Ticketmaster and the economy of live musical performance
|A case study|
|by Kristine Weglarz|
|In the United States, Ticketmaster is the largest ticket distributor for concerts and venues, coming out as a winner in the increasing concentration of ownership in the market of live music performance — a market that by now surpasses the market for recorded music. All in all, we see an ever-narrowing network of music labels, combined with synergistic control and ownership over the means of ticket distribution, which limits points of access to venues and promotion agencies. Against this background Kristine Weglarz analyzes the anti-trust complaint brought in 1994 by Pearl Jam against Ticketmaster, and discusses the theoretical implications and proposed solutions.|
The contested field of live performance. In 1996, I managed to get tickets through Ticketmaster to see my first Pearl Jam show in Toronto. Sure, the seats were not great, but I was not complaining, particularly since my ticket only cost $25, plus a $2.50 service charge, and all the seats in the arena cost the same. Not bad, I thought, particularly in light of what I had read about the band's struggles with Ticketmaster in the recent past. Somehow, Ticketmaster Canada had managed to agree to what Ticketmaster in the U.S. would not. Clearly, it was possible for the ticketing giant to keep their service charges at 10% of the face value price for tickets, despite Ticketmaster's arguments to the contrary.
In light of the contradictions between Ticketmaster's actions and statements, this chapter outlines the antitrust complaint launched by Pearl Jam in 1994 to illuminate the laws and loopholes present in antitrust law and the Ticketmaster. These legal grey areas may serve as inroads to subverting the increasing concentration of ownership in the market of live music performance. I also demonstrate the limits of utilizing political economy and cultural studies approach to solving the issue of increasingly limited options for concertgoers to purchase tickets. A joint methodological approach is necessary in this case. I also analyze and propose a set of solutions to the monopolization of the ticket distribution industry for a number of agents, including fans and the musicians involved in the business of touring.
|While cultural studies scholars and those working within the paradigm of political economy have traded theoretical barbs in academic journals for some time, the March 1995 colloquy series in the journal Critical Studies in Mass Communication brought much of this conflict to the forefront of the field of communication in spiteful and unproductive ways. In reviewing this debate, I use the arguments of all scholars involved and place them in relationship to the study of live musical performance. In doing so, I illustrate the limits of each approach for opening up avenues for audiences and artists to productively work around the existing corporate and legal apparatus for the purposes of resistance, subversion and ideally, meaningful change.|
|Nicholas Garnham (1995) forcefully argues that the practice of cultural studies lacks an adequate analysis of class and power. He posits the question of whether cultural studies simultaneously chastises political economy approaches to communication for being too economistic or variants of economic determinism, yet lists a few examples from prominent cultural studies scholars' work, including John Fiske and Larry Grossberg, that has a prominent air of economism therein (Garnham, 1995: 64). He suggests that cultural studies refuses to "think through the implications of its own claim that the forms of subordination and their attendant cultural practices ... are grounded within a capitalist mode of production" (ibid.). The problem then is that the focus is on cultural consumption rather that cultural production within capitalism, exaggerating, according to Garnham, the ability for individuals and groups to resist prevailing ideological modes and find meaningful ways to carve out spaces for their existence and survival (Garnham, 1995: 65). He finds a dearth of research that examines cultural producers and the exercise of power by these agents (ibid.). In defense of political economy, Garnham argues that human actions do coordinate with the prevailing ideological mode because it is in their general interest (Garnham, 1995: 66).|
|This is a different argument than that made against political economy by some cultural studies scholars, in that the cultural studies camp promotes the idea that predetermined courses of action or predetermined courses of actions are circumscribed on human agents by the mode of production (ibid.). Further, Garnham laments that political economy antagonists chastise the approach for its lack of reliance on a functionalist perspective (ibid.). Lastly, Garnham makes an important distinction he sees lacking in cultural studies between cultural practices that are largely irrelevant to the mode of production, those more appropriately deemed coping mechanisms and on the other end of the spectrum, those cultural practices that actively resist capitalism (Garnham, 1995: 66, 69).|
