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Rockin’ the poor house

Album and digital music sales are at an all-time low, so musicians from Madonna to My Chemical Romance are revisiting a time-tested way to get money from fans: They’re hitting the road and going on tour.

The music industry has been losing money for years. In 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed a lawsuit (RIAA vs. The People) against almost 300 U.S. citizens who violated copyright laws by downloading thousands of MP3s using peer-to-peer software similar to Napster.

Since then, the association has settled more than 28,000 offenses both in and out of court, but its efforts seem futile since Entertainment Media Research reported that 39 percent of people are still actively downloading music illegally.

In 2007, USF was named in the RIAA’s list of top piracy schools in the country.

Apparently, students’ unwillingness to buy albums isn’t all that uncommon in the digital age. According to a recent statistical report from Rolling Stone, both digital and physical album sales have declined by 300 percent over the past decade. This realization has many musicians earning money the old-fashioned way: live performances.

In the past few years, bands have extended their tours, most notably My Chemical Romance, whose tour plans initially spanned half a year but ended up running from February 2007 to May of this year.

This is an exciting new development for the Tampa Bay area, said Katy Newton, assistant director of sales and marketing at the Ritz Ybor.

“I know a lot of bands have been going back on tour recently which is good news to us,” she said. “The Ritz had its grand opening in June so it’s brand new to the area, but we’re already seeing some big names come in like of Montreal and Underoath. The economy has been bad for a while now so everyone is going to work, and that includes popular musicians.”

Though one might think the grip of the economy would make this influx of tours meaningless, profits are increasing.

This summer alone, Billboard reported that live music tours saw record revenues, increasing more than $50 million to establish themselves as a $1-billion industry.

Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, told USA Today that musicians’ success might be a direct result of the economy’s failure.

“People will cut back on exotic vacations but still go to concerts,” he said. “If you passed on that trip to Disneyland, you took the kids to see New Kids on the Block.”

Musicians were prosperous over the summer, but much has changed in a few months: seeing the Dow Industrial drop below 8,000 points is no longer just a thing of economists’ night terrors.

To make sure Tampa residents don’t have to dig deep into their pockets to travel to a concert, Newton said she hopes artists will consider performing locally.

“Tampa has an historic art community and Ybor is at the heart of it,” she said. “We hope to see more musicians come to Tampa so we can continue to grow that history and so our attendants can come and enjoy world class entertainment in their own community.”