As record sales drop, singers share spotlight at festivals

Javi Amaro has ridden a mechanical surfboard, performed karaoke and had a bite to eat - but four hours after arriving at one of the world's biggest music festivals he has yet to attend a concert.

"There are a tonne of things to do here. Later on we are going to listen to Shakira perform," the 23-year-old told AFP as he waited in line with a group of friends on Saturday to rappel a rope laid over the crowd attending a concert by R&B singer Rihanna at the Rock in Rio Madrid festival.

With album sales worldwide down sharply due to the popularity of Internet downloads, artists are increasingly looking to live music perfomances to make up for lost income.

And to draw bigger crowds - and maximize revenues - concert and music festivals like Rock in Rio are offering an expanding array of attractions, from carnival rides to fireworks, along with upscale foods, souvenirs and VIP packages that can include backstage access in addition to prime seating.

The event's 200,000-square-metre (240,000-square-yard) grounds at Arganda del Rey near Madrid, dubbed "Rock City" by organisers, include a ferris wheel and other carnival rides as well as several restaurants, bars and shops selling souvenirs ranging from T-shirts to necklaces and lighters.

A major Spanish department store stages fashion shows daily at the festival, which got underway Friday and wraps up on June 14 when heavy metal veterans Metallica headline, and gives festival-goers the opportunity to strut their stuff on the catwalk like a top model.

In another corner of the grounds, actors recreate the "Bed-In for Peace" staged by John Lennon and Yoko Ono at an Amsterdam hotel during the Vietnam War in 1969, providing a much sought-after photo opportunity for the crowds.

"Rock in Rio is a theme park more than a music festival," the event's 61-year-old Brazilian founder, Roberto Medina, told daily Spanish newspaper El Pais last week.

At the Glastonbury Festival later this month in England, organisers plan to offer circus acts and food from Michelin starred chefs along with the music while the Oxegen festival in July Ireland will offer a complete funfair.

Gary Bongiovonni, the president of Pollstar, a California-based company that provides worldwide concert tour information at its popular web site, said the live music business has "grown significantly" at the same time as the revenue from record sales which artists traditionally relied on "has largely dried up".

"The revenue streams are much greater from merchandise and everything else associated with going on the road," he told AFP.

"Twenty years ago artists used to tour to sell records, today they tour to make money and maybe they sell a few extra records along the way."

Worldwide ticket sales more than doubled in 2009 from 1.7 billion dollars (1.4 billion euros) in 2000 while compact disc sales fell 65 percent during this time, according to Billboard magazine.

The growing importance of income from live performances to artists was underscored when Madonna left her long-time record label, Warner Music, to sign an exclusive deal with Live Nation, the world's largest concert promoter.

The formula appears to work.

Organisers of Rock in Rio Madrid expect the total audience of this edition to reach 320,000 people, up from 290,000 when it was first staged in Madrid in 2008 despite an economic downturn which has hit Spain hard.

General admission tickets cost 69 euros (82.50 dollars) while a VIP entry which provides access to an air conditioned tent with a good view of the main stage as well as catering service goes for 275 euros.

"It is a bit expensive but it is more than just a concert, it is a huge party," said Carmen Garcia, 27, who wore red sunglasses in the shape of hearts, as she sat on a bean bag in a chill out zone of the festival with friends.

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