The Rising Inaccessibility of Concerts
It’s September 1993. Kurt Cobain sits through the tail-end of an interview with MTV, mid-yawn. All of a sudden his already-open mouth freezes where it is, eyes widening to the size of quarters at the interviewer’s question: “What do you think of artists who charge anywhere between 50 to 75 dollars for tickets?” The whole of Nirvana is aghast. They can’t imagine an artist charging this much for fans to attend their concert. Nirvana’s bassist, Krist Novoselic, quips “We were talking about– ‘Boy, we should charge $25. Really milk it. Take them for what they’ve got.’”
Today, $50 is what you are trying to convince your friends to spend on a band none of them have heard of. Trying to see a mainstream artist? Good luck. You’ll be paying hundreds to sit in the back.
There is no better way to bask in your love for an artist than by going to their shows. You get to be surrounded by those equally as passionate about this one thing as you are. Then, there’s the unique intoxication of hearing your favorite songs played live. So why are these cherished experiences becoming so hard to attend? Music fans of all genres have noticed that ticket prices have been swiftly skyrocketing over the past few decades. This is due to a variety of factors. There are simple explanations, such as inflation and demand for these events rising over time. Then, there are additional complications that arise solely from the internet.
With the majority of music consumption taking place through digital streaming, bands aren’t necessarily making money from the release of their music anymore. Physical albums and CDs are no longer as high in demand due to the accessibility of purchasing songs on a cellular device or subscribing to a music service such as Spotify. Because of this transition, most artists have shifted to relying on ticket and merch sales for profit. Merchandise can be sold at performances or on a band’s website, but ticket sales, more often than not, take place through the use of third-party ticket brokering services, such as Ticketmaster.
These companies may be a convenient and reliable way for the artists to sell tickets, but they disrupt the direct connection from fan to artist by serving as a middle man. With the goal of maximum profit, sites like Ticketmaster often alter bands’ original prices through an excess of added-on fees and “dynamic pricing.” Dynamic pricing raises the prices of tickets the more they are expected to be in high demand.
Ticketmaster is currently under heat for their failed handling of pop artist Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour,” in which a combination of 3.5 billion bots and fans tried to get tickets at the same time. Fans waited in a pre-sale queue for up to six hours, before most of them were told abruptly that tickets had sold out. Then, the general public sale was canceled altogether. Resale sites have taken advantage of this high-demand, low-opportunity situation, now reselling tickets for anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 dollars.
Taylor Swift being as widespread of an artist as she is, you might think this dilemma an isolated incident. However, it is simply an extreme version of a common issue. The larger a fanbase an artist has (think Harry Styles or your favorite K-pop band), the more difficult an experience fans have trying to attend their shows. Venues regularly fall victim to the phenomenon of ticket scalpers. The ticket scalper is an individual who goes into the purchase of a ticket for a show or event with the intention of reselling it for profit (because why let people conveniently and accessibly partake in their interests?). While in some states ticket scalping is illegal, there is no federal law that prohibits the act— and based on the regularity at which it happens, there are sure to be some sellers slipping through the cracks of the required license they’re meant to possess.
So, why is this a tragedy, you might ask. Let these business-oriented unknowns take the opportunity to make some cash, you may say. You might even suggest listeners challenge themselves to support smaller artists— their shows are far less likely to sell out. True, but these shows are far less likely to come to your town in the first place. Smaller bands’ tours mirror the size of their fanbase: the less known, the less dates and locations. And does liking a popular artist make you any less deserving of seeing them live? Because that’s what we have to ask ourselves as concert tickets barrel down a path of becoming rarer and rarer commodities: who are the people getting tickets and did they deserve it more than any other fan? Because right now, the ones getting tickets are the ones who can afford to pay up to three times the original price.
If the rapidly increasing price of the average concert doesn’t slow down soon, they’re going to become an elitist event. This is significantly ironic as music is one of the few forces of the world that truly is meant to be for all— and historically has been. The most disappointing? When your favorite artists— the ones whose lyrics inspired and moved you enough to want to support them in the first place— don’t seem to care. Rarely do bands and singers acknowledge the steep prices of their own shows. What’s more, dates are seldom added to tours that have major competition to attend. As a result, fans are reminded that, at the end of the day, it might not matter how much the music means to them. The show they spend months in anticipation of (or months mourning not getting tickets to) is the artists’ job. The feeling of mutual connection one may feel in being a fan of someone’s art holds an entire financial side to it that we are eager to turn away from. A fan pays an artist’s bills– if these rising prices mean they’re not able to, are they less of a fan?
When supporting an artist becomes so expensive it isn’t possible, the relationship becomes transactional, removing the magic from the experience entirely. It feels a long way away from September of 1993, when $25 was a price one of the most popular bands of the decade only joked about charging— and we’re only straying further from it.
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