The CEO of Ticketmaster Calls for Musicians to Unionize Immediately…

The reason why artists are constantly getting exploited by Spotify, Pandora, labels, promoters, and everyone else is simple: they aren’t organized in any fashion.  Which means they are always victims of constant exploitation based on their constant fragmentation, according to the CEO of Ticketmaster and a top executive at Live Nation, Nathan Hubbard.

Not only that, Hubbard argues that entire music business models are built around exploiting hopelessly disorganized artists.

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Hubbard, a former musician himself, is just starting to rattle the very noisy cage on this.  In a ‘mailbag’ letter to Bob Lefsetz this week, the Ticketmaster CEO pounded the table much harder and admitted he was becoming “obsessed with solving this…

“My observation is that most of the bad things about the consumer experience in both recorded and live music have been allowed to persist because the artist community is fragmented, and therefore powerless as a whole.  They lose out to established status-quo forces via thousands of one-on-one negotiations, rather than creating leverage by assembling their interests.”

“There is no artist union. THERE SHOULD BE.”

(CAPS written by Hubbard; the entire letter to Lefsetz has been published by MusicWeek, here.)

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The call to action comes just moments after major protests from artists like Pink Floyd (against Pandora) and the members of Radiohead (against Spotify), both of whom feel like they are getting a seriously raw deal.  In both cases, the negotiations are largely happening above them, and in the case of Pink Floyd, they are practically powerless to remove their content.

In the letter to Lefsetz, Hubbard also pointed to massive potential changes in the concert business, if only musicians would properly organize.  That includes the ability to demand all-in, cheaper ticket pricing, break the venue’s control over tickets, and “drive full inventory disclosure so fans get the best shot at tickets”.

Hubbard lacks the name recognition of executives like Tim Westergren and Daniel Ek, but he’s one of the most influential figures in the music industry and a heavyweight in live music.  Indeed, Hubbard knows a lot about the deals artists get handed on a daily basis, especially around live concert performance.

Expect a lot more ahead on this, including coverage and interviews involving far larger media publications.  We’ll be covering it.

35 Responses

  1. wallow-T

    Non-snarky comment: perhaps there is material for a post reviewing the Musicians’ Strike of the early 1940s. The unionized musicians struck against record companies because recorded music was displacing live gigs. It’s been decades since I researched this at my University library with 1940s news sources, but my recollection is that the settlement of this strike is what created the system of mechanical performance royalties.

    • Bullshit

      Record companys are over. Pay to play is over. You don’t make money anymore. Go away. IF YOU WERE WORTH ANYTHING AND TALENTED YOU WOULDNT NEED A UNION. Dickheads!

      • tune Hunter

        You are the BULLCRAP. It is obvious that labels are overstaffed with “very professional” busy bodies and DO NOT represent musicians or their own future well being!

        Musicians, both big and just starting, do not need union but the do need urgently some kind of association representing their interest.

        I had hopes it was RIAA but my multiple contact attempts prove that thy are gutless too.

        For this moment, due to urgency of the situation a body made of 20 top managers of the best musicians would do. Those 20 folks would have enough leverage to get what thy need to get from Mr. Keelling or RIAA.

        As it is Music industry is like a Wallmart where half of the staff is on the fork trucks moving the goods in to the parking lot 24/365 to please the public.

        The biggest fork trucks belong to Shazam, Soundhound, Gracenote, and all lyric ID guys. We have to foreclose on those machines and open for each one of those music industry kids “drive thru” window. Just that will double the business.

      • tune Hunter

        Lets unite and double the business in 24 month – it is easy to accomplish! Nobody needs to unionize.

    • AmateurMusicianWithABrain

      Wow, you really seem to resent musicians. I wonder why? The fact is, musicians *do* have the right to organize. They *do* have the right to speak out about stuff like this.

    • Visitor

      It’s not just YOU who could need a union. It’s EVERY ARTIST, it’s ALL ARTISTS. It’s the idea that artists, generally, could benefit from ORGANIZATION.

