Live Nation Entertainment/Front Line Management Chairman Irving Azoff said he didn’t get the chance to respond to some of the comments made at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary subcommitee hearing about the proposed Universal Music Group-EMI merger. So he’s shared some of his thoughts about the hearing with Billboard.biz, including his disagreement with some of the comments by Beggars Group founder Martin Mills, Public Knowledge’s Gigi Sohn and former Warner Music chairman Edgar Bronfman, Jr.; how this experience compared to the 2009 hearings on the Ticketmaster/Live Nation hearings; why Senator Al Franken should host “Saturday Night Live,” and, of course, what Jared Leto texted him during the hearing.
[UPDATE: On Saturday morning, a rep for Mills sent the following response to Azoff’s comments. “I have too much respect for Irving’s long and illustrious career to get into a public slanging match. We were in a quasi-judicial environment, in which we swore to tell what we believe to be the truth, which I did. And for the record, I know how that Eagles album was released in the USA, and I believe Universal handled it overseas.” (In Europe, the album was handled by Universal label Polydor.) At press time, Bronfman had not yet responded.]
Billboard: Is there anything you would have added to the testimony, had you been given the opportunity?
Irving Azoff: [Beggars Group founder/chairman] Martin Mills said something to the effect of, “Irving Azoff says he has 250 artists and 40% or 50% of them aren’t on major labels,” then he rattles off the Eagles and others who he said are on major labels, or he cleverly worded as something like “their careers were made by major labels.” [According to video of the testimony, Mills’ statement was: “Mr. Azoff says 40% of his artists manage without a label. When I Google his site, the Eagles, Christina Aguilera, Kings of Leon, Kenny Chesney, John Mayer, Van Halen, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Hudson, Aerosmith, Jimmy Buffett, Kid Rock, Avril Lavigne are all on the front page. I don’t recall any of them becoming successful without a record label. All of them, I believe, released their last albums in association with a major label.”]
I do want to point out that on their last record [“Long Road Out of Eden in 2007], the Eagles did an exclusive deal in North America with Walmart. Everybody remembers it, I guess, except Mr. Mills. So for him to lump the Eagles into that list of Irving Azoff clients that are on major labels was disingenuous.
And I never said that artists’ careers aren’t best served by major labels. What I said was the business is really changing, and going forward artists are going to have more choices. And when [Mills] listed all those other [Front Line] artists, I can say that the reason nearly every one of them are on major labels now is because they’re under contract, and I’m sure that every one of them, when they reach the end of their contracts, will contemplate not re-signing to a major.
My other observation of Mr. Mills was I thought it was a cheap shot to say, “listen, what I’m going to say here sounds harsh, but I don’t really mean it.” That’s a clever way of saying, “I’m gonna play dirty, but because I make this statement saying I don’t mean to play dirty, it’s OK.” [Mills said: “Please forgive me for using strong words today, but having read the statements of [Grainge, Azoff and Faxon] I thnk they’re needed.”]
Billboard’s Live Blog On The U.S. Senate’s Hearing On Universal-EMI Merger
Any take on the comments by Gigi Sohn of consumer group Public Knowledge?
My head’s spinning. I’ve got a huge group of people working on fact-checking those charts she put up. I must be in a different business. If what she was talking about is the business I’m in, then I don’t know what I’ve been doing for the past 43 years.
I picked up the tone that leads me to think that she may be one of those people that thinks artists and writers and creative people shouldn’t own their own works in perpetuity, so she and I have a major disconnect out of the gate. I was quite shocked by some of what she said about the rights of the creative community.
I’m trying to get copies of those charts she put up to find out what she really was saying. I know [EMI Music CEO] Roger Faxon and I were stunned by some of the things she was trying to put on the record.
What about the testimony of [Warner Music Group director] Edgar Bronfman Jr.?
As far as Mr. Bronfman goes, I don’t really know what his agenda is, but, gosh, he must have one. I was shocked by a lot of what came out of Edgar’s mouth. Either he doesn’t get it, or he was trying to twist some of what Mr. Faxon, myself and [EMI Music CEO] Mr. [Lucian] Grainge were saying. [Bronfman] gleefully told the committee that he presided over two huge firings of both artists and employees at both Warner and Universal Polygram, and he was completely ignoring what Mr. Faxon was saying, which was that EMI has already done all the cutting, and he ignored what Lucian was saying, that, “we’re buying all this so we can make EMI great again.”
Did this bring to mind in any way your experience testifying before the Senate Subcommittee in 2009 about the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster?
Obviously, in the Live Nation merger, I was a victim of AEG running to Washington and hiring a bunch of lawyers and trying to inflict pain, which they did successfully. It appears to me that Mr. Bronfman and Warner are doing exactly the same thing. I thought it was an unfair process in our situation [in 2009], I thought we were treated unfairly, and I think Universal’s being treated unfairly by [Warner] using high-powered lawyers to go in and attempting to torpedo this because they have sour grapes because [Warner] made a losing bid.
Have you received any feedback on the EMI-UMG merger from artist clients?
I got a lot of e-mails from artists, including one from Jared Leto from 30 Seconds To Mars, an EMI artist. At 12:15 PM L.A. time I got the following e-mail from Jared Leto, and I quote: “You and Lucian are killing it. Smart, clear, reasonable, great. The other folks look like bad guys whining in a ‘Star Wars’ flick.”
Anything else about this hearing that reminded you of your experience with the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger hearing?
There were two major differences for me: Senator [Michael] Lee was not on the committee when we were there, and I thought his questions and views were incredibly insightful in that he had amazing knowledge of what an anti-trust review should be, and he gave both parties a fair hearing there. And I thought Senator [Al] Franken brought a fresh approach to things, and I thought he was hilarious. I put in a call to [Saturday Night Live producer] Loren Michaels to tell Loren Senator Franken should be the first sitting U.S. Senator to host Saturday Night Live.