THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Tour Disappoinments

JAMES TAYLOR

Well, can we call 10,000 a night a disappointment?

Well, if capacity is 20,000.

This is a classic JT summer tour. I mean how many times have you seen it? As the man gets ever-blander. With too many backup singers and a focus on sweet singing instead of meaning.

Tickets ain't stratospheric. This ain't Sting, reaching into your wallet, STEALING the cash, winking as if he's going to engage you in tantric sex after the gig. Before service charge(s), tickets are under seventy bucks.

I don't think if you lower the price you get more attendees.

No, there's been a shift in the marketplace. Baby boomers have money, but they want ACCESS! They want to be up close and personal. JT should be playing living rooms charging $1,500 a ticket.


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

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Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

Or small halls. At even a hundred bucks a ticket.

Everybody who's going to see JT has been to an arena show, maybe even a festival. They know what it is to be far away. They know what it is to use binoculars. To re-experience this in their fifties makes them feel inadequate, that they're just not rich enough. They've got a 4,500 square foot house and a foreign automobile, they're paying forty grand for their kid to go to a private college and they're sitting in the nosebleed section?

Actually, in this case it's not even nosebleed. It's WAY BACK! At the shed.

This is why the shed is dead.

There's no mania for JT. You might want to relive your memories, but you don't HAVE TO! Certainly not THIS YEAR! And you know James will be back next year, or the year after. And, you know you can always get a ticket.

We're seeing a dying industry. There's a thin veil of superstars propping up the business. That people will go to see just to say they were there. Like the Stones and U2. But you're not going to sleep with your secretary by coming into the office and saying you went to see James Taylor last night. Actually, you're too embarrassed to even say so. It's a private pleasure.

I'd like to say if JT cut a hit it would make a difference. It's just that his audience would never hear it. They don't listen to music radio, they're completely out of it.

Maybe if he cut a standards record, like Rod Stewart. Or a Motown album, like Michael McDonald. And went on the "Today Show", JT could sell out. But nah…JT made it on sincerity, and there's no sincerity in those projects.

Bob Dylan wrote the book on this one. Are you an artist or an entertainer. Artists slog through the wilderness, on a personal journey. Sometimes the audience catches up with them, sometimes not. But artists garner respect. Entertainers divert your attention, give you relief from the boredom of life. Then again, on some level James Taylor is bored himself. If he's got nothing to say, if he's just playing the same damn music again and again, maybe he should stay home.

ALLMAN BROTHERS

The flag-bearers of blues-influenced jam band music have been superseded. What's next, the reunion tour with Dickie Betts?

Unlike James Taylor, the Allmans improvise. It's just that what they're improvising on is the same tunes you listened to thirty-odd years ago. And you've got to hang with twentysomethings, and feel dirty while you're doing it. You're confused. Exactly why are you going? Is it worth it? Or can you hang it up and live on your memories?

The Allmans are doing half the business of JT. 3,000-7,000 a night. Not exactly club work, but think of the overhead. Think of how disappointing this must be, how difficult it is to get your dick hard to play, to deliver.

On one hand I think it's over. Then again, the present-day kings of jam, the Dave Matthews Band, after stumbling at a few gigs, are selling out everywhere. Doing 20,000 a night, sometimes more. If only the Allmans could play with them, take a few decades off the age of their audience.

But shy of that, they've got to team up with another act. Sometimes one plus one is three, or even four. Like with Def Leppard and Bryan Adams. There's got to be an act the Allmans can tour with, to draw some eyeballs, to stop their slide into irrelevance.

AVRIL LAVIGNE

She means something in Canada. And overseas. But in the U.S., she's close to toast.

I mean this girl ain't doing any improvising. How many times can you tour on the same music? How many times can prepubescent girls ask their parents to see the same act? I mean you can't be over eighteen and see Avril, you risk being arrested for child molestation. I mean why else would you be there? Certainly not the music.

