Tag Archives: Features

“If Music Be the Food of Love. . .”

Last week, more than 600 musicians and comedians signed a letter sent to Congress on behalf of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). In this letter, asking for aid, there is the following sentence: “We will know America is ‘back’ when our music venues are filled with fans enjoying concerts safely.”

Given what is happening out there, it seems as though America is not going to be back any time soon.

And according to the NIVA, “Due to the national routing of most tours, this industry will not recover until the entire country is open at 100% capacity.”

Again, 100% is a lot to shoot for unless you’re a craven politician who cares nothing about health and just adulation.

So what does the NIVA ask for? Things like the RESTART Act (S. 3814), which does things like provide money to businesses that is equal to six months’ payroll, benefits, and fixed operating costs. Up to 90% loan forgiveness for businesses that have fewer than 500 FTE (full-time equivalencies, as in people with jobs), and a 7-year payback period for the loans. Tax credit relief for a percentage of refunded tickets. Rent/mortgage tax credit (as in the Keeping the Lights on Act (H.R. 6799). An employee retention tax credit for shuttered businesses that have obtained PPP loans that runs until the business is back and at 100% capacity. And tax credits as described in the Clean Start Act (H.R. 7079) for cleaning businesses and providing PPE for employees and customers.

All of which is to say that (1) the independent venues that the NIVA represents are looking to the federal government for money to stay in business and (2) the NIVA is clearly somewhat optimistic about a 100% return of patrons to their venues in a foreseeable future.

Music and entertainment venues are not the only facilities that are on the brink of partial extinction.

Continue reading “If Music Be the Food of Love. . .”

The Bubble

Although you may have missed it, there was a boxing match on Tuesday, June 9, at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Although Vegas is generally thought of in the context of gambling and of performing artists who have passed their prime and are looking for a place where they can considerably cash in without having to do too much in the way of heavy lifting (i.e., odds are that if they are performing at Caesar’s or The Bellagio or wherever, they are comped a room such that they don’t need to worry about doing too much in the way of traveling, outside of an elevator ride), the Strip is all about boxing (which goes along with the whole gaming experience but which doesn’t go to the point of tired acts because old boxers aren’t in the game).

While I’ve never been to a bout live, I’ve seen some televised events and the thing that always puzzled me is why the people who are dressed to the proverbial nines have seats closest to the ring, given that the boxers tend to throw off as much perspiration as they do punches, so even in a world that doesn’t have a pandemic, that effluvium doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that one would like to be doused with: Wouldn’t they be better off, say, in row 10?

Tuesday’s card was organized by a company named Top Rank that has been in existence since 1966 and has been behind 9,000 fights and 1,500 cards. Bob Arum, Top Rank founder, was early in the closed-circuit and pay-per-view models for fights. Presently it has a contract with ESPN to provide free boxing (well, at least free for those who have ESPN as part of their cable package, presumably).

In its self-definition, the company states flat-out: “Las Vegas-based Top Rank stands as the country’s premiere boxing promotions company for one reason: We take care of our fighters and our fans.”

And that “take care of” is more essential now than ever before.

To pull off the event, there was a comprehensive COVID-19 protocol for all those invited. According to ESPN, “Once fighters land in Vegas, teams are transported in a sanitized vehicle to take a PCR test, the results of which will take six hours. If a fighter or anyone on their team tests positive either at this test or at the test following the weigh-in, he or she is immediately quarantined, and the fight is off.”

If they are OK, “They’ll be taken up a back elevator to a designated floor in the hotel for Top Rank. No access will be granted by elevators for other hotel guests, and all movement to and from the floor will come from a back-of-house elevator.”

Then there is regular testing and isolation from the outside world.

The bouts took place with without fans. The people calling the fights were not in the immediate space of the ring. The fighters were, in effect, in a “bubble.”

A bigger bubble is planned to be inflated next month at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando: this for some 1,500 people associated with the National Basketball League.

The tentative schedule is for the players, coaches, etc. to arrive July 7 and then playoffs starting on August 17. Families and others will be permitted to arrive on August 30. The NBA Finals is expected on September 30.

