturn sucker-punched by the “digital revolution” spurred by the introduction of MP3s, which in the 2000s and 2010s eviscerated the recorded music business with the adoption of less profitable downloads and streaming. The recorded music business reached its nadir, in terms of revenue, between 2010 and 2014, before streaming began to gain market traction and replace lost revenue. The recorded business took the rest of the decade to recover. 

A LifeTime (Experiences):
Matthew Murphy / Courtesy David Byrne
– A LifeTime (Experiences):
Once In David Byrne’s acclaimed “American Utopia,” staged at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre, is just one of the myriad of live performance options today that might not have existed 10 years ago. (From left to right: Daniel Freedman, Bobby Wooten III, Chris Giarmo, David Byrne, Tendayi Kuumba, and Stéphane Sa.)
In this context, then, it is not surprising the live concert business filled the void recorded music left – artists needed revenue labels couldn’t provide. At the same time, live often offers unrivaled peak life experiences, and the entertainment business is traditionally one of the few inelastic industries during economic downturns. (Much like the film business in the 1930s – we all need to escape, especially in tough times.) Add to that the growth of social media and robust data that faciliated fan engagement and community building and allowed the industry to pinpoint fans in new ways, and it makes all the sense in the world that the live industry kicked into high gear during the 2010s. 
Coinciding with the live market’s explosive decade of growth: consolidation. In February 2010, Live Nation and Ticketmaster, two of the biggest entities in the music business, officially merged, with the blessing of the U.S. Department of Justice (presaging Universal Music’s acquisition of EMI in 2012) to form the biggest live music company on the planet. Then, according to Live Nation’s yearly earnings report, Live Nation events drew “more than 47 million fans to over 21,000 events for over 2,300 artists in 2010 and sold nearly 120 million tickets, and its revenue was $3.4 billion. Globally, Live Nation owned, operated or had booking rights for and/or has an equity interest in 128 venues.”  
Near the end of the decade, according to Live Nation’s 2018 annual report, Live Nation would increase its market share, reporting 35,000 shows (66% increase from 2010), a record 93 million fans (98% increase) around the world attending Live Nation events and some $10.9 billion in revenue (229% increase) with 237 venues (85% increase) in operation, along with 100 festivals in 40 countries.  
Throughout the decade, Live Nation partnered with or outright acquired a number of prized assets including Voodoo Fest and Insomniac (2013), C3 Presents (2014), Bonnaroo and Germany’s Marek Lieberberg Konzertagentur (2015), Governors Ball promoter Founders Entertainment (2016) AC Entertainment (2016), BottleRock (2017), Frank Productions and Rock in Rio (2018) and last year L.A’s Spaceland Presents and, most recently, major Mexican promoter OCESA. 
Say what you will about consolidation over the decade, but in an estimated $22 billion global concert market, Live Nation claims a roughly 28% share; and in the global ticketing market worth an estimated $100 billion, Ticketmaster has a roughly 30% share, leaving the rest of the live industry ample room to compete.
The world’s second-biggest promoter AEG Presents, a private company that doesn’t disclose financials, still owns the largest standalone festival on the planet, Goldenvoice’s Coachella, and the decade’s highest-grossing venue, The O2 Arena. (See the current cover story of Pollstar’s sister publication 
VenuesNow which features the “Venues of the Decade.”) AEG is also partners with two of the biggest promoters in Messina Touring Group and Concerts West. And this year, AEG Facilities merged with SMG, the largest facilities management company, to form ASM Global. 
Corporate consolidation hasn’t stifled independent entrepreneurship, either. This year, Seth Hurwitz’s I.M.P., which testified against the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger in 2009, began leasing its Washington, D.C. area assets, including The Anthem, I.M.P.’s lauded new venue opened in 2017, and Merriweather Post Pavilion to Live Nation. 
The festival market, in broad terms, has gone from mega-festivals, many of which are still thriving, to a preponderance of boutique festivals and artist-curated festivals. Danny Wimmer Presents, after a legal tussle with former partner AEG, is fully independent and promotes major rock festivals throughout the U.S.; the aforementioned Wonderfront Festival launched this week; and worldwide Ultra Music Festival returned to Miami after resolving municipal conflicts. 
Meanwhile, the growing hip-hop promoter Rolling Loud, led by young 30-somethings, is thriving with global ambitions, while artist festivals, specifically hip-hop festivals – including Tyler, The Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw, Travis Scott’s Astroworld and Post Malone’s Posty Fest – continue to thrive, with artists and their teams having more direct hands in their events.  
On the agency side of the business, UTA’s attempted merger with Paradigm in June nearly created a third music agency that could’ve gone toe-to-toe with market leaders WME and CAA. This followed UTA’s acquisitions of The Agency Group in 2015 and Circle Talent in 2018. Ex-UTA and Agency Group staffers led the spin-offs of two boutique rock-focused agencies in Sound Talent Group and 33 & West. Paradigm, meanwhile, acquired agencies Windish and AM Only in 2017 after partnering with them in 2012 and 2015, respectively. And this decade, AGI remained a small but focused powerhouse with Metallica, Billy Joel, Neil Young and Def Leppard, among other massive clients.    
Globally, the market exploded in the 2010s as worldwide tours regularly ran through territories that 10 years ago were uncharted waters. Witness Ed Sheeran’s all-time record-breaking tour, which ran from March 2017 to August 2019 and grossed an unheard-of $775.7 million while hitting territories all-time tour runner-up U2 hadn’t a decade earlier on its “360 Tour.” From Mumbai, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur to Bogotá, Lima and Santiago to Reykjavík, Riga to Bucharest, Sheeran’s “Divide Tour” set the bar in uniting the globe, playing before 8.9 million fans. 
Sheeran, now age 28, is a product of the 2010s. Starting his career at the beginning of the decade, he, more than any other artist, is emblematic of how far the music business has come and how it will continue to grow. That he could galvanize and connect his fans across the globe, set the ticket prices he wanted for fans, play multiple nights at stadiums across the globe, control the secondary market, dispense with VIP sections and do it all as a one-man band while working with veteran touring professionals – including CAA, Paradigm, Kilimanjaro, Messina Touring Group, Frontier Touring, AEG, FKP Scorpio, DHP Family – to raise the bar to incredible heights shows all of the industry what is possible.  
When asked about the pivotal live moment of Sheeran’s amazing decade, his shrewd manager Stuart Camp points to one particular show. “Glastonbury 2017 was probably the moment from a live perspective,” he says. “Huge crowd, not necessarily an Ed crowd, that we never took for granted – i.e. we spent the day worrying if anyone would turn up.” And boy did they ever.
*Based on estimates as 2019 final numbers 
haven’t been fully tabulated. s