FADER - Why Concert Tickets Are Way Too Expensive, According To The People Who Really Know
By AIMEE CLIFF
Live pop music is becoming a luxury that some fans can’t afford. What’s pushing up the prices, and will it ever stop?
In 2016, one Twitter user infamously claimed to have spent her rent money on Beyoncé tickets. A few months earlier, stand-up dramedian R. Eric Thomas wrote to the singer after finding that two general on-sale tickets for the Formation tour would cost him $600: “I didn’t pay $600 for my bed and my ass is in that every damn day.” Nasir, a 21-year-old Drake fan from London, told The FADER he didn’t buy tickets for the rapper’s Boy Meets World tour in 2016 “because there's no way I would pay £110 for non-seated tickets.” The most he has spent on concert tickets in the past is £50. 16-year-old Jessica from Las Vegas agrees; she told The FADER, “The price for major concert tickets in 2017 is insane. The most I've spent on concert tickets is $225 per ticket a couple years back. That price got me a VIP package including a goody bag and floor seats in a stadium. This year I'll be lucky to find seats anywhere near the stage for less than $400.”
These fans aren’t overreacting. Major pop concert ticket prices worldwide increase at a rate much faster than inflation, and that’s why each year they appear to be even more overblown. In North America, average ticket prices overall increased by 20% between 2010 and 2015. According to trade publication Pollstar’s end of year report in 2015, the price of tickets to live music hit an all-time high that year, with an average cost of $74.25. This decreased by 2% in the first half of 2016, but tickets for Drake, Adele, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga still appeared on sale for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars.
With the music industry reshaped by streaming, it’s a commonly accepted narrative that artists now make most of their income from touring rather than record sales. Many believe that this is why they push up the price of concert tickets. The fuller picture, though, is a bit more complex.
Artists play a role in setting prices — but there's a lot of factors to consider.
In a 2015 report for the U.K. government, Professor Michael Waterson argues that the assumption that artists set their ticket prices high and “rip off” fans is actually pretty misguided. Muse and Kid Rock have spoken out in the past about “taking a pay cut” and not breaking even with their shows, in order to keep ticket prices down. In his report, Waterson writes that artists “may want to set prices with a social or fairness objective in mind, so that the possibility of concert attendance remains open to fans with lower disposable income.”
CHVRCHES tour manager Cara McDaniel agrees. In an email to The FADER, she noted that the degree to which the artist is involved in setting prices depends on the individual, “but I have been with artists who have kept the price of their tickets low on purpose, and still had a great production. They’ve cut back on things like hotel costs and crew costs, or trimmed down the number of guest spaces.”
But when it comes to how much control the artist has, there’s no one right answer. In his report for the U.K. government, Waterson argues that the performers often aren’t the ones pushing up prices: “Artists may control or have a say in face value pricing, but ticket distribution and fees levied may largely be out of their hands.” However, Dean Budnick, co-author of the 2012 concert industry bible Ticket Masters, contest that artists are the ones who have the largest role in setting prices. In an email to The FADER, he elaborated: “[Artists] establish their deal terms with promoters, which then, in turn, inform the final ticket prices. In doing this, the artists, their managers, and agents certainly consider the entire ticketing landscape, including prices on the secondary market [second-hand retailers like StubHub], to land on a figure that they believe is fair.”