During this time there will be, not surprisingly, comprehensive testing of everyone.

There will be no fans in attendance.

One consequence of this is that the phrase “I’m going to Disney World!” may end up having a whole new, somewhat dystopian, edge to it.

The point of all this is to consider the future of concerts. Coachella and Lollapalooza, both outside events, unlike boxing or pro ball, have been cancelled.

Continue reading The Bubble

History Lesson from Alanis

On April 3, 2001, Don Henley spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject of “Online Entertainment and Copyright Law.” To hear Henley say, “Like it or not, Napster has changed everything” makes you realize how far in the past 2001 is, perhaps not in terms of time as much as in technology. And just as a historical side note, also speaking to the Committee was Hank Barry, then-CEO of Napster, who noted that Sean Fanning was in the audience and was 20 years old, which made him, Barry undoubtedly said to be funny as he spoke primarily to a group of people who had white hair, “over the hill.” As Barry is an attorney and a venture capitalist, he probably had a better sense of Congressional humor than I do. And speaking of senators, it did seem odd to see, while watching the C-SPAN coverage of the testimony, Senator Patrick Leahy, then as now representing Vermont (he is presently the longest-serving senator, besting both Chuck Grassley and Moscow Mitch McConnell), sitting next to Orin Hatch (who retired from Congress in 2019 after 42 years—bet you didn’t know you were going to be getting a civics lesson on GloNo), pull out a camera—yes, a full-size camera, as, remember: this was six years before the iPhone—and presumably take a picture of Henley.

It is also worth noting that following Henley, Alanis Morissette spoke, and I must say that she actually did a better job of making a presentation, raising—remember, this is 2001—an interesting argument that because when it comes to royalties musicians were pretty much not receiving them due the the accounting practices of the labels and consequently it wasn’t an entirely bad thing that listeners were getting access to music free from the Internet because from her perspective, she wasn’t seeing anything in the way of remuneration, so that music would help build community which would then allow her (and others) to make money from touring and merch. She also stated, “History has not been kind to artists who have candidly expressed points of view that differ from recording companies.’”

Last week, Henley was back in front on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property Law. The subcommittee is now chaired by Thom Tillis, who is in his first term representing North Carolina, and who is running for re-election this year. When I Googled him the first result is an ad that has below the text headline: “Support North Carolina’s Warrior in the Senate. Donate Here! Conservative. Father. Proud North Carolinian. Husband. Grandfather.” I wonder how his wife feels about her position in the rankings. Apparently the first live concert that Tillis, 59, Warrior, saw was. . .the Eagles. Which segues nicely to: “As a 55-year veteran of the music industry, I was asked, by the chairman of this Senate subcommittee, to come here and testify today on behalf of the creative community—songwriters, musicians, music publishers—also known, in today’s digital world, as ‘content providers.’”

Henley stressed that he was speaking on behalf of the little guy: “It is truly unfortunate—and patently unfair—that the music industry is perceived only in terms of its most successful and wealthy celebrities, when in fact there are millions of people working in the industry, struggling in relative obscurity, people whose voices would never be heard were it not for hearings such as this one being held today.”

Continue reading History Lesson from Alanis

Being There

Nowadays* when you go to a concert at a stadium or an arena, there are invariably large LED video displays of the performers in action. On the one hand, these are highly beneficial to those who are sitting in the higher tiers of seats where otherwise there are only tiny animated objects visible on stage. On the other hand, I know that when I am confronted with said screens, particularly when the setup is one where the displays are immediately adjacent to the stage, even with a reasonably good seat and sight-line, I have a tendency to opt for watching the image.

Part of being at a concert is the environment. It goes beyond the performance. It goes to being there. Being there with other people. Being part of something bigger than one’s self. Being part of a community (even if some members of that community are highly annoying under the circumstances: why is it that the people who sing along the loudest are those who can’t sing—and doesn’t it occur to them that the reason that they bought the ticket was so that they can hear the performers, not themselves, and that if their personal-but-public performances are so essential, there are karaoke bars?).

But let’s get back to the LED screens.

Some of my friends are journalists. Some cover politics. Some cover motor sports. In the cases of both, there are instances where they are on-site where something is happening, but they are not there.

