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Lessons in Modern Rockonomics: Most fans are saving up their money to watch big acts like Madonna and Bruce Springsteen


One of Princeton University economist Alan Krueger’s specialist subjects is analysing rock-concert revenue data. In 2004 and 2005 he wrote two papers called Rockonomics and was recently invited to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame to talk about his new findings, which aren’t likely to please smaller artists. Here are some of his findings:

Small is still small

Niche acts have retained as tiny a share of gig sales as they did 10 years ago, despite the internet allowing them to connect to potential fans in a way they had never done before. Although services such as iTunes, YouTube and Spotify have made it easier for music fans to discover new and smaller artists, and Twitter and Facebook can act as low-cost marketing tools, this hasn’t translated into increased ticket sales for such bands. With live performances being one of the main ways to make money now that no one bothers to pay for music anymore, this isn’t great news for smaller artists.

Beware of Bruce

The top 1 per cent of artists now take a larger share of total ticket revenue: 56.3 per cent in 2013 as opposed to 22 per cent 30 years ago. It seems most people are saving up their money to watch Madonna rather than going to see lots of smaller acts (Bruce Springsteen and Tim McGraw were the other two top grossing musical acts in the US last year).

We may have reached peak ticket price

It’s not all bad news. Although superstars have been able to raise ticket prices over the last 20 years, it is predicted that eventually they will not be able to do that. So smaller bands might be able to take a greater percentage of ticket sales. Or fans could start to pay for concert streams. But when half the crowd seems to be recording amateur footage on their phones and uploading it to YouTube, is anyone prepared to pay for it?