|How can we account for Garnham's criticisms and insights in studying responses to capitalism and the media monopoly's structuring of live musical performance? The distinction between resistance and coping mechanisms serves as useful point of departure. With live musical performance, the unit of analysis for finding and interpreting cultural practices contrary to the prevailing mode of production primarily remain the performer and the audience. While the numerical balance between these groups is weighted towards higher numbers of audience members, numbers alone obviously do not necessarily translate into potential results once cultural and economic power become important considerations. Economically and culturally, performers have the potential for considerably more cultural and economic power at their disposal to challenge ideological modes they find abhorrent or problematic, and yet, simultaneously, they are perhaps even more contained in a structural sense by the media monopoly itself, wedged between audiences on one hand and increasingly conglomerated music labels. These dual considerations for performers extend beyond the physical recording process itself, hence why I have chosen to examine the field of live performance. The ever-narrowing network of music labels, combined with synergistic control and ownership over the means of ticket distribution, limits points of access to venues and promotion agencies.|
Pearl Jam vs. Ticketmaster. The most prominent example of artists challenging the way in which tickets for shows are distributed is arguably the anti-trust complaint brought by Pearl Jam, claiming that Ticketmaster's dominance of the ticket distribution system in the early 1990s was a monopoly. Through an examination of the actual hearing on the issue, I hope to illuminate the issues Pearl Jam felt were problematic and the rebuttal Ticketmaster provided, along with highlighting some of the problems with the hearing itself and the unexpected problems with the touring business that came to light in the process.
In the summer of 1994, the Information, Justice, Transportation and Agriculture Subcommittee of the Committee on Government Operations convened to discuss an anti-trust complaint brought against Ticketmaster by Pearl Jam (Pearl Jam, 1994: 1). The opening statement by Chairman Gary Condit illustrates some of the back-story leading to Pearl Jam's complaint. In 1991, the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department let Ticketmaster purchase its leading competition at the time, Ticketron, and ruled that the purchase did not violate antitrust legislation in place (ibid.). Interestingly, the merger took place a few years before Pearl Jam's formal complaint, but the band would illustrate in their statement and testimony that their problems with the newly enlarged Ticketmaster began soon after their acquisition of Ticketron.
|In the statement prepared by Pearl Jam, the band details several examples of their battles with Ticketmaster during their attempts to tour after the huge success of their first album, Ten. The first incident was in 1992, when Pearl Jam scheduled a free show in Seattle paid in full by the band. For security reasons, the promoters limited attendance and tickets distributed though an agent such as Ticketmaster, who refused to distribute the free tickets without demanding a $1.50 service charge, resulting in the band contracting instead with the city of Seattle for an alternate ticket distribution arrangement (Pearl Jam, 1994: 15-16). Another show in Seattle, with some of the proceeds going to charity, was affected by Ticketmaster, in that Ticketmaster reneged on an agreement with Pearl Jam to donate $1 of the agreed-upon service fee of $3.25, plus an additional charity contribution by Ticketmaster such that the total donation would reach $20,000, an amount the band would match (ibid.).|
|After this show, the band's statement indicates that they noticed an increasingly hostile and aggressive approach by Ticketmaster when attempting to work with them. Additional arrangements for lower service fees were reneged, and Pearl Jam decided to try other means to distribute tickets without using Ticketmaster. An effort to use the Pearl Jam fan club as a means of ticket distribution for a show in Detroit and the Paramount Box office in New York failed when Ticketmaster served both venues with threats of legal action for potentially violating their exclusive ticketing arrangements with both of these venues (Pearl Jam, 1994: 17-18). Perhaps the most troubling allegation by Pearl Jam against Ticketmaster was that the agent in charge of managing concert/tour arrangements received a message from Ticketmaster that "he'd had better watch himself and that if [Pearl Jam] didn't back off he would be run out of the business" (Pearl Jam, 1994: 18). They sum up their complaint with Ticketmaster as a difference of business philosophy, and suggest that if they cannot work with Ticketmaster, they should be able to work with someone else. They claimed, however, to be unable to pursue an alternative ticket distribution company given the market dominance of Ticketmaster (Pearl Jam, 1994: 20-21).|
