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Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam Vs Ticketmaster

  by Jeff Thiessen

published: 20 / 3 / 2011

Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam Vs Ticketmaster


In 1994 Pearl Jam took out legal action against show ticket giants, Ticketmaster. Jeff Thiessen in 'This Metal Sky' writes of the battle and its continuing after-effects

Today I just bought Slayer tickets online. I’m not a die-hard metalhead by any stretch of the imagination, but the thrill of hearing the power of tunes like ‘Angel of Death’, ‘Silent Scream’ or especially ‘Raining Blood’ in a live arena is something I felt I would pay damn near top dollar for. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it probably should be for everyone, as Slayer represents the old guard as far as royalty of extreme metal goes. Seeing their extremity and brutality in the flesh is something we all should bear witness to at least once, just to make sure our jangled nerves and dulled dendrites still have some life left in them. That’s my take anyway. The tickets were $74.50. Actually scratch that. They were $74.50 plus service fees, bringing the grand total to $90.50. Sixteen dollars of service fees on top of an already fairly exorbitant ticket price. I guess it’s fair to state Rob Zombie is opening for Slayer, so that obviously factors in heavily, but that does not change the fact that much money forked over in the name of one night of metal mayhem doesn’t seem proportionate in the least to what’s actually being provided. As I saw the online receipt print out, I couldn’t help but think of the Pearl Jam/Ticketmaster feud in the mid-nineties. Well, it started out as a feud, but before long it was a fairly epic battle and, when shit went to congress, both parties were officially at war. Unfortunately Pearl Jam became crumbled cannon fodder when all was said and done, leaving them no choice but to wave the white flag, but not before raising a lot of questions and leave us all wondering if things might’ve been different if their bravery was contagious in the most marginal sense of the term. As it stands though, I can’t help but think their 1994 album ‘Vitalogy’ (a terrific album by the way) might have been more aptly named under the moniker ‘And All That Could Have Been’, the title of Nine Inch Nail’s live album/DVD release released eight years after. The seeds of this were planted in 1992, when Pearl Jam attempted to play a free show in a Seattle park, putting up $125,000 of their own money for the concert. They were told by city officials they had to limit the amount in attendance to 30,000 for safety reasons. Obviously this meant they had to distribute hard-copy tickets for entry, and Ticketmaster refused to provide the tickets for less than $45,000. Pearl Jam ended up jumping through enough hoops via the city of Seattle to get the ticket distribution, but this essentially is what put Ticketmaster in Pearl Jam’s bulls eye, and undoubtedly, vice versa. Following this incident (and others that can be found on the prepared statement to congress written by band members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, a document I strongly encourage all of you to read, easily accessible online), Pearl Jam began to experiment with alternative means to make their tickets available, i.e. not through Ticketmaster, or through Ticketmaster but with the service fees being a separate charge, thus not appearing as a weird surplus added by the band. Neither went particularly well to say the least. When they tried to use alternate booking practices, they were literally threatened by Ticketmaster goons (the testimony states their booking manager was told if the band didn’t back off, he’d essentially be run out of the business), and, when they tried to charge separately, Ticketmaster generally reneged on that at the last minute, forcing Pearl Jam to make abrupt changes and generally throwing the whole process into total chaos at the eleventh hour. After basically being picked on for two years by Ticketmaster while the group tried to find a sensible way to fight back, Pearl Jam was pretty much seething with resistance, and decided to just cut them out all together for their ‘Vitalogy’ tour. In my opinion, this tour marks one of the most noble struggles I can actively recall in current rock n’ roll, and the fact they had to do this alone isn’t exactly tragic, we’ll save that word for events that truly deserve such a description...but it’s certainly a low, down dirty shame they didn’t get any help, and there’s certain bands around I have trouble forgiving for this, as I’m sure is the case with Pearl Jam themselves, especially Stone and Jeff. See, one thing you must understand, is Ticketmaster has secured contracts with essentially every single concert venue in the western world. It’s also well-known in the music industry that venue-owners and promoters receive sizable kickbacks from those service fees. This means when Pearl Jam refused to play ball, this doesn’t mean a simple roll on to plan b. There were a lot of people with pockets to fill and Ticketmaster has gone to great lengths to ensure there are no plan b’s, c’s, or z’s for that matter. So basically Pearl Jam had two options: a) Play at dive bars in front of three hundred people for the entire tour, getting a percentage of the gate, probably taking home a neat couple hundred bucks a show, or b) Creating their own venues from scratch in locations with no affiliation with Ticketmaster. Pearl Jam chose B, and what an insurrectionary Plan B it was. They