The LA Times put together a nice Forbes-esque review of musicians who made the most money in 2007, and the results are frightening. Not just because record sales were off 15% last year, or the concert industry fell about 10%, but because of the artists on their list, and more importantly, those artists’ respective ages.
The “winners” were, in order: The Police, Josh Groban, Justin Timberlake, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw / Faith Hill, Hannah Montana, Rascall Flatts, Celine Dion, Bon Jovi, Rod Stewart, the Eagles, Genesis, Bruce Springsteen, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Dave Matthews Band, Billy Joel, “High School Musical 2″ and Linkin Park.
Of the artists and bands above, only 6 are (or are fronted by) people under 30: Groban (26), Timberlake (26), Miley Cyrus (15), Underwood (24), “High School Musical 2″ (Starring Zac Efron at 20 and Vanessa Hudgen at 19) and Linkin Park (members all in late twenties or early thirties).
Now, you could make the case that for marketing purposes, Rascal Flatts (all members over 32) and Dave Matthews (41) could all be included in the above group...
because a large percentage of their ticket and record buying market falls in the under 30 age group. But by the same token, the average age of somebody buying a Hannah Montana ticket or High School Musical CD is probably well over 30 (gifts*), and the target market for both Josh Groban (Oprah watching housewives, to horribly generalize) and Carrie Underwood (American Idol fans, as well as country fans, who aren’t as age-focused as pop music buyers) undoubtedly swings older than 30 on average. So four of twenty is being “accurate” for my purposes (target market assessment), and six is being generous. That makes the following statement important and very scary:
Only about one fourth (four, maybe five, possibly six out of twenty) of the most lucrative artists in the music industry last year were under 30, or were marketed primarily to buyers under 30.
Why is this scary? Everyone keeps saying “thank God The Police put their differences aside last year” or “lets hope Led Zeppelin does a full on world tour next year”. Sure, this is great for now, but it ignores the 800 pound gorilla in the room: these guys aren’t recording anything new, and eventually, the Zeppelins, the Van Halens, the Billy Joels and Paul McCartneys and Mick Jaggers of the world will not be able to tour any more. Or their fans will be too old to climb the steps in the arena. Or big box retailers will stop carrying CDs altoghther, and these older acts targets audiences will stop buying their music instead of venturing online. Or all of the above. And when this happens, music is in serious trouble.
The long tail is largely to blame here. When these old bands came up, they were the entertainment. Their concert was the thing going on in any given city that night, their appearance on a late show was the thing to watch that night (think The Beatles on Ed Sullivan). Now, there is just too much going on at any given time to get that sort of attention. From Wikipedia:
“The long tail is the colloquial name for a long-known feature of some statistical distributions… In these distributions a high-frequency or high-amplitude population is followed by a low-frequency or low-amplitude population which gradually “tails off”. In many cases the infrequent or low-amplitude events — the long tail — can make up the majority of the graph, and the majority of the area under the line.”
Consider this… When The Beatles made that famous Ed Sullivan appearance 1964, there were only 3 options available to most viewers who turned on the TV that night; CBS, NBC (finally at that point mostly in color) and ABC. 73 million people tuned in to see The Beatles… that is half as many as last year’s Super Bowl. Today, I turn on my TV and I’ve got 150 stations, several dedicated to music. Yes, the major networks are still there (and still have a lot of the great content), but I will inevitably be drawn away at some point by ESPN, Comedy Central, HBO, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet. And that’s if I even turn my TV on… I might head to YouTube instead. Or I might break out my Xbox / PS3 / Wii, or watch a DVD. These things simply were not options in music’s heyday.
Now apply the same long tail across all entertainment, and how it affects music purchasing habits… A 17 year old kid has 50 bucks to blow, or one cool request that will be granted for his or her birthday… Is he going to go for that Fall Out Boy ticket, or will he opt for the wildly popular Halo 3? Will it be a new CD, or the new Harry Potter movie? A $50 hooded sweatshirt at a concert, or a couple of equal quality at Pac Sun or Old Navy?
The average amount of expendable dollars people under 30 have hasn’t kept up with the amount of ways to spend it since that Ed Sullivan appearance. Some kids are inevitably going to choose movies or video games or whatever else. But music, recorded and live alike, needs to do something to remain a competitive choice, or it’ll continue to see 10 and 15% drops every year. Concert tickets need to come down in price, as do the merch and concessions — a Red Hot Chilli Peppers hooded sweatshirt should not cost 5 times what one from Old Navy costs, and a Miller Lite shouldn’t be marked up 6 times the second I step in to a venue. It scares people away. Additionally, recorded music can’t continue to cost a dollar a track — it would cost my brother over $30,000 to legally fill his new iPod at that price; he’s going to fill it for free instead, I’m sure.
There will have to be sacrifices, in artist signing guarantees, in record label CEO paychecks, and more, but common sense (and experience) tell me that if that Miller Lite is $3 instead of $6, than I’ll buy two. And if that ticket is $30 instead of $50, a few more of my buddies might come with me. And while we are there, a few of us might drop some money for the privilege of wearing your logo on our chests, provided the opportunity cost isn’t sacrificing the next two weeks of groceries. And in the process of selling all this stuff (at slightly lower prices, sure, but more of it) you might just make some new fans. We’ll walk out of the show with a good taste in our mouths, and we’ll tell our friends. And then, maybe a few of us and our friends, now also fans, will spring for the merchandise over the video game, or the live concert DVD over the Transformers on Blu-Ray.
And maybe the next time Josh Groban or Justin Timberlake or Linkin Park are in town, we’ll think back and remember that great shirt we bought for a decent price, or all the beers we shared with friends, and we’ll want to go again. And hell, the ticket isn’t a rip off, so we might as well buy the new tracks too, so we can sing along, right?
*Silver lining alert: Disney is training a generation to enjoy the concert experience (and to appreciate recorded music) with its High School Musical / Hannah Montana / Jonas Brothers stuff (turning anything any of them do in to big news for tweens and their adult keepers alike). And while I don’t believe any of those artists will be around as this group’s musical tastes mature, its possible their desire to participate in this stuff will live on. Hopefully there will be something left to buy at that point.