By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)
Music, as much as anyone tries to deny or hide it, is a business. Bands/artists are the business, and we, the fans are the customers. We pay their wages by buying records, gig tickets, and merch, and as such, bands that provide good “customer service” are always well received. Bands that are happy to stop & chat to their fans, take a photo or even sneak them into the soundcheck are beacons of exemplary customer service and recognise the people who put food on the table for them. Dress it up however you want, we’re the customers, they’re the business, and we’re owed a certain level of service without verging on being over-entitled.
Which is why I find it utterly confusing when bands decide to charge a premium rate for VIP packages when they hit the road. Okay, the first contradiction of the day here, because it gives fans an opportunity to get access to their heroes in a way they couldn’t with a normal ticket, but why not do that anyway, without charging top dollar? Get ticket holders to enter a raffle to get VIP passes, let the first ten fans who show up into soundcheck, because then it’s more special than just paying to meet the guys from Metallica.
But what really boils my piss is bands that offer “golden circle” standing tickets, at a much higher rate than the price of a usual standing ticket to guarantee them a place at the front.
Gig tickets aren’t cheap: you know that, I know that, your mum & dad know that, and someone could well blow a large chunk of their income on that one ticket. They show up at midday, hoping to catch a glimpse of the band at load in, then get into the queue, ready for doors open. As soon as the doors open, they sprint through, going as fast as their legs will carry them, eager to be first against the barrier, ready to come face to face with their idol.
Except that won’t happen because their idol has decided that the fans with the biggest wallets are the biggest fans of the band. Sure, have segregated standing & wristbanded standing sections from a crowd surge point of view, but don’t charge fans a premium rate just to be at the front. It feels to me that right now, gigs are going to the highest bidder.
Last year, I bought my dad a pair of Black Sabbath tickets for Father’s Day. I was given the option of buying regular standing tickets or ‘golden circle’ tickets, for some £30 more. A little bit more than that? I could get into soundcheck. In the end, I went for the standard standing tickets, because who’d pay a premium price to stand in the same arena? The hardest of the hardcore Sabbath fans; the fans who bought the records even when it was just Tony Iommi and a few stragglers, and this is how they’re repaid for their loyalty; charged a premium price to be in close proximity of the band they’ve stuck by for years.
But what if they can’t afford the premium? They might be squeezed in at the back, hollering every note of every song whilst someone with a fatter wallet mumbles along to Paranoid and gets confused that Ozzy didn’t sing Crazy Train. That’s obviously a hugely sweeping generalisation, but you can see it, can’t you? Some guy in smart casual, four £6 Amstels deep, standing there stone-faced at the front, whilst someone in their battle weathered tour t-shirt is giving it all they’ve got, as they always do. Is that a level playing field? Not at all.
Wanted to see Metallica on their latest tour? You’d have to be prepared to part ways with nearly £100 for a standing ticket. Got a wad that’s burning a hole in your pocket? You could shell out up to £5,000 for a VIP package, which includes a meet and greet (great!), private merch shopping (er, alright, I guess) and a “Spit out the Bone” buffet (pure Partridge). Metallica are no surprise, since their formation in the eighties, the thrash overlords have managed to monetise their band and turn their name into a global brand. And whilst I’m thrash talking, Anthrax charge over £1,000 for a VIP package, which includes a whole host of interesting things, souvenir programme, meet & greet, maybe even a signature instrument if you’re rich enough.
Wanna see no-tory-ous tax dodge Gary Barlow, but want a bit more bang for your buck? How about you spend £175 on the Gary Barlow VIP seated package? Bet you get a meet and greet for that, huh? Nah mate, you get a seat in the first nine rows, a pre-signed tour programme, a tote bag and a VIP tour gift, whatever the hell that is. Things like this either sell the artist to the highest bidder or take advantage of the fans who would pay any price to be in with a sniff of their hero?
Without dropping into my own Spinal Tap moment here, every fan that spends their money on a concert ticket is a Very Important Person. This is a message shared by bands like Enter Shikari & Bury Tomorrow, with the frontman of the latter, Daniel Winter-Bates routinely using stage time to decry VIP packages, and let us know we’re all very important.
It sounds chintzy, but it’s true, bands need to understand that by offering packages like this, they’re either taking advantage of the hardest of core fans or marginalising the ones who simply can’t afford to. Bands need to make money, that much is true, but charging hundreds, even thousands of pounds for tickets or special access tickets seems ludicrous. Why not just have a raffle for 10 VIP tickets at £2/5 each? That way then, everyone can largely buy into it, and it’s even more special when someone wins because it could be someone who couldn’t even afford to dream about meeting their favourite artists, never mind paying top dollar for it.
This isn’t pre-warning some kind of musical peasants revolt, but I find it absolutely contemptuous that bands/artists will charge such outrageous prices that either give little in return or charge so much that the fan experience becomes a corporate exercise. Either give free “access” to your band, invite loyal fans in, or don’t offer anything at all. Charge for the equal opportunity of seeing you perform live, and anything past that should be a bonus.