|WEDNESDAY 25 JANUARY 2023||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Live Nation and Ticketmaster came under fire from both sides of the political spectrum as the ticketing market was put into the spotlight in US Congress yesterday. As expected, the live giant urged law-makers to focus on regulating the ticket touts rather than worrying about the level of competition in a marketplace that it dominates. Though the most interesting testimony provided an artist perspective of all the issues across the entire live sector... [READ MORE]|
Live Nation's market dominance in the spotlight at Congressional hearing
The US Senate Judiciary Committee decided to stage the session looking at ticketing following the problems that occurred last year when tickets for Taylor Swift's upcoming tour went on sale via Ticketmaster's Verified Fan system. The Live Nation-owned ticketing company's platform struggled to cope with the unprecedented demand - from both fans and touts - causing all sorts of issues for those trying to buy tickets, resulting in lots of angry Swift fans.
The widespread media coverage of the Swift ticketing meltdown was unsurprisingly seized upon by those within the music industry and the political community who reckon that Live Nation - as a leading promoter, venue operator and ticketing platform - is far too dominant in the live entertainment business. Most of those critics reckon that the 2010 merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster should never have happened, and some want it reversed.
With the Congress members who instigated yesterday's hearing among Live Nation's critics - and with most of those called to testify clearly hostile to the live giant - the firm's President and CFO Joe Berchtold knew he was going to be in for a tough time while answering questions from the Senate committee's members.
Berchtold's strategy for the session was apparent before it had even begun though. Be super apologetic to all the Swift fans who struggled to buy tickets on the Ticketmaster site last year. But blame the ticketing meltdown on the touts who illegally used so called bots to try to access tickets from the presale to then resell for profit on the secondary market.
True, those touts may well have been planning to use Ticketmaster's own resale platform, the live giant still being active in secondary ticketing in the US.
However, while the North American side of Live Nation may still endorse the principle of touting, Berchtold would stress that doesn't mean it endorses the tactics employed by some touts. And, to that end, the company would gladly support beefed up regulation of ticket resale in the US similar to what has already been put in place in some other countries, especially in Europe.
"There was unprecedented demand for Taylor Swift tickets", Berchtold said in his prepared statement. "We knew bots would attack that onsale, and planned accordingly. We were then hit with three times the amount of bot traffic than we had ever experienced, and for the first time in 400 Verified Fan onsales they came after our Verified Fan access code servers".
"While the bots failed to penetrate our systems or acquire any tickets, the attack required us to slow down and even pause our sales", he went on. "This is what led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret. As we said after the onsale, and I reiterate today, we apologise to the many disappointed fans as well as to Ms Swift".
Berchtold then added that Ticketmaster accepts that it has an important role to play in stopping touts from using devious tactics to gain access to tickets for resale, insisting that some valuable lessons had been learned from the Swift ticketing debacle that will help it better perform that role in the future. However, he went on, law-makers have a role to play too, as the dodgy touts employ ever more sophisticated tactics and technology to try to circumvent Ticketmaster's systems.
"We are doing everything we can to fight the people who attack our onsales and steal tickets meant for real fans, but we need help passing real reforms to stop this arms race", he said.
The 2016 BOTS Act which outlawed the use of ticketing bots in the US was a good first step, he went on, but "in hindsight the prohibition on bots is too narrow and there is not nearly enough enforcement". For example, he added, "we think that private parties including Ticketmaster should be able to bring civil actions to enforce the BOTS Act".
The Live Nation CFO then listed other ways in which US law could and should regulate ticket touting, including rules to stop touts from advertising tickets they don't actually have yet, to stop both touts and touting sites from implying they are official sellers, and to ensure that the full cost of a ticket including any add-on fees is clearly stated from the start of any sales process.
These are all rules that have been considered and in some cases implemented elsewhere in the world. And, of course, plenty of people in the wider music community - not to mention politicians and consumer rights groups - will back Berchtold's calls for better regulation of ticket touting in the US.
Some people have felt that, in the past, Live Nation/Ticketmaster has too often been too forgiving of a secondary ticketing market in which it also operates. So having a top Live Nation exec so forthrightly call for better regulation of resale in a country where touting is much more readily accepted as the norm will be welcomed by anti-touting campaigners.
But, of course, most of the other people gathered for yesterday's session were there to talk about Live Nation's dominant position in ticketing and the live sector at large, not the need for better regulation of the touts.
