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In scanning the list of the ten highest-grossing music tours in the U.S. in 2010, something caught Annie Lowrey's eye: rubbing elbows with "AARP-eligible best-selling rockers" like Bon Jovi was The Dave Matthews Band, those "'90s-era jam-loving college-town rockers," clocking in at $72.9 million in revenue.

How did the band do it? As the music industry struggles with plummeting record sales, Lowrey explains at Slate, DMB relentlessly focuses on touring, the industry's best path to profitability (sort of). The band has toured for two decades straight and has played a staggering 1,692 shows since 1992, she notes. DMB makes most of its money touring, Lowrey continues, while also profiting from the sale of merchandise, fan-club membership, and live-show discs and DVDs.

Perhaps the band's greatest secret ingredient is the way it cultivates enthusiasts, she adds:

It keeps ticket prices low in comparison with other big shows, an average of $58.79 compared with, say, $91.56 for arena-rockers Aerosmith. It offers a high proportion of plum tickets to fan-club members and offers them tons of freebies and special deals online. It also plays a stable roster of songs, but jams or improvises at each gig--meaning DMB fans tend to hit up the tour every year, often more than once. Thus, while even the biggest-selling artists front the occasional flopped tour, DMB never does.

If that sounds familiar--not the music, the strategy--it's because DMB is pulling an old trick, one pioneered by the Grateful Dead, a band beloved of business school professors and folk-lovers alike. As described in the delightful Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead, the famed jam band produced only a few well-known albums and songs. But they toured constantly--playing about 200 shows a year from 1965 to 1995. And they courted their fans, treating the concert like a service rather than a commodity, and their fans like members of a community rather purchasers of a product. Lo and behold, the Dead became one of the most successful bands of all time.

Of course, live performances may also be in trouble. As the Wire recently reported, concert ticket sales in the U.S. dropped 12 percent in 2010.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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