The Life of Artists and The Reality of the Game
June 12, 2009
Darknet: Echo Artist clients face imminent web shut-down
When news broke in April that Echomusic of Nashville (popularly known as Echo) was being closed by parent company Ticketmaster
Entertainment, it wasreported (all too briefly) as a story of some 60 lost jobs on Music Row. What hasn’t been reported is that early
next week, on June 15-18, between 100 and 200 echo clients – most of them small or mid-level, independent or indie-label bands
and artists – will see their websites go dark with no refunds and no ability to transfer their sites seamlessly to another host.
The echo platform, touted by the company for years as a unique integration of web site, e-mail list, merchandise sales and
fan connection tools, was built on an architecture so proprietary and one-of-a-kind that sites “powered by echo” must be
re-built from scratch. This is according to current and former Echo employees, as well as artist managers who are currently
scrambling to rescue their artists’ vital presence on the web.
“It’s shocking,” said the manager of a prominent Americana singer/songwriter who has at least a three-year relationship with
Echo. “You’d think with all the years and money he’s put in they’d maybe go not the extra mile but just the extra half mile. . .
We’re really being left with no options.”
Clients were formally notified in mid May that the sites would go dark on June 15-18, but managers and artists are reporting
that web designers and hosts need 60-90 days at a minimum to code and launch sites. Some, like country singer Travis Tritt,
have already posted placeholder “under construction” pages. Others are routing their domain name to a MySpace page. Echo
employees have been working overtime to walk clients through a seven-step process that will put them in a position to re-build
their websites elsewhere. Those clients are on their own for the unanticipated costs of the changeover, which run from a few thousand
dollars up to $10,000 or more. Moreover, the investments clients made in their echo sites, which are regarded as among the more
expensive in the local market, as well as their monthly maintenance and hosting fee (averaging $300/month but running up to $1,000/month),
are said to be unrecoverable.
Why is this happening this way and happening now? Well that’s where this gets really interesting, because it actually has to do with
one of the most far-reaching developments in the music business – a set of mega-transactions taking place far from Nashville.
Indirectly, it’s Irving Azoff’s doing. Briefly, Azoff, one of the most powerful and wealthy managers in the history of rock
(the Eagles are among his clients), recently presided over the merger of his company Front Line Management Group with
Ticketmaster. Simultaneously, Ticketmaster has announced plans to merge with Live Nation, the concert promoter formerly
known as Clear Channel’s market-dominating SFX. In other words, Azoff is about to assume corporate control over the management
of most of the biggest-grossing musicians in pop music, most of the venues in the U.S, and the titan of ticketing,
the much loathed Ticketmaster. And for those who haven’t been following Nashville music business news at all, Echo was bought
out by Ticketmaster in 2007 for a reported $25 million.
(Sara adds: FUNNY HOW NONE OF THE ARTISTS WILL RECEIVE ANY OF THOSE MONIES. YES, I THINK IT IS WRONG.)
So to use a strained metaphor, Echo, launched ten years ago as arguably Nashville’s most progressive digital music marketing
company, became a flea on the back of a dog being eaten by a bigger dog. And a money-losing flea to boot. While Ticketmaster
showed some patience in trying to let Echo be Echo from Nashville and find its way to profitability while growing rapidly,
the new company appears to have been in no mood to be nice to Music City or echo’s longstanding clients.
There are more specific injustices here worthy of investigation. Echo insiders knew for weeks that the shutdown of client websites
was coming but were forbidden by higher-ups to disclose it until the 30-day warning in mid May. Numerous clients were also
informed that a revised accounting of their fee schedule revealed sales tax that had not been disclosed on the front end.
One artist manager said she was informed that unless she paid a previously unknown tax bill of $900, Echo would not allow
her access to her artist’s digital assets, e-mail lists or transition services, and she doesn’t appear to be alone.
(Sara aside: ODD HOW THE ARTISTS PAID TO BE A PART OF THIS AND HAVE TO PAY MORE EVEN THOUGH THEY RECEIVE NO COMPENSATION
AT THE SELLING NOR ASSISTANCE IN THE ALLEGED “TAX BILL”.)
