The State Of Live Music... And What Robert Smith Taught Us About It!
As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day, a headline caught my eye. The article was about music legend Neil Young, and the fact that he had written a post on his website titled "Concert Touring Is Broken". Click here to ready Young's full post.
Anyone who knows me or reads this blog regularly knows that I'm a huge live music fan. So the fact that someone like Neil Young thinks the live music industry is a mess, leaves me heartbroken. But he's not wrong. It is broken - big time. And it has been for awhile.
When did it break? That's hard to pin down. Last month I wrote about how I was "divorcing" Ticketmaster because I've become so fed up with them. Click here to read that post.
Shortly after I wrote that article, The Cure announced a North American tour. And through the process of selling tickets to those shows, lead singer Robert Smith became the hero no one expected him to be, but all of us needed. Smith single-handedly took on Ticketmaster and managed to negotiate things with them that I've never seen another artist be able to do.
But is it enough? Robert Smith is just one guy and this is just one tour. What's going to happen next? Who will be the next artist to take on Ticketmaster? Should the artists be the ones to try and make the changes happen, or do we as fans have a role to play? And the problem isn't just ticket prices. The whole concert experience feels broken to me. So what can we do?
I definitely don't have all the answers, and I don't think it will ever be "fixed" in a way that makes everyone happy. But I do think there are some things that need to change and can change. And I think we, as fans, have a bigger role to play than we might realize. Robert Smith may not have fixed the problems, but he did teach us some lessons we can learn from. So keep reading and let's see what we can join together to do!
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The Music Industry Is A Business
As we talk about how to make things better, we do have to keep in mind that at the end of the day, this is a business. Everyone needs to make money. If you want to see what happens when people in the business don't make money, just think back to three years ago when the live music business was completely shut down by the pandemic.
And the live music industry has a lot of people that have to get paid to keep it running. It's easy to think about Ticketmaster/Live Nation and the artists themselves making money. But for every tour that hits the road and every venue that hosts live music, there are hundreds - if not thousands - of people working in the background. They all have to get paid. Touring is not cheap.
While we can't question the fact that the live music industry has to make money to stay alive, we can question how much they need to make. Let's be honest, Taylor Swift is not struggling to pay her bills. And Ticketmaster/Live Nation reported a record breaking $16.7 billion in revenue in 2022.
Robert Smith Lesson #1: You can sell tickets to your shows at reasonable prices and still have a tour that is financially successful.
Who Is Really Running The Show?
When it comes to the creative part of their tours, I would guess that almost every artist is mostly running the show. That includes deciding on set lists and the visual look and feel of their shows. But when it comes to the logistics and business end of things, how involved are they?
Most big artists hire people to take care of the details and the things that they either don't know much about, or really don't care much about. And most artists have a management company and/or record label that they answer to.
I've always known that Robert Smith was very involved in every aspect of The Cure. After all, The Cure is really Robert Smith, and Robert Smith is really The Cure. Outside of Simon Gallup, who has been with the band for most of its history, the rest of the band has been a bit of a revolving door, with a lot of that due to Robert wanting to run the show completely. And while I'm sure The Cure has a team of people working for them, I don't think there is any question of who the ultimate decision maker is.
So when it comes time to negotiate with Ticketmaster, who is doing the negotiating? Is it a management company who likely only cares about maximizing profits? Do the artists even know the details about how Ticketmaster works? Do they care, or is that something they figure is better left to someone else?
Robert Smith Lesson #2: An artist can be involved in the details if they want to be. They can ask questions. They can try and understand the process and what works and what is broken. If you are truly concerned about your fans, your actions speak much louder than your words. If you don't follow Robert on Twitter, go back and check out his tweets during the ticket sale period. Click here to see his Twitter feed.
Everything Is Better In Europe!
Every time my husband and I visit Europe, we say this over and over. And while I don't really believe that it's 100% true, there are a lot of things that they do a lot better than we do here. And one of those things is live music.
The Cure has a huge fan base outside of the U.S., so it was interesting reading posts from them on the fan Facebook pages wondering what in the world was going on with the sale of tickets for this North American tour.
We've gone to Europe a few times now to see shows, and I can tell you this for sure. The beers are cheaper. The fans are better. And the ticket buying process is easy and reasonably priced.
Robert Smith Lesson #3: I mean, Robert's British. And he speaks with a really thick British accent. He tells it like it is and doesn't hold anything back. I can only imagine the calls he made to Ticketmaster when things weren't going as he expected them to! And while there are lots of reasons why live shows in Europe might be better than here, the common denominator is that they don't use Ticketmaster/Live Nation.
It's Not Just The Ticket Sale Process That Is Broken
How many times have you been to shows and had people around you that do nothing but talk the whole show? Do you find yourself asking why? Why would you spend that much money to go to a show and then talk the whole time? The answer is easy. They are not fans.
Concerts are broken because the true fans are often being pushed out. Scalpers, ticket brokers and Ticketmaster themselves have made sure that those with money are the ones that get to go. This leads to people attending that have no interest in the music - it's just a night out for them.
Add on top of this the fact that a beer costs you $15 and a t-shirt costs $40 (after you paid $50 to park), and it's just not even fun to be there anymore. When you drop several hundred dollars on a couple hour show, you start questioning whether you could be spending your hard earned money elsewhere.
Robert Smith Lesson #4: While the Verified Fan Pre-Sale and the Fan to Fan Ticket Exchange process may not have been perfect, at least it gave real fans a fighting chance.
So What Do We Do?????
Now that I've listed all the problems, I should be giving you all of the answers, right? Guess what? I don't have the answers. I wish I did. But I do have some suggestions of things we can do as fans.
Encourage artists you love to stand up to Ticketmaster. Robert Smith has shown it can be done. But we need more artists to follow in his footsteps.
Support artists who stand up to Ticketmaster and the steps they are taking. For every post I would see on a Cure fan page saying what Robert was doing was great, I would see another complaining that they got shut out of tickets and it wasn't fair because they were the world's greatest Cure fan. Forcing changes might mean some sacrifices. It might make it harder to get tickets, because you can't just throw money out there to get them. It might mean your favorite band not playing every venue you want them to play because they are avoiding Live Nation venues. Or it might mean them not touring at all because Ticketmaster won't agree to their terms.
DO NOT BUY FROM SCALPERS!!! In the words of Robert Smith, the "obvious recurring elephant in the room thought... that if no-one bought from scalpers... then..."
Use your wallet to take a stand. While it sucks to give up something you love, until we as the fans stop supporting them, Ticketmaster will continue to take advantage of us. As long as people buy dynamically priced or platinum tickets, Ticketmaster will keep selling them. I don't expect anyone to stop going to shows. I'm not going to stop. But I cut WAY back. And when I do go see live music, I try and focus myself on independent artists and venues.
Make your voice heard in D.C. I have to admit that I am pretty skeptical about the government doing anything about the Ticketmaster/Live Nation monopoly. But, the good news about some of these ticket debacles is that it has actually gotten their attention. So, it doesn't hurt to let them know that we want them to take action.
Will things ever change? I don't know. The only thing I do know, is that as much as I love Robert Smith, he can't do it alone. In 1992, Pearl Jam attempted to take Ticketmaster on and lost because no one else joined them. Thirty years later, we are having the same conversations and have the same complaints. Things only got worse, not better. Will this time be different? Will the artists and the fans unite? All of my fingers and toes are crossed!
How do you feel about the state of live music? Let us know! Comment below or e-mail me at email@example.com.
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