- It’s not enough to just go to a concert any more. People want to experience the event before they go and after they’ve been. The business of live is changing too.
- For artists or brands like Beyonce, Harry Styles or Taylor Swift, as well as entertainment companies, business has become much broader than selling out a tour or a movie or merch.
- Audiences seek compelling, profound experiences that allows them to have agency and authenticity.
- Getting tickets to live events is more difficult than ever because the global market for live events is a monopoly run by Ticketmaster.
- Despite widespread public criticism and political scrutiny of Ticketmaster parent company Live Nation Entertainment, solutions are not forthcoming.
Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour only began in March and is set to become the biggest tour of all time only a third of the way through its worldwide run, having already grossed over $2.2 billion in North America. According to Live Nation, Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour finished having earned north of half a billion at the box office.
Are these mega-star anomalies or is such success replicable?
“This feels like a cultural moment we’re living in,” says Adam Chitwood of TheWrap, joining a conversation that assessed trends in live entertainment.
“It’s not enough to just go to the concert. People wanted to experience the concert before they go and after they’ve been.”
Everyone agrees that the pandemic has influenced how we now view live events. The fact that for two years fans couldn’t go out has generated a pent-up desire (mania) to ensure that they do now that they can.
But it’s not just about live or music. The billion-dollar global box office takings of “Barbie” were in part propelled by audiences participating in the experience more than they would any standard movie — dressing up and attending multiple showings.
We want to enjoy an experience in the company of others, including strangers.
“[Audience members] want to go with a bunch of friends, they want to buy the merch, and they want to participate in every way with their full energy,” confirms Levi Jackson, head of music marketing at WME (William Morris Endeavor). “Now they want a shared experience.”
For artists — or do we call them brands? — like Beyoncé, Harry Styles or Taylor Swift — as well as entertainment companies — business has become much broader than selling tickets or merch.
“We have all these different products and verticals that are involved with each actor or event,” explains Ross Gerber, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management.
Jeff Clanagan, president of Hartbeat, Kevin Hart’s production company, notes that despite the higher cost of living, the demand for live experiences has rocketed: “Ticket prices have never been at this level. Fans are paying $300 to $1,000, you know, sometimes more depending on the artist.”
Compelling, Authentic Experiences
That Taylor Swift’s concert film is releasing into cinemas while her tour still has a year to run was never going to diminish the demand to see her live. “Absolutely zero chance it’s going to impact ticket sales,” says Clanagan. “There’s still a huge audience that might not have gone to that stadium to see Taylor or Beyoncé because of the ticket prices, but also people who went to the shows want to really have that experience in a theater. So it’s just another touch point for the consumer to share that experience.”
Not every artist can command this volume, however. Fri Forjindam, who leads global business development, branding and communications for Mycotoo, thinks that’s down to artist authenticity: “You can’t quantify an emotional connection that resonates with people. That means there’s a promise that’s being made. [The artist is] saying you’re going to get all of me, you’re gonna get my full catalog, you’re gonna get performance showmanship, tech, everything VIP. There’s an experiential overlay that is delivering on that promise, as opposed to just gouging.”
Rather than just blindly consuming anything an artist does, she thinks fans are extremely discerning. “They don’t want bulls**t. They want to come and have a compelling, profound experience that allows them to have agency and authenticity, and to see that in the things that they’re engaging with.”
Mycotoo has worked with the Studios on IPs from Netflix’ “Stranger Things” global tour to “The Mandalorian” to Prince’s Paisley Park to create experiences from theme parks to live events to brand activations.
Forjindam says the job is to leverage IP into an ecosystem that engenders loyalty. Whether it’s a concert, a museum or theme park, how do you take all those principles and turn it into a revenue based experience or entertainment destination?
Leveraging Ideology and Mythology
One ingredient to success is understanding context. It’s vital, she says, “to have a shared emotional experience align with a brand and artists that reflects who they are in their ideology, in their consumer spending, in their way of life, in their sexuality in all the things that make you whole. It can’t just be about seeing the artists, there needs to be something deeper.”
For example, when working with Netflix on the “Stranger Things” global tour, the intent wasn’t to recreate the show, but to give fans a reason to get excited about the next season of the show on Netflix.
The goal was to “give them a physical place where they can commune with others and have this sort of ‘choose your own adventure’ [experience] and be the hero of their own story, using live performance. It’s redefining what live entertainment is first and then figuring out what the revenue verticals are to make it a viable business proposition.”
Ticketing Trauma and Technology to the Rescue?
It’s true that fans continue to have difficulties getting tickets to live events. The global market is pretty much a monopoly run by Ticketmaster and parent company Live Nation Entertainment received widespread public criticism and political scrutiny over blunders in selling tickets to the Eras Tour. There’s no easy answer.
Jackson says, “We’ve worked with a bunch of tours and talent, and we worked with every ticket company and I think the challenge is actually too complex for an individual artist to fix. Even for someone like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. These companies are so big, you know, the contracts that they have, the tickets are difficult, but the technology of ticketing is actually so challenging.
Gerber admits he can’t express his true feelings about Ticketmaster, “because it’s, controversially, you know, negative,” but suggests that an individual’s smartphone could be a better way of validating tickets.
Forjindam agrees: “We’re using technology to attempt to solve the climate crisis. We’re using technology for automated vehicles and smart cities and literally building Ukraine from the ground up. Why can’t we use technology to figure this [ticketing issue] out?
“How do we allow it to be able to maybe learn what someone’s user pattern is, or fandom level is, as a way to give them additional points to get ahead of the line because they are a legitimate fan, regardless of whether they can afford $1,500 or not.”
Not coincidentally, there is a trend toward upgrading and building venues with new technology, not just giant LED screens but also better sound and lighting systems, to give fans a more immersive experience. The pinnacle of this right now is the Las Vegas Sphere.
“The Sphere is challenging artists to really think about that experience,” emphasizes Jackson. “Every show that’s going in there at the moment has to be bespoke to that venue. It’s making a unique experience as a destination at that venue — people are flying in from around the world to go to the Sphere.”