Such shows tend to receive positive critical attention, but the current transformation of the music marketplace suggests that albums are being presented onstage because they’re becoming museum-ified relics. As digital downloading changes the way music is consumed, could the album be going live because it’s dead?
Maybe the album’s dead; but then, maybe it isn’t. It’s become a commonplace that albums are losing their authority as artistic entities as an increasing number of people buy music song by song via services like iTunes. So playing an album live helps artists regain a modicum of creative control. The experience is like listening to a playlist, but this time (as earlier) it’s the musicians and producers themselves who are devising it.
What’s curious is that the same changes in music consumption that are hurting the album are helping to keep it alive. As recorded-music sales decline in a digital era of single-track sales and outright piracy, concert revenues are robust and, while always crucial to the financial health of the typical band or musician, even more important now. Performing an album live, then, is a way to stand out. It’s “a way to get people to come in and buy a ticket in a very competitive market,” Jethro Tull’s front man, Ian Anderson, said.
It all added up to another growth year in the concert business, whose total revenue in North America increased 16% over 2005, to $3.6 billion. The number of tickets sold for the Top 100 tours was 37.9 million, an increase of 4.4%, and the average ticket price rose 8%, to $61.45.