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Op-Ed: Azoff Responds – By Bob Lefsetz

My head is spinning.

In a world where politicians won't answer the questions, where anybody who goes on record speaks at the speed of a snail, Irving Azoff not only told me where he was going, but responded to all my concerns.

Where to begin.

He's coming from the perspective of the artist. He's all about the artist. It starts there. Then the fan. Then the money. And the big plan?

Well, he insisted that the operation was called Ticketmaster ENTERTAINMENT! Not just Ticketmaster. Ticketing is a component of the operation, not the end all and be all. He's got no problem with Live Nation starting its own ticketing company, because Ticketmaster Entertainment is more about ducats, it's about a PIPELINE!

This was the number one element Irving emphasized. A conduit, with terminals located in a big box store as well as the Net, where acts, not only Frontline, and promoters and record labels can pump through product, whatever they want to sell.

He says he's Switzerland. That he's not about playing one entity off against another, but moving this business forward. He made sure I knew that this business "hangs on too long to old school traditions".

And I buy that. Because Irving was talking Net before any other major player. He was reachable instantly, by e-mail, when other fat cats were still having their missives printed out by their assistants. And if you know Irving, no one works the phones better. He's reachable, he remembers, not only you but your prior conversations, and gets off very quickly, but then stays on at length at the oddest of times, just to prove you're a buddy. In other words HE'S NETWORKED!

Does he want to deliver music with tickets? OF COURSE! Does he insist on album-length opuses? NO! Does he believe ticket prices need to come down?

He's not going to militate, not going to insist it be his way, but wants to sit down with all the players and come to agreements. And, if there is no consensus, he believes business can continue to function the way it always has. Not that he wants it that way.

As for Front Line… He wants to continue to sign new managers and their acts. The company is already making money, so this is not a fantasy build-out. And, he claims he is interested in breaking new artists.

What about the present Ticketmaster infrastructure? Is it up to the task? Is there any dead wood? How the hell does he know, he hasn't gotten inside the building yet!

It's the irreverence that charms you. And Irving is charming. Akin to the way the guy you shared high school gym was. Both going through the motions with contempt for the coach, with bigger plans in your heads and a bunch of laughs along the way. This is not a man who hates the fans. This is a man who got rid of fan clubs because it pissed consumers off. Went to the upscale package deal instead. He once told me to cruise the boards, find someone pissed that they paid $250 to get a good seat, a laminate and a chance to go backstage and meet the band. I couldn't find a complainer. People were THRILLED! Because that's what fans want, good seats and access!

And Irving wants to deliver it to them. New products sold with new technology. He doesn't care if Q Prime uses his system. Or Live Nation. Or Universal Music. He wants to build the pipeline for the future. Open to everyone who wants to use it.

And he wants to have a lot of fun. He's already having fun. You remember fun, don't you? When you lived to go to the gig, felt privileged to work in this business, when music was the most happening art form, when you needed to listen to the record to know which way the wind blew?

Those days are coming back. If Irving has his way.

He says it's a new Irving. Forget the past. Do I believe him? Do you believe him? We can debate that. But one thing we can't debate is Irving is the act's number one champion. No one has done more for acts than Irving Azoff. It's good to have him in power, as opposed to some spreadsheet-toting guy more about lifestyle than music.

Let the games begin!