The touring industry’s top minds gathered at New York City’s Roosevelt Hotel in November for the Billboard Touring Conference and Awards. Over two days, panels and speakers dissected the current and future state of the business. Touring monies, of course, depend on music fans filling venues, and promoters, agents, marketers, and representatives from all facets of the industry pandered to technology, connectivity, and showmanship.
The Online Experience
Julien Mitelberg, CEO of Bandsintown, a social show listing service, opened the conference by discussing how the Internet is empowering the touring industry. The Internet may be cannibalizing record sales, but for fans of live music it is a boon.
Earlier this year, for example, Bandsintown commissioned a survey from the Insight Strategy Agency to study concert-goer behavior. When fans were asked how they discovered concerts, the top two responses were (i) via the artist, and (ii) via other parties seeking out fans of the artist through email blasts or social media posts. “You have to find your fans, not the other way around”, said Mitelberg–for which “push” marketing was imperative.
Indeed, throughout the conference experts weighed in on the evolution of online marketing and how to advance the ‘find your fan’ mantra.
Problems were identified. Traditional advertising produces high numbers of impressions, but low conversion rates. Instead of placing artist ads in predictable locations, it was argued that the focus had to shift to tracking actual fans online. Well-directed online advertising trims the fat by pinpointing fans. Gogi Gupta, founder of the digital marketing agency Gupta Media, explained the concept of ‘retargeting’. When a user clicks a link to purchase an artist’s album, a cookie is embedded on a user’s browser; when the artist embarks on tour, data from the cookie is used to prompt a ticket sale. For Gupta, ‘nuanced retargeting’ is the future of online marketing.
In order for the tour to succeed, artists must still leverage their social properties. Kelly Kapp, the VP of Club and Theatre Programming for House of Blues, remarked, “if the artist doesn’t engage, you’re dead in the water.” Artist Avicii, apparently, was in this predicament: having refused to self promote and post ticketing links to his shows, ticket sales of his tour were poor despite the best efforts of his staff.
The online space is also working to enhance the fan’s ticket-buying experience. The less friction involved in the purchase, the more likely fans are to become returning clients. For Live Nation and Ticketmaster, a major focus is socializing the experience. Recently they began introducing ‘seat-tagging’ on interactive seating charts. This allows fans to see exactly where their Facebook friends are sitting. Live Nation’s VP of Social Media, Gretchen Fox, claimed remarkable results.
Perhaps the biggest development, however, was mobile ticketing. This theme carried through a number of the conference’s panels. An Internet-accessible smart phone is a modern day staple, and mobile is becoming a more feasible platform for purchasing and delivering tickets. Paul McCartney sold more tickets at a recent concert via mobile than through traditional online outlets, while Kip Levin, EVP of E-Commerce for Ticketmaster, said the company was now focused, above all, on the development of mobile platforms.
Mobile ticketing seems to be the way of the future–although there are a number of logistical and technological challenges yet to solve, including better control over the transferability of tickets. For that matter, paperless ticketing is still illegal as the only ticketing option for a show in New York.
The Offline Experience
The fan experience ultimately culminates offline in a live setting. Success there depends on good execution by the artist and his production team. Moreover, as touring has become one of the most reliable revenue streams for talent today, the pressure is arguably greater to make an impression.
Warren Haynes, a former member of the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule, dispelled illusions about life on the road. However, when he said that “no matter how bad you feel or what problems you have, you still have to deliver”, he was also reflecting about the required after-show interaction of artists with their closest fans. This was the sentiment echoed by Tre Williams, of Tre Williams & The Revelation, who quipped, “we have a job we adore, so is having our picture taken really work?” Artists, in short, have responsibilities and fans have expectations, a fact that should be remembered by all talent deriving a livelihood from music.
Beyond the artist, major industry players are working to expand and improve the live experience. Music festivals are a growing part of the live music industry today. California’s Coachella and the Magnetic Music Festival in Atlanta, Georgia were singled out.
Coachella has now become an example for fans of a social and communal experience that adds value to the music. Coachella currently offers two three-day weekends full of music and art in Indio, California. The original vision was a weekend of music in a remote location, where fans would have no choice but to “surrender to the [music]”. Its founder, Paul Tollett, was faced with the choice to expand. He could either take it on the road, offer more tickets for the one weekend, or add a second weekend with the same line up. He chose the latter to avoid compromising the concept.
Taking fan value to the limit is inviting fans to choose artist rosters online and making a festival out of those choices. This, apparently, is the business model of the young Magnetic Music Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. Its currency is growing, and the future of the live music business could easily mimic it. In this case, communities of like-minded fans would come together to support, especially, their favorite indie artists.
The Internet, therefore, would be helping to broaden the appeal of festivals and drive larger audiences to lesser-known talent.
EDM & Hip Hop, two urban genres, are also weighing strongly on developments in the live music scene. EDM and Hip-Hop fans travel to shows in packs, and the new phenomenon of ‘urban touring’ was examined. Representatives from top promotion companies and booking agencies spoke of the importance of live production in both genres, and the rich content that such shows deliver. Sensation, an indoor EDM event, made an impression on Jason Miller, President of Live Nation NY; in his own words, it reminded him of “ who I am and why I love music.” Excitement like this, particularly by a seasoned industry practitioner, bodes well for the sector.
Overall, the Billboard Touring Conference benefits from circumstance. As the record industry declines, touring becomes a crucial aspect of an artist’s career, both as a marketing platform and as a revenue generator. Still, there could be no room for complacency among attendees, particularly because music is competing today against many other sources of entertainment, each ever more exciting.
The industry, it was argued, must focus on (i) understanding fans better, (ii) connecting effectively with them, and (iii) delivering the highest standard of live performance possible. Being savvy online and astute offline, where an ever-higher degree of showmanship and production is required, is key. Unfortunately, neither guarantees success without the other–except, perhaps, for marquis acts.
By Colin Ramsay and Megan Dervin-Ackerman