|Irving AzoffOp-Ed: Irving - By Bob Lefsetz
Posted: February 20, 2009
Where's the outcry from the acts?
Other than Bruce Springsteen, who's complaining about fairness after
taking a $110 million check from Sony and making a deal with Wal-Mart, I don't hear a plethora of acts lining up against the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger.
Shouldn't they be up in arms?
Fuck the fans. Yes, you heard me right. The fans have been fucked forever, and their only avenue for equalization is to stop buying tickets. It's kind of like a junkie saying no to the heroin dealer. Unless you're willing to go cold turkey, you've got no power. And the acts that can sell tickets know this. Which is why they're staying mum.
Those superstar acts... Do they want to admit to the kickbacks from Ticketmaster? Yup, those service fees... Not only does money go to the promoter, who the act has beaten up, but to the acts themselves. In some cases, the acts are in cahoots with Ticketmaster to scalp their own tickets. The acts are guilty as hell, and Ticketmaster has been taking all the heat.
The acts that can sell tickets. And that's all we've got today, acts that can sell tickets and those that can't.
Anyway, it comes down to this. If you're a musician, would you rather be in business with Irving Azoff or Doug Morris? Irving or Lyor Cohen, Steve Barnett, who's ever running the ship over there at EMI... The labels have fucked the acts for eternity. At least the consumer knows how much he's paying for a ticket. At least he can buy in ones and twos. But the act has to make a long term deal with a label and if it ever sells any music, there will never be an accurate accounting, never mind that the lion's share of the revenues will reside on the label's side of the ledger. As for the future? The label wants more. The label used to say they made you a star, they're entitled to record revenue, make your money on the road. Now they want a cut of that money to, whilst doing NOTHING for it!
And on the other side you've got Irving Azoff. Who Don Henley so famously said might be satan, but at least he's the EAGLES' SATAN!
Ask any act. That's who you want on your side. Satan. Not someone in bed with the label, being fed acts by the company chairman, in bed with the corporation more than the talent, but someone who'll live and die for you, who'll take on all comers, all in the name of protecting your good name and making you tons of money.
Sure, you might say the Eagles charge a lot for tickets. But Irving said no to the Super Bowl and gave up on fan clubs when all they rendered was fan unhappiness. Now you buy packages directly from the act. Not only is the act happy, getting all that revenue beyond regular ticket price, SO IS THE FAN! The fan knows exactly what he's buying, and in the package comes a great seat and special treatment. EXACTLY WHAT THE FAN WANTS!
Do I think Clear Channel, er, Live Nation, and Ticketmaster should merge?
My fan hat says NO FUCKING WAY! But I'm no longer an ignorant fan. I'm privy to the inner workings of the sausage factory. And even though Irving Azoff can be as trustworthy as Christopher Hitchens undergoing waterboarding, something's got to change in this business. The major labels and their CEOs have to be displaced. Actually, they're doing a good job of self-immolating. Rather than license new technologies, they've seen half of their recorded music revenues EVAPORATE! All the while making a land grab for their acts' rights and suing the end consumer. These guys have to go! And who is going to replace them?
Maybe, in time, a twentysomething will round up all the developing acts and change the system, but we need a revolution now. I hate Wal-Mart, we all do. But under the aegis of a green initiative, the Eagles did an exclusive with the retailer and sold a shitload of product, GUARANTEED! All the labels could do was bitch that the numbers were inaccurate, until Journey sold a ton of product, priced cheaply, and AC/DC blew out a ton more. Point is, Irving did well by his artists. Like I said, the consumer may not be paramount. But if you're on the creative side of things, Irving wins for you. He gets Christina on every awards show known to man. Now Jennifer Hudson. Do you think that shit happens by accident?
And Rapino, who's Steve Jobs light, a spinner of a reality distortion field himself, has got innovative ideas, but no power. He wants to share gate receipts with the act, he wants to sell merch, he wants to record and sell videos. But he just doesn't have any acts. Irving delivers 200+ acts with Ticketmaster/Front Line. Who'll now do a deal with Rapino, at arm's length, because you know Irving never screws his clients, which is why they don't leave him, which is why he doesn't need contracts. Hell, he charges 15% when so many other managers charge 20%!
