The Show Behind the Show: Live Events and Local Workers

Published on Aug 24, 2023

Written by Joel Simon & Echo Liu

taylor swift gif live events

In a world of digital interactions, remote work and distance learning, and massive libraries of entertainment content right in our pockets, humans still need real experiences. How else can we explain the millions of people shelling out thousands of dollars and traveling for hours to go hoarse screaming at a sequined songstress they can barely see on stage? 

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour sold over 2 million tickets for its first North American leg, not even counting a new slate of shows added in October and November—a stunning achievement by any measure. And in the regions that have played host to the tour, it’s been anything but a Cruel Summer

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia (not far from the Christmas Tree Farm where Swift lived growing up) has credited her specifically for boosting travel and tourism in the region. Swift herself profits from ticket sales and merch, but the massive spectacle of the Eras Tour is an economic force in its own right. On their way to the stadium shows, Swifties are spending on meals, hotels, rides to the venue, and countless other expenses, and local economies are reaping the benefit. 

Surely music fans can see the dance moves better and hear the songs more clearly at home on their phones, but the enduring appeal of live music, and its resilience this year after the downturn of the pandemic, speaks to how much these events matter. There’s something special about knowing that that particular experience has never occurred before, and will never happen just that way again.

There’s also something special about the impact shows have on local economies. For every Eras-level concert that gets into the news, there are dozens of happenings that have their own economic reverberations that have fans and workers Enchanted.

And where are we seeing that economic impact? Here are the top US metro areas for live performers, according to Lightcast job posting data.

Metro areas by number of live performers employed

It's important to note that these employment numbers only reflect primary employment. For every artist who makes their living performing, there are undoubtedly dozens more who support themselves with jobs in other industries. All the same, these artists enrich the local performance economies as secondary sources of income, as passion projects, or as they develop their performing careers—or all three.

Not surprisingly, larger metros like New York and Los Angeles and Chicago offer larger numbers of employment opportunities in live performance. But smaller metros with large entertainment economies like Orlando and Nashville (22nd and 35th in metro size, respectively) are in the top 10 for live performers, and it isn’t coincidental that they outperform cities of their size with tourism and hospitality employment as well. 

Here’s a closer look at the live event economies in some of these regions.

Las Vegas is home to Gorgeous spectacles with bold-faced names doing short or extended stints, and resident performers who pack in the crowds year after year. More than 20 million people attend live performances in Las Vegas every year – ten times the number of people that Taylor Swift has performed for across the US this summer. The city’s 684 performing arts establishments support 7,660 jobs, most of whom you’ll never see on stage. These include electricians, sound and lighting technicians, operations managers, food service staff, and the wardrobe and costume attendants who keep those performers Bejeweled. Even if most won’t enjoy the incredible bonuses that Swift has reportedly bestowed on her touring crews, those behind-the scenes roles are a huge component of Las Vegas’ live entertainment economy. 

Because concertgoers in the desert are mostly out-of-town visitors who are also spending money on food and lodging, the economic impact doesn’t stop there. Las Vegas boasts more than 5,000 accommodation and food service establishments, generating and eye-popping 274,242 employment opportunities. The dynamic blend of live performance and hospitality defines Las Vegas as a unique economic engine.

Band playing a show on a small stage
It’s not only big-name headliners making a difference in local economies: acts with lower profiles are the ones putting on most of the shows that shape the national music scene.

Big shows also happen in Austin, Texas—the self-appointed “Live Music Capital of the World,” which boasts over 1,000 venues. And while there is no ignoring the global draw of large scale events like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest, much of what makes Austin a live music destination are the smaller, homier stages amongst the bigger arenas and theaters and fairgrounds.

Austin is undoubtedly a tourist destination itself (with more than 13,000 people working in hospitality and tourism), but on any given night you can find those smaller venues filled by locals. And many of those locals are newcomers—Austin is one of the fastest-growing economies in the entire country. Research from the Lightcast Talent Attraction Scorecard shows that Austin’s Travis County is third in the entire country for bringing in new workers and good jobs (and Texas ranks #2 among all states). There’s no one factor that has made Austin such a Wonderland for attracting new workers, but the famous live music scene clearly hasn’t hurt.

Chicago may not jump to mind as an entertainment destination, because it might be better known for industries like finance, manufacturing, education, architecture and engineering. Call It What You Want, but when you look at the data, you see Chicago is a major entertainment destination.

The Windy City is home to hundreds of performance venues of all sizes, including music joints and also storefront theaters, independent playhouses, and showcases for sketch, improv, and stand-up comedy. Audiences in Chicago—both locals and visitors—support those artists with their entertainment budgets, while the media sector helps those artists make a living in advertising, TV and film production.

Lightcast data show that Chicago is home to 14 times the number of performers than live in Austin. Chicago’s large audience for arts and culture, robust convention and tourism activity, diverse economy, and relative affordability makes it accessible for artists to live they work toward their Wildest Dreams. Chicago also as serves as a springboard to the more commonly recognized entertainment economies in Los Angeles (where there are more than 14,000 people working in live performance) and New York (home to more than 10,000 live performers).

After the pandemic, it wasn’t just performers and fans waiting for live music to Begin Again: local workers and economies needed the boost, too. Whether it's the glitz of Las Vegas, the musical soul of Austin, or the diverse appeal of Chicago, live music is a reminder that in an increasingly digital world, the heartbeat of live experiences continues to draw us together, and its impacts resonate far beyond the final encore.