Why Are So Many Concert Tours Getting Canceled?

Last week, the rapper and lightning rod Sexyy Red made headlines for her tour being on the verge of cancelation, rumored to be due to low ticket sales. I had a hunch about it, so I googled and confirmed my suspicions: Just about every stop on Sexyy Red’s tour was an arena show. Now, you will not hear any slander about her from me. I think she’s the female ’06 Gucci Mane we deserve, but Gucci wouldn’t be able to fill an arena either. Virality may translate to attention and even streams, but it still does not translate to ticket sales or actual cash. And arena acts are not born fully formed from the aether: They must hone their live performance craft at smaller venues over many years.

It’s not just Sexyy Red suffering. Last month both Jennifer Lopez and the Black Keys had to cancel their U.S. arena tours, with the Black Keys deciding to do a much more intimate venue tour instead—”intimate” being a favored buzzword here, meaning “smaller.” Big arena tours are down across the board, and even the ones that aren’t outright canceled might have rows and rows of unsold seats. Just the other day, my roommate expressed real surprise that an October Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes show at Barclays had tickets still available for as cheap as $40. Do a lot of people in Brooklyn want to see Missy and Busta in 2024? Sure. Are there 19,000 of them?

What’s the cause of all this? The entire industry is asking, and there is no one answer, but a lot of factors in play. For one, the live ticket market, particularly in big arenas, is tanking after a robust couple post-lockdown years. People have less money to spend, and they’re not spending it on live shows. Which is bad news for artists, because touring is kind of one of the last ways for them to make actual money.

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Which brings us to another culprit in all of this: corporate mega-promoters like Live Nation, which has a chokehold on the live concert industry so tight it’s being sued by the Department of Justice for antitrust violations. Live Nation has steadily raised prices and fees for years, have squeezed out a lot of smaller venues, and their relationship with major labels means that some artists who haven’t proven anything beyond fitting into a Spotify algorithm are attempting big arena tours. There’s also ego involved in this, or the egos of the team behind an artist: Everyone wants to believe they can sell out arenas whether they’ve proven it or not. It’s a public humbling to make the move the Black Keys did. But arena tours need early ticket sales to prop them up and prove their viability, and the early market is in terrible shape, particularly with specialized social media accounts surfacing cheap, available tickets around the country.

Incidentally, with all these canceled and low selling tours, there’s never been a better time to see a concert that isn’t related to Beyoncé or Taylor Swift. Shows and festivals have tickets going for under face value up until the night of, and even big-time artists are seeing a drop in prices on the resale market. But if you’re an artist that isn’t a megastar, it’s probably time to do some smaller shows, with a sold-out crowd that’s excited to see you.

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