It’s time for somebody to say it: Live music has become so outrageously expensive that it’s hardly worth the trouble anymore. Now, I don’t mean local shows by any means (though, fundraiser or not, $40 for Beirut at Warehouse 21 was pretty bogus).
I’m talking big-name bands with universal appeal, which already make ungodly amounts of cash. This thought first entered my head as I watched a couple of friends freak out on Facebook over Radiohead tickets. Apparently, the band’s upcoming Denver show sold out in mere seconds, after which ticket prices skyrocketed. A brief look at the Ticketmaster website revealed that, on average, American Radiohead fans can expect to pay around $45 for low-end seats, the ones so far from the stage that they may as well have stay home listening to the records. Better seats approach the $85 mark, and that’s before the good pals at Ticketmaster tack on the notoriously exorbitant service charges.
It’s as if that big stink Pearl Jam made in the late ’90s never even happened. Other options—scalpers, Craigslist or fan-based ticketing services—are even worse. On stubhub.com, low-end tickets for future Radiohead shows average around $99, with high-end seats reaching as much as $500. Costs this high virtually eliminate access for anyone but the wealthiest music fans, and when art becomes unavailable to the majority of humankind, things have to change.
According to music trade publication Pollstar, the top money-making concerts of 2010 raked in hundreds of millions of dollars each. At No. 1, Bon Jovi took in around $300 million over the course of 80 worldwide shows. Eighty concerts isn’t even that many, but with an average ticket price of $91—and a bajillion cougars who fondly remember that first magical time they boned in a car to “Livin’ on a Prayer”—more concerts or cash would have been just plain obscene.
Who is at fault?
Scalpers play a role in driving up prices, but corporate labels and ticketing services, despite the digital music revolution, still start the bidding unreasonably high. And the tendency is to blame consumer habits.
“If more people believed in buying music rather than demanding everything for free, ticket prices would be lower,” local musician James Reich writes. “For several years, it has been an acknowledged music industry fact…that touring and selling extremely overpriced tickets and merchandise are the primary mechanisms by which the remains of the industry limp on. Music sales no longer pay for the tours.”
OK, so illegal downloads have reached epic proportions, but fans scrambled to Napster in the first place because $20 or more for a CD at Tower Records was insane. We know that record labels can consume dolla bills endlessly, but how much money do musicians need to make before they’re satisfied?
I can’t speak to the percentage of ticket sales that goes to the band members themselves, but with prices higher than my daily ATM max, they should stop bitching—Metallica—about fans pirating a song or two off the internet. We mustn’t forget our role as fans. Our willingness to accept ever-expanding prices has taught bands and labels that they can charge whatever they wish. While expecting fans to stop attending events simply on principle is unrealistic, this bleed-’em-dry mentality makes supporting the bands we love harder and harder.
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