We’re Baaaack! Aren’t We? (Pollstar Live! Panel Recap)


Ray Waddell, OVG


Jenna Adler, CAA
Omar Al-Joulani, Live Nation
Jamil Davis, The Revels Group
Keith Sarkisian, WME
David Zedeck, UTA

First, to answer the question posed by the title of the annual “State of the Biz” panel at Pollstar Live: yes, we are.

But, no, it’s not the same as it used to be.

While 2022 was, by most measures — from quantitive metrics like grosses and ticket sales, to harder-to-put-a-number-on stuff like “more artists turning into big artists” — the biggest year in the live industry, there’s indicators that 2023 will be even bigger. In large part, because, barring unforeseen circumstances (a prospect we can no longer take for granted), it will represent a full calendar year of availability in every market.

“We crammed 12 months of touring into seven months, so ‘22 in a vacuum was fantastic, but it was compressed,” UTA’s David Zedeck said.

Now, with even the laggard markets in Asia giving the go-ahead for more-or-less “normal” mass gatherings since the beginning of 2023, it’s set up to be boffo. And thankfully: a little more spread out.

One major takeaway from the panel: the fundamentals of the live business aren’t terribly different than they were before the pandemic, For example, there’s been some hand-wringing at the mid-level and below — both on the artist and venue side — that the boom years are just booming for the top of the market. Jamil Davis said that’s not necessarily so.

230222 Pollstar Day2 CG 00953
(L to R) David Zedeck, Keith Sarkisian, Jamil Davis, Omar Al-Joulani, Jenna Adler and Ray Waddell

“If you went up (a level) on time or early and had a sustainable tour base, you did well. … a lot of artists said they had low ticket sales because it was over-saturated, but it may have been timing,” he said.

Which isn’t to say there are no changes post-COVID. Keith Sarkisian said every facet of the industry — artist, agent, manager, promoter, venue — have gotten better at communicating with each other, in part because there was no way to keep functioning in silos while the pandemic raged and as the world eased back to some sense of normal operation. Every had to be on the same page from the beginning.

“The conversations haven’t changed,” Live Nation’s Omar Al-Joulani said. “It’s just that more people are having them.”

What COVID also created was a number of acts who suddenly had hungry and dedicated fan bases, but artists who didn’t have considerable live experience, requiring considerable education to be done on the fly.

The good news? Despite some worry that the reliable draws at the top level were aging out — “that biology would take over,” as Ray Waddell put out — 2022 showed that there are plenty of acts ready to step into the breech, and coming from genres that were overlooked (ahem, Bad Bunny).

“It’s not that we are selling more tickets. We are selling tickets we hadn’t sold before,” Al-Joulani said.