|The situation that led to Pearl Jam's antitrust complaint was the problems and eventual cancellation of their 1994 tour. During testimony by both Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, the band members revealed that their desire was to be able to offer tickets that cost the consumer no more than $20, total, including any service fees, as they had, according to Ament, actually lost money touring over the last several years (Pearl Jam, 1994: 28). A base price of $18 dollars, according to the band members, represented the minimum base price they could charge in order to break even or make a limited amount of money per show. In order to keep the total price of the tickets under $20, Ticketmaster would have to honor their request for a service charge of no more than 10% of the base price. Ticketmaster was unwilling to agree to this request, and Pearl Jam argued that because of their market dominance, they were unable to successfully find an alternative ticket distributor or another means to sell tickets to potential concert goers that would grant their wishes to both break even/make a small profit touring and keep the ticket prices at no more than $20. The bulk of their complaint is that few alternatives, if any, exist because of exclusive ticket distribution deals Ticketmaster secures with many potential venues. The issue is less about whether or not Ticketmaster has an obligation to honor all requests from bands regarding their service fees, but rather that if bands do not like what Ticketmaster has to offer, there should be a number of other competitors to which the bands can turn for more competitive touring and ticket distribution arrangements.|
The challenge of security. Another concern, which almost goes unnoticed during the entire hearing, is the point raised by Stone Gossard on the concerns the band has with booking shows at venues without exclusive ticketing arrangements with Ticketmaster: the challenge of security. He explains this as one of the reasons for their canceling of their summer tour:
"We didn't feel like we could coordinate — because of our dispute with Ticketmaster and feeling really the only way we could tour was to sort of go outside and try to do it on our own, given the amount of time we had and our feelings about security and whether we could actually put on a safe show consistently in these sort of — we would be in outdoor venues probably in fields and stuff, we just felt that it wasn't appropriate and we should deal with this issue first and focus on recording music." (Pearl Jam, 1994: 28)
|This concern with the link between security, open fields as concert venues and their appropriateness as alternatives to Ticketmaster-only venues would tragically bear itself out in 2000, when nine fans died at an open field festival during Pearl Jam's set. Since then, Pearl Jam have rarely performed at open-field venues, and have taken to placing seats in the general admission areas near the stage that would normally be left unseated and potentially dangerous.|
|During the hearing, the Department of Justice allowed Ticketmaster and its representatives the chance to respond to the allegations that they constituted a monopoly of the ticket distribution system and had exclusive contracts with the majority of venues in major cities. Fred Rosen, CEO of Ticketmaster at the time of the hearings, spoke on behalf of the ticket distributor to suggest that not only were they one of several competitors in the ticket distribution industry, they have been declined offers by venues to serve as the means of ticket distribution, presumably because alternative distributors were more competitive or offered something Ticketmaster was unable to provide (Pearl Jam, 1994: 121). Further, Rosen later furnished a report on the fifty largest cities and potential markets in the U.S. and whether or not Ticketmaster had an exclusive distribution arrangement with these venues (Pearl Jam, 1994: 128-134). The information contained in the list does demonstrate, at least on paper, that at the time of this hearing, there were several major arenas in the largest fifty markets that had no exclusive arrangement for ticket distribution. As such, while Ticketmaster may constitute a large portion of the market, there were venues without these exclusive arrangements with Ticketmaster for ticket distribution.|
|Secondly, Rosen argued that Ticketmaster would lose money if they had agreed to Pearl Jam's requests for a 10% service charge on an $18 ticket price and as such declined to agree to distribute tickets for the band's proposed tour. Rosen also suggested that Pearl Jam could meet their goal of a $20 limit for ticket prices desired by Pearl Jam by dropping the base ticket price to $17.50 or $17.75, with service charges in the range of $2.25-$2.50 per ticket. Given that Pearl Jam argued that $18 was the minimum base price they could set to break even or not lose money as they had on previous tours, this was a clear impasse for both Ticketmaster and Pearl Jam in terms of a working relationship. Lastly, Rosen provides a list of a number of companies considered Ticketmaster competition, including ProTix, The Home Shopping Network, Art Soft, Laser Gate Prologue Select, SofTix and Sun Micro Systems amongst others (Pearl Jam, 1994: 120).|
|"It is the Plaintiffs['] own allegations in the Complaint which show that they are not best suited to bring this claim against Ticketmaster. If a violation has occurred, the appropriate party is a venue or class of venues and promoters who are the ones who 'consume' Ticketmaster's product; they are the ones who would suffer any direct loss if there is uncompetitive pricing in the fee contracts due to Ticketmaster's alleged monopoly power." (Brief, 1998)|
|In essence, the law considers venues and promoters to be Tickmaster's consumers, rather than audiences. I have included a diagram of the actors and relationships involved in realizing a concert at a particular venue, included as part of the official statement by Bertis Downs, the attorney for R.E.M., in support of Pearl Jam's action against Ticketmaster:|
