Monday, February 09, 2009

gimme your lunch money!

As if I need this kind of aggro on a Monday morning. X forwarded me this NYTimes piece written by David Carr (Night of the Gun). It seems like less than a month since I bitched about some portion of the music industry; and now this? About 15 years ago Pearl Jam sued Ticketmaster (or maybe it was the venues under contract to Ticketmaster: same thing) along the lines of monopoly or antitrust issues. Talk to the lawyers in the family if you need actual legal jargon. The gist was that Ticketmaster and the contracted venues didn’t allow artists to set prices and / or service fee details. Basically, just about every venue of size in America was under Ticketmaster contract so if an artist wanted to play that venue they had to essentially agree to Ticketmaster rules. The options for any band back then, if not playing within the established contracted circuit, were limited to places like the Cheyenne RodeoPlex. Pearl Jam, in the final judgement, didn’t win its lawsuit. I remember how music fans reacted to the entire string of events: very supportive of the band at first, but not overly concerned that they lost; the band almost became a joke of sorts. Why? Well, Pearl Jam was then standing on top of the World – the biggest draw, the most sales, the king of kings. I think everyone figured that it cost the band nothing to step forward and complain because they’d just go home to Seattle when it was over and still be ridiculously wealthy. It seems quaint now, doesn’t it? But don’t we want the artists with the muscle to flex it on behalf of the fans and smaller artists? All Pearl Jam was trying to do was keep ticket prices below $20 and service fees under $1.80 per ticket. Now, I’m not going to wander off and find a calculator to sort out the inflation index and the difference between the $20/$1.80 situation of 1994 and what would no doubt now be a $125 ticket with a $20 service fee. I think Pearl Jam probably attacked the system from the wrong legal angle – and no doubt lost on those legal grounds – but they were so far ahead in seeing what was happening to the live music industry that it’s frightening. It’s doesn’t matter much to me that in 2009 most big-time artists make almost all their money from touring; that’s not an excuse for overcharging, service fees, and artist-sanctioned scaplers. I guess if I’m going to pay $100 for a Springsteen ticket then so be it; but, I’m not cool with paying an additional $20 for ‘service fees’. Even if I had walked down to the Verizon Center to buy my ticket I would still have been responsible for that extra $20 for Ticketmaster. And for what? My time? My money? Now we find out that Ticketmaster is pushing fans off to a ticket black marketer that they own and where they scalp tickets – are we really surprised? Nope. In fact, the idea that the ticket market for any big show is open to all is a joke. One of my hockey ticket connections – an agent of sorts – told me a few weeks back, before the Springsteen tickets went on sale, that she had here order in and would be picking them up Monday morning (I think the pick up was actually from the venue.) Needless to say, they were immediately resold for a 250% profit. And now onto Mr. Springsteen…

First, he contracted to sell his new album only through Wal-Mart. For that, he gets a big piss off from me. He’s tried to back off now and admit that it was a mistake – but primarily because someone pointed out that their labor practices are for junk – and he, as spokesman for the people, shouldn’t support Wal-Mart; true enough. But more importantly, he shouldn’t be cutting out local records shops and dealers. Lord knows, his success has never been based on local fans and businesses. Now he’s caught up in this Ticketmaster scam because he – and other big names – didn’t step up way back in 1994 and take a stand against the behemoth. He can try to backtrack now and say that he had no idea such nefarious activities were occurring, but who’d believe it? He is just as responsible for creating and releasing the monster as anyone, and feigning shock and surprise is embarrassing. As if Ticketmaster isn’t a drain on music fans’ lives; merging with the equally monopolistic Live Nation would truly be disastrous. Live Nation has almost completely taken over ownership of most live venues and combining that with the mega ticket distribution specialist will only increase fees. It’s hard for me to be critical of artists charging a free market price for their wares; it’s not hard to complain about fees that are nothing more than free money to a third party. Apparently, free money that is then used to pawn off overcharged tickets from the same vender and ‘surprised’ artist. And, if I might say, charging people $125 for a ticket takes entertainment spending dollars out of the pockets of folks who might actually use some of that money to see a show at Iota, Jammin’ Java, or the Black Cat; venues that are the lifeblood struggling musicians.

I rest.
p.s. If you must know, my first concert ticket (Kiss/Uriah Heep, 1976) cost $5.50. We were shocked - SHOCKED - when prices skyrocketed to $6.50 for my next show (Steve Miller Ban, 1977).

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