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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hip Hop isn't dead but the business is dying: Part 2 - Hip Hop and the concert business.

Before we start on this topic let’s recap the previous post on Hip Hop and the Radio.

Number of Hip Hop Stations in the US: 0
*Number of Urban Stations in the US: 176 and slowly declining
Number of Country Stations in comparison in the US: 2000+

*Where urban is defined as a mixed playlist of pop, dance, R&B and Hip Hop while not dedicated to any one main genre.

Outlook: Extremely difficult to compete.


In Hip Hop’s heyday (90s and early 2000s), the top Hip Hop artists we’re touring in arenas pulling in attendance numbers in the 1k and higher range, the mid level acts including regional stars would fill 500+ capacity rooms with relative ease. This was also the time frame when the Billboard charts was dominated by Hip Hop and R&B, Hip Hop ruled the airwaves, ruled album sales and also the concert arena. Now Hip Hop is 4th fiddle to Country, Pop and EDM. 


There’s a very grim statistical estimate that states that of the thousands of acts represented by large to mid sized booking agencies (CAA, Agency Group, Madison House, William Morris, Windish, ICM, etc.) the number of those artists being Hip Hop or Urban is under 10%.

*This is for actual booking agencies not brokerage companies that serve as a middle man to the middle man like De la font agency and countless others. It also leaves out the handful of Live Nation acts.

I just did a once over on all of those companies rosters and I’d say it’s closer to 5% tops. Some popular agencies like Billions have 2 hip-hop artists on a roster eclipsing 210 artists.

This isn’t by accident my friends, this is by reaction of Hip Hop’s rapid decline.

This doesn’t mean that hip hop artists aren’t touring – no, there are plenty of hip hop artists touring but the money in hip hop touring has all but dried up thanks to the deteriorating system designed to support it. Proof?

According to Pollstar the touring industry trade magazine and website, over the past decade, the number of hip hop or Urban tours in the top 25 grossing tours has been exactly 8 and 4 of those have included members of or close affiliates to the Carter family (Jay-Z, Beyonce and Kanye West) the others belonging to Lil Wayne, Drake and Eminem. 8 Hip Hop tours made the list out of 250 my friends.

But now lets bring that down to the “average” Hip Hop tour. What is average?

According to the averages taken via Pollstar and the limited information on tour numbers available through other sources like Reverbnation and Songkick the average attendance per hip hop concert is 102.  

Think about the capacity of venue you last saw one of your favorite rappers in chances are it was in a sub 500 capacity room where a number of tours stop (think Lincoln Hall in Chicago, Crocodile or Nectar in Seattle, Brick & Mortar in San Francisco)…and it probably wasn’t a sold out show. In fact, according to numbers available on Pollstar, just under 1 in every 20 Hip Hop shows actually sells out across the nation, of those that are not a mega star tour in a 1k-5k cap or higher venue, those sellouts are more likely to happen in sub 500 capacity venues.

There’s two economic factors here at work that I want to point out.

1.     Rappers often claim absurd payouts they get per show but the median ticket price for a concert in a 500 cap hall is $13 (ranging from $8-20 and in some rare instances as high as $25). If the concert sells out at that price it grossed $6500 in tickets. The average bar tab in a city like Seattle is $11 per patron, which combined with tickets would equal $12,000 in gross not factoring in marketing and advertising expenses. If it’s the average show, you’re looking at $1326 in tickets and $1122 at the bar which is $2448 before expenses.

2.     If you’re an agent getting 10% and you’re acts are doing the average 102 people a night at a $13 ticket your getting $132 bucks a night. You’d need 50 shows to crack $6600. That’s a lot of work for only 6600 bucks.

That said, these agencies and their agents aren’t dummies. They may not be following the money (like in Country – but Nashville is very self contained as it is, they have their own booking agencies) but they’re definitely steering clear of the trap that non-superstar acts in Hip Hop provide: One where the artists probably aren’t going to have the resources to tour 50+ dates a year (i.e, a van, a license, support from a label, etc.) and have a slew of misconceptions about what touring entails.

But what about guarantees: Long story short, majority of acts aren’t getting big guarantees to tour. For one offs sure, but go back through those numbers and tell me how much you think an artist might actually be worth. Unless you’re an established act who can pull in a $20+ ticket or increase attendance to the 300-500 range, chances are you’re getting a door deal which if you can pull the average isn’t a bad thing. Even then those guarantees have to be feasible for the promoter if they want to stay alive. Sure the fly by night and newbie promoters hear quotes and think “oh that’s about right” and after booking festivals I know artists can quote outrageous numbers. But take it from someone who’s booked acts and been booked at various points of my career: It’s ALL about what you’re worth in a particular market.

Think about that the next time you hear of rappers saying they get $10,000 or more a show. Because there’s a great chance that while they may quote that, they’re not getting that.

How do we remedy this? There is a good number of promoters who only will book the big ticket quoted acts and then when they find out the hard way they overpaid, they’re out of business. There aren’t very many venues owned and operated by those who actually cater towards Hip Hop on a regular basis. And the hip-hop tours that are non-superstar related as a whole aren’t doing much more than coffee shop numbers.


Really stacked mid level tour packages could be a short-term fix to help a long-term problem. Who wouldn’t pay $20 to see a tour of say, Dom Kennedy and Stevie Stone? Or $10-$15 to see a smaller tour with guys like Gerald Walker and Myself? It could work but that takes combating the bigger issue of misconceptions on what artists are worth in addition to tempering expectations and egos to make it work out.  

Someone taking the initiative to build a Hip Hop agency or agencies is another lane to fill. If you don't mind working really hard for small numbers it could be to the benefit of the genre as a whole.