Call it the Gaga Effect.
It wasn’t until Lady Gaga unveiled her wildly ambitious Monster Ball Tour that her fame reached monstrous levels. The massive production numbers, augmented by dance troupes, enormous stage props and, of course, dramatic costumes, took her from singer with a pop hit to queen of pop culture faster than you could say, “Ga ga, ooh la la.”
So it’s no surprise that a whole flock of stars are super-sizing their concert experiences this summer to latch onto some of that buzz. Gaga promises a whole new show that’s “more of a musical and less of a concert” for this summer’s tour, which includes stops at Madison Square Garden July 6, 7 and 9. (Gaga is so hot that she’s already sold out return dates in February.)
But she will find far more competition in terms of big-production shows this time around, even after the high-profile postponement of the Christina Aguilera tour and the U2 360 Tour. The U2 tour, postponed to 2011 so Bono can recover from emergency back surgery, had been billing itself as “the largest rock ’n’ roll touring production ever” and was 2009’s biggest tour (it grossed $311.6 million).
Rihanna is also pulling out all the stops for her Last Girl on Earth Tour. “We’ve never done a tour to this capacity,” she says in a statement. “The production is unbelievable and the costumes, we just took it to a whole new level. Visually and sonically it’s going to be a big step up from the last time. We just keep growing, and this time it is a massive production that I cannot wait for.”
And Sting’s “Symphonicity” Tour will feature him backed by 45 members of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.
The bigger-is-better model fits into the current state of the concert business, even though so many other industries are scaling back. Music industry experts say that, despite the tough economic times, people still need to have fun. And though many music fans may be cutting back this summer, they’re willing to spend some cash on the one big, can’t-miss show, even if they might not attend their usual two or three shows for the season.
Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino says he expects his company to sell more tickets this year than last year, even though the number of concerts will be about the same. In a recent conference call, Rapino said the company, which recently merged with Ticketmaster, is focusing on how to set prices for these big shows that reflect what fans are willing to pay ticket brokers for prime seats, while not setting prices for other seats so high that they keep fans away.
“It’s much more important to figure out how to capture the $1 billion in up-sell on the face value of tickets — whether it’s seat maps, dynamic pricing or just convincing the band that the front row is worth $400, not $100,” Rapino says. “Our first goal is to figure out how to price the house right.”
The quest for bigger concert draws is also leading to a growth in the number and size of package tours this summer. In addition to perennial powerhouse the Vans Warped Tour — which includes All-American Rejects and the Rocket Summer — the Honda Civic Tour features Paramore, Tegan and Sara, and New Found Glory. The new Bamboozle Road Show features Boys Like Girls, Good Charlotte and LMFAO, among others.
However, not all packages are doing well. Last week, Sarah McLachlan admitted to Billboard that ticket sales for Lilith Fair — which returns this summer after an 11-year break — have been “pretty soft.”
Her solution is to add more star power, including Mary J. Blige, Rihanna and Selena Gomez.
Make it bigger? Gaga would, no doubt, approve.