Music Notes

Skyrocketing ticket prices kept summer concertgoers away in droves, according to reports in the entertainment industry and financial press in mid-October. The summer 2004 concert season was one of the slowest ever, with some superstars canceling shows and others moving planned arena or amphitheater events into smaller venues. Previously one of the summer's most popular events, the Lollapalooza tour was cancelled due to slow ticket sales.

This past spring saw ticket prices for big acts go off the charts, from $70–80 for terrible seats to the low hundreds for merely good seats, to the high hundreds for special accommodations. Citing growing demands by performers, concert promoters pushed prices to the limit, and music fans voted with their dollars. According to one report, overall revenue for concert promoters was off 40% for the four-month period from June through September compared to 2003. "You talk yourself into believing you can sell 13,000 to 14,000 tickets at $70, and the public comes back and says you can sell 9000," House of Blues Concerts vice president Alex Hodges told The Wall Street Journal.

Artists are demanding higher performance fees, typically structured as guarantees in concert contracts, to offset dwindling CD sales. High fees mean that concerts have to be nearly sold out to be profitable for promoters. One way to combat the problem is by cutting the prices of low-to-mid-priced tickets a day or two before the scheduled event. Both Clear Channel Entertainment and House of Blues have done this, cutting by 50% the price of tickets in the $20 to $40 range. That may be an increasingly popular strategy next summer.

On the recording front, Starbucks coffee chain is making good on its promise to install CD-burning kiosks in its stores. On October 14, the Seattle-based company announced the launch of "Hear Music" media systems in its Seattle and Austin cafes. Starbucks began offering its own CD compilations for sale with $5 lattes, after acquiring Hear Music in an $8 million deal in 1999.

The Hear Music stations will consist of several PCs with flat screen monitors, where customers can pick their selections from a 200,000-title catalog, and determine the order in which they will be burned on the discs. The price will be $8.99 for seven songs, with a 99¢ surcharge for each extra tune—or approximately $16 for a 14-song compilation. Customers will be permitted to design their own CD covers, also printed on site, and won't be subjected to a time limit while browsing, a situation likely to result in more coffee sales, as well as possible anger among overly caffeinated music fans waiting to use the computers. Tower Records and Virgin Megastores are also going to try in-store CD burning this fall.