  2. D/A

    ASCAP and BMI can in some ways be considered unions for songwriters (though maybe that’s too strong of a word)

    • Visitor

      “ASCAP and BMI can in some ways be considered unions for songwriters”

      They never lifted a finger to solve the only real problem we face today.

  3. PlusOne

    Keep making noise Hubbard.

    We need more voices like yours!

  4. sadsongco

    I assume he’s talking about the US. The Musician’s Union in the UK seems fairly effective at lobbying. But there’s plenty of leeway for more of what Mr Hubbard is talking about

  5. Visitor

    Interesting, if the idea is to address piracy.

    Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

  6. Un-Bob Lefsetz

    “There is no artist union. THERE SHOULD BE.”

    Awesome. Is he actually suggesting a more perfect middle-man organization called a ‘union’ for musicians? Get Jimmy Hoffa to run it, obviously, his hands were clean…er?

    Hey moron, how about the indie distributors taking on the role of musicians union? It’s obvious they are already a known entity and already have deals and information with a majority of indie artists. Make them work harder for their percentage. Who wouldn’t want THAT?

    • 1978

      So when did Lefsetz get on the Live Nation Payroll, anyway?

      • clash

        Bob has never been kind to live nation. I guess you don’t read his stuff, in fact it’s quite the opposite. You should be asking, “when did bob get on AEG’s payroll?”

    • tune Hunter

      Thank you.

      I hope they are hungry enough to start grass root revolt to sanity!

  7. Pat

    I’m pretty sure there’s already a US Musicians Union. Did this guy research anything before announcing his grand idea? Someone mentioned it below, the AFM. Now, why don’t people join it? Well, a fellow in my old band said his dad was part of it in a jazz combo back in the 50’s. Back then there wasn’t a problem paying combo’s to come in and play, but as the years progressed, club owners would stop hiring AFM members because they had certain minimum payment requirements. Now, just because you’re in a union, doesn’t mean they have to hire you. They’ll hire the kid who doesn’t know any better and will play for free.

    It makes more sense for high publicity bands to join the union though, or at least some form of it. I don’t see why they couldn’t combat low digital payouts, provide legal advice for bands when signing contracts, and guaranteeing safety and payment during tours. Sounds like a step in the right direction, because if nothing happens then the future of music is really up in the air and the snakes usually come in and capitalize on disorganization.

  8. bSide

    I think what Hubbard really is (or should be) calling for is a well-funded musician’s lobby. I don’t think musicians should ever expect that the RIAA or the publishers lobby is going to represent their interests. Just because musicians, labels and publishers all agree on higher rates doesn’t mean that they are going to agree on much of anything else.

    Nonetheless, I think his point re the fractured nature of the artist community is a good one.

  9. R.P.

    This fool needs to solve Ticketmaster’s scheme with scalpers and the fact that .000000001 seconds after tickets go on sale they are SOLD OUT for regular fans, and somehow, miraculously, the scalpers get them all for resale at quadruple the prices.

    fuck off.

  10. Radio & Records Vet

    I think he’s talking at an entirely different level than what most of us have been accustomed to. At a local level, a musicians union would do more to hurt live music opportunities, and limit access to many well deserving acts, as munincipalities and others would cut back, sorry to say since I’m in that business.

    • Fair Trade Music

      Would you care to expound more on why the union would hurt local music? I ask because the union is actively engaging local music communities for positive change with its Fair Trade Music initiative. They started this because many local scenes behave in the same predatory fashion as the article talks about. You want an equitable income from your shows? Too bad, there’s another act that gets off on being paid attention too so they’ll do it for free or ridiculously cheap with no concern for how their actions affect the community as a whole. Musicians are making the same amount or less per local gig as they have been for the past 30 years or more.

  11. NYVenue

    I love the comment about the artist’s ability to demand cheaper tickets and break the venue’s control over pricing. We would love to have $10-$15 tickets and sell the place out, but when an agent or artist comes to us asking for a guarantee that warrants a $30 ticket, we have no choice but to pay it or lose the show. Nathan is the one charging a $12 service fee on a $25 ticket. If you want to be fan friendly, reduce the service fees.

