A few weeks ago I posted about how bummed I was that Golden Voice is taking over the booking of Slim's and Great American Music Hall. I included some research on the corporate ownership structures of most of the clubs in town. A lot of people, even people in the industry, were unaware of the extent of that.
I'm told that some industry people got pissed off about that post. I'm not entirely sure why: "Fun fact, your business is owned by an eight billion dollar multinational corporation." "How dare you, Sir!"
Anyway, the East Bay Express recently published a great, long article on the situation: Will Corporations Ruin Live Music in the Bay Area?
I guess I'm mostly posting this to say, "See? I'm not making this up! Other people are sounding the same alarm!"
Here are some excerpts:
In December, [Anthony Bedard, a booker at Slim's and GAMH] learned that both venues, among the city's most celebrated independent concert halls, were partnering with entertainment giant Goldenvoice.
"Within a couple weeks, there wasn't really anything left for me to do," he recalled. "I thought maybe they'd keep me around to handle the local bills or something, but no." [...]
He was also dismayed, as a musician and concertgoer, to see the venues' longtime independence compromised by a partnership with Goldenvoice, an out-of-town subsidiary of Anschutz Entertainment Group, a multibillion-dollar company owned by a prominent right-wing philanthropist. "I'm bummed because it's them, those guys -- Goldenvoice," he said. "I wanted to keep working for independent venues." [...]
When Dawn Holliday helped Boz Scaggs launch Slim's in 1988, Goldenvoice and Live Nation were hardly present in San Francisco, and Another Planet didn't exist. Clubs such as Slim's and Bottom of the Hill, like the Hemlock more recently, were tour destinations as much as they were local haunts -- a combination at the core of a healthy music scene. "They're small businesses, so as a talent buyer, it's like you're spending your employees' money, money you all made that week, and you're facing the ticket buyer yourself," she explained. "We were always independent -- Slim's and Great American. So, I've thought about this a lot -- the Goldenvoice partnership -- and it's a great source of a sadness for me." [...]
The corporate buyers, as Smith from the UC Theatre pointed out, often overbid for artists because it establishes history with emerging acts in the hopes that, next time, they'll draw larger crowds at a bigger venue controlled by the same company. "They'll outbid someone by $5,000 on the same ticket price and the same room size and just eat it in order to establish their mark," he said, adding that it's also about depriving smaller competitors of high-yielding shows. "So, the big boys have a corporate war chest that locks independents out of the market. We can't spread our expenses across 300 venues and lose money on normally profitable shows just to edge out competitors." [...]
Package tours, wherein an artist plays only venues operated by Goldenvoice or Live Nation, undermine the expertise of local promoters; that's how an artist with little San Francisco draw ends up in a too-big venue, without a well-chosen slate of local support. "So, what happens now is the agencies can push the mid-level acts that suck," said Holliday. "There goes the variety. Here's the same bill in every town." [...]
Bedard said that Goldenvoice's agreement with Slim's and GAMH is for more than 200 shows a year at each venue.
[Danny Bell, a Goldenvoice talent-buyer] declined to comment on the details. But he said little to assuage concerns that the company won't continue Bedard's curatorial vision, or that it'll neglect local music. "SF is a great music town. With any strong local music scene, there's a lot of great local acts," Bell said. "Is it a priority? It's tough to say. I think it just naturally happens. I know that we came on up here with one goal -- to do cool shit."
That last paragraph is particularly telling. Here's how I read it: The question put to the Goldenvoice rep is, "Now that you control the music industry in this town, what are you going to do to preserve the music culture that was here before you bought your way in?" And their answer is, "Hey, that's your problem, not ours."
It's the Gordon Gecko model of concert promotion: if at any moment, a thing is worth more money by cutting it up and selling it off for parts, do that. Then move on to raze the next thing.
And in news from the other coast, here's a pleasant little update on New York City's ongoing War on Fun:
Cut the Music: Inside M.A.R.C.H. -- NYPD's secret, venue-closing task force:
First came the police officers, who then led everyone else: reps from the Fire Department, Health Department, State Liquor Authority, and Department of Buildings, all at once. The group of officers stopped the show, made everyone leave, and proceeded to inspect the place, ultimately issuing a number of citations and fines.
These types of coordinated, multi-agency raids have become a thing of lore around New York's underground music worlds over the past few years. They are the scheme of an NYPD-led task force called M.A.R.C.H., which stands for Multi-Agency Responses to Community Hotspots. An operation that swarms and shutters venues during peak weekend hours, it has been described as unpredictable and SWAT-like, employing a mystified style of enforcement that keeps venues and business owners living in perpetual fear. The violations and fines are often numerous, and they come all at once, meaning the raids are often deployed as a tool for swiftly closing bars and venues. And as some venue owners report, D.I.Y. music spaces comprise only a portion of businesses affected by these operations. [...]
"No one knows how you end up on their list," says John Barclay, owner of Bossa Nova Civic Club and member of Dance Liberation Network. "They send everyone at the same time, at peak hours, and they write you up for every single thing under the sun." Barclay's club has been raided by M.A.R.C.H. a couple of times. "They take a flashlight, they go through all your bottles, potentially look through your office. We don't know why they showed up. They won't tell you. They just show up, they're super mean, they write a bunch of tickets, and they leave and go to the next one." [...]
"If the problem is noise complaints, why are they sending the health department to write you up for the way you are cutting limes?" says Barclay. [...] If you apply that to civilian life, let's say you have a number of parking tickets, I shouldn't send social services to see if you're treating your kids right."
So that's all horrible. But, knock on wood, it's been quite a while since I've heard horror stories like that here in San Francisco.
Oh hey, apropos of nothing, Watain part ways with guitarist after nazi salute photo surfaces. "Can't you take a joke?" defense deployed.
Also, here are the latest batch of photos from recent events: