We learned that there’s more to Kid Rock than meets the ear from Kelefa Sanneh’s fascinating “Badass American” profile of the “genre-jumping” musician “who got his start in hip-hop, went platinum with rap-rock, and then transitioned into country music” in the New Yorker last November. The Wall Street Journal this morning tells us that Rock’s got a “plan to change the economics of touring.” John Jurgensen talks to the straight shooter about his deal with Live Nation Entertainment to price tickets for his tour this summer at $20 for almost all seats (there are 1,000 “platinum” tickets per concert for $60 to $350).
The strategy is somewhat reminiscent of another Motor City icon, Henry Ford, who also figured out a way to slash prices, increase sales and bring his product to the masses. And in negotiating a cut from the sale of every $4 beer and $20 T-shirt in lieu of a guarantee, Rick is also stealing a page from the “razor/razorblades” playbook of King Gillette, if you allow that a gathering of simpatico zealots constitutes a metaphorical razor.
Rock, born Robert Jay Ritchie in 1971, now “sings more than he raps” after 25 years in the musical trenches and occasional high ground. He played at inauguration parties for both President Bush (2005) and Obama (2009) and was wooed successfully by Mitt Romney last year, who credited him with helping him win the key Michigan GOP primary, Sanneh informed us. He also “is known as a military booster, and a cheerleader for the city of Detroit.”
On the less sedate side of the ledger, he is a notorious womanizer, partier and boozer who makes no apologies for his wanton ways. Indeed, he capitalizes on that party-hardy image, it would appear. When asked by Jurgensen if he has any idea how much beer his fans drink at his concerts, he replies: “When we sell out venues, we shatter records. I don't think it would be too much of a surprise to the general public that my fans drink tons of beer.”
“Realistically, Kid Rock couldn’t have expected to sell 20,000 tickets on his own at a normal ticket price,” Pollstar editor Gary BonGiovanni told Yahoo Music’s Jon Wiederhorn after the tour was announced in April. “This is clearly an effort to try to fill the places up.”
Supporting acts such as ZZ Top (16 of the shows), Kool & The Gang (10) and Uncle Kracker (all) will help. But BonGiovanni says that Rock and Live Nation “stand to make back on beer whatever they may lose on ticket sales,” Wiederhorn wrote, quoting BonGiovanni: “‘ZZ Top are a fairly expensive act in their own right,’ he said. ‘I imagine they’re gonna need to back up the beer trucks to the amphitheaters since the beers are $4.’”
Rock says he can’t discuss the specifics of the Live Nation deal but the more tickets he sells, the better the cut for him. And the more people in the arena, besides being an ego boost, the bigger the fan base becomes, he figures.
“I've heard the same story for 15, 20 years,” Rock tell Jurgensen: “‘I dragged my husband or my wife to the show, now they're a huge fan after they saw you play.’ Without a hit record out right now, the best thing I can do is get people in the building and make some fans for the long haul.”
That’s kind of like pharmaceutical detailers getting the family doctor to hand out free samples of your medication, no?
“Ritchie [Rock] has a phrase he uses to describe the way he deals with demands of the music industry,” Sanneh writes. You can find that phrase near the top of the third column on page 44 of the Nov. 19, 2012, issue. We’ll say only that it contains the verb “tickle” and the gerund “sucking.” A little less graphically, he tells Jorgensen that he doesn’t quite buy into the notion that Live Nation and Ticketmaster are riding the positive-PR train alongside him.
“I'm still painting Ticketmaster [a unit of Live Nation] as the bad guys,” he says. “I'm not over that hump yet, because they put a $5 service charge on my tickets. That's 25% of the ticket price. There's nothing wrong with making s—-tons of money, but you don't have to f— people over to do it.”