The last few years have seen the concert industry ride a growing wave of success, and so far, 2017 looks to be following that trend to the letter. Tours have generally done well this year, and despite some high-profile blowouts, festivals, too, have had a strong showing. Good grosses are likewise good for live sound companies, keeping audio providers busy at all levels, from the national tour providers, to regional and local sound reinforcement businesses.
Of course, this year’s success had plenty to build upon, thanks to the momentum generated by 2016; according to Pollstar, last year saw the top U.S. 100 tours sell 43.6 million tickets, raking in a record $3.34 billion in the process, up 7 percent over the previous year. That high-water mark came thanks to the likes of Adele, Beyoncé, the reunited Guns n’ Roses, Coldplay and dozens of others making their presence known at the box office, but 2017 has had its fair share of top draws on the road too, with U2, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and, well, Guns n’ Roses, among those filling seats this summer.
While all that points to a successful year for companies like Clair Global, Eighth Day Sound, Sound Image, Rat Sound and Solotech, to name only a few major tour-sound providers, the busy schedule at your local shed and theater have boded well for regional sound companies as well. While continued low gas prices have been at least a contributing factor towards more national acts returning to the notion of carrying full audio production, there are still many tours that opt to use partial or entire systems sourced locally at every stop, helping keep regionals and local audio providers busy.
Of course, fans only buy tickets if they have money to throw around—and if they’re feeling prosperous, which is definitely the mood of the country right now. In mid-September, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that real median household income increased by 3.2 percent between 2015 and 2016, to $59,039, a jump in real terms of 3.2 percent, marking the second consecutive annual increase. Hand in hand with that finding, the Indexes of Consumer Sentiment and Consumer Expectations, tracked monthly by the University of Michigan, were both up considerably in September—95.3 for the former (up 4.5 percent) and 83.4 for the latter (up .8 percent)—over the same month in 2016.
Festivals continue to power along as a category, providing work for audio providers at all levels, whether for giant monolithic events like Bonnaroo, where audio needs are generally handled by national sound providers, and regional and local fests, providing opportunities for corresponding audio vendors. Despite high-profile imploding events like Karoondinha in central Pennsylvania and early spring’s disastrous Fyre in the Bahamas, festivals have continued to do well. A full 29 percent of Millennials have attended a music festival in the last 12 months, according to Event-bright, spending $121 at the event.
However, a new emerging demographic is starting to attend the endless cavalcade of fests—Baby Boomers. With their kids out of the house and more free time on their hands, the originators of the big rock festival are going back to their roots, increasingly going to more music events than they did 10 years ago, including festivals, where they currently outspend Millennials at $121 per event, according to MusicWatch. That’s consistent with the L.A. Times’ finding that 32 million people every year now attend U.S. festivals. Those attendees are committed, too, traveling 903 miles on average to be there, according to Nielsen.
There’s an endless stream of fests for them to choose from, and that has meant business for audio providers, regardless of whether you’re talking major events like New York City’s Panorama—which had audio provided by Rat Sound, Eighth Day Sound and See Factor—or more modest affairs, like Butler, OH’s EST Fest (attendance: 5,000), tackled by Cleveland audio provider NPi AV.
But regardless of whether they’re looking at festivals or tours, consumers have been buying more tickets this year, keeping all quarters of the concert production business moving along. At the half-year mark, the top 100 U.S. tours had sold a record 22.8 million tickets, according to Pollstar, making for a 15 percent jump over 2016 in ticket sales, even as their average price dropped 3.3 percent to $72.16. With early success like that in mind, all signs indicate 2017 will wind up as another one for the record books.
Not everything is idyllic in the world of live sound, of course. The FCC’s spring 2017 frequency auction inadvertently resulted in RF users having to get out of the 600 MHz range far sooner than expected, as auction winner T-Mobile kicked off its aggressive plans to make the most of its new spectrum acquisition by lighting up its first towers in August—nearly three years before the FCC’s official deadline for others to get out of the range. While in the short term it means some wireless mic users have to spend money on new equipment that operates elsewhere in the spectrum, there’s also the larger concern of dealing with increasing overall RF congestion, finding room to use whatever new systems they get.
Elsewhere, some regional and local providers are starting to voice frustration about unexpected competition from non-traditional vendors. More than one regional audio company has mentioned to PSN in recent times that they’re seeing some staple events that they handled in the past—corporate events and high-end weddings—going to video and staging vendors that have picked up sub-$2,000 digital consoles and a few portable PA systems. “They don’t know what they’re doing, but some clients either don’t know or don’t care because they can get it bundled in with other services and save a few bucks,” said one. “The gear costs so little that it’s no loss to the vendor if it doesn’t go out, but I’m feeling it when it does.” While it’s only moderately analogous to what recording studios faced some years ago with the rise in home studios due in part to inexpensive pro-sumer recording gear, it’s a turn of events that may bear watching in the years to come.