2018 is a wrap and everyone is publishing their year-end reviews about the big stories of the last 12 months, using various data points and ticket grosses to dissect where the live music industry has been and where it’s headed in 2019.
Thankfully, this is not one of those articles. You already know the music business is having one of its strongest years ever. You don’t want me to talk about that. Let’s be honest, you want to hear all the dirt and gossip that percolated under the surface all year long that even the most cynical reporters are afraid to touch.
These are the stories that really tell you what is going on in the music business — stories I’m probably not supposed to repeat, but hey, all the editors have gone home for the holidays and if you promise not to tell, I won’t either. Sound good? Alright, let’s go!
Hot and Cold (and Hot Again) with the Azoffs
Yes, we’re starting off with the big guns — Irving. Fucking. Azoff. You already know his reach and what he and his brood are capable of (which is pretty much anything). But to understand him is to have tangled with him, and if you haven’t had that experience, then you don’t really know the man.
For me, there’s a few stories to draw from but what stands out is earlier this year when Lenny Beers orchestrated a negative piece on me because of a story I wrote on a snafu with MusiCares. It’s kind of complicated and not really worth the lengthy explanation, but basically I wrote something that Tim Leiweke and Irving didn’t like and a couple days later, a story was published in Hits that said I was an “embarrassment” and that the “continual industry outrage at his incorrect reporting cost (Dave) the sale of Amplify” to Billboard.
Damn dude that’s ICE COLD! But look, besides it being a little appalling, the truth is that it’s also kind of a milestone in my life. I remember one person (who no longer works with me) called me and told me that I “knew I had made it big if Irving was calling (me) out.” He also gave me a second piece of advice — reach out and squash that shit sooner rather than later.
Which I did, out of respect for a person that has done more for music and artists and the business then I will ever come close to accomplishing. And while I don’t always agree with Irving, I respect him for making his case and not being afraid to explain why he is doing what he is doing. Also, the dude is hilarious. The shit that he says is gold and I wish I could print more of it.
And hey, it all worked out Just a couple months after the brouhaha, Irving and Jeffrey did an amazing panel for Billboard at our Live Music Summit. It was basically the marquee heavy-hitter moment we were badly missing and people compliment me on the session pretty much every day.
Favorite Irving Beef this Year: Mayor James Butts of Inglewood, who somehow thought it was a good idea to secretly negotiate with the LA Clippers to build an arena down the street from the Forum. Butts is a formidable opponent and has survived plenty of fights, but this one looks like a loser for the the Inglewood mayor, who is not helping his credibility as a business-minded leader by secretly going behind the backs of James Dolan and the Azoff. The last couple months have been kind of quiet, but expect this one to flare up again in the new year.
WTF Happened to Rob Beckham?
Uh guys, anyone have any idea why Rob Beckham mysteriously left WME earlier this year? Do you think maybe it’s because something bad might have happened?
I spent a lot of time digging into Rob’s surprise exit in October — I went deep. Like really deep. So what did I find? Ugh…more questions than answers really. What I have learned in my travels is that there are people out there who try to protect others from the truth. They want uncomfortable stories to go away and instead focus on whatever shiny bright object they have to offer as a tangible alternative.
It’s a very similar situation with the Ticketfly hack in May — I asked and I asked and I asked for answers, and I never got anywhere. So you stop asking, but you don’t stop trying to learn the truth — you just shift tactics. You stop taking things head on and instead start looking for opportunities. And once you see it, you take it — it’s not about being right, it’s about being ready.
Another thing I learned…be careful who your friends are…like, REALY careful. But hey, you already knew that.
Wildest Beckham Conspiracy Theory: First, I gotta say I’m doubtful of this one, but still it’s go0d — Rob is going pro and joining the PGA. The dude spent so much time golfing and jet setting in 2018 that he’s decided to cash in and join the pro circuit. Ridiculous, but also, I kind of wish this was true.
Blowing up XO Festival
I’m proud of this one — our reporting at Amplify exposed some scammy people from the town I lived in as a kid and led to some serious scrutiny and ultimately the cancellation of a fake fest. This story moved fast and there was fraud and red flags at every level — the fair manager wouldn’t reveal the name of the promoter, “sponsors” like BART said they had never heard of the event and sent over cease and desist letters and lawyers for Oregon event had to take the festival to court because its original name XOXO Festival had been trademarked years earlier by former Kickstarter CTO Andy Baio. The two sides settled and XOXO became XO.
What else? How can we forget the ridiculously basic promo video they shot with hype man Bully Wiz, or the clip art photos on their website and of course promoter Sami Habib who pretended to be a lawyer, a publicist, a music manager and a street team leader in various email correspondence.
The music industry tends to exacerbate these problems with its willful blindness, but the real story of XO Fest is a story of a couple greedy people who lied and took things that weren’t theirs by manipulating some low hanging fruit in the festival space and not having any shame when confronted.
The takeaway — there is a lot more of this happening than most people talk about. We covered XO Fest because we knew the area and we knew the right people to talk to, and we also caught a few lucky breaks. But there’s so much more fraud and bad actors in the festival space then we could ever possibly get our arms around. That’s good news for one group of people — tenacious journalists. There’s a lot of stories to tell, probably not far from your town. It’s not about learning what to look for — it’s knowing how to look and how to focus in on the things that others aren’t seeing. That’s the secret sauce folks!
Dorkiest XO Fest Journalism Moment: To learn the identities of the festival promoters, I had to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the California Department of Agriculture to force the Antioch fairgrounds to release a signed copy of the XO Fest contract. The fairgrounds GM tried to conceal the promoters identity by covering the signature line with a Post-it note and sending me a photocopy hoping I wouldn’t follow up. I did and next he told the promoter’s name was private information. Eventually the FOIA request was approved in Sacramento and I received a copy of the original contract from state officials that showed the signature matched that of the alias of a Northern California man who had just been arrested on multiple counts of fraud. That was the official confirmation that the person we had been talking to — Sami Habib — had just been arrested with his brother on a number of fraud and identity theft charges. And from there, the story took went forth.
Meeting Taylor Swift
I could talk about all the reporting we did on Taylor Swift this year, how we predicted her tour would be one of the highest grossing off all time and how the Twitterverse reacted with all this incoming fire over my reporting, with people telling me I was a “talentless hack” and “paid to spew lip service” about Swift and her ticket sales.
Fast forward to December, the tour is wrapped and guess what — it was number one in the US and grossed more than$300 million. I’m right, all the haters are wrong and now they can all go back under a bridge and @ someone else.
Here’s the part I didn’t get to talk about — Kristen and I met Taylor Swift. And we talked about journalism. Seriously, her publicist set it up prior to her show at the Rose Bowl and we spent a few minutes with her chatting about her thoughts on music media and how the “narrative” often overtakes the truth, until it becomes the truth. Unless we create a clearly identifiable lane for real facts-based reporting, we’re just all going to be dumber and believe our own bullshit until it comes crashing down on top of us.
Seriously, this is what we (she) talked about. And she knew who I was! Like she knew me and was like “I read your stories.”
Really…is there anything else I need to tell you besides that?
Most Often Asked Question about Taylor Swift: So obviously I’m also a big Taylor Swift fan and love her music. A lot of people ask me — Dave, you’re almost 40, why are you such a die hard Swiftie? And the answer is always the same — because that’s who I fucking am!
Hope that is helpful everyone. Love you all — Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greeting and Happy New Year. See you in 2019.