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So you wanna be in a rock band?: The power of the ticket

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | January 12th, 2009

The industry's growing power, in the arena of booking, has major consequences for the indie musician. However, the effects of this latest attempt at monopoly do not just end there.

Because booking agencies are able to limit and dictate the kinds of venues at which indie artists can play, as well as the level of bands with whom they can get booked, this also means that, from a crowd perspective, bookers have a direct role in forming our musical tastes and allowing access to the musical trends that we may or may not chose to consume.

This relatively small group of people are, resultantly, able to wield an unsettling amount of power within pop culture itself. Of course, one could rebut that the internet has broken down a great deal of the traditional barriers faced by the indie musician (ie: it's no longer necessary to tour in order to form a following that spans continents) and in doing so, has allowed fans more autonomy in terms of developing their own music preferences (ie: by providing easy access to the obscure and the underground. It's important to realize that, at one point, “out there” music could only be found at UK import shops).

However, despite this newfound access to original tunes and innovative acts, fandom, any musician will contest, still remains largely solidified through the concert going experience, and since booking agencies ultimately determine which concerts we are able to attend at convenient locations for reasonable prices, booking agencies are therefore directly involved with either condemning indies to become “flashes in the pan” that are only popular at their hometown venues, or accelerating their careers into super rockstardom. All of this, of course, from a music consumer point of view, greatly affects the concert going experience.

Result #1: Higher Ticket Prices
Money, just as in every other aspect of this industry, plays a huge role. Bookers want to make money, as do the venues at which the acts perform, but touring costs, especially if one's show consists of elaborate pyrotechnics and multiple stage backdrops, are ridiculously high.

How to solve this problem?

Charge more for tickets, of course. But, as we saw with The Police and The Spice Girls' latest reunion tours, this plan of attack can sometimes backfire. If ticket costs skyrocket, no one can afford to go, nor should anyone be expected to pay hundreds of dollars to see an act perform from the nosebleed section when you could get a better view from your TV set at home.

Result #2: Last Minute Cancellations Due to Poor Ticket Sales
Directly related to point number one, some folks simply cannot afford to pay triple digit figures for concert tickets, and well, some are just too damn smart to pay that much because they know, as well as you and I do, that a good chunk of that money doesn't even go to the bands themselves. To be perfectly honest (and I'm sure I'm not alone on this), I'd rather see a band perform solidly without all of those bells and whistles that hike up their concert production costs. It's of my humble opinion that if a band's got to rely on serious special effects to make their show entertaining and action packed, then they likely aren't that great at performing in the first place, and that's not an act that I want to check out live. Technology, for better or for worse, has allowed far too many subpar musicians the ability to put out critically acclaimed music that said musicians cannot even come close to pulling off live.

Result #3: Mismatched Musical Pairings
This phenomenon, as I'm sure you've figured out already, relates to how bookers construct their concert bills based on the acts available on their roster and/or that of the label who has hired them to put together the show. Even if you're a member of a great local act and your biggest influence comes to town to play at the JLC and you know that your music would be incredibly complementary to theirs, there's little to no likelihood that you'll be the ones warming up the crowd.

Case in point: My Guns 'N' Roses concert experience. Considering that London's a mecca for truly talented hardcore, punk and metal acts, it's beyond my comprehension that I had to be subjected to a full 30 minutes of Mix Master Mike prior to seeing Axel in the flesh. But, on a rather sardonic note, it was somewhat amusing to see the poor D.J. get booed off the stage by a bunch of jacked up bikers sporting mullets. Though I'm sure, in a different setting, with a different crowd, the Mix Master could have “rock it like a hurricane”, but just as the above points have illustrated, the bookers really got what they deserved. They may be in the business of making our pop culture, but, as the saying goes, you've gotta give the people what they want, and rap at a hard rock concert just ain't cutting it.

continued next week....
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