Metal Blade Records On May 17, As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis appeared in…
- Posted on Jul 5th 2012 3:00PM by Benjy Eisen
But the blame can't simply be shifted to the venues or promoters either. As authors Dean Budnick and Josh Baron clearly illustrate, the economics of the concert business are part of a system where cause and effect have resulted in some incredibly expensive nights out. Even for those willing to pay face value, the best seats are often impossible to get. There's a reason for that, too, and the truth isn't always pretty.
The new paperback edition of Ticket Masters includes an added chapter to bring concert fans up to speed with the latest developments. Indeed, the book has some pretty big, eyebrow-raising moments as it examines more sides of the concert industry than you may have known existed. And it does so in a way that makes for a fascinating must-read for anybody who has ever attended a rock concert and loved everything about it -- except the price.
In researching this book, what was the biggest surprise that you uncovered, along the way?
Josh Baron: While there were a number of surprises throughout the process, the biggest surprise -- discovery might be a better word -- was how significant a role artists play in the whole process: They're the biggest factor in determining ticket price, they're frequently the ones delivering tickets to the secondary market and for all the fan-friendly poses they strike, they're often greedy. That said, the industry as a whole continues -- as it always has -- to protect and insulate artists from such scrutiny since they're the drivers of the whole business.
Dean Budnick: I'm not sure if there was any one biggest surprise as there are so many. Each of the 11 chapters is laden with them. We put a few years into the writing of this book and part of the reason it took so long is that as soon as we'd uncover something, this in turn led us to someone else. It's the classic example of not knowing how much we didn't know.
Having said that, Josh was really energized by all his conversations with [former Live Nation chairman] Michael Cohl, sharing the nuances of his story from Cohl's early days as the founder of a Canadian strip club, on through his moment of epiphany on the Jackson Family's Victory Tour, his ability to win over the Rolling Stones, the creation of 360 deals at Artist Nation and onward through the present.
Myself, I may have been most surprised by the revelations in the "Secondary Education" chapter which explores how StubHub, TicketsNow and Razor Gator came to exist, the emergence of VIP ticketing, the role of the major national promoters in ticketing scalping as well as the complicity of the artists themselves.
Did any specific bands influence the direction you went?
Budnick: Three bands in particular are at the heart of the book, each of which forms the basis of a chapter. Josh and I look at the development of the Grateful Dead Ticketing Service, which in the words of [guitarist] Bob Weir was staffed by a "bunch of wooly freaks," and outline how the group was really at the vanguard of the effort to forge direct connections with fans. That chapter also outlines how the band sold 50 percent of the tickets to all of its shows in direct contravention of Ticketmaster's contracts with the venues, which called for 100 percent of the inventory. Then we describe the sit-down between the group and Ticketmaster's then CEO Fred Rosen, which resulted in the freaks planting their flag and holding their own against the mighty Ticketmaster.
We also look at the 1994 Congressional hearings into Ticketmaster's monopoly status, in which Pearl Jam was brought in to testify. We examine the backdrop of the ensuing investigation by the Justice Department and look at Pearl Jam's efforts to handle its own ticketing outside of Ticketmaster's purview. It's a fascinating story and, as someone who remembers that moment very well and the way the media portrayed it, I have to say the issues were a little more complicated with many shades of gray than I had ever realized.
I'm not saying that band members weren't sincere in their indignation and frustration, but I do think they were led astray by their advisers and, as Josh and I detail, there certainly was some hypocrisy on their part.
The final group I'd mention is the String Cheese Incident. In the summer of 2003, after they were denied the same 50 percent of the inventory that Ticketmaster had given to the Grateful Dead years earlier, they sued the company alleging it to be operating as an illegal monopoly. It's interesting, I was on a radio show discussing the book and someone called in to ask about the lawsuit and wondered what had happened. The answer is that the group ultimately was able to achieve its 50 percent allotment via an agreement with Ticketmaster that required it to withdraw the suit and not publicly disclose the outcome. So, in Ticket Masters, we're the first to share this story.
Of course there are eight other chapters in the book with many other acts in there as well. We explore the story of how the Rolling Stones moved away from Bill Graham and hired Michael Cohl as tour promoter. We also examine the ticketing practices of Dave Matthews Band, Jimmy Buffett, Phish, Fugazi, Rod Stewart and many, many others.
Where do you see -- or hope, or fear -- the live concert industry going?
Budnick: As two people who enjoy live music, a major concern that Josh and I share is
that ticket prices will become so off-putting and that fans will drop so much of the paychecks into one or two shows, that it inhibits the development of emerging acts. Beyond that, as concertgoers, we'd just like it all to feel fun again, allowing people to share meaningful experiences with vital artists without the distraction of all those fees and ancillary charges. We fear that at times those elements cloud the artistry, inspiration and enjoyment of it all.
Baron: The concert industry is constantly changing and evolving -- it's part of what makes it so fascinating. While much has changed over the past 40 years, since the turn of the millennium the change has been increasingly rapid.
Overall, I think we're starting to see some price correction happening. Amphitheater tickets are being priced more appropriately, artists are opting to play smaller venues to insure a packed house more frequently and the big promoters (Live Nation, AEG) are being slightly more cautious about what tours they're buying. One of the other main developments is festivals. They're becoming increasingly popular and the aforementioned big promoters are getting more involved because, if executed well, offer much higher profit margins than a traditional show.
The last thing I'd say is that StubHub has gained such ubiquity that they're now thought of as a "normal" part of the equation unlike only a few years ago.
The paperback has a new chapter. What and why?
Baron: We ended the hardback edition with the Ticketmaster and Live Nation merger being approved. We wanted to offer readers something new in the paperback but, more importantly, there had been a tremendous amount of movement within the industry over the past few years that we felt compelled to cover. Notably, the failure of the 2010 summer concert season, paperless ticketing and dynamic pricing.
You uncover some pretty serious stuff in the book. Did you get any "unexpected" feedback from any of the involved parties, once the book when to print?
Baron: Yes, we did. Ticketmaster liked the book and thought it was a fair assessment of their company and its history. Ticket brokers were also surprised by how "right" we got it.
Do you think we'll reach a tipping point where the wave breaks and the prices and back-door scalping and endless add-ons start to roll back some, or is it too late to ever return?
Baron: I do. I always tell fed-up fans that the best thing they can do is vote with their feet and wallets. And by that I mean this: Every time you buy a ticket -- even if you do so kicking and screaming about how expensive it is -- you're telling the artist and promoter that it was a fair price. If enough tickets don't sell, you can believe that next time the artist comes through, either the price or venue will have changed to better your experience. And, as I said earlier, I do think we're seeing some price correction happening. They're subtle but tangible.