THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Concert Crisis

"'Money was flowing, easy money. Anybody could qualify—I mean anybody.' He knew a bank teller with an annual salary of twenty-three thousand dollars who had received a two-hundred-and-sixteen-thousand- dollar mortgage, with no money down and no income verification—not even a phone call from a lender."

I don't own my own home. I haven't even got any children. Primarily because I don't want to pay for them. I was married once, reluctantly, but I resisted going further down the domestic path. I was wary of losing sight of my dreams, becoming locked in an endless cycle of work and obligations, unable to pursue my passions.

Little did I know that you could have your cake and eat it too.


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.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

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.

I thought I knew what was going on in America. That lenders stretched the limits and borrowers overreached. Just a little. But that was not what was going on at all. In acts of pure greed, banking institutions lent money for the fees, not worrying about tomorrow, just like the ignorant people they gave the money to.

I'm not ignorant. I have not only a college degree, but a graduate degree. But oftentimes the borrowers of these gargantuan sums were high school dropouts, working blue collar jobs. And now that those jobs, so often in the construction trades, have disappeared, they're lining up with their brethren for minimum wage work that they can't get, because the line is so long.

I've sacrificed. Not that I'm proud of it. It was just a necessity.
I saw limited funds coming in, so limited funds had to go out. I believe in the American Dream, I wouldn't have sacrificed this long if I didn't believe in the potential for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but now I find out those making the rules don't sacrifice at all. I declare all my income. I pay my taxes. But those making the rules don't? How can this be?

When I grew up, anybody could do anything. You just had to save. A middle class citizen could stay at the best hotels. Not every night, but if that was his desire, he could save up and splurge. Now there are exclusive resorts with such prohibitive costs that you have to be making millions a year, tens of millions a year, in order to afford them.

We can't park close, can't get a seat in a good restaurant because someone who worked on Wall Street got there first, and owns that territory. They're regular customers. We haven't been happy about this, but now we know that so many of these Masters of the Universe were no different from card players in Vegas, and they not only lost all their money, actually, their clients' money, but flew in
on private jets to beg for more, which they instantly rewarded themselves with in the form of bonuses.

Actually, I have no problem with private jets. If you're paying the CEO that handsomely, and he has to go to an out of the way location, it's plain stupid to fly commercial. Wasting that much time is a terrible use of resources, in this case, brainpower. But this is what sticks in the public's craw. Primarily because the general public is stuck in the airport, paying for its luggage to be stowed in the plane and being insulted in the process.

I don't know the answer to our economic problems. But lowering taxes is not it. That can't be the sole solution, otherwise the Bush economic policies would have been triumphant. But Washington can't handle change. But Tom Daschle lost his job because he was out of touch, he didn't realize that the average person doesn't get a full- time car and driver, never mind not pay the taxes on it.

We live in scary times. Sure, we might wonder how that inane Southern California woman is going to feed fourteen mouths, but what about the family whose breadwinners lost their jobs, and now have not only no money to pay the mortgage, but feed their kids?

No one seems to care about those people. Everyone's too selfish.
I've got mine, screw you. But what if you suddenly don't have yours anymore?

You used to sell ten million records, now you can't even sell two.
Those damn pirates! But those pirates are real people. Who overpaid to hear one good track on a CD. They've got no sympathy for you. And they may overpay to see superstars once, but not forever. The Stones don't sell out anymore. Nor does Springsteen, not even Madonna. The printed grosses are high, but that's because of the inflated ticket prices.

Is the concert industry headed for a fall? Just like the recorded music industry?

Music acquisition will be monetized. But we won't have the dominant superstars of yore, created and contained by a few conglomerates. As a result, we won't have many superstar artists playing live. These new acts… Will someone pay twenty five dollars for a ticket AND TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS IN FEES to see them?

Blame Michael Rapino. Sure, Live Nation has got problems. But first blame the acts and their handlers, the managers and agents, who have been so greedy as to force Live Nation to scramble for cash everywhere it can. Since Live Nation can't make money on the gig itself, it has to charge fees so it can make a
profit. Sure, the public might be too stupid to understand this right now, but just like the housing market fell apart, the concert industry might implode and the truth might be revealed. That the acts are greedy.

Does Bruce Springsteen need to gross two hundred million dollars in a year? Couldn't he halve the ticket prices and gross a hundred million? Wouldn't that be enough?

Used to be the huge grosses were a badge of honor. Evidence that the outsiders were winning. But how much of an outsider can you be when you play the Super Bowl?

But we're only piling on Bruce because we believed in him. Yes, the Eagles were always about the money (but at least they turned the Super Bowl down…), and Madonna is ONLY about the money. Is this a fashionable trait today? When the customer is hurting?

If you're a renegade and riches are rained down upon you as a result, you're a folk hero, a millionaire winner like Jamal Malik in "Slumdog". If you're buying a fifteen hundred dollar wastebasket for your office, you're just a scumbag.

The concert business thinks it's immune. But if the labels were not, if the public gleefully stole recorded music, just imagine the pent-up anger regarding overpriced concert tickets and abuse at the gig. The concert industry is just one step away from implosion.

It's time to circle the wagons. It's time for acts, managers, agents and promoters to get on the same page. It's time to get the industry's house in order. There must be a final ticket price, with no fees at all. There must be reasonably priced shows. The experience must improve. All in the name of keeping the customer satisfied, so he'll continue to come to the gig, so he'll check out a new act that might ultimately develop into a superstar.

If you think the public has sympathy for the stars, you're wrong. And when you
can't pay your bills, when you're going to lose your house, you only have sympathy for yourself. As for this being a youth-
oriented business, who do you think gives all that money to the kids?
They don't work for it, they get their concert-attending funds from their parents!

The Republicans fiddled and lost control of Washington across the board.

The Democrats, although in power, have no idea who their constituency truly is.

It's no different in the music business. The labels think their customers are radio and retail. Acts believe their customers are promoters. And Live Nation and Ticketmaster think their customer is Wall Street.

Ignore the little guy at your peril. Because the little guy pays your bills. Just ask the car companies. If people stop buying, you're screwed. Not that many people NEED a new car. Not that many people NEED to go to a concert. Remember this.

(The above quote is from George Packer's article "The Ponzi State:
Florida Foreclosed" in the February 9&16 issue of the "New Yorker".
Read it.)

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