Ticketing in music: Burden or necessary component?

It truly feels like being able to see one’s favorite band or singer costs an arm and a leg these days. I personally spent about $500 dollars in 2016 alone on various concert and festival tickets. While I did get to see some of my most beloved artists last year, I find myself nowadays contemplating if all the money and resources that I put into seeing live shows is really worth the price of ticketing in the long run.

Rising costs, rising prices

Various publications, ranging from The FADAR to Pitchfork, seem to hold a sort of consensus that ticketing in the music industry has reached a point of absurdity. This consensus stems from the fact that concert tickets for most mainstream artists have reached seemingly all-time highs. In fact, according to Pollstar, the average cost of concert tickets was $74.25 in 2015. It would be no surprise if average prices have gone up just a little since then.

But is rising ticket prices necessarily the worst thing in the music world? Most will intuitively argue that there is nothing good about tickets being expensive. But what many will fail to recognize is the enormous cost that it takes to put on live shows in the first place and everything that operates in the background.

It costs a significant amount of money to be able to put on live shows. The cost of live music production comes in the form of the wages for the employees, licensing fees, staging, sound equipment, and so forth. Venues need to make decent money from ticket sales in order to continue hosting live shows.

Musicians themselves are also a victim of this painstaking process because of the times we live in. Before a myriad of things occurred like the Great Recession, the advent of streaming services, and the prominence of online piracy, musicians used to be able to depend significantly on music sales for their income. Since the 2000s, the vast majority of artists have to go on excessive tours to make decent money. So while many artists would love for tickets to be cheap for their biggest fans, cheap tickets will eventually add up to less income in the long run.

The local state of ticketing

Here in Austin, the process of ticketing seems to be nothing but a natural part of the live music scene that many have felt has been in relative decline that past several years. A few venues here in Austin that are known for their live shows and support of local artists were willing to give On Vinyl some insight on local ticketing and its necessity.

Robert Leslie, Assistant General Manager at Empire Control Room, explained that at his venue, they work with a company known as Eventbrite, a ticket supplier that aids venues and event organizers in promoting and selling tickets to events, like live music shows. Leslie also went to detail that the pricing of tickets is based on how much stage production will cost Empire and their estimations on how many people will most likely attend the show. In fact, Leslie proclaimed that his venue takes pride in their stage production to ensure that customers always receive a good return on their ticket purchase.

Similar ticketing practices are also present at the Mohawk, located in downtown Austin near Empire Control Room. General manager Cody Cowan sent in an email to On Vinyl that “Touring ticket prices are determined by two factors only: costs (marketing, production costs, etc.) and capacity (how many people can maximally fit the space of the venue)”, practically paraphrasing Robert Leslie from Empire. Cowan did admit however, that “Ticket prices for local artists are almost totally market based. It’s a bummer that folks won’t pay more for local shows.” This could be an indication that while ticket prices may be increasing significantly for big-name, mainstream artists, ticket prices for local or up-and-coming artists are actually quite cheap, which essentially means low income from doing shows. In fact, Cowan also plainly stated that “20 years ago bands toured as a marketing technique to promote their records to then obtain revenue, while now the reverse is true.”

Ticketing can be an annoyance, but it is ultimately fair

After examining the state of ticketing in the contemporary music world, is it really fair to complain about the prices of tickets? While the staggering prices for certain artists is unsettling and unfair to those less fortunate, it is obvious that from the biggest names in music to the smallest, ticketing appears to only reflect the true value of live music. While I would love to be able to see any show for $20 dollars, I know that is not how economics works, and it is not fair to the artist who works so hard to bring me the music that I love. You get what you pay for.