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Live Nation Signs

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“We Stand For Democracy”:

This cements Michael Rapino’s stature as the most powerful man in the music business.

That’s right, for decades the power laid with the labels. But now it’s all in touring, the events business, where people can have a human experience in a land of impersonal digital. You may see a list of top-streaming songs and scratch your head, but if you look at the acts grossing the most on the road, they’ll be much more familiar. Sustaining is hard, but it’s what it’s all about. Having enough mindshare that people want to experience your music again and again and again. And so many of the big grossers never even had a hit! You see they’re selling an experience, they’re in tune with the times, unlike those running the record companies.

Risk. Boldness. Those are cornerstones of not only corporate preservation, but creative activity. What did Bob Dylan say…”he not busy being born is busy dying”? Where is the birth at the three major label groups? They sign very few acts and in most cases only sign that which has established itself. The acts take the initial risk, by forming and playing, staking a claim online. But really, it’s the touring industry that comes next, the agents and the promoters. And CAA and UTA signed this statement, but not WME… Why? You’d expect Ari Emanuel would be there first, after all his brother Rahm worked in the White House and was mayor of Chicago.

Was Rahm too busy? That’s no excuse, politics, democracy, is the story of today, not corporate profits and entertainment. When you’re fighting for the soul of your country you pick up a rifle, you don’t stay home. But you might offend someone, a potential audience member. But if you’re not willing to offend a potential customer, you’re not willing to bond to another. As for being passive… Come on, even corporations making inert items signed on, why not those who base their revenue on creative activities?

Maybe Michael Rapino is out front because he’s Canadian, where the American dream is more alive than it is south of the border. There’s less of a sense of elitism in the Great White North, more of a sense of being in it together, never mind the country supporting its people with health care and its musicians with grants. Yes, Canada knows the power of music. The U.S? Not so much.

So here’s the story. All these new voting laws are based on misinformation spread by our old fabulist in chief, Donald Trump. The lieutenant governor of Georgia even said so! Yes, that’s the world we now live in, where legislation is based on a lie. It was the most secure election in history, Biden clearly won, but Trump refused to accept this and via the disinformation portal known as Fox, never mind Newsmax and underground online outposts, the falsehood was further disseminated, to the point where people believed it, and still believe it. That’s the country we now live in, where emotions trump facts, never mind facts being fungible.

But it gets worse. Are you following Tucker Carlson’s recent promotion of replacement theory? And then he doubled-down when castigated by the Anti-Defamation League. Then again, you’re not Jewish. But very few are pure white, you came from somewhere, and they’re eventually gonna come for you, just you wait. The same way you’re against masks and vaccines until papa gets Covid-19, or anti-abortion until little Janey gets pregnant. But then you’re on your own, no one is listening to you. After all, isn’t this the essence of freedom, having the state tell you how to live your life? Yes, the contradictions are plentiful, don’t try to make sense of them, because you can’t.

And the Republicans learned that they could not overturn Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court, so they attacked on a state level. You may live in a blue state, but all the meanies are red, and in so many red states it’s essentially impossible to get an abortion. The clinic is far away, you’ve got to go twice, you’ve got to be able to afford the procedure… These are the exact same hurdles these laws are trying to put in place for voting. Sure, you can get abortion… Sure, you can vote… We’re just making sure it’s all official, that no one slips through the cracks. But the end result is the procedure is impinged upon, there’s a huge attrition factor, of people who just don’t have the time and the money to jump through all the hoops. In other countries they vote on Sunday, when most people are off work. But if it’s Tuesday and you work all day and at the polling place you go to there’s a multiple hour line and the governor doesn’t extend the voting hours…are you really gonna stand there? Which is why you could vote by mail, but that’s un-American, you must vote in person, on Tuesday, the same way you must listen to CDs and watch network television. But even the right have streaming outlets and smartphones… Can’t we at least live in the present?

Innovation… We’ve learned that you lead the audience, that if you get ahead you are safe, if you’re behind you’re constantly challenged. This is how the labels missed disruption twenty years ago, they chafed at it, tried to stop it, railed against it. But did they win? Of course not! It wasn’t until Spotify came along, a product that some people still cannot understand, and the people came to it and streaming won and revenues went up.

Which is why Live Nation keeps trying to push the envelope. Tickets on smartphones. And there will be vaccine passports, just you wait. The point being that this is best for the AUDIENCE! As for being best for the acts… Live Nation gives almost all of the ticket revenue to the performers, this is the reverse of the major label model. Furthermore, the company gets heat that Ticketmaster is ripping off the public with its fees when everybody inside knows the only profit is in the fees, because the acts take all the ticket money. And Ticketmaster doesn’t take anywhere near all those fees, the building must get paid, and the promoter, and sometimes even the act itself! But we live in a post-truth society. And it’s the acts who want it this way, they want the blame to go to Ticketmaster. And the fans are even worse… StubHub built in the fees and sales went down. People always want to spend the lowest amount, even if it turns out they’re paying the same damn amount. Crazy. As for developing acts playing clubs… At least Live Nation books them, as for the fees…at least the band is still getting paid, and the club has to stay in business or there’s nowhere to play. But never underestimate the ability of a wannabe or those on the way up to complain that the world is unfair and they’re not adequately compensated. We see this with streaming/Spotify daily. Yes, major news outlets keep saying Spotify should pay less successful acts more. HOW? You can’t pay a penny a track. Why don’t you pay a penny to your cable company for every minute you use the internet? Add it up, you’ll go broke!

