Rock Fans Get More Beat for the Buck Concert Industry Fine-Tunes Music Tours to Lure Summer Fans

Article excerpt

Rock 'n' roll musicians are playing second fiddle in this booming economy.

The concert industry - once built on hard cash - has gone soft, insiders say. Record sales have stalled, tour costs are up, revenues have declined, and more bands are competing in the same market of tight-fisted fans.

The last big year was 1994 when the industry generated a record $1.5 billion. That was when Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones, among other big-name bands, played the stadiums. This year, the overall dollar value could be around $1 billion, forecasts Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, a leading concert trade publication. "The music industry is in trouble because the majority of the new music being produced {is of bad quality}," says concert goer Robert Rawlinson. Fans like Mr. Rawlinson are begging for more of the old stuff. Last year, of the more than 25,000 albums released, only a fraction had any success. Now the concert industry is being fine-tuned with some skeletal changes. While last summer didn't include such heavy-hitting bands as the Grateful Dead, this season is notable for its abundance of groups. Almost every band is on the road again competing for a finite amount of money, industry sources say. Promoters are putting a number of acts on one bill and calling them festivals. They include rock, jazz, pop, country, blues, and Christian multi-act packages with a number of them in every genre. As many as 11 major rock and pop festivals are, or will be, on the road this summer. Success of Lollapalooza It all began in the summer of 1991. The success of a modest project called Lollapalooza, modeled after popular British rock festivals, was the spark. Since then, it has spread wildly. Why? Cheap is better. Keep ticket prices around $30 and put plenty of acts together, and you have better chances of selling out, says Mr. Bongiovanni. These multi-act marathons (some go on for nine hours) are all about niche marketing. Hippie-types are flocking to the H.O.R.D.E festival to see 60s guru Neil Young. Meanwhile, girls with popsicle-blue hair, black lipstick, and spiked wristbands are heading to the Gothic heavy-metal Ozzfest. And a cross-section of concertgoers are making the all-female Lilith Fair festival a success. The festivals have also opened opportunities for fresh bands to build up some credibility and perhaps a fan base with the hope that some day they can tour on their own. Rise of amphitheaters "Small House, Big Noise." That's how Motley Crue sold its reunion tour this summer. Big is not always better and the Crue slogan is another instance that points to the rise of the amphitheaters and the decline of stadium concerts. U2, the summer's only stadium act, has come and gone. During their 27-date North American tour, the Irish band never came close to being the blockbuster act of their 1992 Zoo TV tour. This time around they cancelled a few shows and had trouble selling off some others. They grossed $49 million, as they traveled in an expensive python-like caravan that included 52 trucks of pyrotechnic equipment. Stadium tours don't interest concertgoer Damien Walters anymore. They're not the same, he says during a recent Motley Crue concert. "This, is awesome, man. Real music. You can see Vince Neil and feel the music, you know?" Mr. Walters says the small stage and the absence of electronic gimmickry created a sense of intimacy. There are other reasons for the declining popularity of stadiums: Tickets are pricey, parking is expensive, drives are long, and traffic jams are frequent. Old favorites draw crowds Except for a few bands such as Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, who tour once every four or five years, not many bands out there could sell out a stadium, says Bongiovanni. …