CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: Whatever you do, don’t give Madonna $300

By | Published on Friday 3 February 2012

Andy Malt

Musicians! You’re all making loads of money off your live shows now, right? I mean, that’s how it works these days isn’t it? People keep saying so on blogs and in newspapers so it must be true. And look at Madonna, she’s well and truly raking it in from her live work, and she hardly ever tours. Sure, her gig tickets are really, really expensive, but that doesn’t mean she has any real advantage over you surely? For starters, you probably have fewer costume changes. And it’s not her fault that her fans are all stupid enough to pay any random ticket price she pulls out of a hat is it?

Though, perhaps not all of them are that stupid. Madonna is concerned that when she tours the US to promote her forthcoming new album, ‘MDNA’, some people might think that $300 per ticket is a bit much. These people, she says, don’t know a good thing when they see it. Her last tour was the highest grossing for a solo artist ever, bringing in $408 million by the time it had made its way around the world. And imagine if she brought in less than that next time, people would talk.

Asked by Newsweek if she’d be offering more affordable prices on her next tour, Madge huffed: “People spend $300 on crazy things all the time, things like handbags. So work all year, scrape the money together, and come to my show. I’m worth it”.

I haven’t seen Madonna play live in nearly 20 years, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t worth $300. I don’t think anyone’s worth that sort of money for one evening’s entertainment. I wouldn’t spend that sort of money on a bag either, but if I did, at least I could carry things around in it.

Of course, Madonna doesn’t need the cash, she’s really just keeping up appearances. This is something pretty much all artists at the top level of the industry do these days. There’s no need for their ticket prices to be so high, it’s just posturing to prove how big they are, so they can carry on appearing at the tops of lists in Forbes. Hence Madonna’s apparently genuine belief that she deserves to only play to people who have forked out a significant portion of their pay packet for the privilege.

But here’s the thing. When Madonna fans decide to spend $300 on one of her tickets they make a decision. It’s a decision similar to that anyone would make when spending a similar amount on a hand bag. “How long will this last me?” Or, in the case of the Madonna ticket, “How many gigs do I need to go to this year?” For most consumers, for whom going to gigs is a special event (and for whom buying an album is a twice yearly activity), there’s a finite amount of expendable income that will be set aside for music. So one night with Madge at $300 may well have to be instead of three nights seeing three other acts at $100 each. So the a-listers charging unnecessarily high prices for their tickets inhibits the spread of wealth amongst all other artists.

OK, so my maths here may be a little simplistic, but there’s an argument that a few big name artists absorbing so much consumer spend through their live shows (this doesn’t happen in the recordings market, because the retailers control price point) is having a direct negative impact on musicians further down the food chain. Forget about piracy, Madonna is to blame for everyone’s woes. Well, her and U2.

Proof of this, perhaps, is that at the other end of the supposedly booming live market ticket prices are falling as promoters try to tempt in bigger audiences to drink the beer that funds that part of the industry. But, with grass roots artists’ already meagre performance fees often linked to ticket price, that means while Madonna’s fees rocket, other musicians are playing for less. Or so says Chris T-T, in a blog post on his website this week. He argues that the rising prevalence of gigs charging £3-5 on the door is harming artists’ ability to play gigs regularly, and devaluing the grass roots live scene as a whole.

Certainly it’s true that those artists playing small gigs, especially if they are away from home, often find that they lose money once they’ve hired a van, bought petrol, fed themselves and found somewhere to stay. But Chris also says that the danger of the lower door price – if it works and attracts more beer drinkers – is that the people attracted by the three pound entry fee often aren’t really that interested in the music, meaning a worse experience for both artists and the genuine fans. He makes his points very convincingly, and I urge you to go and read his post in full, here.

So, playing live isn’t necessarily the great solution for the file-sharing age so many commentators claim. Though, maybe if everyone paid a bit more to get into small shows and a lot less to see Madonna, live would be a genuinely useful revenue stream for many more musicians.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU

Once again, we’ve recorded a podcast for you to listen to, which is very nice of us. This week it features analysis and discussion of The Pirate Bay founders having their appeal knocked back for the final time, the fight to save the legitimate files that were stored on MegaUpload’s servers, U2 manager Paul McGuinness and former Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr’s outbursts against Google, and music’s most rebellious rebels, The Ting Tings. Sign up on or bookmark this page, so you’re all primed to tune in as soon as it goes live.

So, two of The Pirate Bay’s three founders and their main funder went to Sweden’s Supreme Court this week to demand that their case be reheard. The Supreme Court said no. This means all four men behind the site should now technically pay their fines and go to jail, though it remains to be seen if either will actually happen. One co-founder, Peter Sunde, said that he was perfectly prepared to go to prison, as he still had the moral high ground.

Meanwhile, U2’s manager Paul McGuinness was telling MIDEM that the new enemy of music is Google; something echoed by Edgar Bronfman Jr at another content industry conference, that one in California, who also said that his soon to be former employer Warner Music will oppose Universal’s purchase of the EMI record labels, as we suspected.

Also this week, it was feared that the legitimate files stored on MegaUpload, which were taken down with no warning along with everything else on the controversial file-transfer website last month, would be deleted by the two hosting companies storing them this week. Mega’s lawyers negotiated a two week reprieve, and then one hosting company said it was working to ensure the files were kept for longer. Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is working on getting people’s files back, as well as preparing to sue on behalf of affected users if necessary. Elsewhere, Mega boss Kim Dotcom failed in a second attempt to be granted bail in New Zealand.

The battle for the funniest quote given to the press was fierce this week. There was Bebo‘s assertation that the reason the mostly forgotten social network was offline earlier in the week was down to a “technical clusterfuck”, plus The Ting Ting‘s claim that they would rather be sick on their shoes than be played on the radio next to David Guetta, Nicki Minaj‘s announcement that she was “queen of London” in a former life, or Mani‘s quite possibly made up quote about finding an extra £2 million in his bank account one day. But I think the award has to go to Diana Meltzer, the ex-wife of late Wind-Up Records founder Alan Meltzer, after he left part of his fortune to a chauffeur and a doorman rather than her.

This week’s CMU interview was with Rodrigo Sanchez of Rodrigo y Gabriela, as they prepared to tour with the thirteen piece Cuban orchestra they worked with on their latest album, ‘Area 52’. Our playlist, meanwhile, took us through ten of the artists were very excited about seeing at this year’s Great Escape, following the festival’s first line-up announcement. And in his column, Eddy Temple-Morris asked one of life’s more important questions – ‘Terminator’ or ‘Predator’?

The Approved column this week features Battles, who managed to win over a CMU writer previously less than enamoured with them, David’s Lyre, who provided us with a full stream of his debut album, Bernholz, whose debut single is a quite timely ode to Madonna and poverty, and Saint Etienne, who are back after seven years.

As well as that, there was the exciting news that folklorist Alan Lomax‘s entire audio archive is to be made available online, and new music from Jack White, Rolo Tomassi, Fixers, A Place To Bury Strangers, Cate Le Bon, The Darkness and CMU favourite Mallard The Wonderdog.