Monday, May 12, 2008

One BILLION Dollars

It struck me yesterday that LiveNation might actually be evil. Not just a little bit evil, but cartoonishly so - full on secret lair, cat on knee, twirly moustache, I expect you to die Mr Bond evil.

Once in a while, I quite like a stadium gig. I know many of you will argue that we're better off going to see a friend's band at the local Spork & Hedgehog for thruppence over a pint of Old Stoat, but let's imagine for a minute that you and yours quite fancy an evening out with 50,000 others.

I bought a Madonna ticket today for the first time in quite a few years. The experience made me cross.

For a long time 'the kids' thought of the record companies as the enemy - dropping our favourite artists, bilking us through our teenage years with singles on multiple strange formats and albums being re-released with extras. But they are mere amateurs compared to the new breed of concert promoters.

On the face of it, it appears that LiveNation and their ilk are here to save our favourite artists, freeing the likes of Madonna from the tyrany of huge cheques from major labels, but the reality is that they've seen the writing on the wall for pre-recorded music and decided to take advantage of the only thing you can't download - the feeling of being at a live show.

Take her Wembley Stadium show. At first glance, tickets go up to an already eye watering £160 (plus fees). Or do they? In reality, tickets actually go up to £468.83 for a seat with hospitality - for which I believe I could conceivably fly to New York and attend the Madison Square Garden show (albeit with the cheapest ticket). The message is clear. You want a good seat? Buy a bundle. The reality appears to be that that the 'best' tickets aren't in the pool any more. You or I are never going to click the magic button on Ticketmaster and find ourselves sat by the stage for one of these events, no matter how early you arrive or what pre-sale privileges you have. Because they're not there any more. They're in a bundle.

Even if you choose to stand, they've got you stitched up three ways. Of course there's the now ubiquitous golden circle (and it's not specified how big that is) for which you pay an extra ten pounds. But your dedication to the noble art of the gig queue will matter not in the least, because they will also gladly sell you a package (at £150 premium over the cost of the gold circle ticket including fees) to let you into the golden circle before all those other poor saps who dared not to pay extra.

Not only that, they've chosen to form an unholy alliance with organisations that provide the acceptable face of touting.

When I did a search earlier for a ticket type that came up empty, it simply redirected me to one of their 'secondary market' partners who seemed plentifully stocked. Interesting how that can be for a show that hasn't even gone on public sale yet and fan club members are limited to just 4 tickets...

There seems to be a misguided impression that promoters are the innocent victims of touts. The truth is the opposite. They could do a lot to stop the problem - from putting names or photographs on tickets, to the simple act of allowing box office returns or forcing box office collection for heavily touted shows, eliminating the armchair tout in Glasgow who is touting for a gig in London. Instead, they choose to use touting as a way to legitimise their own second and third bites of the cherry - throw their hands up in the air, decry touting, and then get on with the business of benefitting from it.

It's all very easy for promoters to look at well established artists, wave a cheque under their nose, steal them away from the majors, milk their fans and cream off a fat profit, all the while not giving a shit how well or poorly the record sells - that's not their problem as long as the venue's full.

My hope is that this cream-off-the-top attitude will come home to roost if they don't invest in talent on the ground floor. Maybe they do, I don't know. Just how much are they interested in the minor leagues? If this kind of contract destroys what's left of the majors, where do they think the huge artists they give these deals to will come from in the future?

Is it finally time for legislation? I've argued against it before, given that the solutions are there for this to be done by organisers (Glastonbury, anyone? Largest music event in the national calendar and close to non-existent touting?) - there's evidently a way, but I see no will.

The secondary market is bleeding into the primary market and the general public are being taken for suckers. The live music industry has proved time and again that they can't be trusted.

For god's sake don't buy these bundles. Those tickets then end up back in the public pool by default (I firmly believe this is what happened with my Genesis and Police tickets - amazing tickets near the front suddenly appearing a few days before the show, coinciding with bundles going off sale) and the person at the front is the lunatic who's been sleeping rough outside the venue for the last month. He's earned it.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

Wow a sudden frenzy of activity on your blog! Now I have to read everything :)

I couldn't believe it when I read that stuff about the Madonna show and the touts, aka 'please bend over a little further'...

I don't know how many 'big' shows like that i've got left in me to be honest. The venue size is starting to affect my enjoyment even of bands I feel I've waited my whole life to see (Crowded House at Wembley for example), and combined with the exorbitant prices, I'm missing shows I previously would have felt like camping outside to be able to see (Leonard Cohen).

It's all so big and branded and soulless sometimes that I think I may be turning into one of those people who only wants to see shows at the pub. It already takes a lot to move me from West London for a gig - but luckily that does include Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith :)