Is the Concert Industry Corrupt? 5 Things To Consider
Is the concert industry too corrupt and plagued with systematic problems to endure for long in its current state? Here we look a five ominous indicators which suggest it's setting itself up for a hubristic downfall.
Guest Post by Dave Brooks of Amplify
There's a great line in 2014 film "Kill the Messenger" about investigative journalist Gary Webb, who uncovered a conspiracy by the CIA to cover up dirty drug money that had seeped its way into America's covert fight against the Sandinista government.
In one of the final scenes of the movie, a mysterious CIA agent played by Ray Liotta comes to visit Webb and essentially substantiates the reporters many suspensions about the agency's complicity in cocaine trafficking. How could America's greatest spy agency get itself involved in such a massive criminal conspiracy? Quite simply, Cullen explains.
"It's all lies and corruption, Gary," he said. "You get attracted to the power. Then you become addicted to the power; then you're devoured by the power."
What Cullen is describing is hubristic arrogance — the notion that one's place atop the upper echelons of power is a justification of that position. It doesn't matter how they got there — it just matters that they're there. Eventually, that hubris and lack of legitimacy paves the way for one's downfall.
It's a great metaphor for the music industry, a peculiar institution that likes to have it both ways. Entry level employees are given two conflicting messages: hard work is the way to make it to the top, and it's all about relationships. Newbies are told to work extremely hard and put in long hours at the detriment of their personal relationships but chided to nurture their professional relationships so that they can climb the career ladder and quickly rise to the top. Relationships matter, just as long as they're approved by company brass.
Does this contradiction mean the concert industry is corrupt? Not on its face, but the concert industry certainly has some serious structural problems that would baffle economists and other experts who study marketplaces.
Below, Amplify examines five systemic problems with the concert industry that cast doubts about the long-term integrity and viability of our industry.
5. Very few women in the upper echelon
Music is a boys club with very few females at the top. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the live event space. If you look at the top four venue management companies in their industry, men make up 36 of the listed 42 leadership positions — about 85 percent. The divide only widens when you look at the major ticketing companies and agencies, and skyrockets when one counts concert promoters and presenters. It's not as if there's a lack of capable women to take the top jobs — there just a lack of will to promote them. A false narrative that only men can hash it out in the cut-throat business of live music permeates everything. I've spoken to a number of women who have told me they were passed over for the top job because they simply "weren't CEO material," code for "this is a man's job."
4. Bribery and kickbacks are legal
One of the consequences of operating in a regulation-free industry is that just about anything goes. There are few better examples of legalized bribery than the ticket fee rebate, which is a poorly veiled pay-off for ticketing companies, promoters, and venues. I'm not against ticketing fees, but the lack of transparency as to how these price tack-ons are calculated and allocated creates a preponderance of shadiness.
But tickets fees are just a pittance compared to the real money that can be made by the ticketing industry's favorite form of bribery — upfront payments, sometimes in the millions of dollars, for the exclusive rights to ticketing contracts. The buying of contracts encourages complacency, stifles innovation and drives up the price of everything. And in most cases, a venue that doesn't take the upfront money will be more competitive, push their ticketing company to provide greater innovation and be in a better position to respond to local market trends, both good and bad. Upfront ticketing money is the Pay Day Loan of our industry.
3. The secondary market is a free-for-all
The structural problems with the resale of tickets are too many to count. Secondary ticket sites have become complex marketplaces where tickets aren't only resold, but optioned, shorted and moved around in transactions that scream of insider trader. This year's Super Bowl demonstrated that supply shortages and price spikes can easily be manipulated by just a few institutional players. Speculative listing, deceptive search engine advertising, criminal bots and shady promoter/manager side listings are unintended consequences of a billion-dollar marketplace left to regulate itself. The two biggest players — eBay and Ticketmaster — occasionally lobby for government intervention, but only when they are looking to hurt the other.
2. An exorbitant amount of time is wasted playing politics
Petty politics are the bane of my existence. Tribalism is rampant among the big venue, promoter and ticketing companies who waste millions of dollars trying to punish each other. Our industry's problems with drug deaths, negative perception, and public safety are at crisis levels, but many major executives would rather spend time arguing about which company's logo is larger on a conference program. Our divisions aren't only embarrassing, they're a liability according to independent promoter Jim Cressman with Invictus Entertainment.
"The malignancies that attack our industry love us for the fact that we are easily divided and conquered," he told Amplify for this article. "We can be preyed upon successfully because, for the most part, we eschew the concept of unity more than the concept of decimation. It’s imperative that our industry focus less on internal pissing contests with our contemporaries & counterparts and realize the true enemy to our collective livelihood is our inability to adopt, adapt and collaborate on solutions."
1. We can't undo the drug problem we helped create
I love mega-festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, Bonnaroo, and Austin City Limits, but all of these events have become not-so-subtle destinations for dangerous drug use. What happens when you have an endless supply of drugs, dealers incentivized to sell at events, a lack of education or awareness on the part of users and a concert culture that more or less condones consumption? Drug overdoses happen. Criminal empowerment happens. Death happens. Are we comfortable with the fact that our events have become paydays for local drug dealers and multinational drug cartels? Losing one or two young people to drug overdoses at a festival has suddenly become commonplace. We need to do a better job protecting these multimillion dollar brands from what is sure to be a major liability. It's time we begin to take some responsibility for the explosion of party drugs like Molly and Ketamine. Acknowledging that there's a problem would be a good first step.