The Mid-Year 2024 Cool Down: Where The Live Business Is

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A TALE OF TWO VENUES: In 2024, with revenues relatively constant, attendance down, ticket prices up,
softer sales and a few big cancellations, different segments of the industry are having different experiences. (Photos by Roberto Finizio / NurPhoto / Getty Images; Ollie Millington / WireImage)

Perhaps the best description for 2024’s mid-year state of the industry is that it’s mostly pretty friggin’ great, but not for everyone. For every canceled tour (sorry J.Lo, Black Keys, Busta Rhymes) there’s at least one — if not ten — newly-minted stars busting through (hello Noah Kahan, Fred again.., Sleep Token, Chappell Roan [see cover story], Carin León, Faye Webster, ATEEZ, Jessie Murph, Tate McRae, Lawrence, Benson Boone, RAYE, Pink Pantheress, Reneé Rapp, 310babii, etc.). And for every mega-fest with lower attendance (Coachella or Bonnaroo), there’s a dozen boutique fests popping off (see Big Ears, Cruel World, Winter Jazz Fest, Solid Sound, Movement Electronic, etc.). There’s also a glut of daily concert listings in every major market and tour announcements are now 24/7 with global implications. In general, most execs we spoke with are bullish on today’s live industry, but not all.

Extrapolating from Pollstar’s 2024 Mid-Year Worldwide Top 100 Tours chart, year-over-year there were significant fluctuations in several key metrics both positive and negative. First and foremost, six months in (Nov. 13, 2023 to May 15, 2024), the business hit a new record-setting mid-year total gross that, for the first time, crossed the $3 billion threshold jumping 8.7% to $3.07 billion. That’s great news. Average attendance, though, is down 14.9% and average grosses are down 6.9%. Those drops were countered by increases in average ticket prices up 9.4% with the volume of shows up 16.7%, putting total attendance closer to last year, with only a 0.7% drop.

In aggregate, this year the industry is putting on more shows, charging more for tickets but getting fewer butts in seats and seeing lower average grosses and still seeing a record setting total gross. 

The drops in average show attendance and per show gross, while something of a market correction after banner years, are concerning, especially if they keep trending. Some factors are external: an inflationary economy, higher interest rates, the waning of the post-pandemic’s “Golden Age of Live,” as Pollstar termed it 2022-23, when the world had what seemed an insatiable appetite for live experiences and social and communal connection. Though as one top festival promoter recently said backstage, “A drop from a record-setting year is still cause for celebration.”

Getting a consensus on the business and causes for celebration in 2024, well, it depends on who you ask, where they’re perched, their P&Ls and which artists they rep. All the execs here continue to strategically plan and implement new ideas and approaches to businesses pushing this industry forward while doing their best to increase the bottom line.

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HOT DOG, THE WORKS, HOLD THE IRRATIONAL EXUBERANCE: Cleveland’s Happy Dog, which its co-owner Sean Watterston says is this year a “little ahead of last year” when the venue’s margins were a 10% loss versus a 5% profit in 2019. (Courtesy Happy Dog)

“2024 is proving to be a really good year,” says Nederlander Concerts head Alex Hodges, whose business this year is expanding. “Yes, there are some challenges, but we are approaching them creatively and are definitely seeing more highs than lows. For example, we’ve seen a 25% increase in confirmed show count in California alone.” 

For CAA’s head of North American Touring Mitch Rose, everything is similarly, well, rosy. “The live touring business continues to remain strong, and 2024 is tracking to be another record-breaking year for our touring department. For live music touring, we’re seeing incredible momentum and demand behind artists including Melanie Martinez, Tate McRae, and Sabrina Carpenter, as well as Twenty One Pilots, Red Hot Chili Peppers, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Doja Cat, Jelly Roll, and Cody Johnson … Comedy touring is also red hot.” 

Some independent agencies, too, are having a very good year. “We are actually having a better year this year with a lot of big headline tours like Billy Joel, Metallica, Def Leppard (out with Journey), Neil Young as well as the emergence of newer headline arena artists like Sleep Token, Cage The Elephant and Falling in Reverse,” says Jarred Arfa, EVP and Head of Global touring at IAG. “Although the concert business may not reach the enormous heights of last year, we are still bullish on the business moving forward as a lot of artists are still doing very well.” 

It’s a more uneven story at the club level, with smaller margins leaving some closer to the bone. 

