I was wandering around wordpress the other day and came across a great post by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. He is discussing ticket sales and scalping. I have some thoughts on those issues but that is not the purpose of this post. In the course of his piece, Reznor writes that:
The ticketing marketplace for rock concerts shows a real lack of sophistication, meaning this: the true market value of some tickets for some concerts is much higher than what the act wants to be perceived as charging. For example, there are some people who would be willing to pay $1,000 and up to be in the best seats for various shows, but MOST acts in the rock / pop world don’t want to come off as greedy pricks asking that much, even though the market says its value is that high…
As someone who periodically organizes small shows for unknown groups (mostly as fundraising events) I had an interesting thought. If artists and their promoters are deliberately giving the impression that concert tickets cost less than they are worth, even if the market is recouping that difference through resellers, then the perception of the ticket buying consumer is skewed.
I think Reznor is correct in noting that bands don’t want to be perceived as greedy, and this is mostly due to the myth of the artist as a pure instrument of creativity. If a band is really “all about the music” then they should be willing to play for any audience at any price. This isn’t the reality for most professional entertainers, but that perception is an integral part of the music industry. I’m not even arguing that musicians should conform to a ridiculous notion of artistry; rather I think that both they and their fans should acknowledge the reality of the business.
Although many people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for concert tickets, I don’t think they rationally believe that the price is worth it. Ticket prices are announced in advance of shows, and many people respond to “high” prices with shock and disdain. “How can they charge that much?” is a common question. Yet when may of those same people are faced with the immediate choice to either buy a ticket or miss the show, they respond by paying the actual open market value of the scarce ticket, which is normally many times higher than the face price. Thus there is a distinct difference between what people think a concert ticket is worth, and what they will actually end up paying for one. The biggest proof of this comes from the current Ticketmaster reselling scandal. It is true that many governments are stepping in to curb the resale of tickets at inflated prices (by Ticketmaster themselves I should add), I find another lesson in the details of the case. People have been buying the inflated tickets because they are desperate to see the shows. Yes they complain about, and some just give up, but many of the concerts, Bruce Springsteen for example, still sell out. If Ticketmaster is forced to give up its resale business, we might see an even greater increase in ticket prices. I imagine it will be a constant battle between artists looking to maintain their image, and a business trying to sell at market value.
Consequently, when consumers evaluate the ticket cost for a musical performance of any kind, they are working with a price scale that does not reflect reality. If being up close at a NIN show is worth thousands of dollars, then attending a small show by an unknown, but good, band is likely worth more then the 5 or 10 dollars that is customary.
Of course it should be said that Reznor may have inflated the value of concert tickets a bit, and that an indie show still presents an unknown and unpopular product to the buying public. If, however, the cost of regular concert tickets, on their face value, continues to rise, and begins to reflect the true market value, not only would there be a backlash against established artists, the prices for less mainstream shows would likely slowly rise. Would this have any effect on those at the bottom of the food chain? Probably not for awhile as most people would still expect a PWYC, $5, $10 type of cost for local shows.
A radical upward shift in concert ticket prices could have several effects on the music industry. It is likely that the average music fan could be priced right out of the game. When my mom was a teenager she saw bands like The Who and Alice Cooper for a couple of bucks on a Saturday night. For a recent Who show in Hamilton our tickets were $90. Does that mean my mom got a deal in the 70’s? That’s possible, but I know for sure she won’t be likely to see them again because of the cost.
Rising prices would also lead to music fans seeking out alternative avenues for live entertainment. I suspect this will take two forms. The obvious one is increased attendance at indie type shows. People will be more inclined to check out a less known group that approximates the experience they get from their favourite bands. The second, and more important, form is the internet. There are already places to view streaming concerts online. How long will it be before most people are experiencing live music mainly through virtual streams? Home entertainment systems are constantly improving, and new TVs are outfitted with high quality digital capabilities. I know I’ve seen HD concerts that felt almost real. Will they replace the total live experience, which includes the energy of the crowd, the glare of the lights, and certainly not the comfort of a couch? I doubt it, but for people who can see 15 shows for the price of 1, it’s probably worth it.
This entire issue is ultimately about the price we are willing to pay for an escape from reality and a natural high. For some, it’s priceless, while for others it will put a huge strain on their monthly budget. Changing technology will continue to radically alter the way we experience music. The issue of ticket prices may be a mute point someday. But that is a post for another day.