Live Music Thrives Despite Economic Challenges, But How Long Will The Good Times Roll?

SCARCITY IN TICKETS: Anna Mason, Emily Lind and Kristen Robinson show their Ticketmaster queue, which displays over 2,000 people ahead of them, from the parking lot outside the Taylor Swift concert at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on May 13. The friends drove up to Philadelphia from Washington, D.C. hoping to find last-minute tickets to the show. (Photo by Rachel Wisniewski / Getty Images)

Two years removed from the closure of businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic, the live music industry is booming and doing so at a record pace. The concert-going experience is so hot right now that we’ve reached a point where this period can only be described as a “Golden Age,” and rightfully so. Live Nation, the industry’s top promoter, is on pace for a record year with a reported revenue of $8.2 billion in the third quarter and a whopping $16.9 billion so far this year, a 36% increase from 2022, and other companies in the business are also seeing record figures as the world’s top artists continue to make up for lost time after being unable to tour due to COVID-19.

2023 is certainly a year to remember with Taylor Swift and Beyoncé setting touring records and dominating Pollstar’s Year End charts, which also include high rankings from big acts such as Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, P!NK, Drake, Ed Sheeran, Karol G, Shania Twain and George Strait.

It’s an embarrassment of riches for music fans, with just about every big act in music on the road or expected to tour in 2024. We have a great thing going, but with an overwhelming number of concert dates and economic uncertainty going into the new year, one can’t help but wonder how long it can last. Live Nation executives say this Golden Age won’t be ending anytime soon.

“We really believe this is a cultural behavioral change with consumers, especially from the bottom up,” Live Nation President and CEO Michael Rapino told CNBC on Nov. 3. “… So, [with] demand on a global basis, we believe the next decade is going to be very strong. This is an industry where you put together global streaming, Spotify, the global social [and] the connection these artists have. … We look at all of those factors to say this is an industry that is going to grow for a long time.”

Ralph Jaccodine, a professor at Berklee College of Music who has worked with artists including Springsteen and KISS and co-founded Boston Management Group with Tim Collins, the former manager of Aerosmith, has witnessed that behavioral change with his students and believes the industry will continue to grow because a new generation of artists is leading it.

“A buddy of mine who is a business partner of 50 Cent … [says] it’s the USA Olympic gold dream team of artists that are touring,” Jaccodine tells Pollstar. “We know that the Coldplays and Bruce Springsteens can fill up arenas and stadiums, but Harry Styles, Morgan Wallen, The Weeknd, Luke Combs and Bad Bunny are relatively new artists. I love that the headliners are getting younger and more diverse.”

However, external factors could affect the growth of live music, mainly those tied to the economy. Credit card balances increased by $48 billion to $1.08 trillion in the third quarter of this year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, interest rates remain high and concert production is as costly as ever. Kevin Lyman, who founded the Vans Warped Tour and has managed artists like Ataris and Less Than Jake, doesn’t see the future being so rosy for the live industry.

“I think there’s going to be a great adjustment coming forward,” says Lyman, who is a music industry professor at USC. “I think there was pent-up demand and a lot of money in the market that people had, including COVID-19 stimulus money. I get to talk to hundreds of students a week on campus, and speaking to them, they’re becoming much more selective going forward this year. They’re starting to understand credit card debt. … They’re looking for value. They want to be entertained, they want to gather, but they’re going to start looking at value propositions.”

Regardless of whether the momentum continues or the live industry sees a “great adjustment,” it’s been a wild ride after being denied the concert experience for an extended period, and we might as well enjoy it while we can.