    • EverybodyWantsSome

      “Nathan is the one charging a $12 service fee on a $25 ticket.”

      This isn’t true. There are multiple parties involved in the service fees, not just Ticketmaster. This includes the venue, the promoter, and sometimes even the artist (gasp).

  12. danwriter

    Does the phrase “herding cats” ring a bell?

    • Frank Underwood

      and… BINGO

      You see, Ticketmaster is a big scam.

      But why not…

      (1) blame the other scammers (if only they would reform)

      (2) Say we need unions to fix this! (Ticketmaster is just artist-friendly victim in the machine)

      (3) BUT unionization of musicians is impossible (herding cats). We all know that.

      (4) BUT CEO says we need to solve this urgently!

      (5) CEO whips media (i.e. DMN) into a frenzy to write a stupid article (s)

      (6) Bigger paper (like New York Times) writes another article (jsut wait)

      (7) NEXT YEAR Issue of course never solved (even close)

      (8) Ticketmaster racket continues

      (9) REPEAT indefinitely

      • danwriter

        Generally agree with all of the above except:

        “CEO whips media (i.e. DMN) into a frenzy to write a stupid article(s)”

        A lot of the stuff Paul puts up here doesn’t show up in anything close to mainstream, so let’s cut him a break. Lefsetz has become unreadable and I’d rather not wait for the Times to figure it out. (Although without Lefsetz we wouldn’t have these gems: Collar POPPED!

  13. Chelsea C

    Instead of nitpicking about what everyone is doing wrong, let’s focus on the things we DO agree on. We need a collective voice for the purposes of negotiating with the large corporations that are profiting off of our music. While the owners and shareholders of these corporations are actively looking out for their best interests, we must be looking out for ours. There are hundreds of ways to do that, and all of us need to be activily focusing on the task of organizing FOR SOLUTIONS, not bitterly complaining and turning against each other. These are brand new problems with brand new solutions. Lets be innovative and expect more from ourselves. Musicians have been told their whole lives that they are disorganized, but that is false. We are endlessly creative, capable, passionate individuals who have every right to organize for our collective well-being. Yay!!! Thank you so much, Nathan, for the call to action.

  14. zog

    There are Unions all over the country but the gentlemen is correct musicians/artist need to unite for themselves if nothing else.

    Is a union the correct answer probably not in the traditional “union context” but some sense of organization needs to be addressed and get musicians off there asses.

    Put someone who has HR skills in charge who understands labor

    and understands working rights.

  15. Paul Resnikoff

    I’m still wondering, why would the largest, most powerful artists join this union? After all, they oftentimes have zero interest in full inventory disclosure, reasonable ticketing availability at sale-time (without immediately shuttling tickets to TicketsNow for aftermarket gains), and reasonable minimums.

    They, just like Ticketmaster, are often fan-unfriendly.

    And these superstars are not the little guy, so why would they need or want to be represented in that boat? They own boats, instead of being underwater, and their interests (as the top .0001%) are completely different than emerging musician X.

    If you’re Bruce Springsteen, you want to drive markups and blame it all on Ticketmaster, that’s working great for you!

    Furthermore, if the biggest artists that make up 90% (plus) of the receipts (just guessing) don’t want to participate, then how powerful will this union be? Or, wait: is that the reason why no one (including the CEO of Ticketmaster himself) has even heard of the musicians’ union that keeps getting mentioned in this thread? I remember them somewhere, but I had to look it up myself.

    In other words, if unions were such a good idea and made sense, wouldn’t the one that already exists be doing better? It seems fairly organized, and according to Wikipedia, has been around since the late-1800s (sorry for the sloppy non-fact-check, but….)

    But wait: even if all the artists came together under one happy rainbow, would they necessarily have the fans interests in mind? Or, would they demand higher costs and minimums, using their collective power to muscle venues, ticketing operators, etc. Rolling Stones shows used to be $8, but it wasn’t because of unions!