"Innovation in live event ticketing has been stunted because Live Nation Entertainment controls the most popular entertainers in the world, the ticketing systems, and even many of the venues", said Jack Groetzinger, CEO of Ticketmaster rival SeatGeek.
"This power over the entire live entertainment industry allows Live Nation to maintain its monopolistic influence over the primary ticketing market", he added. "As long as Live Nation remains both the dominant concert promoter and ticketer of major venues in the United States, our industry will continue to struggle with the challenges that face it today".
Live Nation's "dominance in markets in the live entertainment supply chain creates strong incentives to exclude smaller rivals such as smaller or independent concert promoters and venues", added Kathleen Bradish from the think tank American Antitrust Institute.
"Ticketmaster's dominance in digital ticketing also creates incentives to limit competition from ticket resellers and brokers, thus impairing the functioning of the important secondary ticketing market", she added. "Customers pay the price with higher ticket prices and ticket fees, lower quality, less choice and less innovation".
Knowing the agenda of most of the other people gathered at yesterday's hearing, Berchtold dealt with the competition controversies too in his statement.
He bigged up Live Nation's investments in the live entertainment business, argued that critics routinely exaggerate his company's market dominance, and insisted that there are plenty of strong competitors in concert promotion, venue management and ticketing.
As for ticket prices and ticket fees - perhaps the most important things as far as the Senate committee's members are concerned, given that's what annoys consumers and therefore voters - those things are not in Ticketmaster's control, he insisted.
"Primary ticketing companies, including Ticketmaster, do not set ticket prices, do not decide how many tickets go on sale and when they go on sale, do not set service fees", he said. "Pricing and distribution strategies are determined by artists and teams - and while Ticketmaster provides support for these decisions, we do not use algorithms to set prices".
"In most cases venues set service and ticketing fees, and the majority of those fees go to the venue, not to Ticketmaster", he added. "Indeed, for as long as Live Nation has owned Ticketmaster, the portion of the service fee that Ticketmaster retains has been falling and the venue's share has been increasing".
You can read Joe Berchtol's full statement to the hearing here.
Only one artist was invited to speak at the session - Clyde Lawrence of the New York-based band Lawrence - though he gave perhaps the most interesting statement. Expanding the remit of the hearing even further, he provided a comprehensive overview of how artists interact with the live business at large, outlining the various frustrations he and other artists face.
Although he stressed that many of those issues are not unique to Live Nation, when you end up with a show where the live giant is the promoter, the venue and the ticket agent, the frustrations increase. And, some would argue, given its dominance in the US market, it can be tricky for many artists to avoid having shows where Live Nation is performing all three of those roles.
"In the live music market, our promoter should be a true partner to us", he noted. "Since both our pay and theirs is theoretically a share of the show's profits, we should be aligned in our incentives: keep costs low while ensuring the best fan experience".
"But with Live Nation not only acting as the promoter but also as the owner and/or operator of the venue, it complicates these incentives when looking at line items in a show's settlement sheet", he went on, "which ultimately determines how much each party gets paid".
"Think about line items like 'rent' for the venue, or other more opaquely named fees like 'house nut' or 'facility fee'. In a world where the promoter and the venue are not affiliated with each other, we can trust that the promoter will look to get the best deal from the venue. However, in this case, the promoter and the venue are part of the same corporate entity, so the line items are essentially Live Nation negotiating to pay itself".
As for the specifics of ticketing, artists often have little control over that, Lawrence said. In fact, artists have "zero say" over the ticket fees that are charged on top of the main ticket price. Indeed, he added, artists are rarely even told what those fees are. "Put simply, we find out the same way as everyone else", he said, "by logging onto Ticketmaster when the show goes on sale, and seeing as much as a 40% fee or more".
Elsewhere Lawrence discussed other issues that artists face when touring, such as venues charging commissions on merch, and ticketing companies keeping all the data in relation to people who came to any one show.
He concluded by again stressing that not all of these issues are unique to Live Nation, and that he and his bandmates have had many great experiences playing Live Nation managed venues. However, the live giant's "powerful position across the industry makes it a leader in setting standards".
Plus, he mused, the dominance of Live Nation and Ticketmaster makes it tricky for rivals to innovate in a way that might address some of the issues he raised. "Competition is beneficial for many reasons, but innovation is one of the most important", he said.
"For example, companies in the ticketing space might bring major innovations that allow for lower fees, greater transparency and analytics for artists, and advancements in handling the problematic secondary ticketing market".
"But it doesn't matter how innovative these other ticketing companies are - if every Live Nation show needs to be ticketed exclusively through Ticketmaster, there's no chance for them to break through".