Furthermore, it was hard not to notice that while Echo the local start-up of the late 1990s was a refuge and service provider for
many independent, non-star-trajectory artists, the Echo of recent years (especially post Ticketmaster) focused on big-time clients
like Rascal Flatts, Kanye West and Alicia Keys. In a triumph of inequity, some 20-30 of Echo’s largest clients are slated to remain
in the Echo system, managed from Los Angeles. Insiders say that it goes even deeper than that; when recent mega-clients signed
on to Echo, at least some had the $20-30,000 fees for their web design and setup WAIVED IN EXCHANGE (emphasis mine) for an
ongoing share of revenue generated through ticket and merchandise sales. This arrangement, according to sources, was not afforded
to mid-level clients, who paid cash up front.
(Sara adds: THIS IS, ONCE AGAIN, PIRACY AT IT’S HIGHEST LEVEL. AND, YES, I THINK THIS IS INCREDIBLY WRONG AS WELL. I’M HERE
TO TELL YOU THAT MID-LEVEL ARTISTS AND UP AND COMING ARTISTS DESERVE THE SAME RESPECT AS ARTISTS WHO HAVE “GONE ON
AND MADE IT”. IN FACT, I THINK ARTISTS SHOULD HELP ONE ANOTHER…ESPECIALLY THOSE IN POWER TO SPEAK OUT AND DEMAND
The larger tragedy here is that just as a new generation of artists were challenging the dominion of a calcified record label
system and its decades-long chokehold on career development, tour support, radio play and national album distribution,
along comes another, unanticipated near-monopoly (Sara adds: Uh…let’s just call it what it is: A MONOPOLY!) with vertical
control over the most lucrative and influential parts of the music business – touring, ticketing and management. And then that company,
through a few orders from on high, is able to dismantle a company that at one time carried many of Nashville’s hopes
for a self-determined, locally-controlled digital music infrastructure.
There’s a precedent for this parable. In the late 1990s, Gaylord Entertainment, which had built The Nashville Network (TNN)
from its origins into one of the most successful cable companies in America, sold the network to a company it
knew and trusted. That was Westinghouse, a diversified corporation that had for years been TNN’s marketing partner.
Little was to change, they agreed. TNN was still producing programming from Nashville, and
Westinghouse was supposed to give the network access to new advertisers and larger amounts of capital to go
to the next level. Then, abruptly, CBS bought Westinghouse and then Viacom bought CBS. And to Viacom, TNN
was the flea on the dog. Voom, it was absorbed into Viacom’s MTV Networks and the entire Nashville production
operation was shut down, throwing hundreds of TV people out of work. And TNN had its name and format changed twice
in two years – first to The National Network, and then to Spike TV, as un-Nashville a network as exists today.
One wonders if this is Nashville’s fate – if its most successful entrepreneurs are inevitably destined to lose control. It’s enough
to make one wonder how Music City will negotiate this new and unfathomable music business.
I’d just like to say that everyday I struggle to answer emails, write on Facebook, answer mail, help my family, find time to be creative,
work on bookings, drive to gigs, find money for gas and homes to stay in (to save hotel costs), sing til I”m exhausted, go to rehearsals,
pay for rehearsal space, mail out product to the wide variety of sites that carry my cds, go to the mom and pop shoppes that still carry music (Waterloo/Amoeba), try to help
my community by performing (gratis) for benefits and for other musicians in dire straights,
and hope to find a check in the mail from BMI or Sound Exchange or Talent Partners to help me make ends meet.
And I’m fortunate, I know.
The most insidious part of all this bullshit is that we, the creators, the ones who write and paint and sing, we build
the empires like Egyptian slaves for the incredibly greedy bastards who don’t care about our broken backs, our bleeding fingers.
I’m not sure how dark the world would be without the light of the creative soul, but it would be a bleak, ugly world. And, yet, we
make our art because it is our God given right, it is our calling, it is LOVE that leads us to
want to share our song. Our music makes you weep when you watch a touching moment in a film, we make you stare in wonder
at a painting of a landscape, through photos we capture moments otherwise lost, through dance we show
the strength and grace of the human body, through poetry we slam the politics and lies and untruths that must be told or
we remind you to notice the grace of the unfolding flower at sunrise.
Those who steal and gather wealth off our backs, and shut down sites or music venues or other opportunities for us creatives to be creative,
will have a hard time explaining this to God. That is, if they pass through the eye of the needle, first.
I’m sick and tired of those who have gifts being treated like “fleas on the back of a dog” (to quote the above article.)
It is just WRONG. Wherever morality and ethics went, I pray they return. I pray that people start heralded one anothers’ gifts and
paying artists living wages and STOP STEALING WHAT DOES NOT BELONG TO ANYONE OTHER THAN THE ARTIST.
(This includes downloading without paying (unless offered for free BY THE ARTIST), but don’t get me started on that.)