So in a world where the acts are mercenary, it falls on the corporation to do the right thing. And now, more than ever, it’s the edifice that remains, not the act. I mean how many tickets can Lil Nas X sell? It’s a train-wreck, a novelty act. I’m not disrespecting it, I give him credit for pulling an Alice Cooper and pissing off the ancient populace, but you slow down to see the commotion, and then you accelerate right out of there, you’ve seen it, there’s no reason to see it again.

And there’s all this news about Universal going public. Now let me see, are the acts going to participate in this upside? OF COURSE NOT! Work in Silicon Valley and you get stock options, sign to the label and you get a bad deal and the company ends up owning your work in perpetuity. There’s no manufacturing, no shipping, no returns…but the labels still pay crappy royalty rates. Furthermore, they want 360 deals. Which is why they have less power and less impact than ever before. A ton of their market share comes from distributing indie labels.

So, the labels’ business circles the drain while Live Nation throws the long ball. Without their catalogs, the labels are moribund, that’s their true asset, and despite all the hoopla about the Spotify Top 50, the profits are in the catalogs. But there is no catalog in live performance. You’re fighting the battle each and every day, you can’t rest on your laurels. Also, in the live sphere, the company willing to pay the most gets the act. You can steal any act from Live Nation, just be willing to pay more!

AEG didn’t sign this letter, probably because Phil Anschutz is a right winger. But just like they out gay people, now they out right-wing people, who think they can fly under the radar as they donate money to politicians to pay fewer taxes as they fly these elected officials around on their jets and load ’em up with perks so they can never say no. It’s called leverage. And in a world where no one wants to sacrifice… God, even Jeff Bezos endorsed higher corporate tax rates, but the record labels on democracy…CRICKETS!

We waited for an antiwar anthem, then we waited for an equal rights/BLM anthem…and they never came. It’s hard to write something universal when your entire appeal is niche. And the truth is the acts are smaller than ever before, their reach is nowhere near what it was in the pre-internet era. You can hype people, but that does not mean they’re paying attention, that they’re listening…

So it falls upon the umbrella organization to make a stand. It falls upon the company which reaches everybody to stand up and do what is right.

And what are the risks really?

Sure, a radio station can survive without playing the Dixie Chicks or Morgan Wallen, but are fans really gonna stay home and go to no shows because the promoter is Live Nation? Hell, Ticketmaster is the most hated company in America and that hasn’t stopped the live industry from booming, at least before Covid. That’s the truth… You can talk about deleting your Facebook account, or stopping purchases at Amazon, but the reality is those companies are too embedded in the national fabric for people to give them up, boycotts don’t work… Like Trump saying to boycott Coke with a Diet Coke on his desk!

You’ve got to push to get what you want in this world. You’ve got to take a stand. You’ve got to be informed, you’ve got to do what is right. It’s the Democrats who are asleep, not the Republicans. Yes, Biden won and has a left wing agenda, but the statehouses are overwhelmingly red, and the Republicans increased their numbers in the House of Representatives. And Moscow Mitch single-handedly tilted the Supreme Court to represent a minority of the population, just like the red state officials in the Senate. And now these same “losers” are tilting the playing field even more in their favor, in plain sight, but self-centered unwilling to risk wankers are so afraid of offending the ignorant that they refuse to stand up for what is right, to protect their business interests in the future! Yes, this country falters and your business will go downhill. You think chaos/a revolution can’t happen? Did you believe a virus could shut down business in excess of a year?

Used to be we relied on artists to tell us the truth, to pull us in the right direction. But today’s artists are all about money and lifestyle. They’re vapid. In petty conflicts. The message is be mindless and try to get in bed with a brand that will pay you. It’s hysterical, no, it’s sad when you pull back the lens and see the landscape. The well to do, the elite, the upper middle class and beyond, all buy insurance via education and relationships, they’re not only ahead, but they’re never left behind. Meanwhile, those without hope, at the bottom, are playing the lottery, wasting their money trying to become rich and famous, doing their best to sell out to the elite. And when they don’t succeed, instead of looking at the game, they pounce on straw men like Spotify and Ticketmaster, which are really just fronts for more heinous players paid by them, like the labels and promoters and the acts. And it’s not like the story is not out there, but people just won’t believe it. Which is why you’ve got so many people believing the last election was riddled with fraud. If things don’t go your way…it can’t be you, it can’t be your message, it must be the system and those in control of it, how can you lose?

Very easily.

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