literally built everything from the ground up everywhere they went, throwing away millions of dollars in the process, not to mention all the dates they lost with the extended preparations that were now necessary. Not surprisingly, the tour ended disastrously and prematurely. Most people know what happened next. After the tour, Pearl Jam went legal, filing a memorandum with the Antitrust division of the US Department of Justice on the grounds that Ticketmaster was unlawfully interfering with the band's ability to determine ticket prices for its concerts. Stone and Jeff then went to Congress alleging Ticketmaster was operating as an illegal monopoly. This was in June of 1994. By the end of July, the Justice Department dropped the investigation like a bad habit, stating “they would continue to monitor competitive developments in the ticketing industry”. There you have it. That’s the story of Pearl Jam’s righteous but ultimately failed fight with Ticketmaster. By 1998, they gave up the boycott, saying they would go back to playing standard venues to better accommodate fans who had trouble getting tickets, and who can blame them for throwing in the towel by that point? The real sad thing here is this: Pearl Jam did all of this the right way. They got pushed around, tried to find ways to appease all parties involved, most of all their fans, and got pushed around some more. They tried to avoid the fight altogether, but then the fans suffered even more. And then when they were left with no choice but legal action, the case was given as much attention as a schizophrenic suing the US government for installing a tracking device in his cerebellum. The fact that it was dismissed so swiftly was bad enough, but can someone please explain to me how Ticketmaster isn’t a monopoly in the most pure sense of the term? I’m all ears. Other than the aforementioned piss-stained bars that house a few hundred people, I have never once been able to go through any other channel but Ticketmaster when purchasing a ticket. Basically this means if I want to see a Megadeth cover act, I can easily eschew going through the usual channels and can avoid the megalomaniac ticket providers. If I want to see Megadeth themselves, I’m left with no choice, however, but to bend over and take it like a man. This seems to have been the case my entire life, with Ticketmaster’s power getting even more crippling, suffocating. If they have exclusive contracts with all the semi-major-to major venues in every single city, then that does create a monopoly for any band now forced to play those arenas for supply/demand purposes. Look, Microsoft was basically labelled a monopoly in two separate trials, and they were accused of trying to squash their rivals like millipedes. Hey, at least Microsoft has rivals. If that’s the basis of a monopoly, then Ticketmaster needn’t worry, since they’ll likely not even have any competition the way the ticketing industry is now set up to cater to their every beckon and call. Without a doubt, the greybeards in the Justice Department let us down, but we can’t really be too shocked by this. They slammed the door on the case with extreme prejudice because it’s certainly not difficult to tell one rock band from Seattle to fuck off. They didn’t even seem to care they came off as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. But what if other musicians helped Pearl Jam, ones like U2, Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, the Eagles, or R.E.M. (who was rumoured to suggesting they would help but ended up doing nothing). If this did indeed occur, if even two of these gave Pearl Jam a helping hand, this would not have been an open-and-shut case, and I say that without fear of contradiction. If bands of that enormous stature banded together and hopped onto the sacrifice Pearl Jam already suffered for, there might be more regulations in place today. Instead, all these other gutless swine sat on the sideline and offered jack-shit to a cause that isn’t only the right thing to do legally, it’s the right thing to do for the fans who are already paying up the wazoo for one night of rock music. All of those industry giants who stood idly by and watched Pearl Jam’s efforts become for naught should have been flogged like the spineless cowards they were. I know this happened over fifteen years ago, but it’s an issue that’s never been more relevant, especially with the new ‘sister sites’ Ticketmaster created to direct buyers even more absurd mark-ups that reach an often comical level of maliciousness. At this point it seems very unlikely anything will change, at least in the foreseeable future, but sometimes I think the events that ‘almost changed’ rock n’ roll are even more relevant than those that did. They can serve as a stern reminder that strength is in numbers, and nobody should ever fight a noble cause alone. As the Middle East has recently shown us, dictators must fall in every single case, and make no mistake, Ticketmaster is a monopolistic dictator of the worst kind. I sure didn’t vote in their 21% surcharge on my Slayer ticket, nor do I see any viable options as a consumer. Do you? “All that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” -Edward Burke

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588 Posted By: Momma T, Saskatchewna on 15 Sep 2012
Perhaps this sounds communist but in Canada, perhaps every province should be in charge of their own ticket sales, taking a "service charge" but keeping money-grubbing monopolozing Ticketmaster out of the equasion.

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