DNA Lounge update, wherein three national corporations control nearly all of San Francisco's live music.

DNA Lounge update, wherein three national corporations control nearly all of San Francisco's live music.

Slim's and Great American Music Hall recently announced that they will be "partnering" with Golden Voice. That's a euphemism for "turning over most or all control of what events go on the calendar". Basically they are outsourcing booking to another company. I'm sure they have their reasons, but this makes me really sad.

I have no intention of picking on the Slim's team, whom I have the utmost respect and sympathy for, but...

I'm here to tell you that monopolies are bad. They are bad for consumer choice, they are bad for ticket pricing, they are bad for artists getting paid, they are bad for your local music scene, and they are bad for our culture as a whole.

To explain why, first let me start with some numbers. Here is who owns what when it comes to live music in San Francisco:

  1. Live Nation Entertainment ($9 billion)

    • Owns TicketMaster (who sell 80% of all tickets in the US).
    • Formerly a division of Clear Channel (who own essentially all US radio stations).
    • Owns 117 venues, 75 in the US.
    • Exclusively books 33 additional venues.
    • Owns House of Blues (14 locations).
    • Owns their own record label, Live Nation Artists.
    • Books SF Masonic Auditorium (3,500 capacity).
    • Owns The Fillmore (1,200 capacity).
  2. AEG: Anschutz Entertainment Group ($8 billion)

    • Largest owner of sports teams and events in the world.
    • Second largest music promoter after Live Nation.
    • Own many arenas worldwide.
    • Owns AXS, a concert ticket vendor.
    • Owns Coachella (600,000 attendance).
    • Owns part of Bottle Rock (120,000 attendance).
    • Runs around ten other large music festivals.
    • Owned by a Fundamentalist, homophobic, climate change denier.
    • Golden Voice, a division of AEG

      • Books Coachella (600,000 attendance).
      • Books The Warfield (2,300 capacity).
      • Books The Regency Center (1,400 capacity).
      • Books Social Hall SF (600 capacity).
      • Owns 12 other venues in LA.
      And now:
      • Books Slim's (500 capacity).
      • Books Great American Music Hall (600 capacity).
  3. APE: Another Planet Entertainment

    • Runs Outside Lands (200,000 attendance).
    • Runs (ran?) Treasure Island Music Festival (30,000 attendance).
    • Books The Greek Theatre (8,500 capacity).
    • Books Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (8,500 capacity).
    • Books Fox Theatre (2,900 capacity).
    • Books The Independent [sic] (500 capacity, 21+).
    • Is also an artist management business.

So that leaves us with the remaining independent live music venues in San Francisco:

The Monopoly Man visits DNA Lounge.
  • DNA Lounge (800 capacity) & Above DNA (300 capacity)
  • Mezzanine (800 capacity, 21+)
  • Bimbo's (680 capacity)
  • Elbo Room (600 capacity, 21+)
  • Neck of the Woods (500 capacity, 21+)
  • Public Works (500 capacity, 21+)
  • The Chapel (400 capacity)
  • Rickshaw Stop (350 capacity)
  • Cafe du Nord / Swedish American Hall (300 capacity)
  • Bottom of the Hill (250 capacity)
  • Brick and Mortar (250 capacity)
  • Bender's (200 capacity, 21+)
  • Eagle Tavern (150 capacity, 21+)
  • El Rio (150 capacity, 21+)
  • Thee Parkside (100 capacity)
  • Milk Bar (100 capacity, 21+)
  • Hotel Utah (90 capacity, 21+)
  • Hemlock (80 capacity, 21+)

(I'm sure I have accidentally omitted some venues, but I think I got most of the SF venues that regularly host live music by touring acts. I've omitted venues that exclusively host DJ dance parties, because that's a bit of a different business.)

Even omitting all of the massive music festivals, three $17+ billion dollar corporations control somewhere around 80% of all available "seats" for live shows in SF and Oakland.

So what's the problem?

Let's start with a hypothetical.

Let's say you're an agent trying to book a tour for your band. You decide how many days they want to be on the road, how many cities they want to try and hit, and then you start sending out emails to find out what dates are available so you can figure out the routing. Let's say your first call is to some venue in New York, and the talent buyer there says, "As it happens, I also book venues in 15 other cities, so I can put your whole tour on the calendar right now, how's that?" What a relief! So much less work! But then an independent operator in, oh, let's say San Francisco gets in touch with you and says, "I hear your band is going out on tour soon! We love those guys and would like to bid on the show." But then what happens? The corporate talent buyer says to you, "Look, I was giving you a great deal on these 15 dates, but if you want to take your business to my competition instead of taking the full package that I offered you, the price is going to go up. And also, maybe some of those dates are no longer available for you."

So you write back to the small fry, who may have even offered you more money for that particular date, and you say, "Sorry, maybe next time."