You can read Clyde Lawrence's full statement here.
It remains to be seen whether the renewed interest in the dominance of Live Nation and Ticketmaster in the US ultimately results in any changes, whether to secondary ticketing rules, or the workings of ticketing and the live business more generally.
Certainly it has rallied the live giant's existing critics. Who, if nothing else, will be putting ever more pressure onto the US Department Of Justice - as the country's competition regulator and overseer of the consent decree agreed when Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged - to again scrutinise how the different strands of Live Nation interact.
In the meantime, you can watch a recording of yesterday's hearing here.
Hipgnosis completes $200 million rights acquisition deal with Justin Bieber
If you're interested in the technicalities of who did the deal and where the cash came from to fund it, the whole thing was negotiated by Hipgnosis Song Management on behalf of Hipgnosis Songs Capital, which is Hipgnosis's partnership with investment outfit Blackstone.
Although it's an extensive deal - with Hipgnosis also securing the so called writer's share of song income - the price tag is particularly impressive given that Bieber is still only 28 years old.
Most of the previous mega-bucks rights acquisition deals have involved older musicians with much longer careers and therefore catalogues that contain plenty of songs with proven longevity in terms of popularity and income generation.
Although, as Hipgnosis was keen to point out in its statement confirming the deal, Bieber has impressive stats to accompany the impressive price tag. Bieber's songs "have been streamed over 32 billion times on Spotify alone where he has 82 million monthly listeners", it declared.
Hipgnosis chief Merck Mercuriadis adds: "The impact of Justin Bieber on global culture over the last fourteen years has truly been remarkable. At only 28 years of age, he is one of a handful of defining artists of the streaming era that has revitalised the entire music industry, taking a loyal and worldwide audience with him on a journey from teen phenomenon to culturally important artist".
Then noting again Bieber's age and achievements, before bigging up his long-term manager Scooter Braun, Mercuriadis goes on: "This acquisition ranks among the biggest deals ever made for an artist under the age of 70, such is the power of this incredible catalogue. Scooter Braun has helped him build a magnificent catalogue, and it's a pleasure to welcome Justin and his incredible songs and recordings to the Hipgnosis family".
Braun himself says of the big deal: "I want to thank Merck and his entire Hipgnosis team and all of our partners involved for working so hard to make this historic deal happen. When Justin made the decision to make a catalogue deal we quickly found the best partner to preserve and grow this amazing legacy was Merck and Hipgnosis".
"For over a decade now Justin Bieber has entertained us and moved us with some of the biggest songs in the world", he continues.
"I'm so proud of him and all those involved over the years in helping amass this incredible body of work. Justin is truly a once in a generation artist and that is reflected and acknowledged by the magnitude of this deal. For fifteen years I have been grateful to witness this journey and today I am happy for all those involved. Justin's greatness is just beginning".
So well done to the Biebs. And now - just for old times' sake - here's exclusive footage of him leaving the building after signing that deal. Maybe.
AEG hits out as the digital display plans for MSG Sphere London get approval
There has been plenty of controversy surrounding MSG's plan to build a Sphere venue - similar to the one due to open in Las Vegas later this year - alongside London's Olympic Park. However, the LLDC - which is currently the planning authority around the former Olympics site - granted approval for the project last year.
Various issues have been raised about the new venue complex. Some point out that there are already two significant venues in the Olympic Park - the London Stadium and Copper Box - while The O2, operated by AEG, is just a few tube stops away. There are fears that, if there are days when events happen in all those spaces, as well as the new Sphere, local travel infrastructure won't be able to cope.
The other big issue is the unique design of the Sphere, the outside of which will be covered by an LED skin which will illuminate the surrounding area sixteen hours a day, mainly pumping out advertising that will bring in additional revenue for MSG. Critics say that the digital display covering the venue will be a major inconvenience for people living in the hundreds of residential properties that surround the site where the Sphere will be built.
Although the LLDC approved the Sphere project last year, there were still technicalities to be worked out regarding the digital display. MSG has been granted a 25 year licence allowing it to pump out advertising via the new venue's LED covered walls, however that was conditional on agreeing the specifics of a five year review of said licence, and various "appropriate controls to ensure that any unforeseen health and wellbeing impacts could be addressed should they arise".
MSG's proposals for those specifics were discussed at a meeting of the LLDC's Planning Decisions Committee last night. Among other things, MSG says it will provide blackout blinds to homes within 150 metres of the new venue, and will operate a specific telephone line via which local residents can file any complaints.
