The buzz

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 March, 2011, 12:00am

No need to pinch yourselves, live music fans - you're not dreaming. But you'd be forgiven for being in a constant state of surprise so far this year because of the non-stop announcements of big names coming our way.

And I'm not just talking big names, but truly massive names. In the past two weeks alone we've had live shows by Eric Clapton and Taylor Swift, two of the music industry's biggest earners in 2010, along with receiving confirmation of shows by another three industry cash cows, Bob Dylan (performing on April 12), Justin Bieber (May 13) and Avril Lavigne (May 7).

The good old days when popular recording artists were guaranteed money-making machines who also happened to sing and play instruments are over, and the major labels can no longer simply sit back, release albums and expect the cash to roll. The reason? File sharing. The labels' solution? Increased touring.

Regardless of where you stand on the piracy issue - and while I'm not going to reveal my stance, I'd still rather you didn't check the activity on my IP address - more gigs can't be anything but good news for people like me who enjoy a loud, sweaty rock concert. And don't musicians get into this game in the first place for the buzz of playing before thousands of screaming maniacs - not the dreariness of days spent hunched over a mixing desk in a recording studio?

No doubt, file sharing is taking a hefty bite out of the bottom line of the music business. Figures provided by the Recording Industry Association of America show the golden age of the music industry was between 1992 and 1999, when the average person bought about 3.5 albums per year. By 2003, sales had dropped to 2.6 albums per person and last year the figure had fallen to a miserable average of one album per year.

While digital sales have increased by a factor of about 1,000 per cent since original file-sharing website Napster arrived on the scene in 1999, changing the music industry forever, the revenue generated by such legal downloads doesn't come anywhere close to replacing the revenue lost from physical sales.

So the answer seems to have been to send these pampered pop and rock stars back on the road - and 2010 revenue figures released last month by American music industry magazine Billboard show that touring has become the most important income generator for the industry's biggest stars. While these figures only involve US revenue, they appear to be fairly consistent with those seen in the music industry worldwide.

For example, check out how some artists included in the list of the 40 highest earners - who have played in Hong Kong recently or are coming soon - fared in the touring stakes last year:

Michael Buble (No 7 on list, performing at Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 11): touring netted US$16.6 million out of total earnings of US$19.8 million.

Taylor Swift (No 6, performed at AsiaWorld-Arena on February 21): touring netted US$10.4 million out of total earnings of US$20.7 million.

Justin Bieber (No 5, performing at AsiaWorld-Arena on May 13): touring netted US$13.7 million out of total earnings of US$22.4 million.

Sitting pretty on top of the Billboard list was Lady Gaga, with massive concert earnings of US$23.8 million from a total US$30.55 million. Not that we're getting concert fatigue or anything, but Going Out wouldn't be at all surprised if the fame monster became the next big thing knocking on Hong Kong's door.