If you wanted to cry the foul of monopoly, that ship sailed back in 1996, when Sillerman rolled up the concert promoters to create SFX/Clear Channel/Live Nation. Most of the promoters took the dough. Like today's managers and agents. They want the money first and foremost. They didn't fight the roll-up, agents/managers/acts LOVE the roll-up! Now they get national, sometimes INTERNATIONAL guarantees, for the lion's share of the money! As far as crying about the lack of competition, there was never a pocket this deep!
And if Live Nation is so heinous, why did U2, savior of the world, with an equitable image to a fault, make a deal with the concert promoter? Believe me, without Live Nation's deep pockets, U2 wouldn't be doing a stadium tour in the U.S. this summer. Their last stadium tour TANKED! But now they've got that Live Nation safety net...
As for rival managers... Kwatinetz imploded, Terry seems to be eager to invest more time on the yoga tip, Cliff Burnstein does not seem desirous of being a world-dominating world-beater and Coran Capshaw wants this ubiquity/power, but so far he's only been able to lock up one superstar, the Dave Matthews Band. So, the management ship sailed too. Irving wasn't the only one who could roll up the acts in theory, but he was the only one who could do it as a practical matter, because the managers he made deals with and their charges BELIEVE in Irving.
We can categorize Irving's faults all day long. But he wants change. He wants the artist in power. Are we gonna give him the ball or are we gonna continue to live in Doug Morris' world, where the acts are serfs, paid in lip service, and forgotten as soon as their recorded music sales start to stall? Come on. Get off your high fucking horse. Consolidation occurred years ago. Sure, the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger gives too much power to too few people and marginalizes a lot of competitors... But haven't these competitors marginalized themselves already? Not only the labels, but so many of the managers?
We need change. We're only gonna get it by taking big steps. Emotionally, the Live Nation/Ticketmaster is a no-go. But intellectually, it's our best way out. Only by stealing power from the major labels, only by giving the acts control of their own one stop shop, which they'll have with Irving protecting them, can we make equitable progress.
As for the fans? You're the ones keeping the secondary market alive. You're the ones paying hundreds of dollars to sit up close. Sure, Tickets Now is owned by Ticketmaster, but StubHub is not. I don't see you boycotting either if you truly want to go to the show.
We've got major problems in the music business. First and foremost, the lack of traction for developing acts. Does Irving truly care about developing acts? I don't think so. There's not enough money to be made. So, independents, much younger than Irving, can develop the acts of tomorrow and change the paradigm. But wouldn't it be great if the acts were in control? If talent ruled?
This merger is a closer step to that than you can ever imagine.
Sure, Live Nation controls a certain number of venues. Sure, Ticketmaster does 80% of the ticketing. But we've learned through Live Nation's ticketing fiasco, that despite the act-inspired ticket fees, Ticketmaster does a better job of distributing tickets than anybody else. Maybe they'll come up with an auction system, that eviscerates the secondary market. In order for this to happen, you need an artists' representative in power. And that's Irving.
I'm not drinking the kool-aid, I'm just being practical. Sure, people shouldn't be allowed to steal music on the Internet, but they did. The whole industry fought this piracy for a decade to no avail. Now we're going to fight the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger in the name of protecting... Exactly what? The independent promoter? Who's almost history, except for a couple of indie giants like JAM and Seth Hurwitz's operation? The power of the labels, who've helped kill this business? The managers who lost their clients to Front Line?
Come on. Stop dreaming. This is a dirty, ugly business. It needs change.
Sure, Live Nation and Ticketmaster are merging primarily to raise their stock prices, but there are synergies. And we need hope. I'd like to believe this merger can benefit this industry rather than face another decade of internal squabbling, which will continue to leave the customer disenfranchised.