"Complicated" was a great track. But that was YEARS AGO! Don McLean can tour forever on "American Pie", but at least he wrote that…

Avril's good for about 4,000 a night. Not terrible, but anybody who attends knows this isn't where it's at, can smell the stink, and isn't going back. This ain't no building DMB ten years ago, or Frampton decades back, Avril peaked at the beginning and it's been downhill ever since.

I hope her handlers know what they're doing. Taking all the cash they can before she's over. Because they're doing her career no service. Then again, does Avril have a career?

STEVIE NICKS

The Howard Kaufman formula. Tour the hell out of an act til nobody wants to see them anymore.

You think her audience didn't get enough of her on the Fleetwood Mac clean-up tour? With its endless legs to dwindling crowds at ridiculous prices? I mean Christine McVie didn't participate, it was the Stevie and Lindsey show for HOURS! How much more do you need?

Just because Jimmy Buffett can sell out every gig, is bulletproof, that doesn't mean every act fits this formula. Jimmy's sui generis. You feel like if you met him in a bar you could get down and party. Whereas you don't want to party with Stevie and Steven Tyler. They're NOT everymen, they're STARS! But if you can see them whenever you want, they're stars no more. You stop paying attention, you stop looking.

This is pure unadulterated greed. Could it be that Stevie Nicks has so little home life that she can't see that she's seen as a joke out on the road?

And bringing along Vanessa Carlson is like Alfalfa bringing along Stymie. Someone young and IRRELEVANT!

This tour pulls in in the neighborhood of 3,500 to 7,000 (and that's a RARE great night).

Don't tell me that's good business. Especially when sometimes that's twenty five percent of capacity. If you leave the mania out of rock all you've got is business. And if business were that sexy everybody wouldn't want to be a rock star.

EMINEM, 50 CENT, et al

Eminem's so cold, he can refrigerate a room. Unless he develops a sense of humor about himself, or hands the musical reins to Dre, he's done. Well, fading out. People think his last album is irrelevant. It sold heavily during the fourth quarter Christmas rush, now you probably can't even remember the single.

At the end of the day it's about music, and Eminem's facility is with words. Maybe he should write a book, or dictate one. Judith Regan, Ms. Bottomfisher under the cloak of being a Vassar highbrow, are you READING?

And Fitty…

I don't want to say too much crap for fear he'll shoot me. If this is the biggest act in the business, we're in serious trouble. Let him sell his records, let him swagger and boast, but can't there be somebody BIGGER? Someone who can make records and tour that we believe in?

This tour is doing around 10,000-12,000 a night. WITH Lil' John included. That's not empty, but the price per gig wasn't based on THIS number, but something MUCH higher.

Hip-hop is a recorded medium. It's good in a club, but you don't want to see it performed. Live, it's about musicianship. Oh, no, I got it wrong, it's about SPECTACLE! We want Madonna, Britney! God, a rap spectacle…who cares? Not nobody, but far from everybody.

CONCLUSION

It appears those in charge of the live business are just as dumb and out of it as those running the major labels. They think somehow they're not at fault. That it's the PUBLIC!

No, the public is hip.

The public wants:

1. A clear, final price. Which is REASONABLE, which allows them to afford more than one gig a season.
2. Smaller venues.
3. People who can play.
4. To feel like they're at an event, not a barn-raising for some wealthy entertainer who's already got three residences.

What this business needs is capital investment. New theatres.

But only AEG seems to realize this. Clear Channel is so busy picking up the pieces that they don't realize the system is broken. Drop the price of lawn tickets all you want, nobody WANTS to sit on the lawn.

Until everybody gets a lot less greedy, people will continue to stay away.

As far as grooming new acts to replace the aging dinosaurs… That's not how it worked. Acts developed themselves. Through relentless touring and endless product. You couldn't predict what would blow up. And, the further you went out there creatively, the larger your audience, assuming you meant it. See Tull's "Thick As A Brick" for instruction.