“We’re a little ahead of last year, but we lost money last year – our margins were a 10% loss in 2023 vs. a 5% profit in 2019,” says Sean Watterson of the Happy Dog, a 180-cap room in Cleveland, and a National Independent Venue Association member. “We were close to breaking even before the summer started – a strong spring offset a typically slow January [and] February, but the start of summer in a northern climate like Cleveland always sets us back. We expect to lose money the first ten weeks of summer after the patios open because we don’t have outdoor space. Plus, we compete with free outdoor publicly subsidized concerts throughout the city all summer long. My hope is that a strong fall offsets the summer setback, and we finish the year breakeven or even slightly in the black, but I could also see us coming in with a loss in the 3-5% range for the year.”

Up the venue ladder, bigger buildings seem to have less economic struggle with a more scaled business.

“We’ve had a solid first-half,” says Howard Handler, President of Detroit’s 313 Presents. “We’re committed to bringing the very best events and attractions to Detroit as well as diversifying revenue and strengthening our partnerships.” Handler mentions the success of Little Caesars Arena hosting the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Tournament and the Fox Theatre’s NFL Draft Red Carpet.

For festivals, it’s something of a mixed bag depending on market, size, genres and scope.

“Business has been tremendous for us this year,” says Allen Scott, President of Concerts and Festivals at Another Planet Ent.. “Most of our properties are up from last year, which was up from the year prior. Many people around the country have a certain perception of the Bay Area being in an existential crisis. Yes, there are issues, but in terms of the concert market, it seems as strong as ever. We just completed a very successful ticketed show with Fred again.. and Skrillex at Civic Center Plaza right in front of City Hall with 25,000 fans, a first of its kind for the space.”

As Another Planet’s successful downtown SF event would indicate, no one is resting on their laurels. There’s been headline-grabbing innovations throughout this mid-year including a Billie Eilish’s listening party at Barclays Center, Fred again..’s pop-up mega shows in S.F. and The L.A. Coliseum, Kendrick & Friends Juneteenth at the Forum and Madonna’s massive grand finale in Rio. With the possibility of a continued market softening, innovation, creativity and diversification are at a premium. 

Photo by Skyler Greene
Whoop-Whoop! Fred again.. and Skrilex performing at a pop-up mega event for 25K outside San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza on June 1, 2024. and promoted by Another Planet (Photo by Skyler Greene

“It’s never been more important to be smart and tactical in every move you make and be mindful of how business cycles can repeat or evolve,” says Marty Diamond, EVP & Managing Executive at Wasserman Music (the agency’s roster includes Ed Sheeran, RAYE, Drake, Chappell Roan, Fred again.., Imagine Dragons, Tyler Childers, Noah Kahan, Diplo, Liam Gallagher and Childish Gambino among many others). “For instance, there’s usually a lull coming out of the summer festival season and you need to know how to navigate that because it happens every year, but never in exactly the same way. You also need to take advantage of the fact that those lulls can create new opportunities if you’re thinking creatively. But each opportunity needs to be scrutinized for the needs of each artist. My general philosophy is ‘when in doubt, leave it out.’ If you’re not sure, it’s probably a good indicator that you shouldn’t. Like if you’ve just had a key position in a festival and have an opportunity to come back to the market soon after, you might want to wait. People have a finite amount of money and it’s always better to overestimate potential fatigue in a market than underestimate. Another key to success in the post-festival season is to be really thoughtful about packaging. Good support is an insurance policy and fans rightfully expect to have a great bang for the buck…”

Nederlander’s Hodges says he is relying on data, carefully packaging tours, iterating on market strategies and ticket prices, expanding into new territories and leaning into co-promoting. 

“We’ve enhanced our approach by analyzing the history of similar artists in similar sized venues,” Hodges says. “Creative artist packaging remains crucial, as fans really enjoy the combined experience of seeing two or three artists on the same bill. The adage of 1+1=3 holds up. Once tickets are on sale, we collaborate with artists’ agents and managers to identify necessary marketing tweaks or ticket price adjustments…Artist engagement can make all the difference.  Co-promoting has proven to be highly successful, and we welcome collaboration with others. Notable examples that were very successful are our joint marketing efforts with Live Nation at the Greek Theatre, collaborations with Orjuela Entertainment, Amplify Limited and others for Latin shows, and with other promoters such as Outback for comedy and other opportunities. We are excited to launch a new story for Sacramento with The Backyard, our new pop-up, outdoor venue opening on July 11 with Sad Summer Festival. Additionally, we are reintroducing a fantastic venue at the Port in Pocatello, Idaho setting the stage for 2025 tours in this region.”

For Another Planet’s Scott, his teams’ intimate knowledge of their core market has them looking beyond just one-off concerts (and Sacramento, too).

