The 1 Percent: Income Inequality Has Never Been Worse Among Touring Musicians…

The internet has broken down the barrier between artists and fans, allowing anyone to distribute their music without the help of a record label via services such as iTunes and Spotify.  So how come spending on live gigs is more concentrated on the top 1% of touring acts than ever before? A decade old study may hold the answer.

The study, based on Pollstar figures, shows that between 1982 and 2003 the share of concert revenue that went to the top 1% of touring acts more than doubled, from 26% to 56%.  The digital era doesn’t seem to have reversed this trend either, as numbers from February through June this year show that top percent grabbing 56.3% of live revenue.

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Now, let’s take a look at the average age of the top grossing artists.  If one ever needed proof of the live industry belonging to artists that launched at least 30 years ago, one need only look at this summer’s festival season in the UK.

Having already played Wembley Stadium (capacity 90,000) a couple of weeks ago, 63-year-old Bruce Springsteen came back to headline Hard Rock Calling (capacity 60,000) last weekend.

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Meanwhile, the 50-year-old band the Rolling Stones helped make the legendary 43-year-old Glastonbury festival “the best yet,” according to its founder Michael Evis, with a record-breaking 100,000 people of all ages heaving in front of the Pyramid stage to catch a glimpse of the band.

Both acts received huge critical acclaim for their performances – as opposed to Mumford and Sons, who headlined Glastonbury’s Sunday night slot.  The performances by Chic (Nile Rodgers is 60 years old) and Kenny Rogers (74) were also lauded as particular highlights of the festival.

This coming weekend, Bon Jovi and the Stones play the 65,000-capacity Hyde Park – with Elton John (66), Ray Davies (69), Elvis Costello (58) and Lionel Richie (64) playing the following weekend.

So far it looks like the average age of the world’s top 10 highest grossing touring acts of 2013 could push above last year’s average age of 54, when, apart from the Stones and Springsteen, the list included Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Roger Waters, Aerosmith, Metallica, and Madonna, who topped the list.

Not only has the concentration stayed the same – the majority of top earners have largely remained the same, as all the artists mentioned above, apart from Roger Waters, were also among the 10 highest-grossing acts back in 2003.

In other words, the chart continues to be dominated by artists who broke through when income from touring was spread out over a much larger number of artists.

Note that in 1982 almost 40% of the revenue was divided between the “bottom” 95% of artists, while in 2003 they received only 15% of all revenue.

Could it be that these top-grossing artists benefited from launching in an era when artists didn’t have to be in the top 1% to develop a healthy live following over years of touring?

It appears that while music fans are happy to listen a broad range of artists online, they prefer to spend their hard-earned money ona few big concerts a year rather than spreading it out on a higher number of mid-range gigs.

Not only is the wider middle class in society shrinking, so is the musician middle class.

As artists are increasingly expected to earn their living from touring instead of record sales, will artists starting out today be able to stick around long enough to become the festival headliners and stadium fillers of 2043?

The graph, originally published in 2003 by Alan B. Krueger, Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers, was modified to include more updated stats.

23 Responses

  1. Paul

    While you Americans are bending over to pirates, waiting for them to exterminate you and your families, a filmmaker in the EU won a compensation against a piracy website that exploited his work.
    Imagine what would happen if all indie artists acted like that.
    But, no, let the pirates profit, that’s what EFF likes. And we can’t harm EFF’s feelings…

    • Casey

      I think if all indie artists acted like that all indie artists would be bankrupt. “Pirate” websites very rarely pay up and for every one that falls another ten appear. The cost of going after them is endless.

      • Visitor

        “”Pirate” websites very rarely pay up and for every one that falls another ten appear. The cost of going after them is endless.”
        Of all your endless pro-piracy comments, this may be the most ridiculous.
        It’s fast, cheap and easy to block pirate sites — and that goes for original sites as well as proxies , so you can forget about the Pirate Industry’s trite whack-a-mole/hydra propaganda.
        The Brits have shown us a glimpse of the future:
        “As the music and movie business continues to streamline and hone their processes on the back of the experiences of past experiences, blocking websites via the High Court is getting close to a formality in the UK and could soon be the same in Ireland”

        • Visitor from 2099

          The piracy century is over! Just read this article about how the Klingon Federation is dealing with piracy:

        • Visitor

          Take down a piracy website, five more pop up. Combine that with justifiable concern about internet censorship laws (SOPA/PIPA), and growing usage of VPNs.
          Fighting piracy is pointless. Ultimately, a large number of people don’t see it as morally objectable and that’s not changing anytime soon. Tough laws just make people angry.

          • ReasonDammit

            By that rationale, why prosecute human traffickers, burglars, mobsters, thieves, con artists, corrupt cops, ponzi schemers, date rapists, counterfitters, etc, etc, etc.
            Your line of argument makes no sense whatsoever. It is rhetoric without substance.

  2. Visitor

    “will artists starting out today be able to stick around long enough to become the festival headliners and stadium fillers of 2043?”
    Yes — provided we stop Mainstream Piracy.
    Without cash, you can’t develop talent.

    • Visitor

      The stop piracy ship has sailed. Adapt or become irrelevant.

