By the end of the summer, over 450 large-scale music festivals will have been held in Britain (I’m off to the Big Chill next weekend). And while the somewhat apocalyptic weather will have led to weekend washouts for some, the British festival scene is undeniably in rude health—tickets for Glastonbury sold out within two hours of going on sale, despite a cumbersome new pre-registration system, and at the other end of the festival spectrum, smaller “boutique” events are sprouting up across the country.
This boom time for festivals is part of a general flourishing of live music in Britain. Demand for pop performances has rocketed in recent years, and so have prices—for £25, the cost of a programme at Barbra Streisand’s recent Manchester concert (top ticket price: £550), you could have seen the Rolling Stones play Wembley in 1990. Last August, as Robert Sandall points out in this month’s Prospect cover story, a decent seat at the Stones’s Twickenham gig would have set you back at least £150.
Yet while concert promoters and venues rake in the cash, record companies the world over are slashing both prices and staff, because the recording industry is in major decline. In Britain, HMV recently announced that its yearly profits had halved, while the discount chain Fopp recently shut its doors for good. Not even the explosive growth in sales of downloaded music can offset the damage—the total value of music sales across all formats in the US fell by 6 per cent last year.
What this all means, Sandall argues, is that the economics of pop music have been totally upended in recent years. Artists now make their money from live work and the accompanying merchandising opportunities rather than from recordings. Record companies now ensure that the deals they make with artists include shares in the profits generated by tours. And while bands used to tour to promote their latest album, often at a loss, it’s now the other way around. The CD is dead; long live the gig.
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