Don’t Get IRFA’d: Westergren’s Fake “Tour Support”

Not surprisingly, Tim Westergren is rallying the troops at the Consumer Electronics Show–the locus of those just like him who want to enrich themselves from commoditizing music.   Remember, Westergren is the founder and public face of Pandora–and has been cashing in to the tune of $1,000,000 a month as he sells off his founders stock in the public markets.

So now the LA Times is reporting that Westergren is offering the Web 2.0 version of “tour support”:

[Westergren] talked about Internet radio as a means to generate income for performing artists (who don’t get paid at all by over-the-air stations) and insights. In particular, he touted Pandora’s ability to help artists figure out where to tour and promote their live shows to a receptive audience.

The key, Westergren said, is in the feedback Pandora users give on songs. The site allows listeners to give a thumbs up to songs they’d like to hear more frequently in their personalized radio feeds, and a thumbs down to those they don’t. This feedback can help identify the people most interested in going to an artist’s concert.

Westergren said he could see [someday] allowing artists to log into Pandora to see a heat map of the thumbs up ratings, showing the areas where they had the largest number of potential fans (but not their identities). Artists could also enter their tour information into the site, and Pandora could send alerts to listeners who’d given those bands’ songs a thumbs up — along with the option to buy tickets with one click.

This is, of course, a watered down and Web 2.0 version of the idea that Zoë Keating came up with for online services to share data with artists.  Except that it keeps Pandora in the middle instead of empowering the artist by putting the artist in direct communication with the artist’s fans–the people who make Pandora valuable, remember them?

So when did this epiphany strike Westergren like Paul on the road to Damascus?  Pandora has had this information locked up from the time that the thumbs were a great fiery ball, right?  Why is he bringing it up now, and bringing it up to a room full of people who don’t know a trap case from a full rachet?

Does Pandora plan on charging for this “service”?  Whether they do or don’t, why don’t they offer the fan the ability to sign up for the artist’s own email list?  Take Pandora out of the middle?  Because while these Big Tech companies will wave their arms about user privacy, notice what happens?  Pandora attracts the fan to Pandora because they play the artist’s music, but Pandora controls the communication with the fan and “owns the consumer.”  Where do privacy concerns stop and commercial concerns start?  No right thinking artist wants to spam fans, but shouldn’t the fan be given the choice of whether they want to sign up?  And make it easy for the fan to do so?  You know, give the fan the opportunity when and where they want it?

And by the way–whatever you call this Pandora “service”, don’t call it “tour support”.  Tour support has a very specific meaning–writing a check to finance a tour deficit.  A tour deficit means the shortfall in a tour’s costs in excess of the tour guarantees.

And who makes the tour guarantees?  A promoter or club owner.  And why does a promoter or club owner promise a guarantee?  Because a bunch of people that have IP addresses that come up in the promoter’s zip code show up on a heat map?  Because the artist got a thumbs up on Pandora?

Ahhh…no.  The market produces this information already–it’s called a price.  The price in this case is a reflection of the risk capital that a talent buyer is willing to bet on a show.  And whether the artist takes the price is a reflection of whether the economics of the tour make sense.  Such as routing.

If an artist has fans in markets with a bunch of Pandora users, then judging from who likes what is perhaps an interesting fact, but ultimately is not as meaningful as who will pay for what and in what sequence.  Because if there are promoters willing to pay for a show in LA, Peoria, Ft. Lauderdale and Nome, that’s a very expensive tour.  It’s even less of a tour if those are just fans showing up on a heat map.

There have been Internet dudes hawking these heat maps for 10 years.  They really don’t mean much.  And they mean even less if the artist can’t communicate with the fans directly.

And it’s nice that Pandora will be willing to sell fans a ticket to a show–but there’s no show to sell tickets to if there’s no promoter willing to get the band to the gig.

This is why you have deficit tour financing–so the artist can hop on a headliner’s tour as an opener and go to places where they have a hope of reaching an audience they can come back to on their own.  To fill in the gaps where a promoter is willing to have the artist play but not to pay for the privilege with the promoter’s risk capital.  If you don’t have a record company to pay that tour support, then the artist just has to suck it up out of their own pockets.  Which is why artists need to sell CDs to pay for touring and why most tours lose money.

Please, people, this is not that hard.

I’m glad for Tim that he’s getting rich, and I’m glad for Joe Kennedy he can pay himself a $700k salary.  But why don’t they actually listen to artists like Zoë Keating and cut out the mickey mouse.

Let the fan decide.