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Musicians big and small compete for summer concert sales

Madonna begins her worldwide summer tour today in Israel. Shows have already sold out around the world.

David Brancaccio: Madonna begins her worldwide summer tour today in Israel. Live Nation, the big promoter behind the concerts says shows have already sold out around the world. But in the likely event you are not Madonna, how do you make money on tour?

Sally Herships reports.


Sally Herships: Here's a take on the music business from a band member's perspective. Dave Jonston plays banjo for the Yonder Mountain String Band.

Dave Jonston: My tour song would be 'I woke up today, but there was only McDonald's.' You know, something terrible like that.

That's his spring-fall tour song. His summer one goes more like this:

Jonston: Dom dom dom dom dom dom. It's fast, there's a lot more going on.

Johnston says his bluegrass band will play 13 concerts this summer -- more than ever. Small bands like his have to tour more because in the digtal age of iTunes and pirating, it's really hard to make money selling records.

Jonston: The more advanced things became, the more the old way of making money in music became more pronounced.

And much more competitive.

Jake Friedman: I've never seen so many bands on tour.

That's Jake Friedman. He manages the Dirty Projectors, a rock band that's set to tour with Jay-Z in the fall. The Projectors are hitting Brooklyn in July, where they hope to sell 6,000 tickets at $30 a pop for a concert in Prospect Park.

Friedman: I joke these all these festivals that pop up in Brooklyn. I joke: 'Every night is a festival.' Every night is an exhaustively curated list of all the bands I'd happily go see.

Live Nation -- the mega concert promoter behind Madonna, Nicki Minaj and the Beach Boys -- says its concert ticket sales were up about 25 percent in the first quarter. One reason? High ticket prices. Decent seats for stars like Madonna can easily run a couple hundred dollars apiece.

John Sher: People who are big fans will save up, will skip lunch for a week to go to those shows and those ticket prices are in the stratosphere.

John Sher is an independent promoter in New York. He's handled acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Gypsy Kings. He says huge promoters, like Live Nation and AEG, who control most of the big names, have squeezed the rest of the business.

Sher: We used to run 300-plus shows a year, now we do about 100.

But Sher adds one high note: sales for the summer look good so far.

In New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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