Why Is The Concert Industry in Decline? Simple. Live Nation


There is no real secret to producing a good concert. Just eliminate all the things that suck, and there you have it.

I have been producing shows in Canada for over a quarter century. For a large chunk of that I was lucky enough to work with a great group of people who all cared. We cared about the music, the artists, and most importantly, the fans. We wanted to make going to a concert an easy decision for fans. We wanted to make coming to Canada an easy decision for artists. As a result of our efforts we were rewarded by exponential growth in total shows, total revenues, and total tickets sold from 1999 to 2007. Our vision was always for the big picture and the long-term investment with artist and fan alike.

Then we were sold to Live Nation. The change in atmosphere was palpable. Almost immediately calls for cuts on operational costs were made. “There’s a river of nickels and dimes out there” was the mantra. We were 25% ahead of projections for our fiscal, and I had people screaming at me about show costs. One time I tried to explain to a superior that higher costs on some concert deals is actually a good thing. They are called promoter profit deals. Didn’t matter.

Imagine showing up at work, and the guy from the shop next door gets randomly hired to be your boss. The person has no experience in what you do, but they are convinced they have the answers, and everything you know is discounted. This is what it was like to be taken over by Live Nation. And it’s paying off. Right?

We hear a lot about how the concert industry is in a tailspin. I can say categorically that it has everything to do with Live Nation’s stewardship of the industry. Live Nation produces 7 out of 10 shows in North America. As operational expenses are cut, each show suffers. On the venue side, services at shows by ushers, ticket takers, security, and parking attendants were all cut.

On the concert production side, qualified production managers, marketing managers, sponsorship reps, ticketing staff, and accounting staffs were all cut. These decisions culminated in the creation of a poor entertainment option. We all have the same entertainment budget. The question is always which event gives the biggest value and is the most fun.

Live Nation’s strategy of cut…cut…cut has made for bad experiences. Why would I spend my hard earned money to stand in a long line getting in, be received by some grumpy overworked security guy, get to a seat that is obstructed, and overpay for beer, food, and parking? The artist just doesn’t have a chance to win you over. The fan experience was screwed from the onset.

Concert promoting is part instinctual, part analytical, and always forward thinking. These types of ideas are not conducive to an operation that is massively in debt; with huge cash outlays on the horizon (any one of the many 360 deals). Analysis, and projectable quarterly profits are the necessity. So cutting overhead and operational costs becomes the norm.

So what’s next? Well, like all Empires, Live Nation is experiencing it’s own decline. As it focuses harder on pleasing sponsors and shareholders, it continues to shrink its operation to what they see as higher margin events. Owner operated venues will be the focus. This leaves a huge untapped niche for those of us who want to make right, which has gone so terribly wrong. Have faith…. The concert industry is coming back.

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Dave Fortune is a 27 year vet of the concert and music industry. Dave headed up production and operations for Live Nation in Canada. He had one desk and five business cards during his 15 years working for Perryscope, MCA Concerts, Universal Concerts, House of Blues, and Live Nation. Before all that, he toured the world with the legendary punk band SNFU, did campus radio, promoted shows, and listened to 1000’s of records. Dave’s new initiative, the DLE Group, is an innovative company dedicated to expand and improve the live experience for fans and artists. DLE initiatives include integrated digital media and marketing strategies, and development of new revenue streams for artist without sacrificing the integrity of the live concert experience.

Discussion11 Comments

  1. Thanks for this Dave. You have always been well respected by the stagehands and techs who work on concerts and I know a great number of us really miss your presence on shows.

    As of Aug 2011 Live Nation has cut the high riggers from the calls at Deer Lk Park. I guess they don’t feel it’s worth the few bucks more an hour a rigger costs to ensure the lighting and audio equipment is hung safely by experienced professionals. This is the sort of lack of regard for safety you’d expect from low budget fly by night hack promoters. From the largest production company in North America it’s absolutely inexcusable. You can only hope someone wakes up before the worst happens.

  2. Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the internet the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get irked while people consider worries that they plainly don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  3. You know what, I never thought of it that way. Makes plenty of sense now. Thanks for explaining it so clearly, it really helped me and I’m sure it will help plenty of other people too. All the best!

  4. Very interesting reading , the same thing is happening all over the uk and europe . I work as a tour manager and have for the past 12 years . The way shows are now run is there for all to see , its not about the band or artist and its not about the fans ,its about the bottom line .

    I’am going to get out there and start promoting shows the way they should be . Could anyone give me any helpful info .