The committee ultimately accepted MSG's proposals regarding the digital displays, moving the whole project one step further to full approval. Although London mayor Sadiq Khan still needs to formally green light the project. Those campaigning against the new venue - including local residents and AEG - are now all calling on the mayor to block the venture.
AEG said in a statement last night: "We are dismayed by the LLDC PDC's decision to sign off the MSG Sphere's advertising strategy for its digital display in the face of strong objections from Newham Council, neighbouring east London boroughs, the Royal Borough Of Greenwich, the local MP, rail operators, Transport For London, Historic England and hundreds of local residents, some of whom are represented by local campaign group Stop MSG".
"We call on the mayor of London to uphold his election promise to do what's best for Londoners, including the residents of Newham who are having this huge development forced on them, by directing refusal of the planning application", the statement went on.
"The advertising façade is at a wholly unprecedented scale for London and totally out of keeping with the surrounding area. The design was conceived for the heart of Las Vegas and has been transposed onto this East London site: it's the wrong design, in the wrong location".
"We have concluded that there are at least ten problems with the MSG Sphere's proposed controls for the advertising display", it continued. "Fundamentally, regardless of the findings of a review after five years, no matter how damaging and intrusive the light pollution is to the health of residents or dangerous to rail or road users, the advertisement consent will not be revoked".
Management firm One House partners on new platform for offsetting touring emissions
The two companies say that the new product will allow "artists and agencies to plan more environmentally-friendly tours by leveraging accurate emissions data". The platform also offers options for offsetting the carbon emissions of current, future and past tours.
"The UK music market is responsible for approximately 540,000 tonnes of CO2e per annum, so providing impactful ways to reduce that amount is critical for meeting global climate goals to reduce warming", they add.
Aerial describes itself as the "easiest and most accurate way to manage your carbon footprint", adding "we track your emissions, give you simple ways to take action, and offer exclusive insights from credible science writers on how to live more sustainably". It's previous work includes tools for offsetting the carbon emissions linked to NFT and other crypto projects.
Discussing his tie up with Aerial, One House founder Napper Tandy says: "When I met the Aerial team I was inspired by their passion for developing simple tools to empower climate action".
As well as management, One House also operates a booking agency and label, with a roster including Eliza Rose, Folamour, Yung Singh and Sherelle.
Tandy continues: "At One House we're constantly exploring how we can make it easy for our community to mitigate their climate impact so we decided to invest in Aerial and co-develop the world's first specialised solution for DJs and touring artists".
Aerial co-founder Andreas Homer adds: "Helping artists and creators understand their footprints will make a major impact in reducing carbon emissions. We're pleased to partner with One House on accomplishing this goal together".
You can find out more about the new service here.
Clark announces new album executive produced by Thom Yorke
"Chris wrote me to say he'd started singing, looking for feedback/advice or whatever, cos it was kind of new shark-infested waters for him", says Yorke. "I've been into what he does for years and I ended up being a kind of backseat driver as he pieced all the oddness of it together, which was fascinating".
"I wasn't surprised to discover he came at singing and words through another door completely, which to me was the most interesting and exciting part", he goes on. "The first thing he sent me was him singing about being stuck between two floors and I was already sold".
"To me, the way he approached it all wasn't the usual singer songwriter guff thank God; it mirrored the way he approached all his composition and recording, but this time it had a human face. His face".
Yorke also sings and plays bass on album track 'Medicine', with Clark saying that the lyrics on that song are about "a perfect day in nature with my wife, but also chancers, dread of time, humans as animals, addiction, the inner judge and how it's always other people's narcissism, right?"
The album is out on 26 May and Clark will play EartH in London on 2 Jun. Listen to new single 'Town Crank' here.
Panic! At The Disco "will be no more" after upcoming tour dates
"Well, it's been a hell of a journey", wrote Urie in a statement. "Growing up in Vegas I could've never imagined where this life would take me. So many places all over the world, and all the friends we've made along the way".
"But sometimes a journey must end for a new one to begin", he goes on. "We've been trying to keep it to ourselves, though some of you may have heard - [my wife] Sarah and I are expecting a baby very soon! The prospect of being a father and getting to watch my wife become a mother is both humbling and exciting. I look forward to this next adventure".
"That said", he goes on, "I am going to bring this chapter of my life to an end and put my focus and energy on my family, and with that Panic! At The Disco will be no more".