Or, let's say you're an agent and you represent a band with a huge draw, as well as a bunch of smaller bands. You're trying to get your bigger band booked on the summer festival circuit, so you're trying to pitch them as big up-and-comers to the agencies booking the festivals. Maybe these guys have been playing 2,000 capacity rooms and you're trying to get them their big break: a late afternoon set in front of a captive audience of 10,000. So while that conversation is ongoing, you are also trying to book a tour for a different, smaller band. You're thinking of putting them in an independent venue who are offering you a good deal, but the festival buyer also books dozens of smaller venues, and you sure don't want to piss them off, because that could mean your job. So instead, you go with the corporate-controlled smaller room as well, regardless of its merits.

"Well that's just business, that's just playing hard-ball." Sure. It's also bad for art, and bad for local businesses. It consolidates control and profit in whatever company controls the routing, even if they don't live in your town. It homogenizes everything.

This is how you end up with venues in dozens of different cities who all have the same calendar. This venue in Portland has the same lineup as that venue in Seattle, just shifted by two days, and so on. Obviously a venue's character is defined by more than just what's on the calendar... but the calendar is a pretty big part.

And those are only examples of how corporate consolidation is bad for the booking side of things. Multi-venue booking agencies also tend to own or have exclusivity deals with ticketing companies as well. Live Nation owns TicketMaster. AEG owns AXS Ticketing and partners with eBay's StubHub. You wanted to use a different ticketing service that you think has better features, or fees, or marketing reach? Sorry, not part of the package. So a monopoly or near monopoly in one industry, booking, squashes competition in another industry, ticketing. That's the very definition of antitrust.

And then there's Live Nation's cozy relationship with their former owner, Clear Channel -- who control the playlists of basically every radio station, and also own most of the billboards.

Plus, much of the time these conglomerates also manage the bands themselves: so in the examples above where the band's agent was talking to a venue's talent buyer? Now they're the same person! And often that company also has a financial stake in a record label. So the same company:

  • Signs the band;
  • Manages the band;
  • Decides how much radio play the band gets;
  • Promotes the band's tour;
  • Owns the billboards in every city on the tour route;
  • Owns all of the venues on the tour route;
  • Sells all of the tickets, merchandise, and alcohol.

Good luck trying to compete against that kind of vertical integration.

Back in 2009, when Representative Bill Pascrell tried (and failed) to block Live Nation from merging with TicketMaster, he said:

Under the proposed merger, the combined company would have control over nearly every aspect of the live music business: artist management, record sales, promotion, licensing, venue control, parking, ticket sales and resales, all the way down to the hot dogs and beer. According to James Hurwitz of the American Antitrust Institute:

"If the combination is permitted, [the merged company] will have a powerful or dominant position in virtually all of the industry's markets. Viewed in combination, the merger will give Live Nation Entertainment unarguable control of most competition within the industry."

The companies, if merged, would be over five times more powerful than their next eight rivals combined.

The proposed merger would create a vertically integrated entity whose power would extend across five of the industry's six main markets. An entrant or competitor in any of these markets would face the merged firm not only as a market rival, but also as a power in other critically related markets. A new promoter, for example, needs artists willing to perform and venues appropriate for staging the event. A new venue needs artists and promoters willing to book the facility. The vertically integrated firm can withhold these critical inputs, and its rival will suffer.

To avoid such problems, an entrant would need to enter the industry on several levels at once, a burden that makes entry far more daunting and costly. The combined entity could therefore use its five-market vertical integration to restrain trade both by chilling entry and disciplining rivals.

I'm sure the Slim's and Great American Music Hall team had compelling reasons for making the deal that they did. I assume it was a matter of survival. Much like DNA Lounge, Slim's has never been a self-sustainable business. They don't talk about it much, but it's not exactly a secret. They only way that Slim's has been able to remain in business for three decades is because of regular, large infusions of cash from their patrons, Boz Scaggs and Warren Hellman. Since Slim's bought GAMH in 2000, the same has been true of GAMH as well.

Warren Hellman was a great and generous supporter of the arts in many ways, but since he passed away in 2011, I assume the money tap has begun to dry up. Or their expenses have increased and become untenable. I don't know, I'm guessing.

But you only sink decades of your life into a money-losing business if it is a labor of love. I assure you, these folks haven't just been sitting around looking for their big chance to cash out.

Some people, Libertarians and other Free Market absolutists, will look at this and say, "Well this means that independent live music venues are not sustainable businesses in San Francisco, therefore it is right and proper that they should go out of business or be sold off for parts." That's like saying, "Well I guess you just don't deserve to live in San Francisco unless you earn over $150,000 per year: have you tried just not being poor?"

Diverse and extensive entertainment options are a huge part of what makes San Francisco what it is. Or was. Without that, we're just another bedroom community for Mountain View.

