I'M A STEAMROLLER, BABY
Taylor, who's been a touring staple since the early '70s, has strong feelings about the current state of the concert industry. He finds high ticket prices particularly irksome.
"Carole and I were really clear about pricing. Rob Light, Sam Feldman and Lorna Guess all agreed that we need to be really sane and considerate with our ticket pricing," Taylor says. "What's the matter with a modest return on a ticket price that people can afford? I don't understand why people need $1 million a night to take their guitar out of the case."
That's not to say, given the unique nature of this tour, that the Troubadour Reunion couldn't have charged much more. "When Carole and I come out and do a tour like this, it's sort of once in a lifetime. When this thing ends it's a memory, it's history," Taylor says. "We'll probably come out with some kind of DVD recording because we've been working on that, but this thing will go away. So this could be the kind of thing where you could say, 'OK, we're going to ratchet the ticket prices up to $300-$400 for the best tickets to shoot for the moon.' "
And people would've probably ponied up, Taylor concedes. "But when you do that, it means they're not going to go to two other concerts that year. That's going to be it for their summer," he says. "It's greedy, it's wrong, it's not necessary. People can come out and see us without taking out a second mortgage."
So if the concert industry is slumping this summer, those in charge shouldn't expect sympathy from JT. "It's good that people are pushing back against high ticket prices," he says. "Some of [the pricing] has been really unseemly. I'm glad to see some reality injected into the system. Now we've got Live Nation and Ticketmaster and Irving Azoff's fantastic stable all at one conglomerate. It makes me uneasy," he adds. "Hopefully, that kind of centralization, that kind of corporate expansion, will result in better service for people, but that hasn't been the case in the past.
"The fact that live touring has been bought up more and more by fewer and fewer companies, who buy each other out as well, has actually meant that ticket prices and extra charges and parking [have increased]-if you hitchhike to some of these shows, you still have to pay parking. You're not able to bring your own blanket in, you've got to buy the $5 beer or you're going to go dry. Those things are an insult. They really have started to drive people away, to make the experience so mercenary."
Going to see a concert "is not life or death," Taylor says. "For many years this has been something I've felt really intensely about, that people overcharge, that corporations pull all of the money out of it without investing anything in sound or customer service or bettering the experience. Carole and I are trying to deliver as much as possible to the audience, and there are entities out there who would see that as an opportunity to pull more money out of it. It's time for these guys to wake up and realize that audience satisfaction is really what we're talking about."
Not surprisingly, working with independent promoters on this tour was another idea Taylor supported. "Competition makes for a healthy marketplace," he says. "If there is only one game in town, then the quality of the experience from everybody's point of view will start to disintegrate. We really do like to support independents and whenever possible we have done that."
Beyond the tour, the recorded project from the shows that inspired it has also been a winner. The November 2007 Troubador performances, six shows in three nights, were recorded by Peter Asher and directed and shot by Martyn Atkins for the CD/DVD release.
"As soon as everyone heard and saw the results, there was a sense of inevitability about [a tour] because it was such an amazing event," says Robert Smith, VP of A&R at Concord Music Group and executive producer of the "Live at the Troubadour" CD/DVD.
The CD/DVD was released May 5, the week the U.S. shows began, and the synergy was captured in a way most album/tour projects strive for but don't always reach.
"We began talking about putting out the CD/DVD with both artists and management last year when they were beginning to plan the tour, and as soon as we knew it was going to launch in the U.S. in May we went into overdrive to make sure we could get the package together so we could have an on-sale to coincide with the tour," Smith says. "You always hope for those drivers that occur in the marketplace, not just to launch a project like this, but to sustain it. I can't recall a release so perfectly timed to take advantage of a tour, and general interest from the public."
Portions of the DVD were shown as part of a one-hour PBS pledge drive for the month of June, which "whet the appetite of fans," according to Smith, who says pledges for PBS were "way above expectations."
So far the project has sold 309,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Of those, 96,000 came from nontraditional retail (digital, Internet, mail order and venue sales), 101,000 came from chains, 14,000 from indie retailers and 98,000 from mass merchants.
"In this economy and record-selling climate, this [project] is doing extraordinarily well," Smith says, "and will continue to do well. This isn't something we put out and hope does well for two months and then we move on. This is a legacy project they've created and it will keep selling. It's too important not to."