Sales of concert and festival tickets have, without doubt, boomed over the last four or five years. Surprisingly, this has coincided with a global recession that has seemingly decimated consumers’ spending power across virtually every other market sector. But is this a coincidence? Is it all down to the fact that people can forget their financial troubles whilst losing themselves in the excitement of a live concert? In reality, the exponential growth in concert ticket sales is neither a coincidence, nor a natural reaction to the doom and gloom generated by irresponsible banks and sky-high interest rates charged by credit card issuers. What’s happened with ticket sales in the concert and festival sector is all about the changes that have taken place in that sector over the last ten years, and nothing whatsoever to do with other external considerations.
When I first started going to concerts in the mid 1970′s, the shows were wonderful, the excitement tangible, but, if I’m being honest, my memories are tinged with the warm glow of nostalgia and are viewed through the rose tinted spectacles that the passing of time inevitably provides. Reality check! The sound was usually terrible – a wall of muddy noise blaring out from inadequate PA systems; the stage lighting could probably be compared to what you’d see at the average school play in this day and age; the security guards were usually local, neanderthal thugs looking for a good scrap, and if you went to a concert in a cavernous arena that had a capacity of more than 5,000, then the band you were supposedly watching were little, dancing dots somewhere very far away in the distance. I remember going to see Bob Marley and The Wailers in a giant shed with 8,000 other reggae fans. It was an absolute privilege to be there, but the PA system was so poor that I could barely recognise my favourite songs, and I was so far away from the stage that I can’t say that I even “saw” the great Bob Marley. But I was there, and at the time, that was enough. I can also remember my first time at an outdoor festival; mud (ok, we’ve still got the mud), terrible sound, poisonous food and dreadful sanitary conditions. Of course, I loved it, but it was an ordeal nonetheless.
But things are very different these days. The advancement of technology has resulted in PA systems becoming ‘state of the art’, stage lighting that would put the lights on the spaceship in ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ to shame and screens and video-walls that enable even a concert goer stuck in a far flung corner of a football stadium to have the same birds-eye view of the stage as any fan in the front row. The food is gourmet (if you want to pay for it), the alcoholic drinks are varied and sophisticated, the toilets actually flush and the thuggish security guards have been re-branded as friendly, helpful ‘stewards’. Also, the advent of the internet offers the ticket buyer a plethora of options in regard to how we transact a ticket purchase. We no longer have to queue outside a theatre box-office in the freezing cold, we can now buy our concert tickets from the comfort of home or office with a few clicks of a computer mouse. And even when we’re on line, we are offered multiple purchase-points, ranging from reputable ticket agencies to ethical ticket exchanges.
However, it isn’t just technology that has improved the general concert going experience; the attitude of promoters and artists has gradually changed over the last twenty years, to the point where the paramount concern is giving the punter who buys a ticket more bang for his or her buck. This scenario should’ve happened a lot sooner, but maybe the correct perspective on this should be that evolution, if it brings about the right, lasting changes, is just as commendable as the quick fix of revolution. So when we rush to buy our concert and festival tickets, we do so in the knowledge that, as consumers, we’re being treated with the respect that we deserve.
So are there any lessons that other market sectors could learn from the concert and festival industry? Maybe there’s just one…if you take your customers for granted when times are good, you can be sure that they’ll desert you when times are tough. I’m glad to say that the live music industry fixed the roof whilst the sun was shining, so it’s not surprising that they’re selling bucket loads of concert and festival tickets, even though we’re being soaked by a proverbial rain-storm.