EMusic and Live Nation

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

The record business has long been criticized for its lack of adaptation to the changing music market. At first the excuse was somewhat understandable. We had a model that was working for decades before the Internet pulled the rug out from under. We fought hard, stupidly hard to maintain the old way of doing business. This week, Sony Music has finally given us a good example of how the business is starting to change.

They’ve just announced that older catalog will soon be available on digital music provider, eMusic. Unlike single download providers like iTunes and Amazon, eMusic offers subscription-based membership. This means you pay a set monthly fee for access, and can download a specific number of songs. eMusic’s economic model pays artists and labels at a lesser rate than the single download model and that’s exactly what major labels object to. In fact, all the major labels have withheld their catalog from eMusic up until now. The irony is that Sony Music is about to find out what most indie labels have known for a long time – that eMusic sells a lot of music.

Now that Sony is dipping their toe in the water with some of their catalog, eMusic has shown its willingness to meet them halfway. As a part of the deal, eMusic will be raising their prices slightly and reducing the number of allotted downloads per month. With Sony”s catalog added, eMusic will be able to sell tracks from bands like Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, Michael Jackson and Outkast among many others.

Meanwhile, the music retailer will continue to court the other three majors: Warner Music, Universal and EMI. But regardless of how long it takes these naysayers to join in, it’s encouraging to know that at least one major label is finally getting smart.

While Sony Music is moving in a forward direction, Live Nation is moving backwards. They’ve just announced that they’ll be dropping the dreaded convenience fees for summer amphitheater tickets bought today. They’re advertising a 24-hour offer that will affect hundreds of concerts around the country. The concert promoter is calling it “No Service Fee Wednesday”. But it should be called “Snow Service Fee Wednesday”.

As CNN reported, Live Nation will still be charging parking fees and some facility and even charity fees on today’s amphitheater tickets. And Rolling Stone Magazine points out that cheap lawn seats to Blink 182, which normally cost $20 at Live Nation, will now cost $26 on “No Fee Wednesday” at some venues. You are paying parking fees, even if you don’t drive a car. So exactly what fees is Live Nation dropping?

This is a classic stimulus snow job by Live Nation to rev up their summer concert season in a declining economic market. Add to this that the company wants to merge with Ticketmaster, the king of excessive fees, it’s no wonder the Justice Department has set up an investigation about the merger.

Isn’t it time we said no to companies that give with one hand while taking away with the other? I gotta believe we’re smarter than this.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.