As we usher in 2009, we're all too aware that the economy is still tanking and the worst is yet to come. Everyone's being hit hard, but the effect on the touring industry is difficult to measure.
By all accounts, the top tours of 2008 did surprisingly well. According to Billboard Boxscore figures, concert grosses totaled almost $4 billion worldwide — an increase of almost 13 percent over last year and the highest annual figure to date. The business looks great on paper, but it's not as simple as that.
During the toughest financial times, people take refuge in entertainment; this trend goes back to the days of the Great Depression, when Americans flocked to movie theaters to forget their troubles. And in the era of the “staycation,” local entertainment is a relatively cheap way to have some fun: Cash-strapped consumers might be more willing to shell out a couple hundred dollars for Madonna tickets now that that trip to Paris is out of the question.
It's safe to say that the biggest tours are carrying the overall business: Bon Jovi's Lost Highway tour grossed $210.6 million and drew 2,157,675 fans. Bruce Springsteen was right behind, grossing $204.5 million, and AC/DC just tacked 15 arena dates onto their huge Black Ice tour. But the top end's not the end of the story. Even as record year-end box-office figures roll in, overall concert attendance continues to decline. This drop is partly by design, as promoters schedule fewer shows and book smaller venues. In other words, ticket prices are up, but units are down. And as fewer people attend shows, the financial hit is felt harder by the smaller productions. Of course, it's also important to remember that the 2008 tours were planned — and most tickets purchased — before the economy bottomed out in the fall, so as the touring business catches up with economic trends, 2009 will surely prove to be a challenging year.
Our January issue is devoted to live sound; we're ringing in the new year with bonus coverage of some of the hottest tours of the season, all proving there's no single formula for success: Metallica is roaring through packed arenas across the country with a new streamlined P.A. hung in the round and, for the first time, a complete digital system, from front-of-house to fiber-optic zone control. Meanwhile, AC/DC's blockbuster road show is being mixed on an analog board built in the '80s. Rounding out the musical spectrum, we report on the Chris Isaak, Goldfrapp and Calexico tours.
And even though the business forecast may be a big question mark, on the technology side the tools for live sound engineers are more exciting than ever, from the slew of powerful new digital consoles fresh out of PLASA and AES, to sophisticated software apps tailored for touring, with more debuts on deck this month at NAMM. Thinking about a new board? This month, we bring you a complete guide to the latest in digital touring consoles.
When it comes to touring, if there's one thing you can count on it's this: Guitars will always be loud. Steve La Cerra talks to veteran engineers out on the road with classic rock acts to find out their unique ways of taming the beast onstage.
Happy new year,