Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ticketmaster Fees to Fall: SF MusicTech Summit Recap

By David Downs
Tue, May 18, 2010 at 4:27 PM

A LiveNation manager said Monday that using Ticketmaster is about as fun as online banking, while Ticketmaster's “service fees” — which can be as high as $27 per ticket — are driving customers insane and must come down.

Such candid remarks from LiveNation.com’s Noah Maffitt at the San Francisco MusicTech Summit made the essential gathering a huge hit on the web and in-person. Held at the Hotel Kabuki, the thrice-a-year industry summit attracted hundreds of technologists, artists, and middlemen for eight hours of moderated talks. Among the meatiest panelist cuts: Musician Ben Folds, Tim Westergren of Oakland company Pandora, UC Berkeley's Dave Wessel, Rhapsody's Tim Quirk, and LiveNation.com's forthright Maffitt.

In the heated panel on technology and the live show, Maffitt essentially said that Ticketmaster's technology doesn't warrant the hegemony it possesses over the ticket market, and the company — bought by LiveNation in 2009 — is on a mission to update it. Maffitt didn't have a timeline for a better, cheaper, less-galling Ticketmaster experience, but he knows the clock's ticking as alternatives like Andrew Dreskin's TicketFly angle toward Ticketmaster's share.

Music is the preeminent social network, the panelists noted, with just 1.8 percent of people attending shows alone. Problem is: the average Joe goes to around one show a year, and 35 percent of all concert tickets go unsold. (My personal solution: more “two-for-one” specials.)

Other notable highlights included LimeWire ducking out of its headlining appearance at 4:45 p.m. amid a brutal court ruling Monday that could allow the recording industry to eviscerate the file-sharing company. The “Music and Money” panel featured a LimeWire cardboard advertisement instead of Jason Herskowitz during a fiery discussion between Rhapsody's Quirk, Michael Robertson of MP3tunes.com (the record labels are also suing him), and Cisco's Daniel Scheinman.

Superbly moderated by file-sharing data analyst Eric Garland of Big Champagne, the discussion noted that labels are still suing their fans and the tech companies trying to serve them. CD sales continue to fall while digital sales aren't replacing them. The labels have gotten smaller, and physical product is still their focus. And personal data, like your Facebook friends, is the new marketing gold.

Also, oddly, dance music has been the genre to most successfully and totally divorce itself from the ailing music industry. The production, sales, distribution, and consumption of “dance” music is vibrant and untethered — local artists like Kush Arora own the net, savvy labels like Ubiquity and OM snuggle up with customers and leak them songs, while cracking venues like Mezzanine show people a well-curated, good time via promoters like Blasthaus. Whether it's A-Trak's Fool's Gold or Diplo's Mad Decent, “dance” is on fire, and you would never know it if that ain't your thang.

“Music and Money” could have used a Warner and EMI rep on the panel. SF MusicTech director Brian Zisk said label reps were in the crowd, but they declined to out themselves in the heated round of audience question and answers.
Net Radio Notes: Even though the Internet ended the hegemony of a major-label star system backed by Big Radio, the old order is not going quietly into the night. Bagel Radio's Ted Leibowitz notes Internet radio stations are still suffering from ludicrous royalties that are extremely disproportionate to royalties paid by satellite radio. The richest, most influential group — terrestrial radio — pays zero performance royalties. Royalties are set in Washington, DC, where the National Association of Broadcasters lobby wields incredible power. These onerous royalties almost killed Oakland's Pandora, and they gutted the vision of local company Live365. Bagel Radio is still on the air, and the years-long fight goes on.

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