I understand that the Slim's crew are soon moving out of their offices in the Slim's building on Eleventh Street, and consolidating into the offices inside GAMH. I assume that they need less space -- and fewer employees -- now that they are no longer booking their own calendar.

If you'd like to prevent DNA Lounge from having to make a similar Faustian bargain some day -- and believe me, we've discussed it -- there's a way you can help: contribute to our Patreon. Show up. And get your friends to show up.

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Dimensionalizing the Foyer

Darel Carey:

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Pipe Organ

After the Edwardian Ball I carried my Invisible Clipboard through a series of doors that were not technically marked Employees Only and got a close-up view of The Regency's amazing pipe organ, above the Masonic Lodge. It looks surprisingly delicate: the aluminum tubes are paper thin. Everything about it looks so hand made. It dates to 1909, apparently.

Those Masons knew how to party, is what I'm saying.

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Today in "Glistening Fatberg" News

46 tons of Mardi Gras beads found in clogged catch basins:

Since late September, crews working under a $7 million emergency contract have flushed out 15,000 clogged catch basins - nearly one-fourth of the city's full roster of about 68,000. Using almost two dozen vacuum trucks, crews working for Baton Rouge-based Compliance EnviroSystems managed to collect around 7.2 million pounds of debris from Sept. 26 to Jan. 23. What's more, the 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads were all found on St. Charles between Poydras Street and Lee Circle.

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The Follower Factory

A data-heavy and well researched article about the "buy followers" scams. It is JUST SO WEIRD that the New York Times was able to crunch the numbers and see obvious botnets pop out, but Twitter and Facebook are incapable of this. SO WEIRD.

Inside social media's black market:

The real Jessica Rychly is a Minnesota teenager with a broad smile and wavy hair. She likes reading and the rapper Post Malone. When she goes on Facebook or Twitter, she sometimes muses about being bored or trades jokes with friends. Occasionally, like many teenagers, she posts a duck-face selfie.

But on Twitter, there is a version of Jessica that none of her friends or family would recognize. While the two Jessicas share a name, photograph and whimsical bio -- "I have issues" -- the other Jessica promoted accounts hawking Canadian real estate investments, cryptocurrency and a radio station in Ghana. The fake Jessica followed or retweeted accounts using Arabic and Indonesian, languages the real Jessica does not speak. While she was a 17-year-old high school senior, her fake counterpart frequently promoted graphic pornography, retweeting accounts called Squirtamania and Porno Dan.

All these accounts belong to customers of an obscure American company named Devumi that has collected millions of dollars in a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud. Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers, a New York Times investigation found.

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Delta V Solar System Maps

This one is a bit more detailed:

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ICE has struck a deal to track license plates across the US

The system gives the agency access to billions of license plate records and new powers of real-time location tracking.

Vigilant Solutions has amassed a database of more than 2 billion license plate photos by ingesting data from partners like vehicle repossession agencies and other private groups. Vigilant also partners with local law enforcement agencies, often collecting even more data from camera-equipped police cars. The result is a massive vehicle-tracking network generating as many as 100 million sightings per month, each tagged with a date, time, and GPS coordinates of the sighting.

ICE agents would be able to query that database in two ways. A historical search would turn up every place a given license plate has been spotted in the last five years, a detailed record of the target's movements. That data could be used to find a given subject's residence or even identify associates if a given car is regularly spotted in a specific parking lot. [...]

ICE agents can also receive instantaneous email alerts whenever a new record of a particular plate is found [...] With sightings flooding in from police dashcams and stationary readers on bridges and toll booths, it would be hard for anyone on the list to stay unnoticed for long. [...]

The biggest concern for critics is the sheer scale of Vigilant's network, assembled almost entirely outside of public accountability. "If ICE were to propose a system that would do what Vigilant does, there would be a huge privacy uproar and I don't think Congress would approve it," Stanley says. "But because it's a private contract, they can sidestep that process."

SF Public Defender Vows to Defend San Franciscans Detained in Planned ICE Raids:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reportedly planning massive sweeps in Northern California in response to Gov. Jerry Brown's signing of the California Values Act, a law that prohibits the use of local and state tax dollars to assist in federal civil immigration enforcement. [...]

"ICE's threats are outrageous and designed to terrorize immigrant community members. But we will not be afraid. Our highly trained staff stands ready to defend the rights of all San Franciscans regardless of immigration status," said Adachi.

There is no evidence to support claims made by ICE officials that sanctuary policies compromise public safety, and a host of studies, including one from the Journal of Law and Economics, that found no correlation between public safety and increased deportation. There is little dispute that immigrants commit fewer crimes than citizens. And, the Center of American Progress found that sanctuary jurisdictions are actually safer than those without sanctuary policies.