To explain: sometimes if there is a speech being made by a politician there isn’t a sufficient amount of space in the room where the speech is being made to accommodate all of the reporters. Consequently, there is an overflow room nearby where there are screens that the reporters can see and hear the speech.

For big motor sports events, there is a pressroom that is typically located so as to overlook the start-finish line. But within the pressroom there are also video monitors that display other portions of the track that aren’t in plain sight that the reporters can watch. If there is a crash, say, in turn 3, they can see it. As pretty much the entire racetrack is covered with cameras, it is sometimes more useful to watch the feeds rather than to look out the windows.

So here’s the question: Let’s say someone throws a shoe at the person making the speech. Is the reporter in the other room who sees it “there”?

Let’s say that the aforementioned crash in turn 3 is the causal factor for the outcome of the race. Can the reporter describe the crash as though she actually saw it happen?

In either case, are the reporters in attendance or in adjacence?

Continue reading Being There

The Money in Music

In her introduction to the IFPI annual Global Music Report, which covers 2019, IFPI chief executive Francis Moore writes, “. . .it was originally drafted prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic.” Presumably there is a bit of an acknowledgement on Ms. Moore’s part that while the 2019 stats are past, they are not necessarily prologue: who knows what the future will bring?

While some of the stats aren’t particularly surprising, as in, predicated on consumption in the forms of streaming, downloads, and physical formats, Taylor Swift is the #1 IFPI Global Recording Artist of 2019, there are some numbers that are a bit strange. For example, in 2019 synchronization revenue—which is that derived from the use of music in advertising, film, games, and TV—was up 5.8%, accounting for 2.4% of all revenue in 2019, or $500,000,000 (U.S.). Ten years ago this metric didn’t even exist (or the amount of money was microscopic to measure).

What is someone more unusual, however, is that of the 10 on that list of the tops, there are two that no longer exist as they were known to be when they gained the traction necessary to make them on the top-10 list: Queen (#5)—and there is a picture of the band including Freddie Mercury not Adam Lambert—and the Beatles #10). I wonder how Ariana Grande (#6) feels about being nudged out. Much of the strength for Queen and the Beatles is probably predicated on their performance in the global top albums, where Bohemian Rhapsody was #6 and Abbey Road #10.

The #1 global album in 2019? A greatest hits album by Arashi, a Japanese boy band, 5×20 All the BEST!! 1999-2019. One can only think that in order to be a boy band with that longevity there were musician changes like a revolving door.

(It is worth noting that there is something to be said for the power of boy bands. Number 3 on the global top 10 album list is Map of the Soul: Persona, by BTS, the Korean boy band. That album sold 2.5-million units. Arashi sold significantly more, 3.3-million. And what was in the middle? Taylor Swift’s Lover, at 3.2-million.)

Continue reading The Money in Music

Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

“. . . the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”
–Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

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The theater where I saw the Faces—with Ronnie Wood and Stewart hiding behind the amps–, the Birmingham Palladium, no longer exists.

The Grande Ballroom, where I saw the original Fleetwood Mac—the one with Peter Green—is gone.

The Eastown Theater, where I saw Derek and the Dominos, is a memory. As are Derek and the Dominos.

What is important: the building or the memories? One could point out that were it not for the building there wouldn’t be the memories, which is absolutely true. But were I to drive down Grand River and see the sad remains of the Grande (if you’re interested in seeing it, the address if 8952 Grand River, Detroit; Google Maps has an image of the remaining structure), would it make much of a difference with the exception of a brief wave of nostalgia? If the Grande was purchased by some corporation and transformed into some faux-hip venue, would that make my memories any better?

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Two miles southeast of the Grande on Grand River, the Olympia Stadium once existed. There is now an Army National Guard facility on the site and most of the property appears to be a shitty parking lot. Olympia was opened in 1927 (the Grande opened as a dance hall in 1928), closed in 1980 and was torn down in 1987.

I saw the Rolling Stones there. That band apparently continues to exist. I have no interest in seeing the present incarnation of the Stones. That the site where I saw one of the best concerts of my life is now something entirely different doesn’t much matter.

