The Live Concert
It wasn’t long ago that concerts were the greatest thing to go to, most shows sold out and both fan and band had some escapism for a few hours and something to talk about after. Today that’s not so much the case. Ticket prices are rising and attendance is declining. You can read various reports from Live Nation and other outlets showing major losses. I think you can apply this to any live experience, sports events, plays, etc. But I’m focusing on concerts. Now, you can blame many things like the economy, unemployment, etc for this and you could be right. But I think it’s partly due to the fact that it really isn’t an event anymore. There are exceptions, but if you have gone to any concerts recently, and judging by attendance, you haven’t. You would see if you did that it’s just not the same. I’m not sure if magic is the right word, but whatever it is, it’s gone.
Let’s discus the obvious reasons first, shall we? The ticket prices. They are high by today’s standards and what’s worse is that they not only get you for the price of the ticket, they get you with all kinds of fees (service fee, print fee if you print at home, parking fees, etc), so a $50 ticket is now $75. Very sad. Now if you drink at the venue, it’s like $10 a beer, really, why would you charge that much and it’s like $3 for a small soda. Why anyone would pay these prices amazes me, but trust me they do, the lines are always there. I would also like to add that in most venues, there is no easy in and out, before or after the show. In the old days you would be allowed to hang out before jumping in the car and heading out and they don’t really let that happen anymore. Even before the show they kick you out, so again the experience is getting minimized.
The merchandise, like tee shirts, hoodies and the rest are outrageously priced. $45 for a tee shirt are you crazy? $30 for a hat, really? The list goes on. I may be old school and pricing may have been relevant for the time. But I can’t tell you the last time I bought anything at a show from the band or artist I went to see, with the exception of a CD or live flash drive. I know artists need to make a living, but that’s a bit much. Even though I think this, many people pay those prices, and I get it, it’s a souvenir of the show, it’s just disappointing that it costs that much to see it and buy something from it.
Availability of the tickets, now that’s a big problem. First the fan clubs (and rightly so), get first crack at the tickets during the presale. Then there is the special presales, like a credit card (AMEX, comes to mind) and sponsors who give them away. Let us not forget all the local media, the radio stations and such that also give them away. By the time they go on sale there aren’t many tickets left in the good seats. I know what you’re thinking, I making a point about poor attendance and sales, and I am. But for a major drawing band, this is what happens. Ticket agencies know every trick in the book to buy all the tickets when they do go on sale and that again limits the amount of good seats available. Most recently, when Van Halen went on sale, no one I know was able to access any tickets. That tells you right there, there is a problem when fans can’t get to these shows. On not so hot tours, it doesn’t affect the outcome as much. What this does is create a jaded fan. They won’t go out of their way anymore to get a ticket and if they decide to go they will call Stub Hub and get a ticket. Now if you want to go you will find a way. The old days you would go to several shows, now it’s just one or two. Not a good sign for the music business in general.
The concert promoters, who people think are evil and rightly so, have created a wait and see attitude with the fans that want to go. Of the concerts you have gone to, how many times did you see this scenario: You are at the concert venue and you get courted by an event staff member to buy another shows tickets at $10 a pop, or buy one get one free, yet going to a fast food place or something and with your order you get free tickets. Now tell me how that helps? Because this hurts the people who paid full price and now they get bitter, they don’t get any perks for paying the actual ticket prices. But the promoter and the artist want full venues and this is how they do it. I know I bought tickets like that. How can you go wrong for a $10 ticket to see someone in concert? But this doesn’t help ticket sales or the band as far as revenue. It adds to the decline in attendance. Besides the obvious fact that most bands are charging too much money to begin with.
Now that I have covered the business aspects that hurt the concert go-er, let me add some other perspectives. Technology has truly ruined the experience as well. It’s double edged sword. It’s great because it’s available and it’s bad because it is available. Let me explain. In the days prior to the internet, you would buy an album/CD and wait for the band to come to your area, read about them in magazines, etc. You would guess at the set list and how many songs off the new record would they do, what would they open with, will they do one encore or more. What does the stage look like, and the rest of what goes with that. It’ what made it special, magical even. You would talk it over with your friends and it would enhance your experience. You would go the show and it was like a spiritual event, where the stage was the rock alter and you were waiting to see the rock gods come down and take you to that next level. All that is gone now.
Today you go to the internet, check out the set list, see if you like what they are playing. In most cases bands (very few exceptions that don’t), play the same set every night and maybe vary a song or two, but overall the same set. It’s what they rehearsed and prepared for. It changes if they release a new song or playing multi nights in the same venue. Now that you have the set list, you say, you’re not going, because they are not doing the songs or the set you would like to see. No surprises then. Next up, You Tube. Can’t catch a show, want to know what it looks and sounds like live, You Tube is your answer. It’s all there once they hit the road. You can say, that’s great stuff or it’s just not what I want to check out right now. Hell, you can even watch the whole thing while you’re at it. Some artists aren’t putting any money into their stage presence or even interacting with their audience. The show needs to be different and a true experience if you wanted to hear the songs the way they were you would just listen to record at home. Some artists are failing on their part to make you want to go. Take Guns and Roses for example, showing up late to their shows. It’s slap in the face to the fans that shell out good money to go. It shouldn’t be about them, but you the fan. All this again ruins the event and the element of surprise, or something being special is gone. So, I think that ruins the experience to want to go. The cool side is, if you went, you can pull all that up and see it again. Overall I think it diminishes the experience.
Besides prices, concerts aren’t what they used to be. I understand there are exceptions where you get a show like KISS or a 3 hour set like Phish gives their fans, but they are the exceptions, trust me. Everything is pure business. If an artist wanted to stay before the curfew they would, now they blame the venue for it, which is a crock. If you get a band to play an hour an half you’re doing pretty good. No more two hour shows. Artists/groups now charge for backstage access (their VIP packages), you see them usually before the show while the opening act is on and you get your picture and autograph etc and you’re done. Not saying that it’s wrong, but it makes it pure business. They do this not just to make money (the first goal), but at the end of their set they are gone. Elvis has left the building. No more parties until early morning and hanging backstage. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was all part of the experience. You know trying to catch them when they arrive, at the bus or after the show. All that is gone now.
Another major point is that, there aren’t many arena acts that can pack a crowd. There are the reunions, and farewell tours that always seem to do the trick. But they are a dying breed, and when they step aside who will fill those shoes? Not many that I can see. The best value for your money at this time where you can still get the magic and make it special is to catch the band as they are playing small venues and clawing their way to the top. You get to see them in their prime, at a decent price and maybe even hang with them. Otherwise, you won’t see concerts like you used to, it will be 5 bands on one bill playing for hour tops. Not sure if that’s a value or not, but we need the fans to come in and save the live experience. Will it be you?