      • Marcus Aurelius

        Actually, it’s just beginning to set sail. And pirates days are numbered. Human kind has two major desires among many: A desire for freedom and a desire for control. To say that one or the other is always dominant in all things is to be a poor student of history.

  3. hippydog

    Quote “So how come spending on live gigs is more concentrated on the top 1% of touring acts than ever before? ”
    I think theres a much simpler answer then blaming it on technology.. If maybe I should say, they (THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE) seems to be trying to blame it on the WRONG technology..
    Heres the thing, what technology came out in the early 1980’s that had a huge effect on the type of music.. ? .. .. CD’s (and disco, that may also be to blame LOL).. but its not unreasonable to look at many of the bands that came out in the 70’s & early 80’s and compare them to the bands that followed.. The strong “every song was good” that happened with LP’s, started fading away with the advent of the digital CD.. (but thats a whole nother article in itself)
    Also, if you look at who was buying the music back then, your looking at a huge market called the Baby Boomers, who also heavily influenced the concert going money power of the after bump..
    (I couldnt find the original article on this) but Studies have been done suggesting that the avg persons musical tastes get “locked in” before the age of 30.. so think about that :-) .. The baby boomer generation pretty much “locked in” their music favorites BEFORE 1989
    All incidental stuff! I agree.. but my point is..
    Its just as valid as pointing your finger at anything else.. The “chart” is meaningless without context..
    and.. the data is not exactly perfect..
    quote from original article ” Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard says Krugman is on to something, calling Pollstar’s data “deeply flawed for this study” because it excludes small venues and “is self reported by the individuals who are judged by it. Foxes guarding hen houses!””

  4. rastamouse

    The Quarterly: Will the Internet bring down barriers, making markets more democratic?
    Eric Schmidt: I would like to tell you that the Internet has created such a level playing field that the long tail is absolutely the place to be—that there’s so much differentiation, there’s so much diversity, so many new voices.Unfortunately, that’s not the case. What really happens is something called a power law, with the property that a small number of things are very highly concentrated and most other things have relatively little volume. Virtually all of the new network markets follow this law.
    So, while the tail is very interesting, the vast majority of revenue remains in the head. And this is a lesson that businesses have to learn. While you can have a long tail strategy, you better have a head, because that’s where all the revenue is.
    And, in fact, it’s probable that the Internet will lead to larger blockbusters and more concentration of brands. Which, again, doesn’t make sense to most people, because it’s a larger distribution medium. But when you get everybody together they still like to have one superstar. It’s no longer a US superstar, it’s a global superstar. So that means global brands, global businesses, global sports figures, global celebrities, global scandals, global politicians.

    • Visitor

      I would like to spend half an hour with Eric Schmidt in a room. Just the two of us.

      • Visitor

        The line to give him a handjob forms over there.

        • Visitor

          That’s how you call beating mafia bosses in your country? Strange.

  5. Henry Chatfield

    I think this basically comes down to the point that hippydog made that the baby boomers are locked into these specific artists. To go one step further, the reason they are spending so much money is because they have the money. Their disposable income is likely much larger than their contemporaries in their 20’s and so the Stone’s have a higher ticket value because their fans are able and willing to pay it.
    While the average age is over 50 for the top grossing artists, I’d argue that the average age for top paying fan is also above 50.

  6. danwriter

    The older artists also came up in a much different era. They were able to connect with fans more deeply. There simply wasn’t a whole lot else to do in the 70s and 80s. (Not counting blow.) The putative manifold points of connectivity between artists and fans in the last decade are more noise than anything else. These aren’t connections — these are hookups. And this article has nothing tyo do with piracy. You wanna kill pirates? Join the Navy.

    • youmissedaspot

      That would be a compelling argument if not for the fact that people are actually listening to MORE music than ever before, not less. They’re just not paying it for it as much anymore, because a whole bunch of illegal and unethical pirate middlemen realized they could make heaps of money by getting between the artists and the listeners, and siphon of ALL of the money, instead if just “some”.

  7. JOE

    It’s not just pirates. how many times has someone said to you; “i’ll burn you a copy”, and how many times have you said “it’s alright, i’d rather buy it”?
    in the old days, each generation of tape copy sounded worse. nowadays, people burn, copy, share, etc, and musicians take the hit. i think the answer is in coding tracks to limit copies and sharing.

  8. Musicmaker

    Musicmaker Wednesday, July 10, 2013
    Maybe it’s just because so much, if not all, of the current crop of bands and songs are just plain crappy? Who wants to pay to go see talentless ‘Artists’ max-out the Auto-Tune or holler monotoned unintelligable meaningless ‘lyrics’ set to unimaginitive, ridiculously simplistic, uninteresting ‘melodies’? Perhaps it’s simply a matter of the quality of talent or lack thereof.

  9. BigCity

    Or the fact that these concerts cost 10-20 times more than the bottom 99%…

  10. Achille

    Although a chunk of the ‘musician middle class’ has moved to EDM and the data used in this article is partial, these figures are nevertheless distressing.
    But there are reasons to be optimistic: the current headliner generation is on its last leg and must soon be replaced while the revolution under way in royalties tracking will benefit this ‘middle class’ because up to now there was a premium on headline artists in royalties distribution.
    Maybe this situation is also a savage comment on the present generation…

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