[24 March 2009]
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)
Did you hear the one about the creatively spiraling rock star who wrote a letter to Congress expressing his support for the proposed merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation? Next up, we’ll hear from Chinese toymakers about the safety of lead.
The rocker in question is Billy Corgan. He used to front a band called Smashing Pumpkins, which is not to be mistaken for the band called Smashing Pumpkins that he toured with of late.
Corgan’s letter was recently exposed by his hometown newspaper critic, the Chicago Sun Times’ Jim DeRogatis. Suddenly, anything bad I’ve ever said about Prince looks like kids’ play now.
Corgan wrote, “The combination of these companies creates powerful tools for an independent artist to reach their fans in new and unprecedented ways, all the while restoring the power where it belongs.”
In his letter, intended for the Senate Committee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, Corgan is talking about so-called 360 deals, where a merged Ticketmaster/Live Nation company would oversee all facets of artists’ careers, including sales of CDs, tickets and something you now see at most concert merch stands: thong underwear (giving Corgan’s ex-bandmates a joke about how he always rode their backsides, too).
The bad guys in Corgan’s eyes are corporate record companies, which have already lost all their value and power. These used to be the companies that would pay the $500,000 studio fees and bail money for artists like Smashing Pumpkins but then dare to ask for another song or two. Maybe even a good one.
Turns out, Corgan is even less of an unbiased source on the Ticketmaster/Live Nation matter than your average millionaire rock star. His manager works for Irving Azoff, the Eagles manager who is also now in charge at Ticketmaster.
But that’s not why Corgan should’ve kept his mouth shut. The real reason is the guy probably hasn’t bought a ticket through Ticketmaster since before he still had hair.
OK, so I don’t buy a lot of concert tickets, either. I studied hard in school to get a job where those Motley Crue and Yanni tickets come for free. But I know enough about Ticketmaster to know they’re the ultimate bad guy in most music fans’ eyes. Not even record companies - which have suffered insurmountable PR losses by taking Timmy the Filesharing College Student to court - have as tarnished an image.
Some of Ticketmaster’s bad rep isn’t completely deserved. For instance, the company’s linchpin issue of late, its scalper-priced site TicketsNow, involves as much misunderstanding as it does mismanagement.
TicketsNow is a subsidiary Web site where Ticketmaster posts links to tickets at scalper sites. All of those tickets actually go on sale to the public first. The problem, of course, is that they’re sometimes only available for mere seconds before scalpers gobble them up using hi-fi software, as was the case with many of Leonard Cohen’s and Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming shows.
I talked to Ticketmaster spokesman Albert Lopez after local AC/DC fans first discovered the dirty deeds of TicketsNow. His defense was: a) Ticketmaster takes only a fee from those sales while the rest of the money goes to scalpers; b) the reason it does this is to guarantee the validity of these scalpers’ tickets.
“It’s a safeguard for fans,” Lopez said.
Sounds good. But, of course, if Ticketmaster really were concerned about fans, it’d never let all those tickets wind up in the hands of scalpers in the first place. Surely, there has to be technology available to prevent this.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who I believe was in an early lineup of Smashing Pumpkins, said it pretty well: “Time and time again, Ticketmaster appears to be going out of its way to prevent concertgoers from paying face value for tickets.”
If Ticketmaster can’t improve its current services to be more fan-friendly, imagine how it might operate in a merger with Live Nation. Scary.
I say we go back to the old-school way of buying tickets: Fans line up outside the arena and wait it out, maybe even make a party of it. Seats shouldn’t become available online until the last fan leaves the line.
I bet fans would still line up for Corgan’s Pumpkins. Or at least they would if he put the old lineup back together. (Which doesn’t seem likely: The Associated Press reported Monday that the only other original band member, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, has left the Smashing Pumpkins.)