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Right now we are in the midst of a plague. A plague that is burning through our lives, leaving charred and devastated rubble in many cases. Things that we did, places that we went to, activities that we were a part of are in all-too-many instances irrevocably changed. They won’t come back.

The National Independent Venue Association has been established to help save independent music performance centers that are likely to be closed as a result of COVID-19.

In a letter sent to Congress in efforts to get financial assistance for the ~800 operations that are members of NIVA, assistance in the form of loans, tax relief, insurance, and other measures, Dayna Frank, board president and owner of First Avenue & 7th St Entry in Minneapolis, writes, “Our stages give artists like Adele, U2, Keith Urban, Prince, Lizzo, the Eagles, Wu-Tang Clan and Foo Fighters their start. The world could be without the next Lady Gaga, Kenny Chesney, Chance the Rapper or Bruce Springsteen if we cease to exist.”

The letter is addressed to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Kevin McCarthy, and Mitch McConnell.

Does anyone think McConnell would be convinced by that argument?

To her credit, Frank also points out, “While we are small businesses”—and aren’t the Republicans the bulwarks of small business?—“the estimated direct annual economic impact we bring to our local communities is nearly $10 billion.”

That should raise some sleepy eyelids.

Continue reading Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

Living the Live Nation Life

When Live Nation announced its earnings for Q1 2020, they were down 20% year over year, which is surprisingly not bad. Convert revenue was down 25% and ticketing off 16% compared to the same quarter in 2019. According to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, “Globally, over 90% of fans are holding on to their tickets where refunds are available, which is the clearest demonstration of pent up demand that will enable us to quickly start concerts back up.”

Of course, there are other considerations as to why a number of those people may still have their tickets, which has absolutely nothing to do with their fervor to see a show.

For one thing, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as I am writing this there are 3,965.863 total confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, of which 1,284.708 are in the U.S. There have been 275,527 deaths, of which 77,201 are in the U.S.

Presumably there are a whole lot of people on the planet who have been otherwise occupied.

And given that 20.5 million people lost their jobs in the U.S. in April, bringing the overall unemployment rate to 14.5%, odds are that even if they have a cache of ducats, they’re probably spending their time trying to file for unemployment benefits than dealing with trying to get refunds for tickets, as expensive as those tickets may be.

But CEOs must be optimistic.

Live Nation put out some stats with its earnings numbers that are lack only a bright, big smiley face.
For example, according to a survey it conducted, “when event restrictions are lifted”—which in some states can’t happen fast enough, which makes one wonder about what the governors of those states really think about their governed—the most “likely attended type of event” will be. . .live music.

Continue reading Living the Live Nation Life

Virtuosity

Rei Toei is the title character of William Gibson’s Idoru. “She”* is an artificial intelligence-based hologram, a pop performer. When looked at by an individual, she adapts to that person’s taste in J-pop. When she performs in concert, the performance is predicated on the group’s consensus of what they think she should be.

While Rei is a synthetic performer, there have been, during the past few years, a number of biologically dead performers—Tupac, Roy Orbison, Ronnie James Dio, Frank Zappa, Whitney Houston, etc.—who have “performed” in digital renditions. And reading the reviews of these shows leads me to believe that this is something that is well accepted among the fans of the deceased.

Why is it that people find it fascinating to see a “performance” by someone who is in absolutely no condition to perform? Would it be just as engaging for them to watch, say, a movie of said performer rather than a hologram? Back in the early days of movies there were often orchestras who played the soundtrack live. (In 1981 I had the opportunity to watch Abel Gance’s reconstructed Napoleon (filmed in 1927) at the Fox Theater in Detroit with a score written by Carmine Coppola; Francis Ford’s American Zoetrope was behind the showing of the 3.5-hour film in venues across the country, which probably had a little something to do with why dad wrote the music; and it may be interesting to know that Francis was born in Detroit when dad was a musician with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra: the middle name comes from Henry Ford, for whom the hospital Francis was born in is named.) Now there need be nothing but speakers, projectors and a sufficiently robust GPU-based processor.