Unfortunately, Kurt Cobain died for our sins. He believed you didn't take limos, it had to be punk. He was a star, you could believe in him. Dave Grohl's no star. He's a guy you drink with. Someone who will treat you nice. Did you have any thought WHATSOEVER that Jimmy Page would treat you nice? No. But you wanted to get closer to his flame. Because he was following his own path, he had something you didn't have, that you didn't see every day, musical genius.


Readers Respond Resolutely

Adam Blake:

Very interesting. I'm amazed that you consider $70 to be a reasonable price
to see someone like James Taylor. I would pay £20, tops, to see him, and only
if he was playing somewhere nice like the Jazz Cafe. And I LIKE James Taylor. I
just shelled out £22.50 to see Burning Spear who is a LEGEND of Jamaican

music (yeah I know it don't mean shit in the USA but over here we like our reggae)
which is about $40 and I thought THAT was expensive. But then again, he's
bringing his band over from Jamaica, hotels, flights etc etc, plus he's not
getting any younger…

But it seems to me that the live thing in the States is really on its last
legs – and that's bad because we always follow the States. If you have to pay
stupid money to see a tired old act run through their hits of 30 years ago (or
more, hello Mick'n'Keith) then it's gotta be only a matter of time before
people just stop doing it. I know I wouldn't cross the street to see The Stones,
let alone pay £100 to see them at Wembley (or wherever the fuck it is they've
deemed suitable). But people will always want live music, it's like food. So
maybe it's time to pull the plug on the stadium thing once and for all, and get
back to the clubs and the bars where real music lives.


Steve Wilson:

you hit the nail on the head this time. i haven't been to a venue bigger
than 3,000 seats in over five years. i'm old, but i still go out to thirty-forty
shows a year, easy. most of them are in small clubs. there are five or six
within two blocks of the record store i manage, which speaks to the vitality of
our little scene in lawrence. when i can see the soundtrack of our lives,
detroit cobras, von bondies, sufjan stevens(him again),etc….why torture myself
going to the shed for seventy dollar tix, five dollar beers, and eight dollar
parking fees? there's been nobody worth seeing there in my estimation anyway,
with the possible exception of t.petty in the past year.

and yer right about dylan. he's an itinerant, an artist, a troubadour. i've
seen him more times than i can count and from my experience he's so sick of
the hype that he often turns in his best shows in places like east jesus,
arkansas. he knows he's playing for fans who are excited to see him, not a buncha
industry turds.


Deb Wilker:

In a message dated 8/12/2005 5:40:17 AM Eastern Standard Time, Lefsetz
writes:

"There's got to be an act the Allmans can tour with, to draw some eyeballs,
to stop their slide into irrelevance."

Generally you are so dead-on it's scary. And your JT/Boomer assessment nails
it. But the Allmans irrelevant? What are you on my brother?
I don't care if they're improvising on Jessica or Chopsticks. No one in this
business — particularly no American band — touches these guys, even w/o
Dickie. And sure they could pair up for a box office bump — find their

Billy/Elton opposite twin and sell huge — but aren't you the one who just said it's
not just about the business? But they ARE doing business. Plenty of business. And that's minus the
wasteful promo/baggage overhead the other guys have. And they've been doing this
relentlessly, endlessly for years, and people still come out day after day.
But who even cares if these guys are drawing two flies in a basement? They're
unparalleled; their old fans know it, and the younger people who continue to
discover them know it instantly. They're playing interesting, creative,
relaxed, what-the-fuck gigs these days — working over one of the greatest rock
catalogs ever. And they're doing it for about 40 bucks. I applaud them. As for The Lawn: Not always true that people don't want it. Yes the shed is a shit biz model much of the time, particularly for what the biz has become now
— but in good weather, if it's an act you weren't quite sure about and wanna
do something on a whim, a $20 lawn ticket prompts a walk-up, off-the-cuff
purchase that might not otherwise have been made — allows the kid to do the very
sampling you hope more would do. Granted it's not ideal, but very little in
the live experience is. Also — for tween and other young shows — it's an
option for parents — they can "be in the building" so to speak — w/o being there.


