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Does concentration leave room for musical diversity?

Are Live Nation, AEG, Fimalac et al a convenient bogeyman for professionals concerned about defending their turf, paper tigers that justify the redirection of public funds towards a regional marketing policy or a genuine threat to the expression of diversity?

Live Nation, AEG, Fimalac… the mere mention of these companies alone is enough to provoke an outcry among cultural stakeholders attached to a public policy that champions a particular idea of cultural diversity. Symbolising a phenomenon of unprecedented concentration that affects live shows and the world of music in particular, the action of these international groups in France has been clear for all to see for ten years, but its origins can be traced back to the late 1990s, when the Compagnie Générale des Eaux – renamed Vivendi by Jean Marie Messier – acquired Universal to found a conglomerate that aimed to control both the containers and their content[1]. The 360-degree approach is born[2].

The balance of the music market had previously been based on a long-standing sectorisation, with a robust recording industry; although dominated by a handful of majors, diversified and relatively independent media and those handling live performances operated in part thanks to a timid recognition by public authorities undergoing a process of decentralisation.

The digital explosion, with its impact on the production and consumption of recorded music,[3] upset this precarious balance and left the field open to new players who stepped into the breach of a fragmented and deregulated market. Coming from advertising, sport and finance in search of new opportunities, they were the first to understand the importance of data [4]. They then went on to industrialise this 360-degree approach, absorbing as many of their competitors as other components of the music industry (ticket issuers, venues, festivals[5]…), leading to the threat of a market situation both oligopolistic (when a small number of sellers has a monopoly on staging shows) and oligopsonistic (a small number of buyers for a large number of sellers, in this case, artists). Studying the retail sector and agri-food market[6] shows us that the consequences of this kind of configuration are usually: inflated prices for the consumer, loss of earnings for the producers and the standardisation of production to reduce costs. The only thing missing from this picture was a global economic and commercial agreement that would remove regulatory power from a government responsible for cultural diversity! All that would remain when it came to preserving musical diversity and the creative vibrancy of an entire sector was the imagination of independent stakeholders keen to work in the general interest. Ultimately, they would end up having to reinvent methods of production and distribution, through sharing, mediation with local markets and the mobilisation of resources of unique festivals, cultivating their differences and offering unrivalled experiences, in new media, where proximity is real or virtual. But they cannot by themselves overturn a powerful trend that poses a serious threat to the expression of cultural diversity by weakening the already weakest stakeholders with an industry.

Nevertheless, while this picture of the situation seems to be shared by a majority of professionals, studies to support it are still too sector-based to hope to convince policymakers to put corrective measures in place to ensure the sustainability of a system also in need of modernisation.

Finally, it is clear that our analysis must take into account the international dimension of a phenomenon in which growth is also based on faster exchanges and a concentration of prescriptive media [7], which poses the risk of a worldwide standardisation of musical tastes. Due to the increased mobility of a section of humanity that no longer thinks twice about travelling several hundred kilometres to attend a large gathering of headline acts, this same globalisation movement raises the question of competition between cities for whom these vast masses are a regional marketing tool that allows them to reshape their image for a minimal direct cost [8]. In this context, the reaction of public policies, when reflected by a massive investment in events or facilities favouring international exposure at the expense of a local network and action to structure a sector, has a catalytic effect on the phenomenon of concentration described above.

The economic concentration of the music market is therefore protean and its effects are yet to be evaluated globally and objectively to support changes in the sector and the place and role of its public policies.

Be that as it may, the world has probably never listened to so much music and those who create it, thanks to the digital world, can produce and distribute their work like never before. The challenge we all collectively face is therefore to ensure that all musical expression can exist in a way that respects everyone and in the interest of all those dedicated to other activities… Such initiatives already exist and can be found in third places, where transdisciplinarity breaks down walls, in everyone’s interest.

[1] La convergence médias vue par Jean Marie Messier [Media convergence according to Jean Marie Messier] (Challenge – 03/09/2015)

[2] La révolution 360° a-t-elle eu lieu ? [Has the 360-degree revolution taken place?]  (Irma – 05/01/2011)

[3] 10 chiffres pour comprendre la crise du disque [10 figures to help you understand the record crisis] (L’Express – 10/01/2009)

[4] Pandora branche une billetterie en ligne sur ses big datas [Pandora connects online ticketing to its big data] (Proscenium Think Tank – 09/10/2015)

[5] Live Nation organise 32000 concerts par an, gère 128 salles et avait, en 2018, 4000 artistes sous contrat, et vend par sa filière Ticketmaster 550 millions de tickets dans 40 pays différents [Live Nation organises 32,000 concerts per year, manages 128 venues and had, in 2018, 4,000 artists under contract, and sells 550 million tickets in 40 different countries through its Ticketmaster channel] (Les Echos – 30/07/2018)

[6] Les marges dans la filière agro-alimentaire en France [Margins in France’s agri-food sector] (Cairn Info – Mars 2009)

[7] “En 2017, Youtube concentrait à lui seul 46% des heures dédiées à l’écoute de la musique à la demande dans le monde” [In 2017, YouTube alone accounted for 46% of hours dedicated to listening to music on demand worldwide] (IFPI study)

[8] Gros coup de colère au Main Square Festival [A fit of anger at the Main Square Festival] (Libération – 15/06/20019, updated 28/01/2015)

Stéphane Krasniewski

© Stéphane Barbier

 

After managing a puppet theatre company for several years, in 2004, Stéphane Krasniewski joined the team at Les Suds in Arles as administrator and then co-programmer alongside Marie José Justamond, the festival’s founder.
He became its director in January 2019.
President of Zone Franche, the world music network, since 2018, he is also a member of the National Council of the Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles [Union for Modern Music].

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