Pop music as a superstar economy – IMBRD conference

October 25th, 2022

To see a Bruce Springsteen concert in the Netherlands in 2023, the cheapest tickets cost €115. Nevertheless, when the ticket sell started there were more than 200,000 people queuing online. At the same time, however, many small and midsize venues are struggling to get their tickets sold in the post-Covid era. In their contribution to the 13th International Music Business Research Days in Vienna, POPLIVE researchers Erik Hitters and Martijn Mulder presented their study on the phenomenon described here: the superstar economy.

The theory on the superstar economy was developed in the 1980s and has later been applied to the music industry by the American economist Alan Krueger, who found that during the past decades, a big and increasing share of revenues in the live music business is allocated to a very small (top) share of all artists. In their presentation ‘Slave to Superstar. The live music industry in the Netherlands as a superstar economy’, Hitters and Mulder presented their ongoing work on this topic in the Netherlands. Based on a large amount of data (e.g., artist fees for >20,000 gigs and other artist and venue data of >290,000 gigs), they conclude that:

  • the (live) music industry in the Netherlands can also be understood as a ‘winner-takes-all’ or superstar economy;
  • these superstar effects are a little less pronounced, compared to US;
  • the odds of making it big and earning a decent living are low;
  • aspiring Dutch bands are similarly affected by this superstar economy; only 5% are able to sustain a career >7 years; there’s a limited lifecycle of success; only 5% enjoys decent fees, but overall fees remain very low;
  • between 2008 – 2019 only 1,5% of all acts made it from the smallest stages to a stage of +4,000;
  • the share of female and Dutch acts on Dutch festivals increased significantly in 2022 compared to pre-Covid years, but the share of female (superstar) headlining artists did not increase.

The International Music Business Research Days took place from October 18-20 at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria. The theme of the 13th edition of this event was Parallel Worlds in the Music Industry. The 14th IMBRD will be held at University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway in 2023.

POPLIVE researcher Martijn Mulder presenting during IMBRD 2022 (photo by Peter Tschmuck)