It happened about four years ago. I was home for the summer and was excited to find out that one of my favorite bands, Kings of Leon, would be making a stop at an outdoor venue in my hometown of Buffalo. I quickly browsed the venue’s website to buy tickets, hoping to land a deal in buying lawn seats, but my hopes were immediately crushed. I could’ve spared the regular price of $40 for a ticket despite my part-time pay, but the sales tax and convenience fees brought the price above $60 and beyond my threshold. I settled instead for listening to the album in my backyard for a fraction of the price and a fraction of the fun.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s given up an unforgettable concert experience due to high ticket prices. Grammy-winning comedian (and ASCAP member) Louis C.K. recently set out to correct that. As he explained on his website and further addressed on Jimmy Kimmel Live [see clips at LaughSpin.com], C.K. sold tickets to his upcoming tour exclusively through louisck.net for $45 a piece for every venue and every seat.
Sounds awesome, right? Well it is. So C.K.’s strategy got me thinking: could this model be applied to live music?
Of course there are huge differences between live comedy and live music. C.K. can play less conventional venues as a comedian who doesn’t need much in terms of electronics, but a full band may run into some issues with the restrictions of these venues. And it’s not easy sticking it to the man, or Ticketmaster and Live Nation for that matter. C.K. is paying the sales tax on each ticket and more than likely the credit card fees that come with each purchase. He’s had to bypass venues that hold exclusive deals with ticket distribution companies, even if they are larger and more conducive to his show. He’s also vowed to go after scalpers himself, and that alone takes up a great chunk of time and - as with anything else - money. Above all, he’s a well-established comedian whose career has allowed him excess funds with which to pay for all of this.
Even so, being well-established doesn’t guarantee results when you face off against ticket distributors. ASCAP band Pearl Jam fought Ticketmaster tooth-and-nail on the issue of ticket prices back in the mid-90’s (details here), only to give it up so as not to hurt their fans. The String Cheese Incident attempted to circumnavigate surcharges and convenience fees by buying a block of tickets themselves, then selling them to fans through their own website (read more about it here). Easy to do when you have $20,000 to put towards the initial purchase, but in the end it’s all a big headache that might be worth the extra fees for ticket distributors to handle.
So can these alternate ticket strategies work with an up-and-coming music act? That depends. Perhaps if that band has built up a fan base, an efficient team, and a trust fund to handle all the fees and hassles that come with ticketing, then this may be a new avenue to pursue. But for the rest of us out there, this method is likely out of reach. That doesn’t mean that new methods of selling tickets are to be abandoned. What Louis C.K. has done is shown us that we don’t have sell tickets the same way every time.
The internet - something the Pearl Jam didn’t have - has certainly made it easier to find a new way to sell and distribute tickets, but the issue centers around finances, efficiency, and going after scalpers who could really make new and more affordable methods all for naught. Before you try an alternative ticketing method consider a few things:
- Do you have the funds to cover credit card fees for purchases made through your website?
- Do you have a member of your team that’s able to keep track of all ticket sales and stay organized if the venue has reserved seating?
- Are you flexible in playing venues that may not be traditional or have the proper equipment?
- Do you have a plan for going after and/or preventing scalpers from purchasing before your fans?
If it were me fronting the money and doing all the planning to give my fans a more affordable experience (which I’m sure all artists truly do want), I might let the big guys experiment more before getting my feet wet. But if you feel you’re ready to take it on, go for it. Your idea could contribute to the new and improved ticketing system of the future!
Do you have an idea for a better ticketing system? Have you tried an alternative system for your own live shows? Head on over to our Facebook page and let us know!