Changing touring forever

There’s been a story doing the rounds recently about the Billboard Top 40 Money Makers, with U2 topping the list.

I mentioned this to Mr C, as he’s a former crazy fan who now just keeps an eye on what they’re up to. He questioned the idea, and that led to a fascinating conversation. I wanted to blog some highlights, as it raises a lot of questions.

U2's tour staging
Credit: Andrew3000/Flickr

Firstly, we all know rankings are bunkum. There are so many factors and variables between each and every item on a list that it’s mostly unfair to compare them. At least the Billboard list has a frank and open description of how they arrived at the numbers, and it mostly seems percentage based.

It’s perfectly conceivable that U2 are making the most money from their enormous world-wide tour. The ticket prices are astronomical, about £120 each, so revenue must be high. Having said that, if you compare the tour to second place Bruce Springsteen, you can see why.

The Boss sells more reasonably priced tickets, but, in simple terms, his performance is a man on a stage with a backdrop. U2 took things a step further.

I’m sure you’ve read about it by now – or maybe seen it in action! – but their 360 degree stage thing is revolutionary. It took them three years to research and develop the idea, and no one has done it before. The concept of circular stages isn’t new, but to make it so that every single person in a stadium can see the stage with no pillars obstructing their view, that took some doing.

Some basic stats about the setup – the big claw like stage thing carries 165 tonnes of equipment above U2’s heads. They must have a lot of faith in their design. That’s like 33 elephants. I wouldn’t even want one elephant dangling over my head.

The screens cost $4 million to purchase, and U2 have three. They weigh 56 tonnes. Everything is transported in 189 trucks – with three different stages so that one is always being put up, one taken down and one ready to use. They need 380 drivers and 12 buses. It’s fair to say this tour isn’t very friendly to the environment.

When Mr C last saw U2, say ten years ago, tickets cost £25 but there was nothing like the scale of technology going on. Is all their ticket sale revenue going in their pockets, or is some of it to recoup the costs of three years R&D? Mr C made a good point that if he was paying over 100 quid for a ticket, he’d be more accepting of it if there’s real tech costs to be paid. Less so if U2 are just being greedy.

It also looks as though the band are patenting the stage design, so if other artists choose to use it in the future, they’ll gain money from that as well. It certainly is a revolutionary thing, but I’m not sure how popular it has been or will be in the future.

We know that with digital music making less money, artists are looking at touring as one of the main ways to earn a living. Is the U2 model the way forward? Or is their position on the rankings misleading?

9 thoughts on “Changing touring forever

  1. I’m not a fan of big flashy over the top things like that, I prefer my bands to just stand on their stage and do their thing. Hopefully that’s what the BSB will do tomorrow (incidentally I think their tickets were very over priced!)

  2. I agree with Amy about big flashy designs and whatnot for bands performing live, I came to see the band perform not do a big OTT show. Also, £120 a ticket is absurd!! No wonder they got a kajillion dollars!

  3. Big flashy designs was your main problem with the Muse tour wasn’t it Lukeh? Because it limited their setlist? I thought that was a real shame.

  4. I may have further comments on this, not least because my opinion of U2 is generally unprintable, but first up, “unenvironmentally friendly” sounds a bit askew to me – friendly to the unenvironment? Or should that be environmentally unfriendly?

    🙂

  5. first up, “unenvironmentally friendly” sounds a bit askew to me – friendly to the unenvironment? Or should that be environmentally unfriendly?

    Ooh, I like the idea of the unenvironment. Will fix!

  6. The concept of circular stages isn’t new, but to make it so that every single person in a stadium can see the stage with no pillars obstructing their view, that took some doing.

    that isn’t quite what made it revolutionary, but you’re close.

    artists have been playing “in the round” for years and years and years. what no-one has successfully done before U2, is to play “in the round” and “outdoors”. that really is what took a lot of the R&D.

    at indoor gigs you can hang stuff from the ceiling, but in stadiums you can’t guarantee there will be a roof. suspending all of the sound, video and power equipment over the stage, is what makes things unique.

  7. my original interest in this story, is i’m curious if the band are just pocketing a lot of change because they can. or whether inventing stuff really did costs them millions and millions that needs to be recouped.

    i may never find the whole answer.

  8. Big flashy designs was your main problem with the Muse tour wasn’t it Lukeh? Because it limited their setlist? I thought that was a real shame.

    Yep. I really wasn’t into the idea, and they’ve gone back to doing it again on the US Tour. They didn’t do it for a while during Asia and Australia on the Big Day Out and they went back to varied setlists with surprises, now it’s gone back to the same setlist gig after gig 😦

    Definitely adds to my bias of prefering a band to just do what they do best and perform.

  9. Definitely adds to my bias of prefering a band to just do what they do best and perform.

    it’s tricky, because i’m really opposed to standing at the back of field peering at tiny people in the distance.

Comments are closed.