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Music + Technology + Random Nonsense from the Music Industry by Ethan Kaplan, VP Product, Live Nation

And I Return…Again

My first rock concert. October 31, 1995 I had front row seats to R.E.M. at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. We had lined up super early for tickets nearly a year prior, and this date was rescheduled to Halloween after Bill Berry’s aneurism. For the show I dressed up in some freaky glam rock outfit all purchased at thrift stores in Fullerton.

This was to be my first time seeing R.E.M. I remember walking into the venue and taking everything in: the road cases, the guitars, the dinosaurs on stage. I was a student of history for this band, so I recognized Microwave, Bertis and others walking around. I never stopped smiling.

And then the show started.

I don’t remember much of the show. I remember that MIchael came out with his head colored blue and with a huge pumpkin cutout. He had a bowl of “Monster” candy that he threw to the audience and when he handed the bowl down to the crowd, I got it. That bowl is my “catch-all” bowl where I put my keys and wallet and change to this day.

After the show, I was hoarse. I had hair coloring pouring down my face. I looked like the cover of Hole’s “Celebrity Skin”, but I don’t think I came off that high for many months. The next day at school I as a zombie, as was everyone else who had either seen REM, Oingo Boingo or a few other bands that had played the night before. I remember thinking as I struggled through the school day: “I need to feel that again.”

And so I went to shows a lot in high school and then beyond. I saw R.E.M. more times than I can count in every possible way. Rooms of 8 people to stadiums of 20,000 in Italy. I saw Patti Smith return to Los Angeles in 1996. I fell asleep standing up watching the Long Winters after not sleeping for 36 hours. I was on stage with the Flaming Lips on New Years a few years ago.

I remember every time a concert ended during which I was transcended above the space I was in. Everything worked, and it didn’t matter if I was back stage, in the booth, in the audience or in the back. I remember walking to my car or to a subway or even to a tour bus or van with a feeling that magic happened and I shared it with others.

And this is a magic that has been retained even as technology has reduced the work of art to be subjugate to the act of its reproduction. As technology has made music, books and movies dependent on the onus of representation more so than the media therein, live music has sat at the intersection of art, technology, spectatorship and passion: something outside of the ramifications of progress, not much different now than shadows on a cave wall.

As a technologist I strive to create products that are at once visceral, emotional and pragmatic. Striking this balance has been at the core of technology since we used tools to augment our innate abilities. It is an unobtainable goal however, but the journey toward the impossible is what has given humanity its greatest triumphs.

—-

Many years ago I met a kindred spirit in the music business, someone my then boss called a “genius.” He and I shared many of the same passions: the intersection of technology and art, the sifting of information from mass amounts of data and of course R.E.M. Eric Garland’s company, BigChampagne did something I always admired: quantified the reality of industries which inherently rely on an agreed fiction. This often met with scowls, but for those, like me, who relied on the balance between fiction and reality to inform our day to day, it was gold.

While at Warner Bros. Records, WEA and WMG, Eric and I worked closely together on various projects. Some saw the light of day, some didn’t, but at some point when I knew my time at WMG was coming to an end we talked about the possibility of really working together. If I remember correctly, I said “At what point do we just say ‘fuck it’ and work together?” Not elegant, but it did feel as if the time had come.

We were always the ones in the conference room who would stand up and say “bull shit!” when required (with data to back it up), and we knew that collective voice had a place in an industry we had not given up on, while so many others had. Emotionally and scientifically we understood that the power of entertainment was not diminished through technology, only changed and in most cases strengthened. Where would the home for this understanding be?

In the last year we toyed with this in various forms, including some experiments that we launched. When BigChampagne entered into an agreement to be acquired by Live Nation, we found our platform.

As of today I’m the VP of Product for LiveNation.com and founding, with Eric and Joe Fliescher from BigChampagne, Live Nation Labs.

We are hacking on a huge stage.

And I can’t wait to show you all what we’re working on.

PS: If you want to join us, ping me. We’re on the hunt for great developers (Rails, Node.js, iOS, Android etc) and designers.

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7 Responses

  1. Massimo says:

    Congrats Ethan! You are joining a great team at a very exciting time in the music space, all the best!

  2. Mike Rittberg says:

    congrats. Going to make a great team

  3. Chloe says:

    Congrats Ethan. You have earned every bit of it.

  4. Olie K says:

    It’s A Live!

  5. Val says:

    Excellent, sounds like it will be a great fit for you. Congrats!

  6. Congrats, Ethan! An appropriately epic stage for an epic mind. Can’t wait to see what you create (and while you’re there, tell the customer service department to step up their game).