Ticketmaster may finally be in the kind of trouble it deserves. Nobody really likes purchasing tickets from Ticketmaster, but the nearly 50-year-old company has wormed its way into being unavoidable for many ticketed events around the globe.
After a very publicized, very terrible ticketing experience for Taylor Swift's upcoming tour, Ticketmaster now faces intense government scrutiny. The Justice Department is investigating parent company Live Nation. The Federal Trade Commission has its sights set on the company. Multiple attorneys general are banding together for investigations.
The company has been under the microscope in the past, sure, but this time it kind of feels like just maybe it will face consequences. But does any of it matter to the average small indie act?
The Big Issue With Ticketmaster
Ticketmaster is a monopoly. That's true now more than ever after the 2010 merger with Live Nation.
Anybody who remembers basic civics, economics, and history classes knows that monopolies are antithetical to the idea of a fair and open economy. Ticketmaster has gotten away with it because *shrug*.
Seriously. We wish there were some sort of clear thing we could point to as to why the Live Nation/Ticketmaster monopoly was allowed to exist, but it (annoyingly) just kind of comes down to the fact that the government hasn't stopped it.
This means that Ticketmaster and Live Nation have exclusive rights on venues, selling tickets, and promoting events. So they literally own all or major slices of every vertical in an industry. And they often use that power to leverage unfair pricing structures and exclusive contracts. Not to mention the experience they provide for most fans when it comes to actually purchasing the tickets is anywhere from "an unavoidable nuisance" to a downright bad.
This isn't news to anybody, either. There have been high profile battles over Ticketmaster's general terribleness for a long time.
How Concert Selling Works In General
A lot of people don't know that once you get to a certain level as an artist or entertainer, you're not really relying on ticket sales to make money anymore. At least not directly.
That's because talent buyers at the venue (or company that owns the venue) often purchase an act for a guaranteed fee. That means the onus is then on them to make money on the tickets they sell.
So, for instance, a mid-level rock act may get a guaranteed $50,000 per show. Everything else — including ticket prices — is up to the venue and promoter. Of course, everything is negotiable, and the more power you have as an artist, the more you can demand. For instance, some acts famously include a portion of parking fees in their contracts.
Some artists demand that they actually do get to set ticket prices — or that VIP packages and experiences are exclusively carved out from the deal. You get the idea.
But this whole thing means that suddenly the experience between the fan and artist is left up entirely to a middleman. Which can jeopardize the fan experience. Not to mention that when an artist gets these guarantees, they very rarely get to share in the data of who is buying tickets to their shows. That information — emails, zip codes, phone numbers etc. — is the lifeblood of any business, and yet in most cases it never actually makes its way to the artist. It stays with the middleman. And that sucks.
Good Ways To Sell Tickets If You Don't Have To Use Ticketmaster
Luckily, not every artist has to use Ticketmaster. It's one of the few advantages of being a smaller artist in the independent music world.
There are a handful of independent venues in most major markets that refuse to do business with Live Nation or Ticketmaster. There are also a lot of event spaces that will gladly host performances, depending on the number of people and type.
In either case, you have a lot more say in how to organize your live ticketing when dealing with these scenarios. Let's look at a few variables.
If The Venue Has Their Own Ticketing System
If you're playing a show at a local venue with their own ticketing system, you'll probably either being doing a "door deal" or a small guarantee "against the door." There will also probably be some costs the venue deducts, like $150 to pay the sound person etc.
If the venue sells tickets through its own website, be sure to communicate upfront that you expect to receive a list of the attendees and emails. If the venue owner pushes back on this, stand firm. They have access to this and they should be routinely able to show you who is coming in. This type of information is critical to helping you see if marketing efforts are working, too.
Usually these venues will sell at the door, too. Be sure to ask about gathering all of this information, as well. It's as much your data as it is theirs. And make sure you have a very clear accounting of exactly what the venue took from your sales, too. Those numbers are important to keep track of when you're negotiating future dates. And doing taxes. They are, after all, business expenses.
If You're In Charge Of Your Own Ticketing
Let's say you're putting on a special house concert. Or you've decided to rent a venue and put on the whole thing yourself. This is where you get to really have fun with your ticketing options.
There are plenty of great websites that allow you to do ticketing, including sites that don't charge anything for free events. Pro tip: even if the event is free, you should really encourage RSVPs so you can get the contact info of the people coming. When you send thank you's and offers to guests, it really helps build that bond.
The obvious choice is Eventbrite. It's probably the biggest name in independent ticket sales and has been around since 2006. (Some independent venues also use Eventbrite; if that's the case, you should be a collaborator on your ticketing even with them so you can see the data in real time). But there are tons of alternatives, too. Heck, you could even keep track of your own sales by using an existing e-commerce platform.
Just make sure that you're getting at least emails and zip codes for all attendees. Having phone numbers is a big bonus, too, provided they all opt in to receiving communication from you that way.
If You're Part Of A Bill Or Event You Have No Control Over
These are usually the trickiest scenarios. What if you're opening for somebody or appearing at a special event? Or if you're just along for the ride or not really sure who might be there for you? On the one hand, you don't have to worry about the headache of setting everything up. On the other, you could run the risk of never being able to turn those people into fans.
Now you're in the space of trying to capture the most attention and data for future shows. This is, after all, one of the most basic ways of building a fan base (though most would argue not the most efficient in the Internet age).
At this point, you want to be prepared to catch as many people as you can. Usually, a text service is the easiest way to do that – specifically, from the stage. If you're allowed to have a banner or some form of self promotion, it could be worthwhile to get your text capture number printed.
Otherwise, your best bet is to hang out by the exit (or merch booth if it's that kind of event) and catch people on the way out — provided they were actually checking out the show. It can be really helpful to do something like send them an exclusive recording from the evening or a personalized thank you if you're looking at a smaller number of people.
The Future Of Live Performance
Now more than ever you should diversify the ways you perform for your audience. While live music is still the financial bread and butter for plenty of artists, it's also a big machine that often costs money to turn on and includes a lot of moving parts out of your control.
Seeing a live performance is part of the human experience. The sheer joy of watching your favorite band play your favorite song is, after all, why Ticketmaster has been able to get away with essentially ripping everybody off for decades.
But as Twitch's massive growth has shown, there are more ways to connect with people than simply jumping on stage. Livestreams, live audio, podcasts, premiered YouTube videos etc. all provide opportunities to create a "live" experience you can use to subsidize in-person events.
The most important thing to remember is that the relationship you have between you and your audience members is everything. You need to be able to reach them on your own terms — and that's something you can start doing right now even if Ticketmaster somehow gets off the hook again.