JAY-Z’s 4:44 Tour Is Raising Lots Of Money & Lots Of Questions

UPDATE: Following reports late last week that JAY-Z’s 4:44 Tour appeared off to a slow start based on low prices for some tickets and venues with attendance that was far under capacity, new information emerges. Live Nation, who is responsible for the tour, now tells Billboard that Jay’s latest campaign is his “highest grossing solo tour, ever.”

Using the same Anaheim, California date that saw some of the low ticket prices circulated online, Live Nation (who helped fund Jay’s Roc Nation) reports that the stop saw a 49% increase from the same venue on 2013’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail Tour. They cite a 21% overall increase in completed dates of the show at the time of the November 5 story.

However, even with the new information, both narratives are likely true. Four years removed from his last album, Jay’s touring revenue should be on the up, per basic economics and a cost of living index. That said, less desirable tickets could also be selling for literal lunch-money.

In their report, Billboard points to a concert-sales paradigm shift. It includes a higher premium on front-row and surrounding seats, and VIP experiences (such as Live Nation’s Platinum Tickets program). These measures were taken to hurt the secondary-ticket economy. Meaning, whether hand-to-hand sales outside venues or online second-hand ticketing sites, resellers cannot compete with the low prices of less desirable tickets, which event companies like Live Nation can sell directly to show-goers. Billboard says that Jay’s model follows commercially-successful tours by U2, Coldplay, Tool, The Weeknd, and Radiohead in the last calendar year. Thus, even if not all seats are sold, and many at severely discounted prices, the money from the premium seats is more than making up for it.

ORIGINAL NOVEMBER 2 STORY: Last week, JAY-Z’s 4:44 Tour began its American run. Starting on opening night in Anaheim, California, Jay received national attention following words defending NFL players from franchise owner criticism. Jay’s advocacy for NFL protestors and Colin Kaepernick, in particular, is the latest in a seemingly important year for the Roc Nation founder. Previously, his 4:44 album achieved a 14th #1 for Jay, also garnering critical praise.

However, even with a #1 and possible Grammy considerations, that popularity does not appear to be translating to the 4:44 Tour, after the first three shows. Jay and Roc Nation opener, Vic Mensa, are apparently not able to sell to capacity in the arena venues. Hip Hop Early included several fan social media posts remarking at how low-priced Jay tickets are. With some of the first show tickets as low as $6, fans took to social media to point out the soft market:

Since Jay’s first headlining run of this magnitude (1999’s Hard Knock Life Tour), he has been a juggernaut draw on the road. This marks his sixth solo headlining affair, in addition to collaborative runs with Beyoncé, Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, and R. Kelly, among others. Jay also opened for U2 from 2009 to 2011.

There may be several factors for low sales. 4:44 remains an exclusive album. Like Jay’s ’90s and 2000s releases, it is available on CD. However, for opening weeks, the No I.D.-produced release was limited to Tidal subscribers and Sprint users on streaming platforms. While Rock & Roll acts like The Rolling Stones sell every seat at concerts after 55-plus-years, Jay’s prices are skydiving, if not going empty.“BAM” and the title track each charted, but do not cater to the club or terrestrial radio. JAY-Z made an album, and his sales may suffer because of it.

Jay’s early sales may be reflective of changes in the large concert economy. Many artists are doing smaller, intimate venues (as Jay did for 2007’s American Gangster campaign). Major arena events of this magnitude have been subject to pricing premiums on fans, who in Jay’s case, may be supporting that act for as long as 20-plus-years. Acoustics, sight-lines, and more factor into seeing an artist perform hits from their catalog.

Furthermore, at 47, JAY-Z represents one of the oldest and most veteran MCs doing headlining shows of this magnitude. Ageism in Hip-Hop may be a factor, as Rap stars ahead of Jay like LL Cool J have moved to TV/film, and Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, and others play club venues domestically, as well as participate in festivals.

Jay performs in Phoenix, Arizona tomorrow night (November 3). The previously confirmed dates run through December 21, where the 4:44 Tour winds back to Los Angeles, California.