  5. haveworkedforlivenation

    having worked for a live nation venue would have to say some amazing people, but unfortunately the bean counters became more important than the staff or artists.

    they would fly bean counters in from LA but then cut back on office supplies.

    cut back on hours for venue staff, but give freebies to higher echelon staff.

    the venue started sucking ! the public noticed…ticket sales went down. staff started leaving…general unhappiness and gloom…basically a world class venue is going to the shit…but only since live nation took over…some good people in the offices and promoter reps, but the bean counters are killing the biz, maybe it is time to boycott live nation and support local venues instead…

    remember people live nation is a huge corporation that does not care about you as the individual, think about it.

  6. With hours spent on social networking sites by people well-able to afford a concert or two a year, how do you get directly into their pocketbooks and procure something more thrilling than a hit of tweetin’ facecrack?

    As has already been observed by many, we’re already seeing Roman-coliseum-style entertainment for an audience of stimulant-thirsty-buck-stretchers (myself included) who can’t put down their i-can’t-stop-checking-my-Phones (don’t we tell children to keep their hands out of their pants?) Oy, we got problems.

    Perhaps like church and state, music and sports need to go their separate ways, at least venue-wise. Live productions need to take place in venues which can be rigged to highlight the best aspects of an artist’s individual presentation. Why would I go to a John Mayer (okay, just an example) concert in a hockey arena? He’s in the middle of a huge stage, with little or no theatricality, and I’ve purchased expensive seats from which I can barely see the performance. In this scenario, I’m already suffering Mayer-on-the-road rage, and I haven’t even lined up for my refre$hment$ yet.

    Alas, KISS rocked wherever they went, but their legacy, with its Cirque Du Soleil-artistry, has all but vanished in our libellous, don’t-touch-my-junk society.

    Maybe we’re missing magnificence? Tweetie and Faceblank don’t simply can’t supply it, and most of us still like our spectacle served live, with a side of “that was fucking AWESOME!”.

    I am not a lemming! I am a human being! I like the collective experience, but I want to feel like I’m a special part of that coming together.

    Yeah, what’s in it for me? I’m selfish, cheap, I don’t have a lot of time, and I’m deluded enough to think I still matter. Well, music matters to me.

    Kudos, Mr. Fortune. Keep at’er!

  7. You have clearly identified a problem that many veterans (like me) saw coming a very long time ago when Michael Cole did the first Rolling Stones world tour and hired the local promoters to essentially be “Promoter Reps” in their own markets.
    As empires go, there is always a peak and a valley and ultimatly demise, but I would not count out the “Evil Empire” so soon. The thing about survivng in a monopolistic environment is that you must become Pro-Active. You must take the initiative to not only think outside the box, but to also ACT outside of the box.
    My experience (over 30 years) in this industry has shown me that too often, people who are wonderfully gifted in production or technology are dismally inept in sales and/or marketing and it takes both qualities to survive in the current environment.
    You are on the right track, but now you must find a new path to sell yourself and your ideas.
    You might try attending some of the better shows for the industry, like Tour Link. Try exposure in mobilrproductionpro.com or Mobile Production Monthly magazine or the Road Book……sound like a commercial? I practice what I preach.
    Larry Smith
    Tour Guide Magazines

  8. Dave – so apropos, at a time when more people from the business have been laid off by the man. Most of them, around when it meant something to be part of the 50+ person team who really were the Concert business in Canada.
    I remember like it was yesterday being in the office when the email came though, with the introduction of the “new era of the concert business” Live Nation. We knew then what would become of the business and our jobs, and like clockwork, the decline is right on schedule – the 5 year mark.
    Those of us who were there because we were a part of something, not just an employee pushing paper or a number….we will be back, when the music business needs people who get it.
    From my vantage point, the sidelines is a much better place to be a spectator. Until then, watch the “other guy” and take note that the bigger shows, the ones that make money… are all going to them.

  9. Thanks for the great article Dave. I know when I got the opportunity to see you at work behind the scenes it was qutie the experience. You really did care about what you were doing. I also remember how MANY concerts there were. I can only find a few that I want to go to nowadays.

    Keep up the good work

  10. Thanks for putting this out there Dave.

    Experiences, especially a good live show shouldn’t really be dictated by spreadsheet only.

    What’s next? Well, the Internet has done a perfectly good job in breaking big monopolies apart over and over. The smaller, faster and higher quality organization can win.

    Also tools and resources like ticketing and social media are getting there and I guess it’s time to make the remaining 3 out of 10 concerts really great, quality experiences.


  11. Wow sounds exciting. Hold your heads high and stay focused so enough things will change. I stopped going to concerts 3 years ago maybe that’s why I never really thought about it

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