The numbers don’t lie: The market for live music is bigger than ever. According to Pollstar, the top 100 concert tours in 2017 grossed a record-breaking $5.56 billion in revenue, nearly a 16% increase over 2016. Ticket sales in total increased by more than 10%.
Accordingly, event producers and venues are going bigger: more stages; more shows; more headliners; longer festivals. In this calculus, bigger means more revenue, which (hopefully) means more profit.
But is bigger always better? The answer is more complicated than you might imagine.
Live music’s success has been met by a precipitous decline in recorded music media sales. Fans just aren’t buying music anymore, instead opting for the convenience of online streaming platforms.
In this light, the explosive growth of live music is a no-brainer: Shows, festivals, parties, and events offer the intimate connection with artists and fellow audiences that fans crave. Intimacy, in fact, is the music industry’s “secret sauce,” the primary differentiator separating music from nearly all other artforms and entertainment.
When we hear a cherished artist singing a favorite song, we hear them singing it directly to us. That connection, that intimacy, is vital. Event producers and organizers who neglect the potency of these intimate connections run the risk of alienating audiences, especially younger audiences, for whom the communities built around music can be as important as the music itself: 81% of millennials attend music festivals to engage with like-minded community.
Building community is essential — and easier said than done
Building community is good business: The more showgoers see familiar faces at your venue or club, the more likely they are to come back. Throwing good shows used to get you most of the way there, but in 2018 and beyond, that doesn’t quite cut it anymore.
Will Sartain of Sartain & Saunders, a Salt Lake City-based promoter, has noticed the makeup of his crowds changing substantially. “Ten years ago we had a lot of regulars coming to shows. Now more than half of the people coming to shows are one-time visitors,” he says. Less cohesive, irregular crowds makes it difficult for fans to meet each other, and may de-incentivize that cherished sense of loyalty from your most committed fans.
To counteract this trend, don’t be afraid to think small, even if it means losing out on revenue. The goodwill (and word-of-mouth marketing!) you’ll generate within your most committed fanbase will make up the difference.
For example, the longstanding European tradition of small, boutique music festivals has taken the American market by storm. These festivals feature carefully curated lineups and ticket inventories capped at a comfortable number, and may even operate on an invite-only basis: FORM Arcosanti, Desert Daze, and Sustain-Release are but three new, successful U.S. festivals placing community before revenue and earning accolades because of it.
Foster exclusivity (but not too much exclusivity)
Thinking smaller generally entails excluding a portion of your fanbase. It sounds scary, but don’t be afraid: A little bit of exclusivity goes a long way.
Get creative: Try booking a well-known artist at a venue or stage much smaller than they usually play. Produce limited edition merch for a special show or tour. Give committed, repeat fans deals or advance notice on tickets by going deep on segmenting your mailing list. Use an unusual, unexpected venue and don’t announce the lineup until day-of. Offer a limited amount of free or VIP tickets through non-traditional avenues. (Scavenger hunt!)
The Pandora’s box of streaming has thrown the music industry for a loop. But listeners, fans, and showgoers still want the same thing: connection with their favorite artists and with each other. Make sure to keep that in mind — and don’t be afraid to go smaller to make it happen.
Want more tips on how to build a genuine connection with your fans? Check out What Millennials Want from Live Music.