So, your final chance to see Panic! At The Disco play will be in the UK in March. Tickets are already sold out for some shows, but here are the dates anyway:
3 Mar: Glasgow, Hydro
Sparks have announced that they will release their 26th album 'The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte' on 26 May. The release sees them return to Universal Music's Island Records, the label that put out their 1974 breakthrough 'Kimono My House'. "Here we find ourselves in 2023, almost 50 years later, re-signing with Island Records, again with an album that we all feel is as bold and uncompromising as anything we did back then, or for that matter, anytime throughout our career", say Ron and Russell Mael. "We're happy that after so much time, we've reconnected with Island".
DIY distributor TuneCore has hired rapper Papoose to be its Head Of Hip Hop. "When hiring executives I look for expertise and experience", says CEO Andreea Gleeson. "Papoose's years of hustling and success in the industry make him uniquely qualified to advise hip hop artists because he's been in their shoes, he understands what they're going through and he knows first-hand what works".
Pet Shop Boys will publish the 2023 edition of their 'Annually' book on 14 Apr. It will come with a four track EP called 'Lost', featuring four previously unreleased tracks originally recorded in 2015 for their 'Super' album. Vocalist Neil Tennant says that they were left off that record "not because we didn't like them, but because they didn't fit the album". Now, however, "some of them are sort of relevant to the world at the moment".
Steve Mason has shared new track 'The People Say'. It is, he says, "a rallying call for us all, urging people to keep climbing, find the righteous fight and dive in". His new album 'Brothers & Sisters' is out on 3 Mar.
dEUS have released new single '1989' from their new album 'How To Replace It', which is out on 17 Feb.
Yelle has released new single 'Top Fan'.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs have released new single 'Ultimate Hammer', taken from their new album 'Land Of Sleeper', which is out on 17 Feb. "'Ultimate Hammer' is the by-product of being trapped in the house and listening to too much ZZ Top, if there is such a thing", says guitarist Adam Ian Sykes. "It was written to be unapologetic, a selfish endeavour with the only consideration being how fun it would be to play live".
English Teacher have released new single 'Song About Love'. "It's a pop song about doing chores instead of doing someone else, and how even songs with social or political themes that analyse contemporary discourse, rather than lyricism about tired themes like romantic love, still come from a place of love, or lack thereof", says the band's Lily Fontaine.
Death Crash have announced that they will release new album 'Less' on 17 Mar, and have also released new single 'Empty Heavy'. Of the track, bassist Patrick Fitzgerald says: "'Empty Heavy' is an intricately melancholic song that gives way to a direct and explosive ending. This is reflected by the different states of loss portrayed lyrically through the song".
GIGS & TOURS
Aphex Twin has announced that he will play his first London show for four years, headlining this year's Field Day festival on 19 Aug. The event this year will return to Victoria Park in Hackney, running as part of AEG's All Points East festival.
Le Tigre have announced their first tour for eighteen years, including shows at Troxy in London on 3 Jun, Albert Hall in Manchester on 5 Jun, and Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow on 6 Jun. Tickets go on sale on Friday.
The BRIT Awards have announced yet more performances for next month's ceremony. Lizzo will return to the show - having previously performed in 2020 - and David Guetta will team up with Becky Hill and Ella Henderson for his first appearance at the awards bash. Cat Burns, Wet Leg, Harry Styles, Sam Smith and Kim Petras have all previously been confirmed. It all goes down on 11 Feb.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Madonna biopic scrapped as she focusses on world tour
If you're wondering why it matters that Madonna isn't going to be around to work on this biopic venture, then you must have forgotten that she was on board to both write and direct the film. So, you know, she was sort of required.
According to Variety, Universal Pictures has now decided not to go ahead with the project, as Madonna doesn't want any distractions to take away from work on her new live show. However, sources say that she is still committed to making a film about her life at some point in the future. Just the more distant future than previously thought.
Madonna began hinting that she was writing a screenplay with Diablo Cody in 2020, before formally announcing that the movie would be autobiographical.
At the time, she said: "I want to convey the incredible journey that life has taken me on as an artist, a musician, a dancer - a human being, trying to make her way in this world. The focus of this film will always be music. Music has kept me going and art has kept me alive. There are so many untold and inspiring stories and who better to tell it than me. It's essential to share the roller coaster ride of my life with my voice and vision".
She had previously claimed that another biopic being made by Universal without her involvement was "all lies", insisting that "only I can tell my story".
But it seems we'll have to wait to learn what Madonna's version of her story is. It remains to be seen how quickly she returns to the film project after all the touring is done, if at all.