It’s fascinating to watch companies in decaying industries resort to financial sleight of hand to try and survive — which is why we’re going to start paying attention to the music business. But you’d never know that music, including the concert business, is in trouble from the huge compensation packages that Live Nation just revealed it paid last year to its two top executives: chairman Irving Azoff and CEO Michael Rapino. They collectively made $38.7 million, mostly because they engineered several business deals including a merger with Ticketmaster — a combination that tightened Live Nation’s grip over the concert business but provided no discernible benefits for consumers. The financial gamesmanship certainly worked well for Azoff. He picked up a lot of Ticketmaster stock back when Barry Diller controlled the company and wanted to merge it with Azoff’s Front Line, a management firm that handles performers raging from The Eagles to a blues band that Cablevision CEO Jim Dolan fronts in his spare time, JD and the Straight Shot. Diller left Live Nation last year after losing a boardroom battle. Still, Azoff made $22.8 million in 2010, which included $13.8 million for his Ticketmaster and Front Line holdings. Live Nation also paid $731,130 to a private airplane company that Azoff owns — as well as salaries to his son, daughter and son-in-law, who hold non-executive jobs at Live Nation. Rapino ended up with nearly $15.9 million, a 138% raise over his compensation in 2009. The total includes a $3 million bonus, $5.4 million in stock awards, and a $3.8 million award that the company says it gave him for “obtaining 2010 financial performance goals.” We’ll assume that those goals didn’t include last year’s 9.4% drop in attendance at Live Nation events or concluding 2010 with a net loss of $228.4 million vs. its net loss of $60.2 million in 2009.

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