|Figure 1: Anatomy of a concert deal (source: Pearl Jam, 1994: 65)|
|This diagram illustrates the problematic but legally legitimate argument resulting in the dismissal of Pearl Jam's anti-trust complaint against Ticketmaster because they were not the appropriate agent to address the issue. If promoters and venues are the ones who should be challenging Ticketmaster, this ruling may be a factor in what might be the next Ticketmaster anti-trust complain currently in the works, albeit in its infancy.|
|Pearl Jam did not tour that summer and Pearl Jam continued to try to explore other means for ticket distribution, with limited success and an increasing amount of fan resentment for planned and canceled tours — the difficulty and confusion in obtaining tickets through the Pearl Jam fan club and other unconventional means proved frustrating for both fans and the band.|
Ticketmaster, circa 2011. Fast forward more than a decade later: Ticketmaster, still the largest ticket distributor, and Live Nation, a spinoff of Clear Channel and the largest concert promoter, merged in 2010, fostering rumors of yet another antitrust complaint (Duke, 2009). As Matt Rosoff illustrates:
"Why is this important? Because the combined companies are, in my opinion, dangerously close to building a vertical monopoly. The new company, Live Nation Entertainment, will own concert venues, the ticketing system for those venues, and exclusive rights to certain major acts that play those venues. In other words, if you thought concert prices were high now, just wait a couple years.
"Some background, if you haven't been following along: Live Nation was spun off from radio-advertising giant Clear Channel back in 2005. Its main business at that time was concert promotion and ownership of concert venues — particularly large amphitheaters." (Rosoff, 2009; emphasis is my own)
|What remains particularly troublesome about this merger, beyond the charges that this new company constitutes a monopoly is that Ticketmaster had already entered into the secondary-sales market — in effect, the legal scalping of tickets for prices often astronomically inflated compared to the original printed price, through Ticketsnow.com, owned by Ticketmaster. Greg Kot discusses the details of the Ticketsnow.com/Ticketmaster relationship and the complaints by musicians about the ethics and legality of such an arrangement:|
|"News of the merger has already set off alarm bells in some prominent corners. Connecticut Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) are among officials calling for investigations and hearings into the merger. Pascrell denounced Ticketmaster for funneling fans seeking to buy Bruce Springsteen concert tickets to Ticketsnow.com, a company owned by Ticketmaster that sells concert tickets significantly above face value. Springsteen himself called the Ticketmaster redirection of his tickets "a pure conflict of interest." (Kot, 2009)|
|The situation with Bruce Springsteen ticket sales is alarming, to put it mildly. In essence, fans eager to buy tickets to Springsteen shows found that many of the shows sold out quickly, according to the Ticketmaster website. These fans were then given the option of purchasing tickets through Ticketsnow.com for prices well above what they would have paid through the main Ticketmaster website. Ticketmaster claimed tickets were unavailable or sold out, and then redirected fans to a site also owned by Ticketmaster that mysteriously had tickets available, but for inflated prices (Satariano & Bensinger, 2009). Were these shows actually sold out or were these fans being tricked into paying more for seats that were not actually sold out?|
|The effects of this merger are apparent even at the local level. Using the Chicago market as a case study, the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation directly threatens local promoters, effectively edging out even more competition:|
|"[Live Nation boss Michael] Rapino also argued that competition is alive and well. He cited the example of Chicago, claiming that Live Nation only promotes 16 percent of the concerts here versus 29 percent promoted by Jam. Nationally, he said, Live Nation only controls 38 percent of the concert business.|
|"[Jerry Mickelson of Chicago-based Jam Productions] fired back with numbers of his own, noting that in 2001, Live Nation controlled 161 of the top 200 concert tours. Jam may promote more club and theater shows, Mickelson granted, but Live Nation dominates the larger and much more lucrative arena and amphitheater concerts.|
|"U2 doesn't call us. Shakira doesn't call us. Coldplay doesn't call us," Mickelson said, adding that the situation will only get worse if the merger is approved. He called it "vertical integration on steroids" and called the giant corporation "the poster child for why the country has and needs antitrust laws." (DeRogatis, 2009)|
|As it stands, Ticketmaster has stated that it will stop redirecting potential ticket buyers to the Ticketsnow.com website (Satariano & Bensinger, 2009). Nevertheless, Ticketmaster, as it currently stands, owns not only the largest ticket distribution system, but also the largest promoter of shows and many concert venues as well. This is a marked change from the already problematic arrangement Pearl Jam challenged in 1994. This time, however, the precedent set by the grounds for the previous dismissal of the antitrust complaint may actually work to the advantage of those who might challenge the newly merged Ticketmaster/Live Nation behemoth.|
