Musical Space: Price Gouging

Jul 18, 2017

Paul McCartney
Credit Mary McCartney

Music news has caught my attention recently. There was the Fyre Festival debacle, where people paid $12,000 apiece to go to an island in the Bahamas, thinking they were going to an exclusive music festival, but finding out it was conceptual existentialist theater. Then the news that tickets to the upcoming Wichita Paul McCartney concert were going for $7000. These are both symptoms of price gouging, which happens a lot in the music biz in ways big and small. Like the fees tacked on to the price of concert tickets. An order through Ticketmaster can include a service charge, a building facility charge, a processing charge, then shipping, convenience and will call charges - up to 50% in fees added to the admission.

Then there’s scalping, which has gotten worse recently. Big shows now sell out in two minutes because scalpers use computer programs - bots - to snatch up all the tickets so they can turn them around on Craigslist and StubHub.

I’m not against free enterprise; I can even tolerate knowing that the front rows of concerts are populated by the 1%. But the artists who come to Wichita - and the promoters who take the financial risk to bring them here - want to have happy customers, and they aren’t the ones benefiting from the price inflation.

Musicians have been fighting back. Thom Yorke of Radiohead has famously railed against Ticketmaster, and the band Pearl Jam even boycotted them over fees. But it’s hard to fight now that Ticketmaster has merged with the company that controls the big venues.

There’s one glimmer of hope in the new “paperless” system, which means IDs get checked at the door - only the original purchaser can get in. Thousands of scalped tickets have been voided by artists like Tom Petty and Eric Church. Drastic, yes, but everybody at their shows paid a fair price.

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Listening list:

Bruce Springsteen, “Nebraska,” Nebraska (1982). Recorded as a demo on a cheap 4-track cassette machine. 


Springsteen sued Ticketmaster for diverting customers to it’s own ticket resale operation.

Eric Church, “Springsteen,” Chief (2011). Made #1 on Country charts.


Eric Church has voided 25000 tickets because they were resold.

Tom Waits, “Step Right Up,” Small Change (1976), 


Waits was the first to use the paperless ticketing system

Radiohead, “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box,” Amnesiac (2001)  


Thom Yorke famously tweeted about how bots bought most of their tour tickets.

Tom Petty, “You Wreck Me,” Wildflowers (1994), produced by Ric Rubin. 


Also gone paperless. Other fighters of scalping include Adele and Miley Cyrus.

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