Here comes summer 2013
It’s that time of year again. Behind the scenes, promoters are engaged in the usual bouts of ducking and diving with agents and acts over next summer’s big outdoor shows. The venues have been booked, the dates have been ticked …
It’s that time of year again. Behind the scenes, promoters are engaged in the usual bouts of ducking and diving with agents and acts over next summer’s big outdoor shows. The venues have been booked, the dates have been ticked off, the deposts have been paid, the ticket price is under review and the promotional campaign is being finetuned. By the time 2013 swings around, the speculation which is currently all the rage amongst those who watch and work the live music beat will either prove to be bang on or woefully off the mark. And yes, you’ll be able to chalk this post down as one or the other in a few months’ time.
Summer 2013 will be about appealing to the base. You probably heard the expression “getting the base out” in regard to US politics, but it also applies to live music. If you’re booking an act for a big venue, you need to be sure they can fill it. You need to know that they have the support base in the bag to make sure you’re not going to be running ads for weeks on end and turning people off (the fact that an over-abundance of radio ads actually turns people off is something for the brand psychologists out there to parse) in order to take the shabby look off the venue and your bottom line. You need to be sure that, say, Roger Waters can pull enough people to fill the Aviva when he plays here next September. That would be the same calculation which said that Madonna would fill the same venue last year.
In years gone by, you could roughly guage the size of an act’s base by record sales, even though Irish audiences traditionally prefered to see the white of an act’s eyes at a live gig before committing to buying the album. The slump in record sales means you can no longer rely as much on that metric, unless you were to surmise that interest in music was at an all-time low. We also know from experience that past performance is no guarantee of future results. Just because an act sold out the same venue a couple of years ago doesn’t mean they’re a dead cert for 2013 in the same or smaller venue. Even the base has copped on that an act visiting in 2013 is likely to be back again by 2015. The fact that acts are now over-reliant on live revenue and need to tour all the time has, like those ads in the last paragraph, backfired to an extent. Evidence for the prosecution in this case: last summer’s Red Hot Chili Peppers’ gig in Croke Park.
Then, there’s the requirement for a strong opening. This is something which promoters have been on about for quite some time, the desire to sell the bulk of your tickets on the first day they go on sale. You aim to get your ducks in a row, frontload all the PR and ads around the opening day’s sales and hope to God that the base comes good when it’s time to hit up Ticketmaster to get the tickets. You also try to have your tickets going on sale towards the end of the month when people are flush with cash or, at least, are not worrying about their credit card bills. If you don’t get a strong opening, it’s time to break out the ads, send favoured hacks to foreign cities to write up purple prose on the act and think about a Groupon campaign. Can we expect any or all of these to help shift those thousands of unsold tickets for Bon Jovi at Slane next year, a show which most definitely did not sell out on day one? Going on the first day’s tallies, it’s going to take a lot of promotional heat to get this one to 50k.
So, what can we look forward to in 2013? Well, there will definitely be a return to the Phoenix Park, with MCD looking to put on up to four shows in the park next year for a start. This makes total sense: if you leave aside the events surrounding the Swedish House Mafia show last July, the Park was a hugely successful venture for the promoter with three sold-out shows earning a huge gross and involving a much smaller sets of costs than Oxegen. And lightning can’t strike twice, can it? There will also be shows at Croke Park, Marlay Park, the RDS and the Aviva (Roger Waters isn’t likely to be the only one paying rent to the IRFU and the FAI). Acts we might – and please note I said “might” – possibly see playing in the country next summer include Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna, the Rolling Stones, Arcade Fire (though that’s more likely to be 2014 if the album release is late 2013), Tom Waits, The Killers, Eminem (a second Slane show – provided he doesn’t send a sick note this time) and Fleetwood Mac.
Ireland 2013? Beyonce (left) and Rihanna
What about Oxegen? Remember Oxegen? How soon they forget. There’s strong speculation amongst agents and production staff that Oxegen will return next summer (with the Stone Roses mooted for the line-up), though it’s interesting that it’s Fairyhouse rather than Punchestown which keeps getting mentioned in the despatches. Surely MCD wouldn’t abandon the Co Kildare racecourse for the Co Meath one, especially given how much work they’ve done on the former venue and the relationships they’ve built up there? In fact, Punchestown would be perfect for a two day dance music festival along the lines of Ultra, if MCD were so inclined. The acts are there, the audience is there and the venue is there.
Elsewhere, it’s early days for the other festivals, with most of them keeping their cards very close to their chest or trying to get the cash together to buy a new set of cards. It will be interesting to see which fests return and which ones take a year out to lick their wounds. You can be sure, though, that there will be more than enough acts to go around for all these festivals and still have acts left over for people to whinge about a number of acts not visiting Ireland.
But the question really is if there’s enough fans to go round to support all these acts and events? For an event to be truly successful, the headliner or bill must have the ability to pull in more than just the support base. You can only go so far when you’re relying on the base, but there are very few acts who can truly appeal beyond that hardcore and consistently cross over to the mainstream. Springsteen did it with those three Dublin shows in 2008, for example, but he’s unlikely to chance that sort of run again here again. Lenny Cohen, maybe? Few would have believed you if you’d said back in 2007 that he’d prove to be a steady seller year in and year out in Ireland, but that’s turned out to be the case. People are still flockinhg to see Lenny, though there are very few other acts who can emulate that pulling power, especially when they’re not having the big ol’ hits.
It’s also worth noting again that there are no new names or breakthrough acts mentioned above. The number of acts likely to go from selling out the O2 to filling Croke Park or the RDS is beginning to shrink with every passing year. We’ve reached a point where the supply is beginning to dry up because, thanks to changes in the music industry’s business model, medium-sized acts are not becoming big acts in the way they used to. This is going to cause problems down the line because, despite what some might think, Springsteen and Cohen won’t be around forever.