Was a recent document dump by Ticketmaster in its lawsuit with Songkick tied to the quiet exits of Zeeshan Zaidi and Stephen Mead at Ticketmaster last week?
No one at Ticketmaster is talking, but the pair’s exit came just weeks after Songkick filed a fiery motion in its two-year old case, criticizing Ticketmaster for handing over an additional 4,000 files months after a discovery deadline had passed. The documents, Songkick’s lawyers claim, allegedly contained further evidence of hacking by Zaidi and Mead. Songkick wants Ticketmaster’s lawyers punished for the late filing and said Zaidi and Mead should be re-deposed by Songkick lawyers.
Live Nation’s attorneys said they discovered the documents during a parallel U.S. Department of Justice inquiry and blamed a clerical error for missing the deadline. While we don’t know what information was included in the files, attorneys for Songkick say more than half contained information that was “hot” — legalese for highly-relevant.
And we might never know if both sides settle and these files never see the light of day. All we know is that whatever is detailed in the Sept. 11 document dump allegedly shows further proof about the hacking claim and potentially entangles other individuals at Ticketmaster. Less than a month after the doc dump, Zaidi and Mead are out at the company, officials with Ticketmaster have confirmed.
For those who knew him, Zaidi might have had a reputation for being a tough, no-nonsense executive, but he didn’t show that side in his personal interactions. A recognizable face at industry conferences, Zaidi, or simply Z as he was often called, was always friendly, approachable and had a refreshing easiness about him.
For Zaidi, his exit came at the end of a noteworthy and turbulent run at Ticketmaster, launching its artist services division OnTour product and laying the technological groundwork for Ticketmaster 3.0 (or is it 4.0, hard to keep track), the more fan-friendly, artist-centric technology solutions company helmed by TM president Jared Smith. A high-profile spat with artists like Jason Isbell and Underoath cast a critical media spotlight on the Canadian executive, born in the Philippines to parents of Pakistani and Indian descent. The spotlight got even brighter when rival Songkick accused Zaidi of illegally accessing confidential information with the help of Mead, a disgruntled ex-Songkick employee. Songkick learned of the allegations from emails turned over by Ticketmaster lawyers as part of court-ordered discovery in a lawsuit between the companies that has allegedly prompted an FBI investigation of the Zaidi computer breach incident (Amplify has not been able to independently confirm the existence of the FBI investigation).
Since leaving last week, Zaidi has stayed mum, with no updates from his Twitter or Instagram feeds. (I messaged him several times for comment, but he didn’t respond and didn’t participate in this story). Zeeshan may be laying low, but we know quite a bit about the gifted executive with impeccable credentials and a career that’s taken him from Harvard to some of the biggest brands in music.
As I Make My Way
When your initials are ZZ, it’s hard not to make an impression on people. ZZ backed up his trademark name with impressive credentials — the Canadian-born 43-year-old graduated from Harvard with a BA in economics and later earned a law degree and an MBA from the Ivy League school. He co-founded Host Committee, a startup that served as a high-end group sales platform for concerts and sports. He bounced around the big record companies in the 2000s, holding senior roles at Arista, Sony and RCA and even dappled in foreign policy as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an international think tank. He started a rock band called The Commuters and shot a few music videos with the group, which he founded with long-time friend Uri Djemal. One of his best songs contains a catchy hook that tells listeners “…I’ll figure it out as I make my way.” Success also runs in Zaidi’s family — his brother Fashan is the General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and was described as “one of the most coveted minds in baseball” in an LA Times profile.
In 2013, he was hired by Ticketmaster as a consultant to figure out the future of Musictoday in the wake of Nathan Hubbard’s exit from the ticketing giant. A year later, he was running the company’s Artists Services team and preparing for the launch of OnTour, Ticketmaster’s answer to Songkick and the sudden infusion of investor cash in the fan club/VIP ticketing space.
The growth of the fan club ticketing industry and its fight with Ticketmaster has been well-documented — you can read more about the multiyear battle here and here. The shortened version goes like this — by 2014, Ticketmaster was planning to end its decades-old rapprochement with the artist community, brokered after the String Cheese Incident incident (see what I did right there) and the Pearl Jam fight. Seeing a ton of outside cash pouring into companies like CrowdSurge and Wonderful Union, Ticketmaster sought to create its own fan club ticketing system and use its position as the choke point in the supply chain to cut off competitors that violated Ticketmaster’s fan club policy.
