CIC Day One

Approximately 1,700 delegates convened at the largest Concert Industry Consortium in history in Los Angeles February 5th, amid Super Tuesday and a 370-point drop in the Dow.  For all of what has transpired over the years, this first day was as close as routine as CIC gets, from delegates who mostly made it through registration without trouble, having experienced the ritual for well more than a decade, to panels and a keynote that were clear and concise, if not confrontational.

The latter holds true for Harvey Goldsmith’s keynote.  Goldsmith, whose resume includes Live Aid  and the Led Zeppelin reunion at The O2 arena, challenged the industry to take an aggressive stance against scalpers.  And that included not joining their party and melding the world of primary and secondary ticketing.  

Goldsmith’s address comes on the heels of Paul McGuinness’s MIDEM speech, chastising ISPs for free transfer of digital music.  In fact, Goldsmith quoted McGuinness as prelude to his attack on greed inside the concert industry.

Goldsmith, who came with graphs and a well-edited speech, channeled the words of several panelists from earlier in the day – using phrases heard in the smaller rooms … It’s about the music, not the money.  And we have to keep the prices down.  He noted the top 100 tours are making less money and suggested it is because they are overpriced.

He is not a fan of ticketing companies – or, likely, promotion companies that have ticketing services – that have given up the ghost and will move into the secondary market.  He’s also not a fan of 360 deals (something he says he’s been doing since the early ’80s without the name) and is curious about its sudden birth.  He suspended opinion on Live Nation’s emerging model, but said the record companies should require partnerships.

Concerts West / AEG Live chief John Meglen arrived at the panel for the mid-sized venue equipped with information gleaned from Staples Center / Nokia Theatre L.A. Live chief Lee Zeidman.  But he also came to the panel without his signature mane, which caused just a few double-takes.  In other words, Meglen’s got a bitchin’ new haircut.

An audience member asked the participants if they foresaw, oh, 50 more mid-level venues cropping up across the U.S. Of course, the panelists said it was the wave of the future and, to back that up, it should be noted that the room was overflowing with the curious and interested.  The mid-level venue has been the talk of the industry lately.  The only question is who can afford to build them.

Not even AEG is immune to the headaches of land ownership.  The company is refurbishing some rooms rather than building new ones and, as in the case of Nokia Theatre at Grand Prairie, has been fortunate enough to be the second owner, after the first one went bankrupt.

Over at the ticketing panel, some statements were made that even in passing had portent.  Ticketmaster’s David Goldberg noted the industry has plenty of unsold tickets (other than Hannah Montana) and wondered why it doesn’t allow the audience to determine the price of the ticket which in turn brings more people to the show. “Take from the rich and give to the poor,” he said.

Goldberg was touching upon a topic that is gaining traction in the past few years – be it called yield management or dynamic pricing.  Based upon audience response, the ticket price is adjusted either up or down.  It was a concept that was discussed in several different panels.  And reducing prices was an unexpected nod to Allen Bloom, the Ringling Bros. executive who recently passed away; his famous pitch was letting kids into the circus for free, bringing with them merch-buying parents.

Another topic of the ticketing panel was eliminating scalping by RFID chips on the tickets.  The upside was that not only could it help trace the history of the ticket, it could show the patron’s location in the building and whether the patron was buying merchandise.  The downside was obvious: RFID is already receiving a bad rap as a “Big Brother” device that is implanted on all new passports.

The headline for the artist fan site panel, “Boon or Boondoggle?” turned out to be a misrepresentation. If somebody on the panel didn’t like fan clubs, it was not made clear.  As David Marcus of echo music said, “You’re telling fans what you’ll get when you’re in the fan club and then you give it to them.  What a concept.”  The boondoggle wasn’t fan clubs; it was executives who were not Internet savvy.

As is the case every year, the independent promoters panel swelled with visitors.  The group took some pretty tough questions from the audience, such as “Live Nation: good or bad?” and “With the recording industry losing its financial power and Live Nation stock at half its original price, where do you see the industry in two years?”

“Anytime it’s about the money and not the music, it’s bad news” was likely the most direct answer.  But also there are too many bands out there now that do not live up to their PR, probably because it’s so easy to record at home  and the bands do not have solid record support.  Meanwhile, the jury’s still out on Myspace, Facebook, and other fan-driven Web sites because, one, the fans “don’t know the business” and, two, a big online fan base in Green Bay can still mean a draw of five people on a Tuesday night.

Although it was argued that if ticketing prices were high they would discourage return business, Bill Silva said in his experience 25-year-olds to 35-year-olds have always put concerts on the back burner, only to return at an older age.  Once it was determined that older audiences would only see one or two shows a year, the Hollywood Bowl increased the pricing on the shows, as well as the value.

Of course, Latin music is on the rise, with Coachella, which has several Latin artists on its roster this year – including three from United Talent Agency alone – announcing its lineup from Mexico City.

Memo Parra of Ocesa/CIE made clear that the Mexican economy, unlike the economy to the north, is stable and virtually debt free.  The Strokes drew 30,000 in Mexico and the only two stadium shows Britney Spears has done in years were south of the border.  Meanwhile, markets are increasing, with more plays in Florida and “smaller” markets like Boston. 

Now if only ticketing systems were uniform, because U.S. fans still need to cross the border to buy tickets in advance.
Guess what was the big topic at the agents conference: festivals.  It’s a great way to launch a tour and get acts in front of their core audiences. It is also a great way to introduce an act to a “captured audience” which can truly mean an audience immobile inside a tent.

It is also an interesting time to be an agent, who is now often the first industry contact for an act and will introduce the act to a manager.

Day two of the conference continues with the increasingly popular roundtable discussions, a conversation between former NACPA chief Ben Liss and the “always entertaining” (that’s his words) Bob Lefsetz who is not afraid of capital letters or stating his opinion, and an evening of events that includes an invite to the Orpheum Theatre, a showcase for Crooked X at the Cat Club and two private viewings of “U23D” with the executive producer of the movie.

Stay tuned.