Dean Budnick and Josh Baron – both editors for Relix magazine – delve deep into the machinations of the ticketing, theater and promotions industries, trying to explain how the average price of a concert ticket rose by over 82% in the period between 1996 and 2003. In doing so, they introduce many of the players who have taken ticketing and venue ownership from a purely regional affair in the 70s to the Live Nation/Ticketmaster behemoth of today.
Ticket Masters is rich in information, if anything, too much information. The authors regularly go off-topic taking the reader down unexpected and often unnecessary tangents, including giving a history of the Seattle grunge scene before they introduce Pearl Jam’s (specifically Eddie Vedder’s) infamous battle in 1994 with Ticketmaster over their fee practices and monopolistic hold over the country’s venues.
And that’s my real problem with the book. It suffers under the weight of an excess of words, the real information being undermined by trivial asides and distractions which make the bulk awkward to comprehend.
I think that The Grateful Dead organization came out of this smelling of roses as well as patchouli oil; at least they could have been? The tales of their early exploits about making sure their fans were looked after is smothered by the authors going off on confusing side roads about other characters, leaving me to wonder if these new characters were even involved with The Grateful Dead or not. It was just way too much information and it made for a frustrating read at that point.
What does come across as evident though is that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 – signed into effect by President Clinton, but under extreme pressure from the Republican-led congress – changed the entire landscape of the concert and radio industries. The deregulation it offered suddenly gave large corporations – like Clear Channel and SFX – the opportunity to get even larger and force small operators to either quit or sell up. An Act which was supposed to give the consumer greater choice did the exact opposite, with regional venues, radio stations, promoters, agents and ticketing companies all merging into one corporate blob, a many-headed bully who then proceeded to give a whole new meaning to the word “greed.”
One thing that seemed to be absent was any kind of editorial justification or vilification for the many and varied fees that are now charged when booking a ticket online or over the phone. It’s almost as if the authors somehow admire the levels of greed that exist, happy to simply print the figures but not comment in any way just what an effect they have had on music fans over the years. What this book fails to address is how the public’s perception of live shows changed when fees (often excessive) started to be introduced, nor why, if one company basically owns “everything,” promoters can’t simply charge one overall price to cover all the ludicrous incidentals, leaving the public to then decide if that one figure is fair to see the performer.
One segment of this otherwise disappointing book stood out from all the rest though, the perfect example of how greed has always existed in the industry and why we should never expect anything less from this bunch of blood-sucking profiteers. Famed promoter Bill Graham would rent out lawn chairs at his amphitheaters for $2, also tacking on a $15 deposit which was refundable at the end of the concert. He would employ 10 staff to rent the chairs out, but only employ one or two when it came time to return them. He realized there was a huge profit to be made from the people who, at the end of an often long and exhausting evening’s entertainment, were too lazy to stand in line for more than a few minutes.
It feels like an early version of today’s ludicrous “print at home fees,” both making mugs of concert goers.
The need for this story to be told = 10. The manner in which it is told here = a disappointing 3½ (+1½ “convenience points.”)