Looking for solutions. Money for Nothing (Jhally & McLeod, 2001), a documentary produced by the Media Education Foundation, outlined several potential solutions to the larger problems within the music industry. The documentary outlines the structural constraints faced by musicians who succeed in garnering record contracts. In sum, the documentary illustrates how musicians take home such a small percentage of the gross profits their music generates and focuses on the problematic relationship between musicians and record labels. Not only are there fewer and fewer major record labels who have the resources to offer contracts to artists, but these record labels obviously do not operate for the purpose of dispensing music that is representative of the public and in the public interest. Robert McChesney, in the aforementioned documentary, comments on music's important role in social movements and as one of several voices of "the people." Yet, there is little that is democratic in the operation of the music industry. The result is that what reaches the larger public is not mirroring the public's musical choices, but major labels themselves shape and limit tastes. Some artists receive extensive promotion and accrue substantial financial success and status, whereas other artists face battles to create the music they want to create in fear that record labels will hesitate or refuse to release or promote such recordings adequately. In essence, the record labels serve as a filtering device that both demands at least a few mega-stars and serves as the means to generate this level of stardom.
|What solutions to this problem does Money for Nothing provide for artists and fans? Several key points emerge though the documentary provides a limited number of viable solutions for the monopoly of ticket sales outside of policy changes and legal challenges. Through an examination of these suggestions, I hope to add on to the existing, workable solutions and illuminate the challenges other proposed solutions offer for artists and consumers. First, they de-naturalize the structure that has led to the limited number of record labels, the relationship between artists and these labels. There is nothing essential in music itself, or even consumer culture, that has created this particular arrangement; hence, it can and presumably should change. They suggest that consumers can have a role in making changes by increasing their knowledge of how the system works and the ways in which they consume the products of musicians, including live performances, the producers of the documentary believe that the system will change in response to consumer changes.|
|While I agree that increasing public knowledge of the music industry's policies and the undemocratic way in which they operate is necessary, I fail to see how consumers can find ways to resist the current arrangement of the music industry when it comes specifically to live performance. Granted, the use of peer-to-peer file sharing has elicited a huge reaction from the record labels (albeit delayed and perhaps inappropriate/unsuitable) but when we turn to live musical performance, how can consumers access these performances without actually going through the existing and limited channels to purchase tickets? If consumers have a problem with the monopoly system of ticket distribution, one obvious but ineffective solution appears for them to refuse to attend concerts where they are required to purchase tickets through Ticketmaster. Who really suffers directly as a result of this course of action? Further, how realistic is this choice? Even small venues often deal with Ticketmaster for the sale of their tickets (though this is not always the case).|
|This relates directly to another solution proposed in the documentary: consumers choose to support artists, labels who operate with a different mentality towards live performance and attempt to find the means to work around the restrictions in place. While I support the promotion of local artists who are able to perform in venues outside of the grasp of Ticketmaster, and encourage consumers to seek out local and independent artists whose politics towards the music industry and the ticketing/touring industry challenge prevailing structural norms, it remains the case that many musicians that consumers want to see live can and do perform in large venues that have exclusive arrangements with Ticketmaster for selling seats.|
|The implicit argument made by the Media Education Foundation is that while consumers should "vote with their dollars" and support local acts playing at non-Ticketmaster venues, they should avoid paying for shows and artists choosing to use Ticketmaster to promote and distribute their tours/tickets. This is a problematic line of reasoning for the documentary to suggest implicitly. For starters, live performance remains one of the few reliable sources of revenue for artists given the popularity of peer-to-peer file sharing. Musicians, already earning limited revenue from the sales of CDs and authorized digital distribution of their work, face the fact that the peer-to-peer file sharing system has the potential to cut dramatically into their incomes. Artists such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have opted to give away their music online or allow the consumer to choose the price they wish to pay for an album, recognizing the changing economic role of albums in earning money (Sandoval, 2007). What I am not suggesting here is the tired argument that file sharing is killing the music industry, but I do argue that it is changing it in uneven inconsistent ways, with some artists benefiting from the increased exposure file sharing creates and others losing a once-steady source of the majority of their music-related income. Live performance and ticket sales, including all the associated industries such as merchandising, remain a more reliable and peer-to-peer-shielded means to generate income.|