Dan Millen:

this is it for the allmans anyway
got it on good authority that butch trucks is retiring after this tour…
Jaimoe and Gregg Allman will be the only original members… so methinks they'll
just hang it up as "the allman bros band" unless dickie comes back…


Rick Mueller:

The sheds aren't the problem, career development is the problem. James
Taylor would fare no better in an arena this summer. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
are selling a TON of tickets at the shed this summer. Tom and Tony D made a
commitment a long time ago to keep Tom's ticket prices low, their live show
always delivers, and the fans keep coming back. He also brought out the Black
Crowes this summer, can you tell me a better package this summer that is

charging less than $30 on lawn? The formula isn't rocket science and Tom's business
this summer should be a lesson on how to do it right.

There's no story to tell with James Taylor this summer. He was just out last
summer. There's no record to propel a media tour, no collaborations with a
la Rob Thomas and Santana, and lets face it the live show isn't exactly a party
that makes you want to go back every year like Buffett does. Airplay isn't
the key for an act like James Taylor. Sting's Desert Rose record got rescued
from oblivion by the Jaguar commercial and he was smart enough to take out a
great support act last summer (Annie Lennox). You're spot on that James should
have been playing the Winery/PAC circuit this summer for high tickets but
there's no reason James can't come back to do sell out business. He's one single
and some creative marketing away from selling out sheds or arenas. Come on,
James Taylor and Starbucks were made to be marketing partners.

I disagree with you that the fans aren't coming if you lower the price. Last
summer we sold over 5,000 tickets The Who at Shoreline on a one day $20 ticket
promotion. The ticket price included service charges and gave the customer
real value. I worked the box office that day and you wouldn't believe how
young an audience was buying these tickets. You have written about how much
today's teens are into guitar legends like Pete Townsend and Jimmy Paige. But when
given the option to pay $50 to see The Who or buy EA's Madden 2006 the analog
entertainers will lose out to digital entertainment every time.

It all goes back to career development. The Who's music is timeless but the
band does nothing to connect their music with the younger generations. I'm
only using The Who as an example, there are plenty of bands out there just like
them focusing how much money they can make rather delivering a good and
affordable product for their fans to buy. The promoters are doing what they can.
Rapino has made it his #1 priority to lower prices this summer (at the company's
expense, not the acts) and we have seen our lawn sales increase at our local
venues as a result. Ultimately ticket prices are function of the guarantee
bands guarantee. Unless and act wants to play for less money then ticket price
will stay high. Sure we could pass on promoting the act but if it wasn't us
then another promoter would pay it.


Kevin Borgia:

You know Bob, when Phish was on the road, we went to EVERY shed performance
within about 300 miles EVERY SUMMER. That's what summer meant for me and my
friends, trapsing from one ampitheater to another across the midwest and

sometimes east coast. The way you talk about the sheds is so sad, and it's true when
they're filled with bullshit acts like Stevie Nicks and 50 Cent. But the sheds
themselves aren't the problem, it's the acts that are dragging them down. If
only shitty musicians play at the ampitheaters, it doesn't affect you
positively, but if you believe in the acts, they can be places of magic.

I mean, some of my fondest memories are from Phish at Deer Creek (I won't
call it Verizon) and Alpine Valley. We went every summer to see the boys, camped
in the vicinity, and joined the circus in the parking lot every day. The
feelings were so strong, I didn't even notice the massive corporate sponsorship
surrounding me, because I was SO ecstatic to be at the show.

And what you say about "no one wants to sit on the lawn" – that wasn't even
an issue: You couldn't dance in the seats! The lawn was where you WANTED TO BE!
Sure, it was nice to be inside the pavillion where the lights were upon you,
but the music was what was important, and anyway, you had the screens to give
sight of the band. Oftentimes at winter shows in the arenas, people wouldn't
even care if they had 'obstructed view' seats, all we said was "as long as I'm
inside."

