In a dismal year for the music touring industry, with ticket prices soaring and seats going unsold, music fans in North America partied like it was 1989 as Prince and Madonna topped the concert box office. According to freshly tabulated estimates provided by concert trade publication Pollstar, Prince sold $87.4 million in tickets in 2004, while Madonna earned $79.5 million. Prince also worked a bit harder for his payday, playing 96 shows, compared with 39 for Madonna. Canadian pop singer Celine Dion actually topped Madonna by about $900,000, but her haul came exclusively from 154 dates performed at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas as part of a four-year engagement at the casino. Next on Pollstar's list were hard rock warriors Metallica ($60.5 million), singer-comedian Bette Midler ($59.4 million), reunited rock band Van Halen, and country singer Kenny Chesney ($50.8 million).
Among all-time tours, Prince's "Musicology" road show ranks eighth. The Rolling Stones, expected to return to the road in the summer, top the list with sales of $121.2 million from their 1994 tour. It was a good year for Prince, 46, whose idiosyncratic ways had taken him out of the mainstream for a decade. In February he performed at the Grammys; in March he stole the show at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and hit the road to play sold-out arenas. But most musicians found the going tough. "With few exceptions, every act had some places where they didn't do well," Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni told Reuters.
Higher ticket prices did not help. Pollstar calculated that average prices rose 3.5% to $52.06 in 2004. By contrast, core consumer prices rose 2.2% in the year to November, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Average prices were actually higher at mid year--$58.71--before rampant discounting by promoters faced with poorly attended venues during the key summer touring season. Honors for the highest average price went to Elton John (number 10, $43.3 million), who charged $158.22 for the average ticket, followed by Madonna at $143.59 a pop. An average Prince ticket cost just $61.04.
Overall, Pollstar estimated that gross sales rose almost 1% to $1.96 billion in 2004, with the number of tickets sold down by nearly 3% to 37.6 million. Prince accounted for 1.43 million of those tickets, followed by Chesney (1.14 million) and Metallica (1.05 million). Apportioning the blame for the downturn depends on who you ask. Promoters say the artists demand too much money, forcing them, in turn, to charge higher ticket prices. Artists say promoters keep offering more lucrative deals, which they can hardly reject, especially when CD sales are weak. Either way, more and more fans decided to stay home, especially if their favorite artists had already passed through recently. "Some acts have toured too much," said Bongiovanni, citing Rod Stewart (number 11 with $42.5 million) and Aerosmith (number 21, $25.6 million) as examples.
Among the high-profile disasters was Lollapalooza, the annual rock touring festival, which was canceled before the first show. Jazz pianist Norah Jones also found the going tough when she upgraded to amphitheaters from more cozy venues. Besides the Rolling Stones, who are working on an album but have not announced a tour yet, Irish rockers U2 are set to begin a 10-month world tour next March in Florida.