TORONTO — The summer concert season is typically marked by extravagance: heavyweight bands, elaborate stage shows and packed festivals with extensive lineups of bands and even longer lineups for beer.
But with most of the world mired in a recession, artists and promoters are being forced to get creative to draw crowds even to the season’s biggest shows.
“We’re all under the same constraints, everybody is,” said Riley O’Connor, chairman of Live Nation Canada. “We have to manage our costs, and you have to be responsible for what you do, and make sure any chances you take are not being too crazy.”
Crazy? Like the 10-date tour that Toronto hip-hop artist k-os recently wrapped, which allowed concertgoers to pay what they wanted for his shows in exchange for admission, good karma and a free remix CD?
“People are going through a lot right now, ” he said in an interview just prior to the tour.
He’s hardly the only artist cutting a deal for fans this summer.
Country superstar Keith Urban made sure that some seats for his summer tour were available for $20, while U2 is pricing at least 10,000 tickets to all of their shows in the $30 range.
Others are enticing customers with bonus incentives. The reformed No Doubt is offering up a digital download of their entire catalogue in exchange for the purchase of a premium ticket ($42.50 before taxes and fees), while Coldplay concertgoers will receive a free live album.
Of course, many artists are personally feeling the same financial crunch as their fans, so they’ve been forced to cut costs in other ways.
Toronto singer/songwriter Sarah Slean kicks off her “Recession-ista” tour on Tuesday.
Slean will also be cutting ticket prices and touring solo without her band — though she notes that has as much to do with limiting her environmental footprint as saving money.
And each show will see Slean wearing a new dress made entirely of reclaimed second-hand garments.
“It’s the cheapest dose of fashion you can find anywhere,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto. “You can get yourself a bag’s worth of second-hand clothes and it’s up to you what you can dream up out of it.
“And you don’t need to go out and spend $200 on a stage dress.”
Concertgoers with a similar eye for value might be enticed by one of the countless festivals going on in Canada this summer.
Montreal’s Osheaga boasts Coldplay, the Beastie Boys and Rufus Wainwright, the Virgin Festival is expanding into five cities and will have acts including the Tragically Hip and the Black Eyed Peas, the Calgary Stampede will draw Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, and Kelly Clarkson and the Montreal Jazz Festival will showcase Stevie Wonder and Ornette Coleman.
Mark Monahan, executive/artistic director of the Ottawa Bluesfest, says organizers of the fest only briefly considered cutting back. Instead, they actually increased the artists budget and lured in such heavy-duty acts as Kiss, k.d. lang, Ice Cube and Stone Temple Pilots.
If it seems as though these festivals are boasting bigger names than usual, Monahan says it might be because artists are more amenable to playing festivals in the current economy.
“There definitely seems to be an onus on people playing major festivals these days,” Monahan said. “It’s a lot easier (to book acts) than it was maybe 10 years ago when playing a festival wasn’t necessarily the thing to do.”
While festivals offer artists the chance to reach a wider audience, they aren’t necessarily a sound financial proposition for corporations, says O’Connor of Live Nation Canada.
“I don’t build festivals, per se, and they’re very, very expensive to build,” he said. “You’re going into a space where you’re basically having to create all the infrastructure for (a show), as opposed to using existing infrastructure.
“I’m a great believer in using our own publicly funded infrastructures and privately supported infrastructures in this country as opposed to going out in some field and thinking I’m a hero by building my own.”
Live Nation is offering discounted 4Pack and Megaticket deals for selected shows as one incentive for concert-goers. O’Connor says his company is also scaling back the number of shows they put on, and being more selective about which venues they visit.