Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Calm down, dear. They're only concert tickets.

Today's You and Yours on Radio Four was all about whether it should be against the law to sell a concert ticket at more than the face value. The lines were jammed with indignant members of the public who had been in one way or another stymied in their efforts to get a ticket for this or that musical, theatrical or sporting event. They blamed it on the touts, the secondary ticketing sites, the acts and their fellow concertgoers. To listen to some of them talk you would have thought they'd been denied their civil rights.

I don't know where this ticket-buying mania has come from but in the last ten years I've seen it turn into a national sickness. I meet people at dinner parties nowadays who are desperate to get tickets for festivals or big name gigs and they're the kind of people who would have had no interest twenty years ago. They don't go to small gigs. They only go to big ones and they're always amazed that millions of other people just like them are struggling for the same tickets as they are, with predictable consequences.

During the last ten years we've seen ticket prices more than double and it seems to have had no effect on demand at all. As soon as there's a prestige event in the offing people seem to be prepared to spend anything to make sure they can get in. A young person I know recently asked me if I could help her get tickets to see Dolly Parton at the O2. They're £75 each. That means that if she and her boyfriend went along they would be spending the best part of £200 to see an artist they don't own a single record by, have never seen before and may well be disappointed by. These are people in their twenties who can't afford to be splashing money around like this. I've known teenagers with no festival going experience who have spent a hundred pounds on festival tickets that didn't turn up. How did they get so desperate?

I paid £100 for me and the GLW to see Leonard Cohen at the same venue a couple of years ago. I only did that because I knew I was going to enjoy it. He was worth it but I wouldn't be queueing up to spend the same amount of money the following week to see anyone else and I'm probably not going to pay it to see him again. There was a time when I could get a press ticket to most musical events by picking up the phone. Those days are gone. Record companies are having to pay the same inflated sums that the public are paying and therefore they're not flinging tickets around. It doesn't bother me at all. If you can't get into the big gig, go to the small gig, go to the pub or stay at home and read a book. Calm down, for crying out loud.


  1. Yeah - except "small" gigs are also extortionate these days.

    Last one I went to was God! Speed You Black Emporer, the Montreal-anarchist collective, play in Berlin in January. They're about as obscure as you can get whilst still having a record deal. 200-300 capacity venue, yet the ticket price was 35 euros.

  2. Aren't there a lot of people in GSYBE? And they're all old. They have to eat, all have families, etc etc. West End plays often only have 2 actors, still cost £70 per seat.

  3. How long before "name" artists will be "required" to offer free admission to gigs by default. If you have to give away your albums, why not your gigs as well...?;-)

  4. Small gigs are pretty cheap here in Boston USA. In the past couple of years I've seen Richard Hawley, Beth Orton, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, The Clientele, and Broadcast in little clubs for about $10.

    I've pretty much given up on big concerts though, I really wanted to see Alicia Keys last year and the tickets were close to $200 each. Sod that for a game of darts.

  5. Gruff Rhys in Brighton recently was £15. That's more like it.

  6. A friend and I went to see Aloe Blacc at the Scala last Sunday (£16 + £2.92 booking fee). He was very good. On the way my friend told of going to see Jamiroqui at the O2 recently which was £55 a ticket. Given the cost of transport and the requirement for a babysitter if they both went his wife decided to stay at home. We resolved to stick to the smaller gigs in future, although that's not very easy considering the music we like living in North Essex.

    I overheard a conversation recently between two mid thirties males with young children about wanting to go with their wives to see Take That. One of them was evidently in the building trade and does work on and off for someone in the 'secondary' tickets market. They seemed to be genuinely considering spending three figure sums each on Take That at the O2 sourced through said ticket agent. It's more the being able to say you went than a love for the artist isn't it?

  7. Isn't it all just part of celebrity culture? The most expensive and so sought-after tickets seem to be for the acts who are far better known for their appearances on chat shows or car-crash lifestyles than their actual music. You mention Dolly Parton - an excellent example.

    "She wrote 'Coat Of Many Colors" about the hardships she suffered as a child, you know."

    "Never mind that, she's got the most legendary norks in show-business. A must-see."

    I saw Tammy Wynette at the RFH in the late Eighties. It wasn't even full.

  8. Since the emergence of eBay everyone's a tout: there's no difference now between buying 6 tickets from See Tickets when you only need 2 and the goons outside your nearest o2 shouting 'got any spares?' or 'I'm buying and I'm selling.'

    This gig cost me a fiver. And all the proceeds went to McMillan Cancer Support.

  9. I still don't understand why bands don't sell tickets on eBay themselves. They could sell half the tickets at the normal price and the other half to the highest bidders. Cut out the secondary market...

    I'm also lucky to live in Switzerland where many bands e.g. Glasvegas, British Sea Power play small gigs for £15-20 a ticket. I no longer bother with the 15,000 venue, unless it's someone I really want to see.

  10. The real problem is that your £75 or so doesn't get you near the front or a good seat. Their snaffled by the catch all customer "Corporate". Booking tickets at large venues these days is tacitly accepting your happy to sit in Block H Row Z miles behind the all the good people from corporate land and previously allocated ville.

  11. I can only speak from an Aussie point of view, but I'm sure it counts.

    With traditionally less access to gigs than our more musically mature relatives, Australians will do what it takes to get to see our idols, musical legends, or anything that has a buzz surrounding it. I'm sure that if I lived in Los Angeles I might not get quite so excited when Motley Crue or Judas Priest comes calling, given the weekly offerings available in small clubs.

    I recall having seen KISS in Melbourne & Sydney something like 10 times, the final gig being a $400 (x2) affair for their concert with the MSO. Money very well spent, if you ask me. Roger Waters was brilliant for around $150, with excellent seats. War of The Worlds front row, about $100. Awesome. Kylie, John Farnham, Motley Crue, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, etc etc etc. All well worth the money. Smaller gigs give a different feeling, a more intimate, powerful rocking time of it, but they are not in direct competition with the big events. I see them as a different budget item.

    And speaking of budget - affording these things is either a matter of good planning or credit card abuse. One year the Alice Cooper tour was a dud because KISS had arrived the week before. Fans made a decision that only one gig could be justified.

    Perhaps, relating to your post on "stuff", many people see attendance at (or being able to say they have tickets for) large events as the way to feel relevant. These days every man and his dog can go out and do things. Disposable income has improved and entertainment is everywhere. The big ticket item might now be Lady Gaga rather than a Plasma TV.