Yesterday I hosted a panel entitled "All-In Ticketing: Why Can’t We Do The Math?" at the Pollstar conference:
Nathan Hubbard did not appear. Which was a shame, because Nathan has very definitive thoughts on ticketing and he’s committed to progress. Whereas the panelists who took the stage with me ultimately agreed that ticket buyers are resentful of add-on/service charges, but I could not get one person to agree to progress.
It reminded me of Washington, D.C. They were acting out of self-interest.
That’s the modern music business in a nutshell. Let me protect my pocketbook at all costs. Even if it hobbles me in the future. Better to proceed with an old model than take any risk.
And we can see how well this has worked out. The labels have faltered and live business is about the occasional extravaganza, most people just sit at home in front of the big screen, going to a show is like going on vacation, a once a year event.
I grew up in the sixties. When altruism and the greater good were not only catchphrases, but goals. Not only did we have Martin Luther King, pushing the envelope to gain rights for all Americans, most specifically those with black skin, but there was a plethora of young leaders from college campuses who ultimately convinced LBJ to not only wind down the war, but to not run again for office.
Sure, it took a few years for the war to come to an end. But credit leaders on the left with forcing closure on an unwinnable escapade.
And, also give belated credit to LBJ. He might have screwed up Vietnam, but he nurtured and ultimately strong-armed legislation through Congress, most notably civil rights. LBJ knew how to use his experience, and his power, to get things done.
Unlike Barack Obama. Who gave health care to Congress to screw up so badly that Massachusetts voters revolted, elected a Republican and the whole thing went down the drain. What a waste of both opportunity and time. But Obama didn’t want to piss off health care companies. And doesn’t want to alienate the Wall Street robber barons who put him in office. I mean show a little backbone, show a little cunning, show a little finesse, lead damn it!
Where’s the leadership at the label level?
Zach Horowitz and Doug Morris are so busy protecting their market share that they’re holding back the progress of music distribution to the detriment of the entire populace. All they know is "no".
As for Sony… It’s a joke. They try to develop hit records. The only reason there’s been no criticism is because EMI is in such a state of disarray, disintegrating as a hedge fund he-man and a bank argue over dollars.
Warner is preparing for the future, but it’s playing it safe. And you never win by playing it safe. You’ve got to go for it. And Bronfman learned how to say no from his old employees Zach and Doug. Edgar agitated for higher Guitar Hero royalties as the franchise disintegrated, not realizing like boy bands the game was a fad. And Spotify may not be the answer, but you can license for brief windows and then rescind, but if you’re afraid of giving away the whole store, you don’t give up anything, you don’t innovate.
All those indie promoters carping about the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation? They’re not princes. Mostly old wave concert promoters who are bettors, not innovators. They risk dollars for a return. Try something new? Why?
Give Goldenvoice credit. They built Coachella. Lost money until they built an institution, and are trying with Stagecoach too.
Ashley Capps and Coran Capshaw built Bonnaroo in Coachella’s wake. They get props. We now have a burgeoning festival circuit in the U.S., years after Europe, but promoters took some risk.
And Phil Anschutz laid his dollars down and built a concert promotion company from scratch. Installed Celine Dion in Vegas, put concerts in the O2.
And Irving Azoff went to all-in ticketing with the Eagles.
The Eagles? Aren’t you supposed to experiment with an expendable act? EMI doesn’t experiment with the Beatles, why should Irving experiment with the Eagles?
Because he’s got the power. Because he can do it. He can go to all-in ticketing overnight. And he did. And is experimenting in Sacramento with new levels of house scaling.
And Irving implemented what is now known as "I Love All Access". While bands are selling worthless fan club memberships that don’t get you the tickets you want, Irving said let’s charge a fortune for great tickets, for a first class experience. Question the customers of "I Love All Access". They’re all thrilled. It might have been expensive, but it was worth it.
And you’ve got Michael Rapino with his No Service Fee Wednesdays, and his four-packs… He’s the one coming up with new ideas, not those who opposed the merger.
Yes, John Scher and Metropolitan have gone to all-in ticketing, and I applaud them for this, but where is everybody else?
Did you catch today’s news? About Steve Jobs’ meeting at the "Wall Street Journal" where he lambasted Adobe’s Flash? Many people buy Macs just to use Adobe’s Photoshop, do you want to alienate the software publisher, it might just pull out of your platform. But Jobs is willing to push the envelope, for a better computing experience for all, risking his own company in the process.
Who is doing this in music?
I’d say the best examples are Azoff and Rapino at what is now called Live Nation.
Azoff broke the major label stranglehold and opened up the Wal-Mart paradigm with the Eagles. Now the legends don’t want to make a deal with a major label, and they get the lion’s share of the revenue. Now Irving is opening up ticketing at Wal-Mart.
Rapino is trying to improve the concert experience while selling more tickets. Hell, the more people we get to the show, the better it is for all. From the acts and their handlers to the customers.
The foregoing is why I supported the TM/LN merger. Sure, everybody involved wanted to make money, but they also wanted to try new things. Napster might have weakened the major labels, but the TM/LN merger will put the stake through their heart. A bad thing? I think not. Speak to an act, being on a major is indentured servitude. You always got screwed, and now the label wants 360 degrees of revenue?
But where are the leaders in other spheres?
Radiohead gave away their album, but the horde of acts behind them just saw this as a marketing ploy. Who, other than Trent Reznor, has pushed the envelope since?
And where are the twentysomething entrepreneurs, creating heretofore unthinkable paradigms?
Not working in music, but tech. Creating Facebook and iPhone apps. Because the usual suspect rights holders refuse to take risk, refuse to allow anybody else to carry the ball, to lead.
It’s hard to quantify the negatives of add-on charges. But one can see how Dell’s lame tech support created "Dell Hell" and the company has never been the same since. You can see how high prices and low demand have got the public waiting for the very last minute to get concert tickets at a discount. You can see this is going in the wrong direction. That the public is not with us, but against us.
In order to prosper in the future, we need leaders. Who are willing to take risks, to do something different, as opposed to playing by the old handbook and refusing to change. We like acts that push the envelope, where are the businessmen who do the same? Where’s the agent who will force his act to do an all-in ticketing deal? Where’s the promoter who will squeeze the agent to get to a final price?
Nowhere to be seen.
And that’s what we’ve got.
It’s infected America at large. It’s all mine for me. I’m not willing to sacrifice, I don’t want to take a chance. Health care reform must die, but don’t touch my Medicare. Yes, it’s not only those in charge, but the minions too. We want government to solve our problems, but we insist on lower taxes. Huh?
How did America get so screwed up? When did everybody become so entitled? When did we become so two-faced?
There’s a way out of this. By taking chances, by leading, by agitating for what’s right as opposed to what’s expedient.
Not everybody loves Steve Jobs, many revile him. But at least he’s out there, putting his neck and his company on the line. In the music business, the fat cats want no publicity, unless it focuses on their exorbitant lifestyles. Huh? This is how you win the public over? By screwing them and then demonstrating what you do with the proceeds? The whole business is like a bad rap video, with misogynist males raping and pillaging, abusing women while they ride by on giant rims.
Russell Simmons was a leader.
But he flamed out.