Changing touring forever

Published March 4, 2010

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?

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