Local Rhythms – Greed Bites Babs

ticketbastard.jpgAdapted from an earlier post, from the September 21 2006 Claremont Eagle Times

Ticketmaster, king of the concert cartel and ruiner of live music worldwide, is now in the innocuously named “secondary” market. Meaning that they’ve started carving off their best seats and marking them up ahead of ticket Mafia rackets like StubHub.

They even host a web site for customers to re-sell tickets. Now, instead of fans waiting on line for a chance to see their favorite performers, or cheer on the home team, speculators compete for a chance to hit the lottery. Ticketmaster keeps a percentage of every sale, what Tony Soprano might call a “vigorish,” if he were less cultured.

But apart from big dogs like Streisand, Madonna, Clapton and their ilk, the concert market is actually tanking. Oh, there’s a Dane Cook or two every year, but nothing lasts for long. Ask John Mayer, whose double bill tour with Sheryl Crow this summer played to half-full houses.

You wouldn’t know it from Ticketmaster’s bottom line, but most musicians are learning a hard truth. Ticket sales are falling while total revenue is climbing. There are big shows, but fewer of them, and going to see live music has turned into a trip to Disney World for most people. Sadly, that experience now has about as much to with music as Jack Sparrow does with naval history.

Barbra Streisand invented this kind of gouging back in 1994, when tickets to her MGM Grand shows passed a then-unprecedented 100 dollars. It seems like most shows have cost north of that forever, but Babs opened the floodgates.

Conservatives hate Streisand for her politics; I despise her for that.

Now she’s out on tour, for one last cash grab before her pipes sag along with everything else. But it’s not 1994. Her die-hard fans are, to put it as gently as possible, dying.

Worse yet, it seems that Barbra’s also losing her money mojo. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that with $750 face prices, “sales have been slow, with excellent seats going unsold in Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio and other cities. This, in turn, has undercut Ticketmaster and Ms. Streisand’s efforts to sell some of those seats at auctions for even higher prices.”

Streisand and Ticketmaster passed the century threshold by rationalizing that if scalpers were getting big money, they were entitled to some too. Now they’re marking up marked-up tickets, and whining when no one wants to buy them. Meanwhile, some performers have a hard time selling seats at any price.

Tom Petty was right. Thank god for the clubs, where real music, not money, is still king:

Thursday: Richard King & Friends, Sunapee Coffeehouse – Still in their temporary quarters at the Knowlton House, this area resource is putting the call out for community support. Without it, their last show will be November 9. Tonight, it’s a mix of oldies and folk, with a few originals as well. Cosy Sheridan, a well-known and talented folksinger, is due October 12. Interested supporters should call 603-763-2668.

Friday: Spiral Farm Band, Sophie & Zeke’s – Named after their Putney, Vermont farm, this group deftly channels “O Brother Where Art Thou.” They’ve become so popular at this downtown Claremont restaurant that the third Friday of the month is now theirs for the playing. The music starts at eight, and it’s such a hit that reservations are recommended if you want to sit close to the band.

Saturday: Stonewall, Heritage Tavern – Former Ingrid’s Ruse drummer (and famous organ donor) Shamus Martin has been working with Stonewall on a new album, as well as putting the finishing touches on his former band’s first and last CD. There’s a Ruse release party scheduled at Heritage October 21. Tonight, it’s straight up rock from a great three piece band.

Sunday: Chris Smither, Higher Ground – This should be a special show. Opener Ollabelle worked with Smither on his latest CD, so the chemistry should be right. But the best reason to see this show is Smither, who’s making the best music of his career right now. The man’s living proof that there’s life after 60.

Tuesday: Aerosmith/Motley Crüe, Tweeter Center – A major double bill like this is a certain sellout, right? Nope. There’s still tickets left, even though each of these bands once had the star appeal to fill larger buildings all by themselves. Steven Tyler had some health scares earlier this year, but his singing at the Hatch Shell last Fourth of July was entertaining, though a bit surreal.

Wednesday: Thomas Dolby, Iron Horse – Here’s a fun fact: “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first clip aired on MTV, was originally recorded by Bruce Wooley & the Camera Club, Dolby’s first band. Later, Thomas managed to get his own stuff on MTV, and be a mystery keyboard guest on Def Lepperd’s “Pyromania.”

Ticketb*stard and Streisand

babs.jpgThere’s an old expression – “I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire” – that sums up my feelings for Ticketmaster, the king of the concert cartel and the ruiner of live music worldwide. There’s no rash too painful, no complication too unbearable, no situation too hopeless, that I don’t wish on them. When it comes to rock shows and ballgames, the only ones worse are the vermin that run StubHub, RazorGator and the myriad of “agencies” with chain link doors and greasy guards who smell of yesterday’s lunch.

And EBay scalpers – hey, it’s a long list.

Guess it’s kismet that they’re at war with each other. Ticketmaster is now in the innocuously named “secondary,” or auction market. Meaning that they’ve started carving off their best seats and marking the price up themselves, ahead of the reigning ticket Mafia. They’ve even co-opted an old sports biz trick, pioneered by the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners – they sell their tickets twice. Customers can use the Ticketmaster web site to move a marked-up ticket without even having to set foot at the actual event.

Now, instead of fans waiting on line for a chance to see their favorite performers, or cheer on their home team, speculators compete for a chance to hit the lottery. The mother company keeps a percentage. What Tony Soprano might call a “vigorish” if he were less cultured.

I bet there are days Tony wishes he wasn’t in the trash business. Could it be that’s HBO’s big surprise series ending for “The Sopranos” – Tony follows his Seger/Deep Purple muse, and whacks his way to the top of the New Jersey concert market?

But apart from big dogs like Streisand, Madonna, Clapton and their ilk, the concert market is actually tanking. Oh, there’s always one or two Dane Cooks every year, but no one lasts for too long – ask John Mayer.

You wouldn’t know it from Ticketmaster’s bottom line, but most musicians are learning a hard truth:

Ticket sales are falling while total revenue is climbing. There are big shows, but fewer of them. Going to see live music has turned into a trip to Disney World for most people, at around the same price and with the same amount of product placement. Sadly, that experience now has about as much to with music as Jack Sparrow does with naval history.

Tom Petty was right. Thank god for the clubs, where real music, not money, is still king.

Barbra Streisand is Tesla to the Eagles’ Edison when it comes to price gouging. The first 100 dollar concert ticket was her 1995 New Year’s show at the Las Vegas MGM Grand. Yeah, it seems like Wiggles shows have been north of that forever, but this was 1994, and Babs opened the floodgates.

Conservatives hate Streisand for her politics, I despise her for that.

Now she’s out on tour. One last cash grab before the pipes sag along with everything else. You couldn’t pay me to see her, but she still has fans willing to overlook the fact that, apart from playing Rosalind Focker, her last movie was over a decade ago. Her die-hard fans are, to put it as gently as possible, dying. Her recent duet with Barry “The Survivor” Gibb didn’t tear up the charts, either.

So here’s a bit of news about her tour, and the requisite scalping component, in today’s Wall Street Journal:

…top tier seats carrying face values of $750. Sales have been slow, with excellent seats going unsold in Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio and other cities. This, in turn, has undercut Ticketmaster and Ms. Streisand’s efforts to sell some of those seats at auctions for even higher prices.

Streisand and Ticketmaster passed the $100 threshold by rationalizing that if the scalpers were getting the money, so should they. Now they’re not happy with even that. Total tickets go down, money goes up, but that can’t last.

Something’s gonna give, most likely when the dinosaurs start dying off.