In Denver, Clear Channel owns more than radio bandwidth. In addition to eight stations, the company owns a popular 3,000-seat music venue called the Fillmore Auditorium that works with Clear Channel's $2.6 billion promotion subsidiary, Clear Channel Entertainment, to promote midsize shows by the likes of Ludacris, the Strokes, and Belle & Sebastian. Word is, Clear Channel wants to replicate that model in Seattle--owning radio stations, promo companies, and venues--by locating a 5,000-square-foot downtown space for a club like the Fillmore here. (It would be the next logical step for Clear Channel in Seattle, since Clear Channel Entertainment and a block of five Clear Channel radio stations, including popular KUBE 93, are already in place.)
Clear Channel's "corporate synergy"--owning venues, promotion companies, and radio stations that promote its shows--is precisely what worries local music boosters like Dave Meinert. As Seattle politicians begin to embrace our local music industry [See "Seattle City Limits," by Erica C. Barnett, February 19], the city might be susceptible to Clear Channel's faux groovy pitch in Denver, which could include an enticing peek at Clear Channel's successful Fillmore venue.
Meinert, a promoter, band manager, and president of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy, worries that if Clear Channel's vertical business model took hold in Seattle, it would give Clear Channel a lock on the city's music-touring business, which is currently fiercely independent. "I didn't see it when they first came in and bought up local radio stations, but they're targeting Seattle," Meinert says. "What we're seeing now is them putting together all the pieces."
Meinert has a plan to undercut Clear Channel's pitch, though. He wants Seattle's Denver delegation, including Mayor Greg Nickels, to meet a Denver local named Doug Kauffman. Kauffman is president of a Denver promotions company called Nobody in Particular Presents (NIPP). Kauffman is suing Clear Channel in federal court, accusing Clear Channel of antitrust violations; i.e., using its radio-station clout to nab acts when they come to town by dangling guaranteed radio play and promotion. Conversely, NIPP's suit claims that Clear Channel punishes acts who choose NIPP's promotion services over Clear Channel's by excluding those bands from the airwaves and by undermining NIPP radio ads and promos on Clear Channel-owned radio stations.
"Many in the [Seattle] music-business community are concerned about Clear Channel gaining any more control of the music business in Seattle," Meinert wrote to Nickels in a March 1 e-mail. "I encourage you to meet with Doug Kauffman while you are in Denver."
Meinert told The Stranger: "I think Clear Channel is doing to music what Wal-Mart has done to retail."
Clear Channel is based in San Antonio, Texas. As of press time, Company spokesperson Lisa Dollinger did not return calls or e-mail inquiries about their intentions in Seattle or about the antitrust suit.
Kauffman would not talk about the lawsuit, but says, "I would love to sit down with your mayor and answer any questions he might have about the impact that Clear Channel has on a music scene."
Clear Channel Entertainment already owns a big Seattle-area venue (Auburn's new White River Amphitheatre, which books shows like Radiohead, Blink-182, and Ozzfest) and Clear Channel Entertainment has received $1.9 million in annual contracting work from local nonprofit Seattle Theatre Group for theater and concert promotions.
A midsize venue in downtown Seattle would help Clear Channel make inroads into the smaller indie market. Seattle does not have many venues that size, and as one Capitol Hill club booker put it, "If they opened up a 1,000- to 3,000-seater, you can bet they'd start getting exclusives on the midlevel acts."
Clear Channel is the nation's largest radio broadcaster with more than 1,200 stations. It is also the country's largest concert promoter: Clear Channel Entertainment exclusively books 130 venues, and is credited with almost single-handedly consolidating the live-entertainment-venue industry by spending nearly $2 billion in acquisitions over the last five years.
Nickels' office did not return calls --so we don't know if his schedule will include time with Clear Channel or Kauffman.
"We want to encourage the mayor's office to meet with the Seattle music industry before making decisions that would negatively affect the existing Seattle music industry," says Deborah Semer, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy.