During a brief audience with Bono following U2's radio promo event at Metro Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to ask the singer one question about the single most important story in music today: the proposed merger between the controversial ticket broker Ticketmaster and the huge national concert promoter Live Nation.
Last year, U2 hopped into bed with Live Nation in a big way, signing a 12-year global contract allowing the American promoter to handle all merchandising, digital and branding rights as well as touring for the Irish band. And on its last tour, U2 faced significant criticism from fans--including one who questioned the band during the promo event--who were angry about Ticketmaster's handling of the specially-priced fan club tickets, an inordinate number of which seemed to wind up in the hands of scalpers.
Surprisingly, given the facts that the band is gearing up to work with these two companies for what is expected to be one of the top-grossing tours of 2009; that U2 made $25 million from selling its stock in Live Nation in December, and that the merger was the subject of two recent hearings on Capitol Hill as well as an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department, Bono said he had no opinion on the mega-merger.
"I'm not... I haven't really spent any time thinking about it. I'm just thinking about this [promoting 'No Line on the Horizon']," the singer said.
I noted that he had just responded to a fan who was angry about ticket sales on the last tour.
"I genuinely don't... I haven't had a minute to consider [the merger]. Is it definitely going to happen?" Bono asked.
I responded that it is now in the hands of the Justice Department.
"The thing that I have spent any time thinking about is this marginalization of musicians in music," Bono countered, changing the subject. "And that disturbs me. And it doesn't really affect me, but I've seen it particularly affect songwriters. It's very difficult for songwriters to get paid. If you're a band, you can develop a relationship with your audience through online, through playing live shows. But where's the next Cole Porter going to come from?"
Or the next Leonard Cohen, I interjected, since Bono had just played Cohen's music. Big mistake--this allowed the singer to go off on a long tangent about Cohen's genius, getting away from the topic at hand. We were then interrupted by a Chicago fan eager to glad-hand the musician: Nick Pritzker, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Hyatt Development Corporation.
The irony here was rich, since a massive infusion of cash from the Pritzker family was instrumental in establishing Ticketmaster shortly after the company was launched. ("Does your family still have a piece of Ticketmaster?" I asked Pritzker, trying to get the mini-interview back on track. "No, I don't have a piece of Ticketmaster," Pritzker said. "But we started it.")
As Bono began to edge away, I told him that the Ticketmaster/Live Nation story was the biggest I've ever covered as a music journalist. That gave him pause.
"What's your biggest worry about it? Just let me know," Bono said.
I told him the merger could create one giant corporation that will dominate live music in America to such an extent that there will be few options left for artists who want to work with any indie promoter, since the company will control so many venues, and they will have no option to sell tickets through any system other than Ticketmaster's. "Pearl Jam went up against Ticketmaster in the early '90s and learned that the hard way," I said.
"I remember," Bono replied.
"You really should read up on this," I said.
"I will," Bono promised. "There are only so many hours in the day. But we're going to be in that [touring/concert] system soon, so it better work."
And with that, he was off to continue saving the world... or at least to head to Boston for the next and final stop on the band's whirlwind promotional jaunt.