Before the rock show begins, mindless chatter and background music fill the venue as roadies set up the opening act’s instruments. A cloud carrying a whiff of weed floats across the crowd. Then, the lights die. Pandemonium erupts. Everyone begins screaming, clumsily stepping on each other’s feet and shoving forward in hopes of crashing in front of the stage. As the band plays, each person presses against the sweaty bodies of others in the sea of fans —this is the collective effervescence of the concert experience, and today it is often more important than the music itself.
“The artist that you see often involves the crowd and you just feed off of each other’s energy in that moment,” said William Lopez, 20, about the musician-fan relationship at concerts.
Many fans, like Lopez, say attending concerts is important for that relationship and fans choose to support their favorite artist this way rather than buying their music. In the digital age, the primary source of profit for musicians has shifted from recorded music to concert touring, which has become the primary means of survival.
The drop in recorded music sales followed the 1999 release of Napster, a file-sharing service, according to Recording Industry Association of America. Between 1999 and 2014, music sales decreased about 52 percent, from $14.6 billion to $7.0 billion.
“The contraction of recorded revenue has occurred at the exact same time that the live music sector has undergone a renaissance,” wrote Mark Mulligan, music industry analyst, on his website.
In the decade before Napster, ticket sales increased about 36 percent, from $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion, according to the data website Statista.
However, since the file-sharing site launched, concert revenue has filled the loss in record music sales. Between 1999 and 2014, ticket sales in North America have increased 313 percent, from $1.5 billion to $6.2 billion, according to Statista.
“It isn’t and hasn’t been about profiting from recorded music sales for a while. Many artists see those platforms merely as a way to get their music out there, i.e., promotion,” said Binta Niambi Brown, CEO of Fermata Entertainment, a company that counsels emerging artists in the music industry.
Although ticket sales have increased, overall attendance in the U.S. has only increased 11 percent between 2003 and 2011, according to research conducted by Americans for the Arts. Rather than selling more tickets, musicians are raising ticket prices to increase revenue.
Lopez spends about $1,500 each year attending more than 10 concerts and music festivals, for which he is willing to fly out of state.
“I think why I spend so much money to see the band perform live rather than purchasing the CD or record is because you get way more out of your money,” he said. “I get the pleasure of singing along with others who like the same music and I meet new people who may turn into long-time friends.”
Buying concert tickets is more than paying for the music. It is paying for the live performance, the experience and the strengthened relationship with the people who create that music, fans say. The crowd is swept up in an emotional connectedness, a sense of unity as they forget about their individual lives, as the fans push closer to the stage and reach out for the singer’s hand, crowd surf, stage dive and mosh.
“It’s crowded and sweaty and loud, and it makes my ears ring,” said Allie Salsman, 19, describing the rock show experience. “It’s kind of a rush and an exciting feeling hearing your favorite songs live.”
Despite the popularity of concert tours, with the large decrease in music sales many speculate whether musicians will make enough money to keep their careers alive.
“Artists will be able to make a living, but it requires different thinking and better strategy, reducing key cost, making better use of current and emerging technologies,” says Brown.