ICE regularly engages in enforcement action without any judicial oversight. Under the Bush Administration, ICE agents routinely raided homes without warrants, where they arrested people on sight, often breaking up families in the middle of the night. ICE often acts in secret, and provides very little information to the public about their operations.

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Stay Klassy, Bezos.

Jeff Bezos is The Richest Man in the World, But 10% of Amazon's Ohio Employees Are on Food Stamps:

In 2017, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos became the richest person in the world with a net worth of over $100 billion. But a new report from the non-profit Policy Matters Ohio shows that Bezos-owned company had 1,430 Ohio-based employees or family members on food stamps as of August last year. [...] One in every 10 of those locals were beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The report revealed that Amazon warehouses also receive significant state and local subsidies.

"The state and local tax incentives Amazon receives doesn't include the tens of thousands of dollars its Ohio workers need each month in food benefits," Zach Schiller, a research director at Policy Matters Ohio, said in a release on January 5. "When you consider that, the subsidies are even larger," Schiller said.

Coincidentally, The Amazon Go Store Doesn't Accept Food Stamps:

That's a letdown you wouldn't have seen mentioned in the giddy coverage of the opening, which has explained how the new store works, how Amazon has spent five years perfecting the technology, and how the company did extensive research on how people really hate standing in lines.

Billionaires Earned Enough Money in 2017 to End Extreme Poverty Seven Times Over:

Last year, the world's billionaires made over $462 billion combined -- enough money to end extreme poverty around the globe seven times over. With a new billionaire added to the list nearly every two days, wealth inequality widened, according to a new report from Oxfam.

Forty-two of the richest people in the world now hold as much wealth as 3.7 billion of the poorest people in the world, according to the report, released Monday by the international charitable organization. [...]

According to the Oxfam report, the three wealthiest Americans claim as much wealth as the 160 million poorest people living in the United States. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made over $35 billion in 2017 to become the richest man in the world.

Jeff Bezos Just Tossed A Nail-Studded Baseball Bat On The Floor Between The Mayors Of Pittsburgh And Kansas City And Asked Who Really Wants The Second Amazon HQ:

Industry experts say the civic leaders initially laughed off Bezos' suggestion, but are now taking it seriously after the executive poured himself a glass of fine bourbon, took one long sip, and simply said, "Thousands of highly skilled jobs that will need filling."

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Lyft: Still trying to catch up to Uber in their utter contempt for their customers and the rule of law.

Former employees say Lyft staffers spied on passengers:

Similar to Uber's "God View" scandal, Lyft staffers have been abusing customer insight software to view the personal contact info and ride history of the startup's passengers. One source that formerly worked with Lyft tells TechCrunch that widespread access to the company's backend let staffers "see pretty much everything including feedback, and yes, pick up and drop off coordinates."

When asked if staffers, ranging from core team members to customer service reps, abused this privilege, the source said "Hell yes. I definitely looked at my friends' rider history and looked at what drivers said about them. I never got in trouble." [...]

They claimed that staffers could use Lyft's backend software to view unmasked personally identifiable information. This was said to be used to look up ex-lovers, check where their significant others were riding and to stalk people they found attractive who shared a Lyft Line with them. Staffers also could see who had bad ratings from drivers, or even look up the phone numbers of celebrities. One staffer apparently bragged about obtaining Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's phone number.

Don't fool yourself that Lyft is any better than Uber: While Uber is a 12-alarm fratboy dumpster fire of a company, Lyft is still at least a 3-alarm dumpster fire. They don't get as much bad press because they have a smaller market share, and so they make less good click-bait.

Both companies are morally bankrupt. Both companies' business models are best described as "insurance fraud".

If you click just one Previously this week, click this one:

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The elite belief in Uberized, Muskized cities is at odds with fundamental, irrefutable facts of geometry

Jarrett Walker:

Walker's overarching thesis is that city transit is undermined by "elite projection," where rich people pretend that the way they like getting around -- in private vehicles that go from door to door -- can possibly work at urban scale, despite the fact that simple geometry shows that this is a physical impossibility.

As in, "It doesn't matter how tightly you pack self-driving Ubers together on our roads. If all the people who make your coffee and empty your wastebin are in private vehicles rather than on buses and trains, the roads will be at 5 or 10 times their physical capacity." [...] These all share the geometric flaw: even the smallest cars, packed as tightly as possible, multiplied by all the people who rely on buses and trains, will overflow all the roads we have now and all the roads we could ever build.

There is another flaw: when you make it cheaper to ride private vehicles (rather than public transit), you siphon transit riders out of the buses and trains, and put them on the roads, increasing congestion: so adding "efficient rideshares" actually makes transit worse, not better

Walker tried to explain this to Elon Musk on Twitter [...] Musk called him an idiot.

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