The problem of choice. Additionally, this implicit argument for a boycott of artists and concerts accessible only through Ticketmaster not only penalizes artists whose sources of revenue through music sales are drying up, but wrongly places some of the blame on the artists themselves for working with Ticketmaster. It ignores the fact that some artists must tour extensively and in large venues as part of their contract obligations, and in many cases to make up for the initial debt some artists take on when signing onto a record label. There are, of course, cases in which it's safe to say that the prices for tickets are outrageous in spite of the fact that they are being distributed by Ticketmaster and that there are artists who set the base price of their tickets astronomically high. The recent success of the Police reunion tour is an example of this. Knowing the consumer demand for decades for a Police reunion, tickets were incredibly expensive, even for bad seats. Put simply, some artists want to make a lot of money.
|This is not the case for all artists, however, and suggesting a boycott of artists who use the Ticketmaster system paints all artists with this same brush — as greedy individuals/groups who know that people will pay whatever it takes to see these artists live. When it comes to commercially successful acts, one option would be for them to downsize the venues in which they choose to perform, aiming for those venues that do not have exclusive ticket distribution deals with Ticketmaster. This may result in a number of problems, such as fan resentment for not being able to see the band with fewer seats available per show. Further, the scalping of tickets may receive a boost and given the limited availability and increased demand for tickets, fans may resort to purchasing scalped tickets at prices that would make even Ticketmaster blush.|
|This is also an example of the sort of overestimation that cultural studies applies to audiences in terms of their ability to resist and/or cope with the existing mode of production. By suggesting that individual consumers can demand, through educated choices, what system of ticket distribution is acceptable and fair, this suggestion assumes that these choices are enough to overcome the barriers put in place by synergistic business models, cross-promotional operations and exclusive access arrangements is overly optimistic.|
|Further, there is, within this line of argument, a problematic implication of the idea of false consciousness. False consciousness in and of itself is a problematic term for both political economy scholars and cultural studies scholars. In simple terms, Garnham argues that recognizing the existence of false consciousness is essential to productive work in cultural studies, particularly its educational role (Garnham, 1995: 68), while Larry Grossberg argues:|
|"Cultural studies refuses to assume that people are cultural dupes, that they are entirely and passively manipulated, either by the media or by capitalism. But it does not deny that they are sometimes duped, that they are sometimes lied to (and believe the likes, sometimes knowing that they are lies)." (Grossberg, 1995: 76)|
|The argument here is that in illuminating the undemocratic means by which popular music is produced and performed, that consumers will make politically informed choices about the music they enjoy and financially support. While a successful and widespread project to promote this particular form of media literacy may ripple over into shifting musical tastes amongst consumers, particularly through the exposure to artists not currently receiving massive promotion for tours, the issue obscures the matter of individual musical preference. I am in no way denying the ability for big media to shape tastes in popular music, rather than reflect existing musical tastes, but asking consumers to reject artists they enjoy on the basis that they work with Ticketmaster (often something the artists themselves dislike) and change their tastes to reflect artists who work outside the Ticketmaster monopoly is ludicrous. As Wilfred Dolfsma (2004) points out:|
|"What people value or prefer is not something they decide on in a vacuum. People are shaped and molded by their environment. On the other hand, the social environment does not strictly determine people's behavior either. They can decide which group(s) of people they want to belong to, and can to some extent change the actions of these group(s) ... Institutions express socio-cultural values. These values can, however, be expressed in different ways, and often institutions change without the socio-cultural values changing in concord. At some point, however, tensions are likely to arise, inducing institutional change." (Dolfsma, 2004: 135)|
