There is nothing more fulfilling as an independent music fan than to watch your favorite artists and bands go from playing near-empty bar rooms for just a handful of folks to filling theaters to sold out capacity and even having to graduate to small arenas in certain markets, especially when that artist has been summarily ignored by radio and other mainstream media. Though some selfish fans want to see their favorite artists play small-capacity rooms until eternity so they never lose that intimate connection, this growth behind an artist is what grassroots support is all about—so that artists can still make music their own way, yet be successful enough to raise families and prosper.
The problem comes when your favorite artists get so big that no matter what the capacity of the venue, there’s an immediate run on tickets, and fans are forced to interface with the secondary ticketing market. For fans of Taylor Swift and Luke Bryan, they don’t know any other reality than signing up for fan clubs and credit cards they don’t need to try and obtain presale passwords, sitting beside their computer or smartphone the very second tickets go on sale to try and grab something at face value, and otherwise slogging it out on StubHub having to pay three to five times face value just to see their favorite artist.
Fans of artists such as Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Cody Jinks are having to face this new reality too as these artists nearly guarantee a sellout wherever they play, and unless you’re quick on the draw, you’re unlikely to get through.
On Tuesday (2-28), Sturgill Simpson addressed these ticketing issues with his fans who are seeing these immediate sellouts and tickets getting posted for $400 and up on secondary sites, especially after his popularity has taken a sharp rise due to his Grammy awards and nominations, and a viral Saturday Night Live performance.
“We are working on an experimental ticketing system that will (HOPEFULLY) prevent scalpers/bots from ruining the live music experience for everyone,” says Sturgill. “It infuriates me to see so many people who have supported us from day one being shut out from the opportunity to come to our show for a price I designate. I know exactly who I work for and my tickets will always be affordable and no amount of trophy’s in the world will ever change that.”
Sturgill is not the only artist taking on the secondary ticketing market for his fans. Recently Eric Church quite publicly canceled 25,000 tickets his team determined were purchased by scalpers and bots, and redistributed them to the public. Church has been vocal about the issues with scalpers and has done other such ticket cancellations previously.
In December 2016, Congress passed a bill and President Obama signed it into law forbidding the use of bots that are able to swoop in ahead of consumers, pre-fill information required by TicketMaster and other ticket sellers almost instantaneously, and reserve large groups of tickets that ultimately end up on StubHub and other secondary ticket sites. Despite stiff penalties, the new law does not seem to have put a dent in the practice. Working with anonymity on the internet, many resellers are able to avoid detection, and the risk of prosecution for them is low. Though TicketMaster and other ticket sellers say publicly they’re attempting to combat the problem, it also serves their best interests to sell as many tickets as possible to whomever is buying, and many of these companies have a stake in their own secondary ticket forums.
In a recent in-depth interview on Noisey, notorious ticket scalper Ken Lowson of Wiseguy Tickets, who is characterized as the “most infamous ticket scalper of all time” and was one of the first individuals to use bots to buy tickets (and one of the first to be prosecuted for it), details just how complex the ticketing issue is. According to Lowson, bots are only part of the problem, and presales are actually set up to facilitate resellers as opposed to putting superfans at the head of the line to avoid them.
Though there are efforts underway to combat the bots and scalping, the scalpers seem to always stay one step ahead. And with the exorbitant amount being made off of resales tickets, there is little incentive for the industry to truly reform.
The ultimate problem comes down to simple supply and demand. Artists who are not regularly selling out venues are not the target of scalpers. It’s only when scalpers know there will be more demand than supply do they target certain artists, venues, and events.
As Saving Country Music explained in an April 2016 dive into the ticketing issue,
For mid sized bands playing large clubs and small theaters, promoters and managers are encouraged to book venues slightly smaller than what demand might dictate, because you want to sell out every show on a tour.
The publicity that a sellout generates, and the precedence it sets for promoters is important to building up the guaranteed money and booking leverage an artist receives. Before an artist is allowed to play theaters, they have to prove they can sell out large clubs. Before they can move to larger theaters and amphitheaters, they have to prove they can sell out the mid sized theaters. Though this system ensures promoters don’t take a bath on any show or put a band in the wrong-sized venue, it means hot names in music will almost always sell to capacity for live events.
Sturgill Simpson has made an effort to ramp up to demand, adding additional shows in markets where concerts sell out immediately and an additional date is available on the calendar. But when supply is still astronomical, the bots and scalpers will show up. So what can consumers do?
“In the meantime the only way to put a stop to this is for people to stop buying tickets from scalpers all together or to make so much noise it forces politicians/Ticketmaster to stop taking money from Stub-hub lobbyists that pay them fat stacks of coin to keep online scalping legal,” says Sturgill Simpson. “EVERYONE is fed up I assure you and we will be cancelling out bot purchased tickets and putting the reclaimed tickets back up for sale at normal price.”
It is rarely ever about the greediness of the artist when consumers see exorbitant ticket prices. Performers don’t see a penny of the revenue being generated on the resale market. As Sturgill alluded to, many fans are turning on him for raising tickets prices, when the rise in face value is marginal. Instead consumers should be turning on the entities that have made the secondary ticket market in the United States one of the most greedy industries, rife with shady practices and underhanded tactics, with the additional money generated not going to artists, support staff, or labels, but people taking advantage of a broken system that has no incentive to reform itself.