    Wouldn’t these united artists love the aftermarket but just want a bigger piece of it, instead of doing something consumer-friendly like Twickets?

    Pray shed light on my very confused head.

  16. jon

    Be careful what you wish for. First order of business for a musician’s union should be to demand payment of the piece of the Ticketmaster price which is paid as a kickback to the venues. That would be a nice piece of change for all working musicians.

  17. matthew king kaufman

    Here’s an “Out of the Box” theory that just might work.

    Backstory: Musicians and music itself have been the fodder for “The Music Business,” throughout our lifetimes. Musicians didn’t have enough traction in the business equation to change things, till now. It seems the only way the music industry changes is by following the public’s behavior. Examples: The British Invasion, Woodstock, Punk, Grunge, and Hip Hop were all tiny movements till the music industry stepped in and incorporated the artists and sold them to the public. The latest movement, ”Free Music,” has stumped the traditional business because there’s no new music to market to the public. So the current music business, with nothing profitable to market, is focused on selling their old music in as many new ways as the technology industry wants to pay for. As has been proven recently, this benefits established brands in music, but doesn’t seem to help anything new.


    1. “Finding a needle in a haystack” approach to discovering new music is outdated and with the number of labels getting smaller, so is the number of needle hunters.

    2. The number of people creating music has increased dramatically.

    3. There is no new music thinking from traditional media outlets.

    4. The only people who are going to change music is the musicians.

    Solution: Musicians need to put their $ where there mouth is, and they should buy new music directly from each other. If every musician bought one CD directly from another new artist, and then spread the word about this purchase to everyone they knew, musicians might level the playing field. That’s right I’m proposing a chain letter approach so musicians could promote music effectively.

    A typical chain letter consists of a message that attempts to convince the recipient to make a number of copies of the letter and then pass them on to as many recipients as possible.

    The “Music Chain Letter” should contain a link to the CD that the musician has just purchased directly.

    The musician should explain why the purchase was important.

    The letter should include a link to the artist’s web page.

    The letter should include a link to a digital download opportunity. For most artists that’s direct $ to them as well.

    No curse, but if you want to change the music scene, please email this letter on to any musician you know.

    • Visitor

      Musicians should also help each other with SEO.

      Are you in a rock band? Boost links for jazz albums in your social media. No conflict. No competition. Just pure “you scratch my back, I scratch yours”.

  18. Roger Scott Craig

    Five years ago I had six meetings with the President of the AFM (the largest union for musicians in the world) to discuss these very issues. With my connections to the Beatles and more than fifty other bands I thought I could make a difference and help save our dying industry. I was wrong. The AFM is primarily concerned with orchestras and working classical musicians, and offered me no help whatsoever. Tony Bramwell from the Beatles management was extremely supportive with MTunz (Musicians selling their Tunz directly to their fans) but not one musician gave me one dollar to try and help bring this platform together. I put a considerable amount of my own money into this effort and two years of my time. And so it may now be too late to save what once was a healthy and profitable business. 99.9% of musicians now make no money releasing their music – is this new music business one I would recommend to anybody? No, of course not! It should be renamed the DWYT/Don’t Waste Your Time business. Here is the link to Youtube and my failed effort to save our industry:

    Oh and by the way, when the Beatles used orchestras on their amazing albums they had to pay for that privilege. Who is going to pay for these orchestral sessions in the future in this new ‘music should be free’ business? Have we seen the end of the era of quality music? Or maybe some amateur musician will bring us another Sgt Pepper from out of his back bedroom?!

  19. Visitor

    You are lucky to not have been forced to go through the torture that is to have to listen to an orchestra recording for a film, contracted to Eastern European “engineers” who don’t even know how to set up an SM57…

    And then the film get’s torrented all over the world and the public and clueless media (all journalists steal films online…noone pays for it) go wild on how amazing the orchestra sounds…

    Then you wonder, what the fuck. Why are they so clueless?

    The whole planet is getting systematically trained to appreciate garbage and ignore diamonds. Thanks to Google, Facebook e.t.c.