In a move that will undoubtedly have a great impact upon Los Angeles’ live music scene, it was announced today that Live Nation has acquired Spaceland Presents, along with the Echo and Echoplex. The multimillion dollar deal, which took eight months to consummate, gives Live Nation a stake at the ground level, something they’ve long sought. The acquisition can also be interpreted as a shot across the bow of the Goldenvoice/AEG ship, Live Nation’s main competitor. Live Nation and AEG can be likened to the King Kong vs. Godzilla of the concert industry, with almost 400 combined venues between them.
Spaceland Presents’ CEO, Mitchell Frank, has L.A. roots that run deep and wide. He began booking weekly nights at Spaceland, a 250-capacity room, back in 1993. The weekly booking quickly grew into a permanent situation and soon Spaceland was punching above its weight class, drawing national and international acts. That relationship carried on until 2010, when he broke ties with the venue over creative differences. Spaceland was renamed The Satellite and Frank took Spaceland Presents to the Echo, the Echoplex, and the Regent Theater, while also launching El Prado bar, and now shuttered restaurants Malo and Mas Malo. The Regent itself was not part of the deal as has been reported by other outlets. Knitting Factory, which owned a 49 percent stake of Spaceland Presents, was also bought out in the Live Nation deal, and will continue to co-own the Regent, along with Frank, and Arts + Rec (a real estate and hospitality company). The Live Nation deal also does not include the much lauded Desert Daze Festival, which will be under the tutelage of Knitting Factory, Moon Block, and their newest partner, Red Light Management.
Spaceland Presents has brand value, which makes it a particularly attractive addition. Morgan Margolis, CEO of Knitting Factory opined on the corporate gamesmanship of the deal, telling L.A. Weekly, “Live Nation does not have what AEG has in Goldenvoice... they want Spaceland to be their Goldenvoice.”
The deal has its critics, as comments across the Twitterverse were mainly negative, coming down on the corporatization of another beloved local vanguard. Live Nation has had a reputation for being a faceless empire, driven by commerce and the commodification of music. They have a history of making acquisitions, promising to let them be, and then making major changes regardless, a la their purchase of Ticketmaster.
Frank disagrees with this sentiment, however, “Live Nation is a different place now. You’ve got incredible talent buyers there, you’ve got people that live, breathe and eat music that are scattered throughout the company," he says. "And what sold me on the company was really the people that work there. Certainly it’s a business, it’s a public company, so they have to make money because they have fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders. But at the same point, where this industry is right now, artists aren’t making very much money on the streaming, so now most of their paydays are at the venue level. We’re still going to remain the same. It’s the fans and the artists that drives me. There’s nothing that’s going to change my ethos.”
Frank added that Live Nation's recent acquisitions have remained largely unchanged. “Does the Spaceland brand change? No," he promises. "If you look at Insomniac, did their brand change, or Hard? You just go down the list of these other amazing brands and nothing has changed, and that is because it is all about the people running it."
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As for feared cultural shifts that may come with a partner like Live Nation, he says, “On the outside there should be no big changes, I’ll still be running things as I was, there are no plans for increased prices,“ adding, “what realistically is the Echo or the Echoplex or the Regent going to add to Live Nation’s bottom line? It’s not like we’re making billions and billions of dollars. We are knee-deep in the L.A. music scene. We help break bands, and we’ve got our ear to the ground. We are all big music fans and we bring that ethos with us. There are no major changes happening, and any changes will be minimal. Hopefully we’ll be able to provide a better fan experience out of it. There are things I’ve wanted to do at the venue that, you know, when you’re independent, you don’t have the money to do.”
Frank feels confident that Live Nation will allow him to stay true to his vision, “I’m first and foremost a music lover per se, and everything else is about the artist and the fans," he shares. "What I’m trying to do is provide a platform for artists to grow and that’s all we’ve ever done. And in the big picture, when I first started Spaceland we were indie specialists. No one else was really doing that and those bands ended up being headliners at Coachella."
Live Nation is a behemoth on the festival platform, producing hundreds of events yearly, but Frank doesn’t see Spaceland playing a big part of that. “Personally, I’ve got a little bit of festivalitis," he admits. "We’re certainly interested in working on and producing boutique-like festivals. We’ve got a lot of ideas for that, but I don’t think a major festival is in the cards."
Spaceland Presents (which also produces events at the Santa Monica Pier, The Getty, The National History Museum, and Echo Park Rising) isn’t the only recent local buy for Live Nation; they’ve seized control of Orange County’s Chain Reaction, the Observatory in Santa Ana and San Diego and booking rights to Soma.