Krueger Launches MIRA Conference

Princeton University economics professor Alan Krueger likes to joke that E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg is the only man alive who can say he’s shared a stage with Bruce Springsteen and the former chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Alan B. Krueger
– Alan B. Krueger
Alan B. Krueger outside the White House

Krueger, who met Weinberg and Springsteen during the course of researching a ticketing study, happily accepts the suggestion he’s a numbers-crunching wonk with a rock ‘n’ roll heart. He’s also the first to admit that while it was an honor and privilege to serve Obama and the country trying to turn around the worst recession since the Great Depression, he’s glad it’s over.

Now, Krueger is turning his attention back to his first love: crunching data around all things music. Readers may remember his presentation on the economics of concert tickets at the Concert Industry Consortium – predecessor to Pollstar Live! – in 2002, and follow-up studies on secondary ticketing he’s shared with Pollstar over the years.

Krueger, with the help of Jeannie Wilkinson, Live Nation’s former VP of Global Research, has established the Music Industry Research Association and is preparing to launch Aug. 10-11 what is hoped to be an annual conference for music industry professionals, taking place on the University of California, Los Angeles campus.

Among the topics are “Industry Professional Panel: Is this the Best of Times or Worst of Times,” including featured panelist Marc Geiger, WME partner and head of music.

Broad subjects divided into intriguing breakout groups include industry trends such as concert revenue, physical sales and streaming; economics of digital sales and streaming; copyright owners versus users; live music (including secondary market and streaming issues); new technology developments including Blockchain and recording; the transformation process in the digitized music economy; and issues of digitization, radio, globalization and opportunity.

There will also be an artists panel and discussion of the future direction of MIRA.

The MIRA Conference is open to anyone who is interested in social science research on critical issues facing the music industry. It is to feature discussions from researchers across disciplines and professionals throughout the industry including live events, ticketing, artists, publishing and labels.

“I had the idea for quite a while of forming an association for economists and other social scientists who study the music industry, but didn’t have time to get around to launching it,” Krueger told Pollstar. “Around last fall, I got in touch with Jeannie Wilkinson. She used to be the head of research for Live Nation and I got to know her a little when I was doing my research around concerts.

“I asked her if she would help to get this off the ground and be executive director. I can say, modestly, I think we’ve made a great team. She’s really thrown herself into this, which has made it possible.”

Krueger and Wilkinson have also received support from the academic community as well as the music biz. In addition to Krueger and Wilkinson, MIRA is supported by an advisory board that includes David Reiley, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley and also principal scientist for Pandora; and Dan Ryan, principal product manager, speech integration, for Amazon Music.

The advisory board also includes Marie Connolly, associate professor of economics, School of Management at the University of Quebec in Montreal; Julie Holland Mortimer, associate professor of economics at Boston College; Alan Sorensen, a professor in the economics department at the University of Wisconsin; and Joel Waldfogel, professor, Frederick R. Kappel Chair in Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota.

Krueger admits that, at first, he wasn’t sure how much interest there would be in the intersection of economic wonkery and the music business, and whether there was enough to sustain MIRA.

“When we started out in the fall, it was, like, maybe we will we go forward and maybe we won’t,” Krueger explained. “It kind of exceeded my expectations in how much interest they thought there would be in forming the Music Industry Research Association, encouraging research in this area and using research in this area on music to help explain economics, teach economics, improve economics, to develop new theories and test theories with exciting data, and also to try to help the industry to search for a more sustainable business model.”

Krueger and Wilkinson began by talking to academics in the area, then reached out to industry leaders. He says they’ve been pleased by the industry interest they’ve received but continue to hunt for advisers and support.

Alan Krueger Official
– Alan Krueger Official

MIRA is currently registered as a limited liability corporation but is in the process of filing for 501c3 tax-exempt status.

“One of our goals is to help promote the music industry,” Krueger said. “Part of the reason I’m going to present the study I’m going to present [at the MIRA Conference], is music has been a pathway for underrepresented groups to get a message out. It’s provided opportunity and a way for disadvantaged groups to have more opportunity in the U.S. That’s the history of music from jazz on.

“How can that continue in the constantly evolving technological environment is something that really motivates me,” Krueger continued. “The Association would like, down the road, to use materials that we generate to help teach in school.

“One thing I’ve learned is that the best way to teach students is to talk about music. This is true at any school that I visit. High school, college; if I visit a state school or an Ivy League school, the students get enthusiastic talking about the economics of music.

“I think here’s a way that we can teach not only music education but economics, about personal finance and making good decisions, which many of the artists don’t make, and even potentially teach math and science. So that’s an area I’d like to see the Association play a role in down the road.”       

Krueger’s immediate goals for the MIRA Conference are twofold: to start a dialogue between top academics and researchers in economic, sociology and computer science with leaders in the music industry in order to enrich the work of both; and for academics to present research and get feedback from their peers as well as from a wider audience.

Another important goal for Krueger is to make MIRA sustainable by self-funding. Conference fees – $125 for the first 100 registrants; $250 thereafter – include meals, opening reception and a one-year MIRA membership in addition to conference admission at UCLA’s new Luskin Conference Center at 425 Westwood Plaza in Los Angeles.

Registration, email sign-ups and other MIRA information can be found at the Association’s website:

“It would be really good to have an impartial, independent group because various interests are funding research and it’s very difficult for non-specialists to be able to evaluate quality,” Krueger said. “I think it’s important that we be insulated from the industry; that all sides feel like we’re a credible group, which is why we set up an industry advisory board. But I’m trying to set it up that it’s insulated by using dues and outside funding from philanthropies and neutral parties. That’s our goal.”

Alan Krueger Onstage
– Alan Krueger Onstage
Alan Krueger Onstage

Inevitably, conversations with Krueger circle back to rock ‘n’ roll. During his days at the White House, he was able to meet both Springsteen and Bono of U2 – at whose concerts he’d collected data for a study. Bono apologized to him about a concert at New York’s

“He didn’t know exactly what it was,” Krueger recalled. “He was right. Something with the crowd. The crowd was rude! But I was amazed, that of all the concerts he’s given, that he remembered it.”

Krueger compared the U2 show with one from Springsteen, also at Madison Square Garden.

“It was very interesting. I had first done the study at a Springsteen concert, and the fans really wanted to be there. But for U2, the fans were like stockbrokers; they didn’t know

“Patti Smith performed to 800 people. I’ve given lectures to more people. At Madison Square Garden, which is cavernous. I had people come to me and say, ‘Did you know who the warmup act was?’ And I said, “Too bad you missed her. It was Patti Smith.

“I had the impression you had a lot of people coming up from Wall Street who didn’t really know much about U2 but spent a fortune for their tickets. For Springsteen, if you had a great seat you didn’t resell it. For U2, the great seats were much more likely to be resold.”

Maybe it’s the New Jersey connection, but Krueger seems especially fond of Springsteen and his band.

“Max Weinberg has become a friend of mine!,” Krueger said with the zeal of a fan. “I got to go onstage and hit the tambourine and look like I was singing! It was a lot of fun. He said, ‘There’s a reason they call it playing. It’s not working.’ I told him afterward that he’s the only person in the whole world who can say he’s performed with Springsteen and with me!”