Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Introducing the Yanks to unforeseen circumstances

It may be time to export “unforeseen circumstances” to the U S of A. Over the last few weeks, there have been a flurry of stories on the Stateside news wires about under-performing gigs. Music biz blogger Bob Lefsetz started …

Tue, Jun 22, 2010, 09:32


It may be time to export “unforeseen circumstances” to the U S of A. Over the last few weeks, there have been a flurry of stories on the Stateside news wires about under-performing gigs. Music biz blogger Bob Lefsetz started the ball rolling with a claim that artists booked by the Creative Artists Agency had cancelled 200 shows alone. On the back of this, Billboard did some digging around and found artists such as Christina Aguilera, The Eagles, U2 (due to Bono’s bad back, the poor lad), Rihanna, John Mayer, Limp Bizkit and The Go-Go’s have pulled shows or entire tours. So-called hot acts like the Jonas Brothers and Kings Of Leon were also said to be experiencing slumps in ticket sales.

Sadly, there has been very little use of “unforeseen circumstances” to explain the lack of people willing to pay high ticket prices to see an act play a few songs. This appears to be an Irish answer to an Irish problem, for now.

Many observers are blaming the prospects of the worst summer for the live business in years on our old friend Live Nation. The music giant’s business plan has long revolved around consolidation and venue control. Once you mop up the local promoters, you can monopolise the venues. Once you have the venues, you make your bucks by selling beer and popcorn to the fans who turn up to see the acts and hitting touring bands for a large chunk of their merchandising cash. Add in their hook-up with Ticketmaster and you have a music business monster, albeit one lumbering around the place, making losses and looking a little dishevelled like the England football team at the World Cup.

But when you dig a little deeper, other reasons come to the surface which have more to do with the act than the promoters and which are probably very familiar to Irish music fans. In these recessionary times, high ticket prices are a no-no (unless, as our friend Morov outlines at comment number 22 here, you’re in Moscow) so acts with high-end shows are finding little love because people don’t have the disposable income in their pocket to pay for those tickets

Then, there’s the fact that acts are out touring this summer who were out on the road last year and were also on the road the year before. As we saw here with Paul McCartney earlier this month, diminishing returns set in when an act does the dog in a market (two shows in six months is doing the dog, Macca) and thus you have to buy ads like you’re Harvey Norman to shore up the show.

For the act, especially heritage acts with an established audience who haven’t written a decent new tune in decades, touring is the only way to pump up the pension fund. But there comes a point when people just don’t want to see that act again. Look at Bob Dylan – is there anyone in the country who hasn’t seen Bob’s mumbling dog and pony show at this stage?

The issue of artist fees – the mechanism which controls how high ticket prices will go – was raised last week by the Association of Independent Festivals, which represents such UK fests as Green Man, Eden Sessions, Bestival, Creamfields, WOMAD and others.

Co-founder Ben Turner told BBC 6 Music that some headliners will cost more than a million pounds and that this figure continues to rise. “I think it’s something that agents, managers and artists need to be more aware of, that these festivals that they supposedly love, they need to show some support for that. There comes a point where a promoter has to go, ‘Do you know what? I’m not going to pay that far’.”

But if Turner and his festivals aren’t prepared to splash the cash, some promoters are – like Live Nation. Andy Copping from Live Nation told the BBC that promoters don’t really have a choice.”Big bands have to get paid and get paid big money because they’re the ones that are pulling in the people. The younger bands, smaller bands, only pull a certain amount of people. The bigger bands pull a big amount of people and they need to be remunerated for that.”

Yet as Copping’s parent company are finding out on their home patch, bigger bands demanding big fees does not always translate into big crowds to see them which means losses all round. For all this, Live Nation continue to demonstrate remarkable expansionist tendencies. Adrian Warner reports that they’re in a battle with fellow multinational live music giants AEG to take over London’s Olympic Park after the 2012 Olympics, MCD’s Denis Desmond admits in a recent interview with live industry mag IQ (full feature not online) that the plan is to recreate the Live Nation/Gaeity Investments’ model, which is currently in play in the UK, in Ireland (he says the deal is “nearly there”) and that magazine also carries a full rundown on Live Nation’s plans in Germany and Australia. You have to wonder if Live Nation know something no-one else does about the global economy.