The fight brought Zaidi into battle with Songkick, a music discovery app created by Ian Hogarth that merged with Matt Jone’s CrowdSurge in 2015 to fix “a massive inefficiency in the market” and combine artist discovery with ticketing tools that cut down on scalping and encouraged a direct fan-to-artist relationship. With tens of millions in backing for Warner Music Group’s owner Len Bavatnik, Ticketmaster labeled Songkick a threat and Zaidi increasingly denied artist requests to sell 8 percent of a concert’s tickets (sometimes the best seats) through services like Songkick.
After all, Ticketmaster had spent hundreds of millions to secure the exclusive ticketing rights to a hefty majority of North America’s premier venues and it wasn’t going to allow Songkick to cut out a piece of its business without compensating Ticketmaster. Zaidi began denying bands like Underoath and The National their fan club allotments for violating Ticketmaster’s lengthy fan club policy, which required bands to have message boards on its sites, fan logins and increased security.
Things came to a crescendo when singer-songwriter Jason Isbell found himself running afoul of Ticketmaster’s fan club policy. Isbell’s manager Traci Thomas at Thirty Tigers told Amplify “In the future I will try not to book rooms that use Ticketmaster,” adding “last time I checked, people bought tickets to hear Jason play his music, not to see Ticketmaster — they should not be telling us how to sell tickets to our fanbase.”
This was not a good look for Ticketmaster, which was contemplating an image makeover after it merged with Live Nation in 2011 and purged Hubbard and several dozen executives. Ticketmaster pulled back the reins on Zaidi and quietly gave the green light to artists to use fan club ticketing services of their choosing, with one exception — Songkick.
Lawsuit turns into hacking allegations
Just days before Christmas 2015, Songkick filed an antitrust lawsuit against Ticketmaster, accusing the company of anti-competitive practices and contractual interference. The filing of the federal lawsuit had two immediate consequences for Songkick — the company could no longer sell tickets to Ticketmaster events, nor could it collect fees for steering customers to Ticketmaster through its music discovery app.
Fast forward 18 months and the company’s ticketing business was kaput. The Songkick brand was sold to Warner as part of an intra-company transaction, and laid off nearly all of its ticketing executives including Josh Baron, co-author of “Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped.”
Ticketmaster also took some knocks and a ton of negative press, coordinated in part by Songkick’s outside communication firm Sitrick and publicist Sallie Hoffmeister, a former LA Times editor. On its site, Sitrick details the company’s image makeover of football player Michael Vick after he did jail time for dog-fighting, and links to a post where founder Michael Sitrick brags to the Financial Post “You can give me a set of facts and I can write you four stories from the most negative to the most positive without changing a single fact.”
Ticketmaster endured a litany of negative headlines over accusations that the company destroyed evidence and sought to “cut Songkick off at the knees.” Some of the claims didn’t stick, although a hacking allegation that would surface against Zaidi late in the pre-trial proceedings marked the beginning of the end for the ambitious Harvard grad.
In February, attorneys for Songkick alleged that Zaidi and Mead used logins and knowledge of CrowdSurge to access confidential information allegedly used to help Ticketmaster build its own fan club ticketing system to pursue artists in Songkick’s sales pipeline.
Many in the press described the incident as hacking, but we took umbrage with that description since neither Mead nor Zaidi actually broke into Songkick’s computer or defeated security protocols. Instead they used old logins from CrowdSurge that had not been deleted as well as thousands of pages of documents Mead retained when he left CrowdSurge in 2012.
Zaidi and Mead were caught because they discussed and detailed the Songkick breach in hundreds of email conversations that were then handed over to Songkick’s attorney during the evidence discovery phase of the trial. In one email Mead allegedly encouraged his boss to “feel free to screen-grab the hell out of [CrowdSurge’s] system.”
When Songkick added the hacking allegations to the lawsuit, officials with Live Nation released a lengthy statement saying “Songkick has been forced to conjure up a new set of dubious arguments,” and “Songkick’s amended complaint is based on the alleged misappropriation of information that Songkick did not even try to keep secret, in some cases could not have kept secret, and in some cases shared with artist managers that work for Live Nation.”