I’m sure if you’re a music fan no matter what your stripes, you’ve probably heard of Live Nation. It’s the monolith, gargantuan ruler of live music in America, that now with their ownership of Ticketmaster and many of the big and mid-sized venues all across the United States, they pretty much constitute a monopoly of the live music dollar, at least when it comes to mainstream concerts and acts. I would call it the Wal-Mart of live music, but even this analogy would not do justice to the degree of Live Nation’s power over live music.
But you have probably not heard of C3, unless you live in Austin, TX where the company is based, or work deeply embedded in the music industry. To simplify it, consider C3 like the Live Nation of independent music, especially for the Austin music scene, but with a national and international reach. It is owned by three guys whose first names all start with ‘C’, and since it’s inception in 2007 it has become one of the fastest-growing live promoters in all of music, and it has grown into the largest promoter of independent music.
Some of C3’s most recognizable accomplishments and conquests include the huge ACL Fest in Austin, and Lollapalooza in Chicago. They also own the Orion festival in Atlantic City, the CounterPoint festival in Georgia, LouFest in St. Louis, and the Big Day Out festival in Australia. C3 also has Lollapalooza fests in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, and is looking to expand to Canada and Europe soon. Yes, this is no mom and pop operation.
C3 does so much more in the independent music space though than just throw festivals, especially around Austin. In Austin they own many of the city’s most important venues, including La Zona Rosa, Emo’s, and Stubb’s. For many of Austin’s other important venues, they do a lot of the booking and promotion. C3 also engages in artist management and booking for many of the favorite artists of independent music fans through offices in Austin and New York. They help book the music for Austin City Limits. C3 books the music at the House of Blues venues, which incidentally are owned by Live Nation. And like Live Nation, C3 has their own ticketing company called Front Gate Ticketing. All told, C3 pulled in $124 million dollars from more than 800 shows and sold 2,025,002 tickets in 2013. So yeah, C3 is massive in the independent music space, and has drawn criticism from some for using the same strong-armed tactics Live Nation does because of their size, only on a micro, independent scale.
Now consider the smarmy, unsettling idea of Live Nation coming in and gaining majority control of all of these C3 assets in one fell swoop. Well that may be what’s in the works according to a report from The New York Times.
According to multiple unnamed sources, Live Nation is currently negotiating a deal with C3 to purchase 51% of the company for around $125 million. Of course, both companies are declining to comment, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The two companies have very close ties beyond their work with House of Blues, and rumors of mergers and acquisitions have swirled around the two companies before, but nothing this solid. Charlie Walker—one of the three C’s of C3—is a former Live Nation executive.
Live Nation has a revenue base of about 5.38 billion dollars a year, and over $5 billion in assets. Buying C3 would immediately make the mega promoter the biggest player in not just live mainstream music, but live independent music, with little to no competition that could muster a fight. Will it happen? How much autonomy with C3 have? Will C3 even still exist or just be incorporated into Live Nation? Time will tell, and no telling what regulators will do as they’ve made a habit of looking the other way in deals such as this. But overall, it’s hard to see how Live Nation getting into the independent music business and a further drying up of competition could be good for independent music consumers.