Interview with Dean Budnick, co-author of Ticketmaster: The Rise of the Concert Industry

 
  Dean Budnick, who holds a Ph.D. from Harvard’s History of American Civilization program and a J.D. from Columbia Law School, is Executive Editor at Relix Magazine. His latest book, which he co-authored with Josh Baron, is Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped. Ticket Masters chronicles the previously untold story of the modern concert industry, revealing the origins, development and ongoing strategies of companies such as Ticketmaster, Live Nation, StubHub and the efforts of numerous independent competitors.

 

What do you think is the future of the live music industry?

Wow that is the big question, isn’t it? First off let me just say that despite broader economic concerns and the distractions brought on by mobile phone video capture, I am confident that live music will survive and thrive. I think that increasingly the emphasis will be on live music as an in-the-moment collective experience. There is a tangible, vital difference between watching a song on YouTube and engaging a performance in its many layers in the live setting. There may be some added pressure on artists and promoters for additional performance craft and production elements but I feel there’s a real opportunity. This also bodes well for festivals, which not only provide value in terms of the scope of music that is presented but also add a range of additional elements that elevate the context beyond just that of an audience member watching a musician on stage.

 

Online ticketing is a big business, what are some trends you have noticed within the industry?

The proliferation of secondary sales platforms has very much changed the game. What I think sometimes eludes people is not just that this has made it easier for professional ticket brokers, although that certainly is the case. What’s more significant though is the awareness and the ability for interested amateurs to make some pin money. When Bieber tickets go on sale, anyone from a soccer mom in Nebraska to a college student in Montana to a retiree in Maine, can make a little quick dough if they score some seats and then flip them on StubHub or TicketsNow. This has changed everyone’s perceptions about how to secure tickets and also how to monetize them as well.

Meanwhile, the online world has opened doors for venues and promoters to take charge in a new way. There are so many more opportunities to connect directly with a potential audience, share information and then ultimately sell tickets. Also, while customer data was once out of reach, in many cases it is now available and can be utilized for marketing purposes and to nurture relationships with fan communities.

 

What band revolutionized online ticket sales?

I’d have to start things out with the Grateful Dead. Josh Baron and I devote an entire chapter of our book to the origins and growth of Grateful Dead Ticket Sales. The Dead really were at the fore in terms of securing 50% of the inventory to all of their shows and then selling them to fans. Of course this raised the ire of Ticketmaster in the face of the company’s exclusivity agreements with venues but as we detail, the “Wooly Freaks” as Bob Weir described them held their own after a sit-down with CEO Fred Rosen.

Still, while the Dead changed the nature of what could be accomplished, they were selling hard tickets. Once we move into the online realm, it was groups like Phish and Dave Matthews Band that really picked up the mantle. In this context, I also think it’s important to single out the String Cheese Incident. We devote a chapter to their story in Ticket Masters. They too were selling online and also had been able to receive 50% of the seats but in the summer of 2003 they were shut down resulting in their decision to sue Ticketmaster. They eventually settled out of court and were required to abide by a non-disclosure statement but they were allowed to keep their allotment.

How has social media affected ticket sales?

Social media has facilitated a new ease and grace of communication. Information can flow directly from bands, promoters and festivals to fans and enthusiasts. Not only does this assist with ticket sales and related opportunities but it draws audience members into the circle earlier and more directly, creating an enduring connection for many people. The ability to have an exchange with one’s favorite artist or receive answers from a promoter or festival insider just makes for a deeper, more satisfying experience all around.

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