These were the prevailing emotions amongst the devoted, we didn't care how
far we had to come, how long we had to stand out in the cold (and I'm talking
days here) we were going to get into the show. If mainstream acts were able to
foster 1/10 of that type of devotion, this business wouldn't be in the shitter.


Danny Zelisko:

For a guy who I respect most of the time with what you write, I could not sit
silent on this one, Bob.

10,000 people is a success, not a disappointment. You can't always make a
venue exactly the right size to fit the draw. 10,000 looks good and feels good
and IS good, in an amphitheatre. Most acts and all promoters love this number,
relatively speaking. The fact that JT averages more than this when he tours
indicates he is doing something right and for some personal reason you just can't
believe it or stand it. Remain objective, if you can. I am sure this great
big audience would love to hear the only way they can see JT is to pay $1500 for
a living room concert. Not.

Meanwhile, people are being treated to great concerts all over for cheaper
than ever before. So it is on the lawn. I see people up there all the time
having fun, and getting VALUE for their dollar. Maybe YOU don't want to be there,
because YOU need to be down front, or backstage rubbing shoulders, after all
the time you have spent covering this business. But these people are thrilled
the ticket prices are suited for them. They are not so presumptuous that they
expect to be down in front for nothing. Reality says otherwise. After all, gas
in California is now over $3.00 a gallon! Maybe if we could get a "lawn" price
for gas…..

James does well because he has developed a great bond with his audience and
happens to put on a great show, with wonderful material. As for your harsh
opinions, I find them naïve, at best. We all like different things, although I am
happy to say James is ALWAYS great to his audience and anyone who is lucky
enough to see him. As far as playing the smaller places, he does it regularly,
between his summer tours, so people can do get up close and personal. Mania and
JT are not similar expressions in the traditional sense. Class and respect
between a performer and audience is what JT is all about. The world needs this,
too, more than ever.

As far as why people go to shows, I don't think I go to the Stones or u2

because I can impress anyone, much less my secretary. (what was that line about?)
They happen to be known for giving great concerts, and they ARE about mania,
deservedly so. By the way, more "chicks" get turned on by a guy who whips out a
JT song than many of the others. Ask a girl. Meanwhile, there will be more
new stars coming out in the future to join the ranks, as well as replace those
who burn out or retire, as all must do in this great life we have. Hopefully,
they will live up to your standards of greatness.

If artists came out and didn't play what people came to hear (the same damn
songs) why would people show up? Why are you so down on such a good guy who has
such great songs that people will pay (happily) to hear? Are you nuts? JT
should stay home? James enjoys playing and people love to see him, like a visit
with an old friend. It is a good thing you only have to write about this stuff,
cause if you actually were a promoter, you would be begging James for more
dates, like I do every year!!!

Many of the things you say are extreme, and you are well known for that. I
appreciate your right to express yourself; you equally impress me often with
your insights, as well as amuse me with things like this, that are so far off
base.

Our concert business includes competition; sometimes prices are driven up,
when maybe they shouldn't…in doing so, sometimes an act is offered a bigger
facility or too high of a guarantee based on too high of a ticket price…then
they play the wrong place for too high of a ticket price. Ultimately, the guy
making the offer has to back it up when he gets the tour, or the date, and he
better be right, or HE pays. The fact that many of us promoters (independent or
otherwise) are still in business after all these years indicates that all of
us are doing pretty good, as if we fail as badly as you state, we wouldn't
still be here, would we?

One company may be right about their offer, and another wants to do it as
well. So they go up in price, like any other business, and it volleys back and
forth. It isn't because someone wakes up one day and says "I am going to pay
that act more than he is worth, because I am dumb." THIS BUSINESS HAS ALWAYS BEEN
LIKE THIS!!! If only you could hear what goes on before decisions are finally
made on who plays for who, you wouldn't be saying all this stuff. You get a
choice: ante up, or walk away from the table.

