Why are gig tickets so expensive?

By Francesca Baker

Not a year goes by without inflated concert tickets and overblown demands for gigs creating frustration amongst fans and by association media hype and hyperbole at the ever increasing price of tickets and how music is inaccessible. At one level, they have a point. Between 1981 and 2012 the average cost of a concert ticket increased 400%. Barbara Streisand is charging £450 for the privilege of seeing her, and £300 is the cost of a night with The Rolling Stones. One Direction’s latest tour sold out in minutes, and only minutes after were secondary touts selling tickets on for more than four of five times the price. The first Glastonbury in 1970 cost a pound, compared to this year’s £205. (Although festivals, despite their hefty price tags, still are a great deal when considering price per band equations.)

However, this is only one, very thin, wedge of the live music market. In reality, most bands are struggling to get 7 people along to their gigs, despite only charging the price of a McDonalds meal (around £4, since you ask.) It would be wrong to make the sweeping statement that ‘gig tickets are expensive.’ Every night bands play for free, and having organised and promoted gigs in London I am well aware of the difficulty of even breaking even and covering a drink or expenses for artists, let alone generating dizzying profits at the expensive of punters. Getting enough people through the door to justify the work going in is a sign of success.

Extra demand is often generated for big gigs via corporate entertainment and companies buying up seats to impress clients, seats that then go on to be unused…but not before boosting a big drive in inflated secondary ticket market prices. Scarcity and frustration correlate with rising prices. So it may make economic sense, but ethical? Whether or not there should be an ‘ethical’ price for music tickets all depends on the view of music. Is it an artistic and enticing output, there for everyone to share in, or is it a product, subject to the laws and motions of economics? Where demand exists, prices will follow. It is simple market economics. Demand drives cost drives supply. Add marketing, advertising, glitz and fame, and suddenly prices are astronomical.

Either way, it is impossible to consider the cost of gig tickets, and whether they are or aren’t expensive and whether this expense is justified without looking at the context in which the gigs and bands operate. We all remember paying £15 for an album (on CD, retro) whereas now £7.99 is standard, and even the £10 a month for unlimited music and access to millions of songs on streaming services such as Spotify causes slight balking. The cost of producing music and the vast proliferation of it means that the amount we are prepared to spend on owning or listening to a song has decreased. What we take with one hand the music industry will take with another. We are constantly being told that there is no money in music, and so when one area appears to be able to command prices, it becomes the cash cow.  Bands and musicians have to eat, just like anyone else. However, it seems that whilst the big artists are charging the kind of prices that enable them to feast on lobster and foi gras, smaller bands can barely cover the aforementioned McDonalds.

One thing that is irritating is the hidden extra charges. A delivery cost of £4.50 when delivery means printing at home? A booking fee? For what? A ticket industry insider recently revealed that the booking fee is actually not charged by the booking agent but is split between the artist, venue, promoter and the agent. So why are not each of these parties just more upfront to start with.

Ultimately, it all comes down to value. People value music, and are prepared to pay for it. The problem comes that people are prepared to pay so much more for it when they are told to – when hype and advertising and nostalgia combine to create an inflated sense of what a gig is worth. For any true music fan the answer is to take your Rolling Stones ticket of £150 and see thirty odd gigs of smaller bands across the year. Hear new music, spread your wealth amongst bands and musicians who need it, and support a thriving art and music scene.




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