“This year we are hosting our first Golden Gate Concert series stand-alone concert in Golden Gate Park the weekend following Outside Lands. The show is a System of a Down/Deftones/The Mars Volta/Viagra Boys/VOWWS show on August 17.  We sold out 50,000 tickets on the pre-sale. Next year, we expect to have three different concerts on that weekend. We also are building a 2,150-capacity venue in Sacramento, called Channel 24, which will open in Q1 2025.  Sacramento and touring artists are thirsty for a venue of this size in the market…We are also in the middle of renovation the 100-year old Castro Theatre in San Francisco to be a multi-use venue to host concerts, movies and LGBTQ+ events.”

The Happy Dog’s Watterson says he’s increased private parties and off-site catering, and “gotten more aggressive with our pricing in the wake of “decreases in alcohol sales from pre-covid of about 15%, and labor costs are up 20%.  We also pursued support for our programming through a grant from the Live Music Society.”

Watterson and NIVA are calling for more research on the club market. “We need data on the economic conditions of independent venues to tell this story,” he says. “In the UK, the Music Venue Trust collects data on clubs at the 600 and under cap level, and in 2023, it showed that across over 800 clubs, the average profit margin was just 0.5%, that over 38% of clubs reported operating at a loss, and over 75 clubs closing permanently.  If we can tell our stories, we have the potential to advocate for more support for small independents, like we’ve seen in Texas through the Texas Music Incubator Rebate program, and most recently in Tennessee in the passage of the Live Music Fund. Without it, we will continue to see losses and closures at this level, and it will hurt the artist development ecosystem.” 

Next Level Innovation: Madonna performing a free record-setting concert on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 4, 2024 as the grande finale of her mid-year topping “The Celebration Tour.” The show drew 1.6 million. (Photo by DANIEL RAMALHO/AFP via Getty Images)

For 313’s Handler, it’s a different story as they’re upping their premium offerings as well as partnering with promoters on shows at venues beyond their building portfolio. 

“Recently, we introduced the Encore Lounge at Little Caesars Arena, one-of-a-kind premium experiences are clearly a significant trend,” he said. “The Encore Lounge is the first-ever all-inclusive hospitality space dedicated to concerts and shows at the arena. We continue to explore opportunities to expand beyond our SE Michigan venue footprint including our most recent collaboration with the Messina Touring Group to bring George Strait with Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town to Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, marking our first expansion beyond our six core venues – a huge success with over 51,000 tickets sold and $12.5M revenue.” 

Handler adds 313 is venturing into different programming, including an off-season partnership with Live Nation and Family Ent. Holdings to bring “Magic of Lights” to Pine Knob in November and December and working with Latin and Afrobeats, promoter partners for shows in Detroit.

For CAA’s Rose, beyond touring and “creativity in packaging” he emphasizes ancillary revenues “with crossover opportunities in film, TV, books, and podcasts, and other multi-hyphenated services like sponsorships, marketing, endorsements, and private and corporate opportunities.”

Arfa stresses IAG’s non-territorial full-services structure. “A lot of our model has stayed the same despite the merger such as not going to a territorial system as many other agencies implement. We continue to believe that the responsible agent for an artist should handle multiple responsibilities that other agencies farm out. Although we are a  bigger entity now we still are keeping our quality before quantity mantra.”

Pricing, in what may be a softening market, is an increasingly important “art form” in itself striking a balance between artists and  stakeholders being adequately compensated while not alienating consumers with high prices. 

Another Planet’s Allen says he is seeing push back on premium. “I think we are finally seeing some price resistance on the Platinum and high priced tickets. This is certainly not the case for all artists, but for many the bloom seems off the rose. I already see the industry adjusting in real time.” 

Hodges who also calls ticket pricing an “art form that gets attention from the beginning to the finish. Sometimes we increase the number of P1’s available, other times we reduce prices in other areas or offer special four-ticket packages. We also combine multiple shows at some venues, as this is a tried-and-true method for fans to ‘create their own season’ for the summer…An empty seat generates no revenue for stakeholders and doesn’t serve fans well..” 

Wasserman has even hired a specialist. “We always consider the many nuances and considerations that go into ticketing shows – by artist, territory, venue size, tiering, etc – so that we’re always intentional in our approach and mindful that one size never fits all when it comes to ticketing strategy,” Diamond says. “To that end, we’ve just added a data-driven Pricing & Ticketing Strategist to our team to work directly with our agents and services teams to develop bespoke pricing and ticketing strategies that best serve our clients’ tours and performances globally.”

As for what lies ahead, Another Planet’s Scott may have summed it up best. “So far, the fall is looking good… particular the A- and above shows.  The mid-size theatre artists who may not have as much heat on them or have been through recently, are going to have some trouble. However, the season is busy, as per usual. We all need to remember, people have only so much money, as well as available dates on the calendar.”