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Op-Ed: Wall Street Killed The Concert Business – By Bob Lefsetz

There's been this b.s. that concert tickets went through the roof because of Napster, that the acts had to make it up somewhere. But that's just lemmings trying to emulate rich lifestyles, to go back to the cause you've got to retreat to 1996, when Bob Sillerman rolled up the concert promoters into what was then called SFX and is now called Live Nation.

Our entire business has been ravaged by this roll-up. With concert promotion now a public business, with a ton of debt and quarterly reporting, it was hard for promoters to say no, they needed acts to fill the sheds, they could not have a decrease in revenue, and as a result, the price for talent went through the roof. It was a market share grab, a scorched earth policy that changed concertgoing from a working class activity to one akin to going on vacation, oftentimes that's what tickets cost.

Not that the acts were against this. It's hard to get someone to say no to a check. Especially when you've been doing it for decades, haven't had a hit in years and have kids in college and multiple mortgages, as so many classic rock and early MTV stalwarts possess.

So as the rappers emulated billionaires, as kids on street corners believed they too could be rich, from watching MTV and then "American Idol", the underpinnings of the music business fell out.

You didn't have a mortgage when you were starting out, not even a wife. You did it for the booze and the chicks and the experience. But now, with the entire country focused on cash, not wanting to be left behind, you wanted to get paid too. Not that you should be screwed, but the concept of leaving money on the table, investing in your career, became taboo. Because everybody supporting you, from the label to the agent to the manager, thought short term and wanted to emulate the lifestyles of the rich also.

So suddenly, the rank and file couldn't get a good ticket, never mind at a fair price.

First and foremost because there was always someone richer than them willing to pay. Secondly, the acts devised shenanigans to get these tickets into the hands of the wealthy. Via pre-sales, via scalping, via insider deals. And now it's common wisdom that if you want to sit up close and personal it's gonna cost you a couple of hundred bucks, if not more. This is like saying if you want to see "Mission Impossible", you've got to pay seventy five bucks. Only it's worse, you're bullied by security, the floors are sticky and the only thing good is the music. Although sometimes that's untrue. Because at these prices it became common wisdom that the music was not enough. You needed dancing and production, you had to give value. And you couldn't have an off night. So much of the show was on hard drive. And suddenly going to a concert was like going to a Broadway show, something set in amber, calcified, the same every night with no risk. And while all this was happening no one accepted responsibility, because if you're getting paid you shut up and if you're making money no one's entitled to say anything negative. And now, concertgoing is not an everyday occurrence, but something that happens once a year.

Now there's a bit of hope. The new acts, developing off the radar, without television or radio play, tend to charge less. But then they run into the walls of infrastructure. Because the way the business is built, these theatres and clubs being owned by mega-corporations, there are fees embedded in the ticket prices that prevent many from charging little.

Not that the acts are not guilty. You hear that not only do they want to ride in buses, they want to bring a zillion dollar production to satiate their audience. But it's not about the audience so much as the acts. They want to compete with other acts, the same way starlets all get their lips puffed up. Not because it appeals to men, but because every other woman is doing it.

But as soon as someone starts talking about Sillerman and Wall Street, out comes the dreaded term "class warfare".

I'll make it perfectly clear, class warfare's been going on for decades. And the victim is you. You can't get a cheap ticket, never mind good, to a decent show and most of the music is not worth listening to because the acts are far from independent, they're kissing ass up the food chain, whether it be the labels or the sponsors or…

And we can discuss all day long whether the public is gonna wake up, but the true story is the music business has been eviscerated. People don't go to hear live music on a whim. Going to the show is like renting a convertible, something you do once a year to feel free and easy before you go back to your dreary life.

What do they say, you've got to see an act to get it?

Well, if that's true, people have to take a chance. Which most don't. Because of the prices. As for the experience, the venues are not upgraded because the balance sheet won't allow it.

So we end up with studio creations, stuff that you don't need to see to get. And so many of these acts suck live, or are on hard drive as per above, and once they stop having hits they're done. Whereas the modern music business was built on credibility and longevity.

And a bond with the audience.

Now the acts want nothing to do with the audience. They're trying to leave the audience behind, move behind a wall, fly private and stay in expensive hotels. And since in music you start from nothing, it's a constant scrape for dollars. It's like "Survivor", with backstabbing and only the most despicable person emerging victorious.

Somehow the fiction has been spread that Wall Street doesn't affect the common man. Or, like with the mortgage crisis, it's the public's own damn fault. But the truth is the giant casino has negatively impacted our cultural institutions, stripped them of value and left barely more than a carcass.

And there won't be a change until everyone says NO MAS! Not only the public, which to a great degree is staying home, but the acts, labels, managers and agents who are complicit in the destruction of our business.