Is Michael Jackson’s Death His Final Gift To All Live Music Fans?

Do You Remember The Time?
Do You Remember The Time?

When I posted my heartfelt thoughts about Michael Jackson and his London shows on Tuesday, I had no idea what would happen on Thursday afternoon. (See my Facebook trail from Thursday afternoon, bottom to top).

And over the last three days I’ve felt a wave of different emotions ranging from happy and nostalgic to guilt and sadness. It’s not that often that I respond to my own writing with such a wide range of emotions.  and It’s a first for me to have something I’ve written be so closely related to, or seemingly foreshadow a world-changing event. A friend asked me if I ever get premonitions. I said yes. But not about Michael Jackson.

I first heard of Michael Jackson’s death via a New York Times alert about him having a heart attack. Then came the big bomb. He was dead.

Like most of us, I was stunned.  First I couldn’t believe it.

And then as I read the Internet reports, I felt a sense of eerie creepiness run through me. Because two days earlier I had written about how his music was such a important part of my childhood and musical upbringing, one that still impacts how I listen to music today. It was like I had jumped ahead and started the tribute two days ahead of time.

And like the rest of us, I watched the non-stop news coverage with a mixture of sadness, guilt and denial. I also watched as Twitter and Facebook exploded with RIP tweets, updates and links directing fans to the scores of musical mixtape tributes that erupted after the news broke.  One of my personal tribute favorites has been Chicago rapper Rhymefest’s mixtape tribute  that he actually released in early 2008 to celebrate Thriller’s 25th anniversary and his love for Jackson’s music.  And I’ve also thought back to how we all celebrated Jackson’s 50th birthday at the 2008 Hideout Block Party.

And as the story of his death developed I struggled with how I was going to respond to the original post.  I wanted to respond quickly but I didn’t quite know what to say or how to say it. But I knew I wanted to wait a bit to sort out my emotions and also see how AEG Live would handle the cancellation of the London shows.

So now it’s Sunday. Just three days after one of the biggest, greatest and most influencial performers  in rock history has died. 

And I wonder: has his death impacted live music?

Yes, it has. It has shook the very core of the live music experience.

Yesterday, I was at the Rock the Bells  hip hop festival in Chicago.  And with all the Michael Jackson shout-outs and in between set musical tributes coming from the stage,  it almost felt more like a Michael Jackson tribute festival. And I imagine other festivals and concerts will have the same feel as the summer continues.

So over these last three days I’ve tried to figure out how to write about this. And I’m not exactly sure how to begin. But like I did on the original MJ post. I’ll speak from the heart and mix in the facts of what I know and what’s been reported thus far. And hopefully we can all figure things out from there. 

There are many angles to Jackson’s story. But I’d like to focus on the ones that impact live concert culture. Namely, the ticket refunding mess and the insurance issues AEG Live faces. 

“The Biggest Mess in Concert History”

First, according to Billboard’s Friday report, AEG Live faces an $85 million refund of  750,000 tickets to the London shows, which experts say “is one of the biggest refunding efforts and the biggest mess in the history of the concert industry.”   

But what about the fan’s experience over the last three days? While AEG Live issued Friday’s statement about the possible refund, their customer service line instructed customers to “await communication”  while also including this message:  

“We understand this is an upsetting time for all Michael Jackson fans and we want to thank you for your patience in this matter.”

And to make matters worse, Billboard says that “fans who bought tickets from unofficial sources, such as from sellers on auction sites or agencies, may lose their money.”

Then AEG Live  did eventually issue a statement  saying they would refund all the tickets to the 50 London shows. But AEG Live’s battle with Jackon’s  family and financial woes are far from over.

AEG Live’s financial future: between a rock concert and a hard place

As Billboard reports, the ongoing investigation of Jackson’s cause of death and the concert contracts he signed still impacts AEG Live’s financial future.

“AEG’s yearly financial results may now depend on Jackson’s cause of death. One entertainment insurance industry insider says that if Jackson died from a drug overdose or a pre-existing condition, the producer could be on the hook for any loss-which would include any money already sunk into the production, as well as the considerable cost of refunding consumers for the 750,000 tickets already purchased. If Jackson signed a contract saying he would return his advance in the event he didn’t perform, the company could end up in court with a long line of other Jackson creditors.”

That said, we might be looking at a blessing in disguise.

 The King of Pop’s passing gives us a chance to improve the concert experience

Judging by the outpouring at Rock the Bells yesterday, I know concerts this summer are going to be very different. And it turns this summer into one of the longest and largest group mourning experiences in the history of concertgoing.

But what about the concert industry and the business of selling tickets? Will Jackson’s death forever change how promoters and artists do business? It should. And it should also benefit fans.

On Tuesday, I wondered whether or not giving fans more control over ticket pricing would help the concert experience. And now with the impact of Jackson’s death on the concert industry, I think this question is more poignant then ever. Because reading all these Billboard reports tells me that Jackson’s death might have more power to forever change how promoters sell tickets than we realize. It’s a prime time to rethink the whole ticket selling process.

Having dealt and struggled  in the wake of death many times in the last several years, I’ve seen someone’s passing somehow turn into a blessing and become a benefit to those left behind on planet Earth. Death is usually a catalyst for change. That’s why I think Jackson’s death could lead to helping fans better understand the whole ticketing process and get them more involved in how it’s structured, which will hopefully lead to a better process that gives fans more control in determining a more realistic price of the concert experience.

Coming up…

Jackson’s death brought up a whole bunch of other issues we need to take a look at, such as pain. So stay tuned as we discuss how artists deal with physical pain before, during and after a concert.  

So tell me:

How have you mourned Jackson’s death? 

Did you ever see him in concert? 

And would you go see a Jackson Tribute tour?

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