Live Nation COO Gerry Barad On Mega-Merger Music Biz Apocalypse 2010!

Gerry Barad, COO, Live Nation Global Touring

It's hardly been a month since the mammoth Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger plowed through the US Department of Justice -- they got through the anti-trust proceedings with just a few nicks and bruises, like giving away their ticketing technology to competing promoters -- so the timing couldn't be better for a visit to Berklee College of Music from Gerry Barad.

Barad is the bulldog COO of Live Nation Global Touring and close to the center of what some people are describing as a pretty scary power-grab -- a move that will change the live entertainment industry. More than ever, clubs and stadiums will be owned by the same people booking shows there, the same people selling the tickets, the same people managing merchandise, and in some cases, the same people selling the recordings. As far as Barad's concerned, everything is still business as usual.

“It's not a monopoly,” he told a packed crowd of 150 in Berklee's Back Bay performance cave, the David Friend Recital Hall. “There are always competitors.” Okay, in the case of Ticketmaster, maybe not so much – as the LA Times reported last month, they sell 83% of tickets at any “major venue” event, anywhere.

Barad – a stubborn rock & roll foot soldier for years who outgrew the Vancouver punk scene in the '70s and worked his way up through international merchandising companies and promotions armies – was joined onstage for a “fireside chat” by Berklee professor Jeff Dorenfeld, as they reminisced about Bay Area Buzzcocks and Dead Kennedys shows and slam-dunk Rolling Stones tours.

“There are probably more promoters doing things just in this town than ever before. Has there ever been a time with more big shows that weren't affiliated with Don Law?” Barad said, referencing Boston's crown prince of concerts for decades. It might depend on what you mean by "affiliated." According to a spokesperson for Live Nation New England -- where Law is currently president -- he oversees everything promoted by the company in the area "and the operations of all Live Nation-owned venues (Bank of America Pavilion, Comcast Center, House of Blues)." Additionally, he formed his own company last year to buy the Orpheum, Paradise, and Opera House from Live Nation, a transaction completed last September for $22.5 million. Keeping score?

“Nobody but Bill Graham did shows in San Francisco for years and no one complained," Dorenfeld said. “Guys worked hard to protect their markets back then.”

But as Dorenfield knows perfectly well, Graham never had a fraction of the power or revenue that Live Nation now controls. The concert industry has ballooned several orders of magnitude since Graham's day. With recorded-music sales plummeting, tours make up a far bigger share of an artist's income. And Live Nation isn't just a local or regional promoter: it has its hand in worldwide artist management, promotions, record deals, merchandising . . . and now ownership of a ticketing empire as well. (Next to that, it seems but a footnote that Live Nation owns Graham's old haunt, the Fillmore – or, sorry, the “Fillmore brand.”)

John Peters runs the New England-based MassConcerts, an independent concert-promotions company whose recent and upcoming shows range from Muse and Ray Davies on down to Dilllinger Escape Plan and Vivian Girls. Reached by email the week after Barad was in town, he says there's a bit of room for other independent promotions crews in Boston, but not much. "I would agree that there are more people putting on shows in more markets," he said later via email, although that doesn't apply so much to Boston. "In this area it is pretty much Live Nation and us." On top of that, like most events in town, those promoted by MassConcerts have tickets for sale through Ticketmaster and Live Nation.

"While the 'old school' promoters are still very protective, most of them have sold their companies to larger, publicly traded companies," Peters said. "Employees want to protect what is theirs, but it is not the personal threats and attacks that I have only heard stories about from the '70s and '80s."

Regardless, Barad contends that no one has anything to worry about with the mega-deal. “This merger won't affect anything in this town negatively. There's always someone new who can own a club,” Barad said, invoking Mr. Burns when he had to ask, “Do we own the Middle East?” (Nope. Whew!)

As the talk went on, Dorenfeld hinted at the real competitor: time. Taking a look at the Live Nation roster of superstars, you start to feel like you're reading an endangered species list. The Stones, Paul McCartney, Rush, The Who, The Police, Peter Gabriel -- they make U2 look like Another Bad Creation. What's the company going to do when someone takes these guys off life support?

Lady Gaga marks a rare score of new blood for the big-time concert business, and Barad was eager to praise Live Nation's decision to finally bring her on as a client this year. But is there any more where that came from? Barad grew up booking shows in Elks Lodges for bands like D.O.A. and the Pointed Sticks, and still possesses a pair of ears geared for street-level, no-bullshit judgments of new bands. (Though he got sick of the punk bands pretty quickly: “They didn't want to listen to me, so I moved on.”) You'd suspect that if there were 36 hours in the day, the guy would make a monster artist development taskmaster (“I hate Auto-Tune, I have a problem with Pro Tools – I like musicians”). For now, the old dogs are doing most of the work.

Barad made no bones about the business, though, and took shots at writers wagging their fingers at the deals. “There's so much blogging and so much looking over your shoulder like they know more than you do, and they bend artists' ears. That's my pet peeve -- they don't know what they're talking about. Try making a living at the business you're talking about.”

He also defended recent experiments from Live Nation with “dynamic pricing,” like an Eagles concert in Sacramento that just went on sale. The scheme is basically a hyper-specific seat-pricing plan, in which ticket buyers pay more for the aisle seats in certain rows and so on. You end up with VIP seats going for $995 and nosebleeds dropping down to $32.

“I call it Robin Hood scaling,” said Barad. “The rich pay for the poor. We're lowering the prices on the worst seats.”

Critics have accused the move of basically cashing in on scalping prices, which it probably is, but who can feel sorry for anyone shelling out that kind of dough for a crusty Eagles show in the first place?

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
OTD Categories
VIDEO: Arctic Monkeys at the House of Blues
Rare Frequencies: Trouble and treble
Lady Lee's Lion's Den Playlist
HOMEWORK: Assignment #2: D-Tension
Ticket On-Sale Alert: Muse, Mariah Carey, Black Eyed...
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Bradley’s Almanac -
Band in Boston -
Wayne & Wax -
Aurgasm -
Anti-Gravity Bunny -
Clicky Clicky -
Soul Clap -
Lemmingtrail -
Jump the Turnstyle -
Loaded Gun -
Vanyaland -
Ryan's Smashing Life -
Boston Band Crush -
Sleepover Shows -
Boston Accents -
Pilgrims of Sound -
Allston Rat City -
Playground Boston -
I Heart Noise -
On The Download Archives