Ticketmaster Isn’t the Only One at Fault for Taylor Swift Fiasco, Another Planet’s Gregg Perloff Says
Ahead of opening his new L.A. venue, The Bellwether, the promoter discusses the disastrous Eras Tour sale, the Senate's grilling of Ticketmaster execs and more.
As North America’s largest independent promoter, Gregg Perloff, the co-founder/CEO of Another Planet Entertainment, isn’t the type to ask for permission from the majors before making his next move.
Perloff has learned since selling Bill Graham Presents in the 1990s to the company that would become Live Nation that stealth can be a strategic advantage in the live-music business. That’s especially true when competing against Live Nation and AEG, which each have hundreds of millions of dollars in capital.
So, after three years of secretly negotiating, leasing and remodeling a 45,000-square-foot venue in downtown Los Angeles — AEG and Live Nation turf — Perloff and The Bowery Presents co-founder Michael Swier are about to open The Bellwether. The two-story venue is located west of the 110 Freeway between Third and Fourth streets. The one-city-block-long space is anchored by a 1,600-capacity general-admission theater and features a street-level bar and restaurant, plus a 600-capacity private event space. The venue also comes with provenance: It was once owned by Prince, who named it after his 1992 song “Glam Slam.”
Prince moved out in 1995, and a parade of lesser-known club operators followed. Months before the 2020 shutdown of live music, Swier found it. Instead of buying the building from its current owner, Perloff and Swier — who owns L.A.’s Teragram Ballroom and Moroccan Lounge — quietly worked out a long-term lease and started preparing the building for a 2023 opening. The Bellwether will be booked by long-time Another Planet Talent buyer Nick Barrie.
Perloff pulled off a similar coup in 2007 when he engaged in under-the-radar negotiations with San Francisco officials to secure a permit for the first multiday, after-sundown private festival in Golden Gate Park. Knowing the city badly needed revenue due to budget shortfalls, Perloff and his team kept the talks under wraps and got the agreement signed despite the last-minute protests of his competitors in San Francisco’s Live Nation office. That event, Outside Lands, is today one of the highest-grossing independently owned festivals in the United States.
Perloff, who has six decades of experience in the live-music business, sat down with Billboard to discuss his new L.A. venue, his thoughts on the Taylor Swift ticketing debacle, the U.S. Senate’s subsequent grilling of Ticketmaster, and the effectiveness of the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2010 consent decree and the protections put in place to protect Ticketmaster customers.
Let’s hear the big news about your new music venue.
We will be opening our first venue in L.A. in decades: a 1,600-seat music venue just west of downtown. We’re partnering with Michael Swier, who owns some of New York’s most iconic rooms like Bowery Ballroom and the Mercury Lounge. The new venue will have an open floor plan that can host any type of contemporary music act or genre. It’s got perfect sight lines with a wraparound balcony and side lounge where people can relax. We’ve got a d&b [audiotechnik] sound system custom-built for this particular room. When we saw this new space, every one of us said, “Oh, my God. We have to do this.”
Did 2022 meet your expectations in terms of sales?
It was a really good year for us, and our sales in 2023 are so much better than they’ve ever been. I don’t think I’m alone in this. While everyone’s saying there aren’t enough acts out there, the other side of the coin is sales are spectacular. When the end of 2021 came, there seemed to be this built-up demand after the pandemic, and we had a burst of great sales including for our festivals Outside Lands and Life Is Beautiful, both of which sold out. We had a really great 2022 as well. [Billboard parent company PMC Media is a majority owner of Life Is Beautiful.]
Why is sales momentum continuing to build?
Maybe it’s that half the people going to shows right now were ready the day the doors opened back up, and the other half now have joined in. I literally have never seen a situation like this.
Do you worry about business cooling off in late summer?
Not for Outside Lands. It was held during the first week of August and had its best year in 2022. But to your point, I’ve always said that it would be better for everyone if we could figure out how to convince artists to play all year round and go from a six- or seven-month business where everyone’s compressed together to one where artists go out earlier in the year.
Another Planet was one of the few concert companies that did not lay off any of its staff during the pandemic. Why was that important to you?
We were the only concert company that kept 100% of our employees on payroll with no salary reduction during the entire pandemic. It was important that people could continue their lifestyle. I didn’t understand why these big companies didn’t do the same. There was plenty of work to be done from home: new venues, different ways to tell people about our shows and production and building maintenance. When the pandemic ended, we were ready to go.
You’ve been a Ticketmaster client for a long time and stayed with the company after its merger with Live Nation. Over a decade later, do you think the Department of Justice got it right?
I’ll say this: There is supposed to be a firewall in place so that Ticketmaster won’t share your data with the concert promotion side of Live Nation. If anyone believes that Live Nation can’t get numbers from Ticketmaster, they’re very naive. Somehow people seem to know what everybody else’s ticket sales are.
Do you agree with the argument that Ticketmaster leverages Live Nation content to land ticketing contracts?
No, and I can’t believe that the Senate keeps fixating on something that is irrelevant. They don’t do it. That isn’t an issue. To listen to the Senate talking about arenas when Live Nation doesn’t even own an arena in this country is just crazy. Secondly, when the Department of Justice said it was going to subsidize AEG’s AXS ticketing to be a competitor to Ticketmaster [in 2010], we all saw how that went — not very good. I’m not sure that most people would pick AXS over Ticketmaster.
Because of Ticketmaster’s dominance?
No. What I’m saying is that it’s hard for me to take the government seriously when they say they want to stop monopolies when there are monopolies in every part of business, from telecom to transportation.
What are your reasons for sticking with Ticketmaster?
I thought Ticketmaster was doing a good job for us. I have nothing bad to say about my competitors. Everyone wants to pick on AEG and Live Nation, but most people have no idea how hard it is to produce a tour. I toured Star Wars: In Concert with LucasFilm around the world for five years and worked on tours with Bill Graham; it’s a completely different game than being a local promoter. AEG and Live Nation do an incredible job and should be applauded for the work they do with Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen. Every five years, you get an artist that’s so popular that you just can’t make everyone happy.
Do you think the Swift ticket sale was mishandled?
I think there were a number of problems with the Taylor Swift on-sale. This might be the first controversial thing I’ll say in this interview: Bands really want to put the whole tour on sale at once because they can advertise the whole tour at once and make a bigger splash.
Right, and for Swift, something like 2.2 million tickets went on sale simultaneously.
If someone’s touring for six months, it might make some sense to maybe break the tour into two segments and go on sale with the second part of the tour closer to the dates. But there’s no system in the world — and this is where I have to defend Ticketmaster — that could have handled the onslaught.
Do you think the Senate understands that?
My question for them is, “Why are you picking on Ticketmaster and Live Nation when you should be outlawing brokers?” They are the ones who screw up everything. Does every promoter take a few tickets? Does every venue have a few tickets? Sure. But it’s the scalpers that make it so no one can get a decent seat except the rich. The Senate didn’t do the research they should have done before they started pontificating and acting like they knew what they were talking about.
What’s the best way to stop scalping?
Many years ago, my business partner, Sherry Wasserman, came up with a brilliant system for Prince at the Wilshire in Los Angeles back when I ran the theater. We wanted to completely stop brokering for the show, and we made people line up the day before the show and present an ID when buying tickets. It was foolproof, we thought. And then the next day as people are walking in, here comes Muhammad Ali with tickets and a matching ID. Muhammad Ali certainly wasn’t in line the day before when we sold the tickets, but here he was with a ticket and ID. We didn’t know how, but he managed to beat the system. We just laughed and thought, “We did the best we could do.”