Azoff and Corgan

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins has been laying down his guitar, putting on a suit and Mr. Smithing it over in Washington. Last week he testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of royalty payments for radio airplay. It's a commendable effort as commercial radio has been selling advertising on the backs of musicians for decades.

But a week before testifying at the House, Corgan was warming up his political muscles with a not-so-public letter written to the Senate Committee on Antitrust. The Committee is reviewing the mega merger between concert promoters Live Nation and ticket sellers, Ticketmaster, the two giant live performance companies hoping to become one.

Corgan's letter to the committee argues that the record business is broken (certainly true), and the solution is to merge these two giant entities for the sake of the struggling artist. His feels that a merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation will create “powerful tools for the independent artist to reach their fans in new and unprecedented ways, all the while restoring the power where it belongs.” This argument is so off base that one wonders what Kool-Aid Billy Corgan is drinking.

But you need look no further than his own front door. The man managing the strings behind Billy Corgan's career is none other than Ticketmaster's own CEO, Irving Azoff. Azoff also got Seal, Eddie Van Halen and members of Journey to send letters, though none of the artists noted that Azoff's company managed them.

How sad. I thought everyone in the business knew a merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation offers no benefit to struggling artists and is dangerous to an industry already in economic free fall. In fact, some are calling the proposed company, “Live Master” which seems fitting.

Corgan was right about one thing. The system is broken, but merging these two companies spells disaster.

Last week, Wall Street Journalist Ethan Smith wrote a piece about how concert tour tickets were actually being scalped by artist and managers. In the story, Neil Diamond and manager/Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff, sold concert tickets on Ticketmaster's resellers site, Tickets Now.

While it's true there's a genuine buyers market for reselling concerts tickets, let's call it by its rightful name. The act of selling tickets above face value for profit is called scalping. Does it really make a difference if it's a guy on the street corner, or the manager hiding behind a mouse? If so, why?

The one business in music that is seeing a sizeable exchange of cash is the touring market. But that market is based on trust that the artists and their team of business associates are not ripping people off. Lose that confidence, and the business becomes marginalized, propped up and ultimately overvalued. We all know what happens next.

And in a related note, Michael Jackson sold out one million tickets for his 50 farewell performances in London's 02 arena. AEG, his promoter, made a deal with Viagogo, the British ticket-reselling site, to offer tickets to the public. Thanks to them, consumers could buy a ticket to Michael's second night for over $4,000 a pair.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.