Big stars not working in concert with fans

Barbra Streisand performs at London's 02 Arena in July.

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Kai Ryssdal: Never mind that David Lee Roth is 51 years old now. Van Halen, the band he helped make famous, announced plans for a 25-city tour this week. Starts September 27 in Charlotte, N.C. if you're a fan.

In Europe this summer, though, some of the biggest names in music have been having a rough time. Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports now from London on rockers in a hard place.


Stephen Beard: David Bowie, one of rock's shrewdest operators, spotted the problem some time ago:

[Music: "Golden Years" by David Bowie]

The Golden Age of record sales is dead. Downloading has done for CDs. Live music, said Bowie, is where the real money is. He urged his fellow megastars to follow "The Bowie Principle," and hit the road.

Ludo Hunter-Tilney of The Financial Times:

Ludo Hunter-Tilney: Bowie's idea was that in an age where music is permanently on tap, it ceases to have the same value that it used to have, when you could shift it as vinyl or as CDs. Therefore, the way in which a performer can maximize their income is by going out to play live shows.

And boy, have they been going out to play live shows. This summer, some of rock and pop's most venerable acts have been practically bumping into each other on the road. The Rolling Stones, The Who, Genesis, Police, and the grandmother of them all:

[Music: "The Way We Were" by Barbra Streisand]

Barbra Streisand's money-making exercise has been the most blatant. Some of the seats at her British concerts cost $1,600. And yet in Britain, says author Neil McCormick, there was no shortage of loyal fans to fill the audience.

Neil McCormick: There were people sitting not only in front of her and to the side of her, but behind her. You know, who've paid at least 100 Pounds for the privilege of watching the back of her head. In which case you need to be a particular Barbra Streisand obsessive — or else a hairdresser.

But that was Britain, where pop music is a national obsession and people love to splash their money around. In continental Europe, it's been a different matter. When Streisand crossed the English Channel and tried to sell her tickets at up to $750 a pop, she got a cool reception, says Ludo Hunter-Tilney.

Hunter-Tilney: In Paris, she played to a pretty thinly populated concert hall. Indeed, punters had to be moved from the cheaper seats to more expensive ones to give it the appearance of being fuller than it really was.

Amid much grumbling from consumer groups about the ticket prices, Streisand called off planned shows in Rome and Nice. And, says Hunter-Tilney, she's not the only aging megastar to face a fans' revolt in Europe this summer.

Hunter-Tilney: The Who and George Michael both cancelled shows on continental Europe. And the Rolling Stones as well, also, came something of a cropper in Paris lately, when they played the Stade De France and were somewhat embarrassed to see it less full than they might have wished.

[Music: "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones]

Another reason the aging stars may not be getting what they want in continental Europe is that there are just too many of them on the road too often, says Neil McCormick.

McCormick: There was time when they had a rarity or a scarcity value, and I can remember as a young man it was like, "Let's go and see the Rolling Stones. You might never see them again." Well, you know, couple of years later, you did see them again.

And again and again. He's seen them five times already.

Perhaps the wandering megastars need to pay closer attention to The Bowie Principle: when music becomes too readily available, people are less prepared to pay for it.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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