Friday, 21 March 2014

Touting the hot-cold theorem

I'm interested in how different types of artist communicate with their audiences, and how fans support and "consume" them. With authors the main form is for fans to buy their books and read them. This is certainly the main financial transaction. Some authors do readings and author events, which can enable personal interaction, though there's usually little (if any) income generated for the author. It's just a nice chance to meet readers. So the principle relationship is written words, transmitted after the event "cold" (even though they may have been written in heat).

With musicians there is a similarity when you buy their music on CD, LP, MP3, or whatever format. The finished product, set in stone with fiery lithography then cooled as the heat fades to leave the impression of the sounds and words, unchanging and final. And it is good. But the extra option of seeing an artist perform live, in the heat of flux, is actually a major income source for many singer-songwriters and bands. You get the immediacy, the warm malleability of a live performance, an extra level of closeness as the sound vibrations reach your ears unmediated - a valuable form of contact with an artist.

You'd think when some concept has been around for a long time that all the kinks would have been removed from the process, the loopholes closed. But it's not so.

I really admire Lykke Li. Captivating presence, emotional communication, haunting voice, talented songwriter and wordsmith. It's not often that I go to see live music. I live at the end of the line - literally. But when I saw that she was playing in the UK it was a no brainer. I didn't care that I would have to travel to England, and to a big city (I have no love for London, though the venue itself sounded cool). I assumed the tickets would sell out fairly quickly but there were two London dates, and I got up on the day they went on sale and went straight online: but less than an hour after sales began, they had sold out.


It would be one thing if the tickets were all bought by fans. Fair play. But almost immediately they appeared at online ticket tout haunts like Stubhub (owned by eBay) at vastly inflated prices.

Tickets for the Village Underground Lykke Li event

This is standard practice for popular events. What annoys me is that the artist doesn't benefit from the inflated price. Many artists want to keep the prices of concerts low, something I applaud, but then touts just swipe up even more tickets and whack on their 200-300% price increase, knowing that since they've got a high proportion of the tickets the real fans will be desperate to support the artist they admire. They only have to sell a few at the inflated price and they have made a profit.

It isn't usually a concern for the venue selling the tickets, since they are at a set price determined in conjunction with the artist and their management. The venue just want to sell all the tickets, which equates to maximum profit for them. It doesn't affect their bottom line whether the tickets are bought by touts or genuine fans. They aren't going to implement extra systems unless they have to.

It would be fairly easy to fix all this. Venues could just sell tickets individually to a named person, whose name goes on the ticket. At the venue you have to present the ticket and show some form of ID. Wham! No way for ticket touts to squeeze in. You buy a ticket only because you want to go to the event. Include an ability for the person to get a partial refund by cancelling their ticket before the event, releasing another one to the venue to sell on. No touts. All fans. Flexibility to get some money back if you then can't make it to an event. For an issue that has existed for so long it just surprises me that artists and their management don't insist on this kind of system. I'm pretty sure I'd have been able to go to the event then!

What are your thoughts on ticket touts? Any experiences of this? And what do you think about live events with musicians and authors?
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