Your comments on HK and Stevie are really off the wall, by the way. Last I
heard, Howard and his staff have a good strong roster of artists, that people
love to see. If there wasn't an audience, buyers wouldn't take a chance.

Conversely, if people don't want to come to a show, you can't stop them. If Howard
gets x amount offered for Stevie, for instance, should he say no, even if she
wants to tour? Is she stupid for taking the money? As for the business she or
anyone else does, you can't find out till you put it on sale. Sometimes you are
right (more than not, or you go out of business) and sometimes a show just
doesn't do what you hoped it would do when you made the offer.

The comment about her personal life was a low blow, and real bad timing. What
do you know about her home life? She has a wonderful and warm family life. In
Phoenix, in her hometown, last week, she raised hundreds of thousands of

dollars (for the 6th time) for the heart foundation that was very close to her and
her just (this past Wednesday) deceased, much loved and revered father, Jess
Nicks. On only a couple weeks notice, it sold out 5000 tickets with tickets
from $45-1000. Is there something wrong with ONLY 5000 people selling out for a
good cause? The axe you grind is misplaced on her. She is a good person and
people love her all over the world. Especially at HOME.

Is the only way you gauge someone's worth, by the numbers they put up from
year to year, or what they mean to so many people?

…and Cobain died for our sins? Talk about being caught up in mania. You
really believe all that stuff, don't you? He died because he was confused and was
hurting for any number of reasons none of us will ever know. He is no martyr,
and certainly not the role model I think of when I figure out why I am in
this business, god bless his tortured soul. He was a brilliant musician and
writer, like many of the people you mention.

For the most part, concert promoters are having a great year. Sure there are
some missteps, they happen EVERY year. Baseball players get $10m or more a
year for getting a hit every 3 or 4 times to the plate. Terrell Owens wants more
because he had a good year, after he signed a 7 year deal for $50m last year.
There is a guy on the Lakers whose name I cannot think of who will get waived
and paid $30m by the team to play somewhere else for the next 2 years. If we
miss on one or 2 shows a year, I remember the expression, "even Babe Ruth
struck out once in awhile" and go back and try and find another good show to book
somewhere.

It ain't doomsday, Bob, by a long shot. We have a long way to go.


Royds:

James Taylor on aol sessions……live in his home studio….free….THAT is
value…..fuck his concert…..you want intimate….float around the
room…..perfect seats…..perfect sound….the classic hits…..why why why do I want
to spend a hundred bucks to see him from afar…in the heat…pay for
parking….shit beer for who-the-fuck-cares-how-much-its-toooo
much-at-any-price!!!!….worry that I'm gonna get arrested for smokin' when I can light up in my
living room and rock out….yup….geeeez….wonder why the 'real' show doesn't
sell anymore…….hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm


Nick Lanaro:

I have to disagree with your Allman Bros. diatribe. Warren Haynes kicks ass
and Oteil Burbridge (spelling?) is on of the premier bassists in the world.
They are still getting it on, who cares if the audience knows what they are
getting? In terms of the avg. age, I'm 25 and goingto the concert with about 7
like minded people about the same age. I saw a bunch of young peopel
at the WIllie Nelson concert in vancouver as well.


Tom Cartwright:

…or how about the Stones.

Get tour support from a mortgage company that supports Republicans.

Write a song dissing Bush and fellow Republicans, but refuse to acknowledge or take a stand about the song when questioned by the press.

Watch Gov. Arnold scalp his tickets for fundraising purposes.

Mick and the boys sold out a long time ago, but this latest turn of events
almost has me convinced I should lead my own personal boycott.

This is what rock and roll has become?


Jim Del Balzo:

You are too tough on James Taylor. At least he is trying to change his show
to keep it interesting for him and his fans. There are lots of them by the
way. I have an issue with your view of the Allman Brothers however. I am a
huge fan of the Allman Brothers. The current line-up, while being very competent
musicians, has so lilttle in common with the original group, it is like going
to watch a cover band. I would rather stay home and listen to Eat a Peach.

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