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Irving Azoff Calls Pandora ‘Shitty,’ Bemoans Era of ‘Idol,’ ‘The Voice’

The executive chairman of Live Nation Entertainment discusses how Steve Jobs changed music — and how he threatened the life of Sly Stone


Live Nation Executive Chairman Irving Azoff railed against Pandora on Tuesday at TheGrill, TheWrap’s annual media conference, saying the online radio company is “on our shit list.”

Moderator Judd Apatow pressed Azoff on everything from the music exec threatening Sly Stone with a gun, to the evil of Steve Jobs, to the music-licensing business, but Azoff reserved his harshest words for the digital radio company.

Jonathan Alcorn

Pandora has been petitioning Congress to drop the rate artists get paid for licensing music online.

“It’s horseshit,” Azoff said. “The market cap for Pandora is like $1.8 billion. That’s roughly the market cap of Live Nation, and they are whining about wanting to pay artists less.”

The veteran music manager and executive who is one of the industry's most powerful figures, added that the quality of Pandora was “shitty” compared to Spotify, iTunes and iHeartRadio.

Pandora was one of the earliest stars of Web 2.0, luring millions of users with its algorithm-based, personalized radio. However, its stock price sits at about 50 percent of what it was 15 months ago.

It is also one of several companies that some claim has disrupted the music business — another issue Azoff addressed.

"It's way different now. It’s way more difficult,” Azoff told the crowd. “The odds are stacked against you.”

In an earlier age, a hit record would help you sell out three days in Los Angeles, he said. Now you can't get a hit, and if you do, you open for someone in a club.

It used to be that no one wanted to go on a music competition show. Now everyone wants to appear on “American Idol” and “The Voice.”

And even when you succeed on these shows, success is fleeting.

“There are 64 contestants on ‘The Voice. There have been 10 or 11 years of ‘Idol’ and 100 or 110 Top 10 people,” Azoff said. “I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve sustained off of that. It shows that even with the massive exposure of network TV how hard it is to make it in music.”

Azoff identified piracy as the first hit to the industry, swiftly followed by iTunes and other digital outlets. Moreover, as in most content industries, everything has been segmented into niches with major radio stations focusing on one genre instead of a wide swath of popular music.

But while Apatow was lobbing grenades at Steve Jobs for ending the era of music albums — and the cost of Apple products — Azoff wouldn't go there.

"Steve Jobs ruined music," Apatow asked, somewhat facetiously. 

"I wouldn't say that," Azoff said. "Steve Jobs changed music forever."

He then told a story about the Eagles and iTunes that illustrated how the emphasis on singles has hurt artists.

Jobs called Azoff and said he couldn't fathom an iTunes store without the Beatles or the Eagles. So iTunes launched without the Beatles — and five years in, the Eagles had made just $550,000 off of iTunes royalties. 

Glenn Frey of the Eagles "equated that to what they'd make for 38 minutes of live music one night in Kansas City."

Azoff, who began his long career in the business by promoting shows while still in school, rattled off one colorful story after another, each littered with famous performers.

Apatow steered him toward an incident where Azoff forced Sly Stone to perform at gunpoint.

Azoff, bemused, confirmed the story. It sprung, he said, from a mishap with a prior Rolling Stones show at Azoff's alma mater, the University of Illinois. Because of problems with that show, the school threatened to kick out Azoff.

Then came Sly Stone's show. At the time, Stone was routinely showing up hours late for concerts. When he tried to pull the same stunt at Illinois, Azoff brought in a uniformed police officer and had him pull his gun on Stone.

"I said, 'If you don't go on stage right now, I'm going to get kicked out of school, and he's going to shoot you,'" Azoff said.

Stone got up and took the stage. 

For the Record: An earlier version of this story misstated Irving Azoff's title.