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Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff: How to Make Money While Music Becomes “Demonetized”

Irving Azoff

As a longtime music executive and talent manager, Irving Azoff has had to find a way to work with everyone from inebriated rock stars to David Geffen. But he’s never had to placate Washington, D.C., before. But that’s what Azoff needs to do in order to pull off the deal of a lifetime: A merger between his Ticketmaster (TKTM) Entertainment, which dominates the ticketing business, and Live Nation, (LYV), which dominates the live concert business.

When Azoff isn’t busy trying to convince people that the merger doesn’t violate antitrust regulations, or running his ticketing company, he manages the careers of everyone from the Eagles to Christina Aguilera. Note the one thing in the music business he doesn’t spend time on: selling recorded music.

Session Highlights

Live Blog

  • Introduction: Legendary Eagles survivor Joe Walsh, looking very much worse for wear, shows up via video to talk about his longtime manager. “Irving is the only manager that I ever knew that said to David Geffen ‘pffft,’ and he’s still here.” Also: “He’s a friend of mine….All the guys in the Eagles love him. He has a beautiful house that we bought him.”
  • Irving notes that Joe is now sober.
  • Irving rattles off his management empire: 16 management companies, handling everyone from Miley Cyrus to Willie Nelson. Country, classic rock “where the tour money is.”
  • Kara: Where’s the music business going? Irving: Obviously, with the “demonetization of recorded music,” everyone got into a woe-is-me attitude, but I’m enthusiastic. “Narrowcasting” of the industry has created new stars, and live business is good.

Kara Swisher

  • Irving: Music labels have always been slow to react to technology, and a lot of people in this room profited from that. Basically the record industry sat around and tried to protect an old model.
  • Kara: Could the business have reacted differently? Irving: Yeah, suing your customer is a bad idea.
  • Kara: Will there be record companies in the future? Irving: Yes. They have 100 years of content. They’ll be more like publishing companies, where they are a repository of rights.
  • Kara: How do you feel the technology business has treated the music business? [Apologies for gap, technical issues]. Eagles have generated about $400,000 in Apple (AAPL) iTunes royalties. Which is about what they get for a couple live shows.
  • Irving: Overall, the state of music industry is promising. Was fallow for a bit, but there’s a whole new generation of singers, songwriters, performers. “You never know where it comes from.” In terms of the business, there will be more companies than the four big labels that dominate today. “It will be a great time for entrepreneurs….It’s not over, but it’s warping into 2.0, 3.0.”
  • Kara: What does a music executive have to do to survive? Irving: You have to take chances. They can’t complain about the iTunes deal. They have to embrace new technology, and I think they are, and it’s easier to get deals done now.
  • Kara: What about these little digital companies like Playlist and iLike, which Ticketmaster owns  a piece of? They can survive, and they’re excellent marketing opportunities. But they’ll have to find other ways of making money. Can they? “I don’t know.” Advertising? “I don’t know.”

Irving Azoff

  • Onto the merger. Irving lays out the case. Everything revolves around live music, and they’re the biggest player in live music. It’s really the promotion piece, and the marketing piece, added to Ticketmaster. Without that, Ticketmaster wouldn’t survive. “Any of you guys can write a program that does what Ticketmaster does….I’ve been there a couple of months and I have gripes myself.”
  • People’s gripe with Ticketmaster isn’t with what we do, it’s demand issues: People want tickets to attend sold-out shows, so we have unhappy customers. Plus we’ve been the “collection agency” for a whole bunch of fees. “But the decision is ultimately made by the act.”
  • What about criticism to the merger from the likes of Bruce Springsteen? “Everything we do revolves around what’s good for the artist and what’s good for the fan. That’s our new model.”
  • Not really an answer, Kara points out. Irving: “I would say that Bruce is uninformed about the potential of what this could be.” [Maybe someone could tell Jon Landau.] For instance, we could be bundling new songs along with tickets. “The business traditionally resists change,” so complaints about the merger are nothing news. And there’s plenty of competition: Phil Anschutz competes with us and he’s worth more than the combined market cap of both of these companies. Warner Music Group’s (WMG) Edgar Bronfman Jr. says he’s in the ticketing business, etc.
  • Discussion of TicketsNow, a StubHub-like  “secondary market”/scalping business owned by Ticketmaster. Irving has said that in the past that he wouldn’t have bought it. Would he sell it now? Maybe.
  • What are the prospects for the merger? “Very optimistic” that it will get done between now and end of the year.
  • Back to griping about prices and availability: “People in the music industry, we’ve had a horrible record of shooting ourselves in the head.” We haven’t done enough dynamic pricing for tickets, and we should, and that will help make people happy. But these issues are fundamentally the artists’ responsibility. They decide what tickets we sell, and at what price.

Irving Azoff

  • Where is the music business going, overall? Who’s your favorite? “It’s like asking what’s your favorite kid.” Internet makes things very exciting, distribution is opening up. What about the industry suing customers? I think that’s a “very small issue.” We do need to protect intellectual property, and the people who make it.
  • Q&A: Esther Dyson wants to know what Ticketmaster/Live Nation will  do with all the data they collect about customers, etc. “Any artist that calls up and says I’d like the email list of the people who came to my show, we’ll make that available.” But with regard to pricing, etc., artists and their management are not being sophisticated about how they use data. And we have to keep the press from chastising artists that use dynamic pricing.”
  • Q: Not clear what the question is. But seems to be about using an auction model from the get-go. “Auctions are falling into real disfavor at the moment….We’re finding that people don’t want to spend the time to participate in them.” They just want to know that this VIP package costs this much.
  • Q: What do you think about subscription services? “I’ve always thought subscription was an incredible model.” But tricky to pull off with labels, publishers, unions, mobile guys all trying to figure out how to split the money.
  • Q: Do you have specific advice for classical music artists? The great thing about the Internet is that you no longer have to be popular with everybody to have a career. Classical should flourish in this era. Build a base, get in front of people, have people like you live. “That’s been true in 1966, and that will be true as long as there is music.”
  • Do your artists like Twitter? Some do. “Very useful” but other artists “refuse to get a mobile phone.”

A note about our coverage: This liveblog is not an official transcript of the conversation that occurred onstage. Rather, it is a compilation of quotes, paraphrased statements and ad-lib observations written and posted to the Web as quickly as we were able. It was not intended as a transcript and should not be interpreted as one.

Irving Azoff Session Photos

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Joe Walsh video introduction for Irving Azoff at D7.