|Dolfsma advocates a dialectical approach to culture and cultural institutions and consumers in this work. Returning to the issue of musical preferences or tastes, his position suggests a fair degree of free will, albeit constrained by the ideological and economic environment in which we find ourselves. What remains important and relevant in his argument to take away is the need for an increased number of options in all avenues such that what we understand as the territory of free will also opens up in tandem. His sociological approach to values and preferences within the music industry carves out the notion of a spectrum of behaviors ranging from free will to institutionally determined choices and preferences, eliminating the problematic binary these concepts invoke.|
What can we do? Given this predicament, what can be done to assist in promoting a fair system of ticket distribution? Money for Nothing highlights the role independent labels have in both promoting music that may otherwise be deemed non-commercially viable and suggest that they use a different economic operating model. While I am skeptical of the latter, independent labels do have the ability to take a stance against monopolies such as Ticketmaster. I propose that more well-developed/well-established artists create their own record labels. The cultural capital these already well-known acts, combined with the formality of an independent label, may allow for more bargaining power with agents such as Ticketmaster. Further, the owners of these labels can take it upon themselves to educate new talent in the business of the dominant music industry and the pitfalls it can create for artists when it comes to both recording and touring.
|Second, fans and rock journalists may need to reject the idea of mega-stardom when it comes to musicians as the benchmark of success. The major labels depend on blockbuster sales by a few artists to stay in the black with artists who are signed to the same label but less profitable. Mega-stardom, while also the product of the audience, is shaped by the major labels to allow them to continue to operate. These mega-stars, such as Madonna, U2, Britney Spears, and others, are unable to perform in small venues that may operate outside of the grasp of Ticketmaster. Not only is the problem one of fan resentment and ticket scalping, as I have previously mentioned, but security and safety may also become factors if such large artists attempt to perform in smaller venues. One approach for starts who would normally perform in large arenas would be to set up several back to back dates at smaller, independent venues in the same city to approximate the number of fans able to see the band if they were instead performing at a five or ten thousand seat arena. This is something that needs to be sufficiently tested to see if it is possible for the larger artists as if they are in fact able to perform without incident at smaller venues; their cultural capital as mega-stars may be enough to persuade Ticketmaster to cooperate with them in the future by lowering the processing fees tacked on to the base ticket price. The model of moderate success needs to be the standard for independent labels from this point onwards to find the cracks in Ticketmaster's overwhelming control of ticket distribution.|
|Perhaps the most useful solution, as I alluded to above, lies in using the precedents set by the Pearl Jam antitrust complaint. In essence, the dismissal of the complaint lied in the fact that Pearl Jam were deemed to not be the appropriate plaintiffs in an antitrust complaint, and instead any antitrust action should be launched by the venues and promoters themselves against Ticketmaster. I refer back to Figure 1, which illustrates the relationship between all the parties necessary to secure a concert contract. With Ticketmaster now owning the largest promoter and as a result, many of the venues acquired by Live Nation, the vertical integration may in fact provide the legal leverage for a successful antitrust complaint by fans or artists. The parties once considered the only legitimate plaintiffs to challenge Ticketmaster are now part of Ticketmaster/Live Nation, collapsing the number of agents and parties into one large entity. A successful challenge will have to demonstrate how the new system renders fans and artists the actual consumers of tickets, and hence the legitimate parties to pursue an antitrust complaint.|
|I have illustrated, through the case study of Ticketmaster, the legal challenges regarding its potential status as a monopoly, and an examination of the ways in which Ticketmaster can be challenged with the means available. Additionally, I have outlined the limits of both political economy and cultural studies approaches to the issue when used alone, while demonstrating how consumers and musicians may be able to use strategies from both methodologies to challenge the prominence of Ticketmaster and its increasingly prominent face in live music performance. With the locus of financial activity moving from the sales of music to live performance, the importance of this issue continues to increase and both artists and fans must remain vigilant in monitoring and finding ways to keep ticket prices at levels that make them accessible to more than just the wealthy. To return to McChesney's point in Money for Nothing, popular music should continue to represent one of several voices for the public, and to remain accessible in the live arena for the public to consume.|
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