MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Last summer, the concert industry slipped - badly. After growing steadily for a decade, 2010 was the year of unsold tickets and cancelled tours. Jacob Ganz reports on how the industry is trying to fix what went wrong and what it means for this summer's big shows.
JACOB GANZ: How bad was last summer? Ray Waddell covers the touring industry for Billboard magazine.
Mr. RAY WADDELL (Billboard Magazine): For a lot of bands it was really bad, and for the industry overall it was very bad. You know, it's hard to tell exactly how bad but you can say it was down in double digits in both attendance and gross dollars.
GANZ: Acts as big as the Eagles and Rihanna canceled shows. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost.
Mr. MARK CAMPANA (Co-President of North American Tours, Live Nation): I think that one of the problems that we've had in the past is that we've treated this industry as though one size fits all.
GANZ: Mark Campana is co-president of North American concerts for Live Nation, the biggest concert promoter in the world.
Mr. CAMPANA: We know that our attendance was down and we know that ultimately there was a great deal of discounting done in the marketplace in order to drive sales.
GANZ: It was bad. After Live Nation admitted as much during a shareholders meeting last July, its stock lost 20 percent of its value in just two days. When the company tried to unload unsold tickets by offering discounts, it really upset fans who had bought tickets early at full price. So, this summer there's a new theme.
Mr. CAMPANA: Value for the fan is really important.
GANZ: Live Nation knows it got beat up last year and it seems to be responding. The company will do away with many fees, like the ones you used to have to pay to print your own tickets at home. There will be discounts if you buy early. And the company has a new pricing model: It's called dynamic pricing but it's basically just many different tiers of tickets at different prices. It promises to lower the average cost of tickets while offering expensive options to fans who can afford them.
This summer, Ray Waddell says, promoters seem to be taking lessons from those few tours last year that did work.
Mr. WADDELL: They had to have a show that was very attractive to consumers, something different like Roger Waters' The Wall or James Taylor, Carole King, or it had to be, as in the case with the last one I mentioned, it had to be a really strong package with a lot of value.
GANZ: So, value and packaging are the guiding lights of this summer's tours. Live Nation is sending John Legend on the road with Sade and Cee Lo Green out with Rihanna - artists who could headline their own tours, sharing the bill in arenas or amphitheaters in order to lower the risk that their shows won't sell out.
Even better in terms of value for fans is the growing festival circuit. Bands seem to like it, too. The Dave Matthews Band is the most successful touring act of the last decade, but this summer it's making just four stops. The Dave Matthews Band Caravan is a series of three-day mini-festivals featuring 40 or so like-minded bands, including veteran psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips.
Wayne Coyne, that band's lead singer, says for him festivals are a way to break up the grind of constant touring.
Mr. WAYNE COYNE (Lead Singer, The Flaming Lips): We've been doing this a long time, so I'm not always just worried about getting more audience, get more money. You know, to me sometimes, I want to play out on a mountainside in the fog just simply 'cause it's cool.
All right, how lucky are we, huh? How lucky are we? Thank you guys for all being here with us.
(Soundbite of cheering)
GANZ: Flaming Lips kicked off their summer last month at the Sasquatch Music Festival in central Washington wtate.
(Soundbite of music)
THE FLAMING LIPS: (Singing) All those (unintelligible) your head...
GANZ: Before this summer ends, the band will have played nearly 20 festivals in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Mr. COYNE: I kind of feel like every festival needs, if not a Flaming Lips, you know, someone that does something at the end of the night that lets the audience go, oh yeah, there was lights and laser beams and things. And it was loud and smoke and it was out of control.
I mean, I think that's just - as much as it's about music and it's about art and it's about this communication and this communal experience, I think somewhere along the way, people want to see stuff.
GANZ: Stuff will feature prominently in pop star's Ke$ha's first big summer tour as a headliner.
KE$HA (Singer): I'm so excited and proud of the show I've put together. I've designed the lights myself and all the costumes and dances I have helped choreograph and I also have invested in a lot of lasers. So, that'll be awesome, 'cause they're going to shoot all the way to the back of the amphitheater. I'm stoked about that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
(Soundbite of music)
GANZ: Ke$ha's songs have been radio mainstays since her first single came out less than two years ago.
(Soundbite of song, "Blow")
KE$HA: (Singing) Back door cracked, we don't need a key. We get in free. No VIP, please.
GANZ: Last summer, she opened for Rihanna. This year, she says, she considered a co-headlining tour but decided to take a risk and head out on her own.
KE$HA: I don't really like to live in fear. I'd rather take chances and be disappointed than ever not do something that I want to do because I'm scared of what might happen. And so far, it's been really good.
GANZ: Right now, the industry needs people like Ke$ha, not to mention U2, which is in the middle of the highest-grossing tour in history; or country star Kenny Chesney, who took last summer off but is back on the road now playing more than 50 dates over five months.
But Ray Waddell of Billboard says even more important are the shows that don't get anywhere near stadiums and amphitheaters.
Mr. WADDELL: All the stuff that fills the clubs every week, that's playing in casinos, playing fairs and festivals, and all this live business that is really crucial in terms of keeping the industry rolling, keeping the buses on the road, artist development - all these things happen before you ever get to a Chesney or a U2 level.
GANZ: That's hardly a one-size-fits-all world. The test for summer of 2011 will be whether the industry can adapt.
For NPR News, I'm Jacob Ganz.
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