Is the digital performance better, say, than a cover band version of the performer(s)? Wikipedia has 24 pages of Beatles tribute bands and there is a disclaimer on the entry: “This list may not reflect recent changes.” Odds are there aren’t fewer people who are pretending but more. Could many of them, however, go away, were there to be some sort of licensing deal with the estates of John and George and the existing Ringo and Paul by companies like Base Hologram or Eyellusion?

As we are all under various stages of lockdowns, as concert venues are closed and not likely to be reopening anytime soon, might people start strapping on the HoloLens2 headset and watch their favorite performers?

Continue reading Virtuosity

A Hamburger Today: The Wimpy Approach to Tickets

One of the cartoon characters that has pretty much disappeared from the scene is Popeye the Sailor Man, the bizarrely configured individual with forearms the size of barrels and upper arms the size of twigs. He gained strength from eating spinach, not of the variety that most people might be familiar with from salads (which often had a warm bacon dressing, canceling any of the nutritional benefits), but from a can that he would crush in the middle such that it popped out of the top for quick consumption. Popeye needed the strength to take on his rival, Bluto, or Brutus, which at some point was claimed to be a set of twins, who typically was kidnapping Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. Not even a 1980 Robert Altman movie starring Robin Williams (Popeye) and Shelley Duvall (Olive Oyl) with a screenplay by Jules Feiffer music by Harry Nilsson could save the strip.

At this point you are probably wondering whether you’ve accidentally stumbled onto some comic-book related website or that GloNo has transformed during this time of working from home.

Well, not exactly.

There is another Popeye Universe character that has recently come to mind: Wimpy. Apparently his full name is J. Wellington Wimpy. Something of a ne’er-do-well who seemingly came from a place of higher station and has fallen to a lower one. And who has become a con.

Wimpy’s catch phrase is: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

And you know that Tuesday never comes, even if it is Monday.

Even with states “opening up,” the likelihood that there will be concerts of any size anytime soon is slimmer than Olive Oyl.

Yet there are companies including Ticketmaster and AEG have sold tickets for concerts, and seem to be having a refund policy that would be familiar to Wimpy. You can get your money back on Tuesday.
Part of the approach is that a concert must be officially canceled or new dates have to be set for the show before a refund is considered.

Continue reading A Hamburger Today: The Wimpy Approach to Tickets

The Crying of Lot 205

Friday, April 10, was the 50th anniversary of the breakup of The Beatles, so what better day than that to buy stuff?

Specifically, Beatles’ stuff.

Let’s face it, there hasn’t been a whole lot of interest in the actual music being put out by the two remaining people who had been part of the band, so that’s not driving a whole lot of revenue for anyone.

So a wide array of things that were associated with the once Fab Four were put up for auction at Julien’s Auctions.

In case you are wondering, that business is not operated by John Lennon’s son: he’s Julian. According to the folks at Julien’s, it is “the world record-breaking auction house to the stars.”

(And as we have a bit of time on our collective hands as we shelter at home, let’s think about that “auction house to the stars” claim for a moment. Also according to the firm, it “received its second placement in the Guinness Book of World Records for the sale of the world’s most expensive dress ever sold at auction, the Marilyn Monroe ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ dress which sold for $4.81 million.” That happened in 2016. Ms. Monroe sang that song to John F. Kennedy in 1962. Ms. Monroe died that same year. So one of the claims to fame of the “auction house to the stars” has no benefit to the star in question, as both the star and the person to whom her slinky vocal stylings were directed have both been dead for more than 50 years. In addition to which, in terms of the auction that we will be looking at in a moment—honest, I will get out of this parenthetical remark soon—again, two of the stars are no longer with us, as John Lennon died in 1980 and George Harrison in 2001, so again, how are they going to benefit from the auction? In case you’re wondering about the first placement in the Guinness Book of World Records, that occurred in 2009, when it auctioned off a white glove that had been worn by Michael Jackson, “making it the most expensive glove ever sold at auction.” Jackson died in 2009. It isn’t clear whether the glove sold before or after his passing. And the whole notion of a glove being owned by him is not worth thinking about too hard, or at all, for that matter.)

Back to the auction of the Beatles’ related materials.

Continue reading The Crying of Lot 205