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Will the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger limit live music in Las Vegas?

Last month, after conducting a yearlong investigation, the Department of Justice finally approved the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger, bringing together the biggest ticket sales and distribution company and the world’s top concert promoter. With rock music making further inroads into the Strip, will independent live-events managers be brushed aside by a monolithic new entity? Or will this gigantic conglomerate prepare a wider sonic menu?

“A potential problem with the merger is it’s just one more step toward eliminating smaller shows in markets across the nation,” says Thirry Harlin, co-organizer of the twice-yearly music fest Neon Reverb. “This new, larger company can literally throw money at events and not worry about losing a little here and there in order to keep smaller operators from succeeding. Both Live Nation and Ticketmaster have always done this. Now their combined wealth can make that task even easier.”

Still, Harlin and other indie promoters see an upside to the merger, namely that if Live Nation installs more events here—and builds upon the work it has done, say, at House of Blues—then Vegas can enjoy higher-quality shows, especially in hotel-casino venues. In other words, Live Nation has the ability and means to widen and enrich the local market for live musicgoers.

But will this actually happen? Consider that the two brightest music events this spring are locally and independently produced: Neon Reverb and Extreme Thing. After that, only Coachella in Indio, Calif., is worth marking your calendar.

Regardless, Live Nation—despite having secured arrangements with huge artists such as Madonna—is becoming increasingly interested in smaller and smaller bands. Which, if you’re paranoid, means an emboldened corporation could descend upon Vegas the week of Neon Reverb and throw together a “competing” indie-rock festival, shutting out the smaller event. Does Vegas need The Man dictating a local music festival? Well, if he brought back the lost joys of Vegoose, then we should join his evil army.

Until the foot soldiers of the corporate apocalypse march on our horizon, it’s an academic discussion. Even if Live Nation is generally looked upon more favorably (See Ticketmaster’s recent tiff with Bruce Springsteen and the corresponding outcry.), the concert promoter has already demonstrated a willingness to jump into a market and create something with little risk to them, but at great risk to smaller competitors. For example, consider the new Live Nation-sponsored Playaway event in England, which borrows its idea of a quirky indie lineup from the smashing success of another lower-key Brit music fest, All Tomorrow’s Parties. You may not have heard of any of Playaway’s acts, but these bands are now working in the big leagues.

Interestingly, it may be the hotel-casinos who see the biggest change. A former entertainment marketing manager turned PR director (who lives in Vegas and wishes to go unnamed) says gaming properties could save money by outsourcing box-operations to Ticketmaster. After all, Cirque, Wynn and the Colosseum at Caesars already use the service.

Whatever happens, progress will be slow, given the massive corporate structure. A Live Nation employee assured me that the Vegas market won’t experience any real changes for at least a year. Also, because of its contractual obligations, Live Nation box offices won’t have to switch to Ticketmaster for another six months. The corporate conquistadors may have landed, but until I can buy Disney on Ice tickets at Pearl, they won’t have colonized.

In the meantime, indie promoters such as Harlin will continue doing what they do—bringing young upstart rock bands to Vegas: “The live-music experience will always offer something special,” Harlin says. “Not every concert is right for a big corporation to control.”

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