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Live Nation is a Minion of Evil

Live Nation (fka Clear Channel Entertainment) has made the concert experience into expensive yuppie galas, where lattes are sold at punk rock shows.

Around the turn of the century, large monitors began popping up at concerts.  Sometimes they would supplement the performance, but more often they would flash advertisements in the down time between acts.  Eventually, they became a disgusting part of the concert landscape.

For example, at Guitar Center's DJ Spinoff in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 4, 2002, between every set, the MC of the event said, "and now turn your attention to the screens," so that the crowd could watch ads for Dodge trucks.

Obviously, this intense commercialization is to make more money, but for who?  Concert promoters claim it' just the cost of business, to help pay for the events.  But as ticket prices continue to climb, it seems that it's simply about milking the events for as much scrilla as possible.

At the top of this food chain lies Live Nation, the concert leg of Clear Channel Communications, Inc.  Formerly known as Clear Channel Entertainment, Live Nation dominates the concert industry with control of over 70% of the nation's live shows.

In February 2000, Clear Channel bought SFX Entertainment- a collection of regional concert firms and venues- for about $4.4 billion.  "This transaction," said Clear Channel CEO Lowery Mays, "allows Clear Channel, through SFX, to gain immediate leadership in the highly attractive live entertainment segment, while taking advantage of the natural relationship between radio and live music events."

With Clear Channel's supremacy over the radio and advertising industries, their competition was no match; in 2004, they generated more revenue than their 24 leading rivals combined.  Furthermore, they exploit every chance they can to make an extra buck, raising vendor prices, placing numerous advertising monitors at venues, tacking on all sorts of weird service charges to ticket prices, and jacking up the prices of tickets themselves.  Between 2000 and 2005, average ticket prices rose from $44.80 to $55.18, while bands such as U2 command an average of $138.02 per ticket.

This conglomerate has been under persistent criticism for its business practices.  One of many instances was in 2001, when Denver promoter Nobody In Particular Presents filed suit against Clear Channel, claiming they illegally reduced radio airplay for artists who booked concerts with competing promoters.  While they eventually settled out of court, records showed emails sent from the Director of Programming for Clear Channel's Denver radio stations attacked management at Reprise Records for going with someone else.  "We are out of business with you," they said, "and you can go fuck yourself as far as I'm concerned."

There have been similar cases through the years since Clear Channel was founded in 1972.  The biggest catch is, you have to have a lot of money to go up against Clear Channel, and so musicians and promoters often find little choice but to roll with the program, or be run out of business.

Because of all the controversy, Clear Channel felt it best to try to make their companies seem like they weren't as connected as they are.  Thus was born Live Nation, in December 2005.  Clear Channel Executive Vice President and CFO Randall Mays is the Chairman of Live Nation, while the title of CEO and Director was given to Michael Rapino (who was already in charge of Clear Channel's amphitheaters and global concert business).

In essence, all that changed was the name.  Live Nation now owns or operates at least 135 venues, and through equity, booking or similar arrangements, they have the right to book events at more than 30 additional venues.

"The business has become a lot more about customization," Rapino was quoted in USA Today in September 05.  So, what Rapino has done is brought in pricier vendors to concerts, like Legal Sea Foods, Au Bon Pain, Starbucks, and Ben & Jerry's, as well as instigated various VIP programs, where if you pay the right price, you can get a seat on stage, access to backstage parties, photo opportunities, etc.

Now, at first it appears that bands like the Rolling Stones- who charge more than $450 for a VIP ticket- are the greedy ones.  Then you take into account that these tickets are taken from the stash that performers used to be given per show.  So, where 10 years ago it was up to the musicians who got the VIP tickets, it's now up to the corporate promoters.

"Corporations have been sold all the good seats," Steve Miller told Rolling Stone in 2004, recalling a concert with an attendance of 18,166, but only 2,311 in ticket sales.  "[They] are removed from the ticket manifests, and not shared with me." 

Even worse, in 2003 Clear Channel bought the patent for technology that enables concerts to be recorded instantly and then sold directly following the show.  For decades, many bands have condoned recording their shows, allowing for trading among die-hard fans.  But the quality wasn't always guaranteed, and when slimy cats started charging rates like $40 and more for these albums, musicians figured they should hop in on the game, not just to make money, but moreover to ensure the best sound possible.

Pearl Jam was the infamous catalyst for this trend, when they offered recordings of every show from their European tour in 2000.  Within months there were more than 70 different titles, and the band sold more than 3 million copies.

But when Clear Channel seized control of this too, suddenly fans and artists found the tradition almost prohibited, regardless of the musicians' wishes.  Now, the only way to get a live recording at any Live Nation show is to buy it through Instant Live, Clear Channel's live concert burn-and-sell company. 

Neil Young put it best about Live Nation and Clear Channel, when he told the Chicago Tribune in 2003, "They are anti-music, and they don't get the spirit of it."

Thankfully, Young, Miller, and many other artists have started denouncing Clear Channel for what they are, while some musicians, such as underground sensations The Locust, refuse to play any Live Nation show, no matter how hard it makes things.  This righteous attitude cost The Locust several prime dates in their 2005 tour with Fantamos.  "Turning down shows with our friends the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Fantomas at the Filmore isn't the easiest thing to do," the band stated, "but instead of it being a thorn in our side, it's more of like an early coffin nail for Clear Channel."

Clear Channel has made the concert experience into expensive yuppie galas, where lattes are sold at punk rock shows.  And there is little the audience can do to stop them, unless everyone who truly loves music completely boycotts their concerts all together.  Even then, they would thrive somehow.  Indeed, recent Pollstar figures show that while the number of tickets sold in 2005 dropped to 36.1 million from 37.6 million in 2004, concert revenue continues to climb, from $2.8 billion in 2004 to $3.1 billion in 2005.

It seems to be up to the artists at this point, to avoid playing Live Nation events at all costs, and opting for the smaller venues.  Which would prove a nice thing, going back to the days when musicians played at one venue for several nights, rather than hopping from state to state every day.  This would give fans a chance to see their favorite musicians in a more intimate setting, and give the musicians a chance to relax a little more while on tour.

Sure, we'd be losing the opportunity to pay $5 for a bottle of water, but such is life.

Original Artwork by Nick Taylor


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