The Costs of Attending Concerts – Artists Win, Fans Lose?

To me, there is nothing like hearing a band or artist live, so it goes without saying that I am an avid concert-goer. In fact, I actually wrote a mini-thesis on the subject of going to concerts for one of my Sociology classes in university. My concert-going experiences run the gamut from the small club shows to big stadium shows. I’ve paid anywhere between $15 to $150 for tickets, including those pesky facility/convenience fees, and if it’s a stadium/arena show, I’ve managed to get some pretty good seats. As my brother so lovingly puts it, I’ve got disposable income, which is why I can afford to go to a lot of concerts. Now, in light of my recent ticket purchase for the Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z Legends of the Summer tour, I felt compelled to revisit the topic of concerts and one of the biggest issues associated with it – ticket prices.

You see, the Legends of the Summer tour is kind of a big deal. It’s Justin Timberlake’s first tour in 6 years and he’s coming back touring with one of the biggest names in rap, Hova himself. They’re touring 12 cities, playing at huge stadiums (the Rogers Centre for the Toronto show); it was guaranteed to be big. How big? Well, the ticket prices will tell you – floor seats are running at $300 a piece, level 100 close to the stage are $195 and further back is $115, level 200 runs at $95 each, up another level and you’re looking at $45-65 a ticket. $300 to be on the floor with the possibility of someone taller than you (or way too obnoxious) obstructing your view and thereby hindering your enjoyment of the concert?! Not for me, thank you. This is not to mention the VIP packages available, the most expensive one costing you $1500 for a front row ticket plus some other perks/merchandise, which for the record, doesn’t even include a meet and greet. I’m a big Justin fan but there’s something called sensibility, as well as being reasonable – $1500 is a ridiculous amount of money for a concert. Hell, $300 is already a lot of money for a concert.

Due to the current state of the music industry, selling records just doesn’t cut it anymore. Being able to go on tour and putting on a show is an artist’s or band’s biggest moneymaker. It’s an opportunity for the¬†musicians to interact with fans and at the same time, it’s an opportunity for fans to get to see their favourites up close (or at least be in the midst of their favourite acts), enjoy some good music, and have a good time. But what’s the cost of having the best concert experience possible? One of my favourite small club shows that I’ve been to was Matt Nathanson at The Garrison in Toronto back in 2011. I paid $20 for that show and 2 years later, I still have fond memories of it. Matt interacted with the audience of 50 (approx.), told humourous stories to go along with the songs; it was a lot of fun and the fact that it was a cheap show was pretty much a bonus. That’s not to say I don’t have a good time at arena shows. When Justin did the FutureSex/LoveShow tour back in 2007, paying $120 for my ticket already seemed like a good chunk of money, but the show was so incredible that it was completely worth every single penny I spent and then I chalked up the money to see the exact same show on the 2nd leg of the tour. Even to this day, I still compare a lot of other concerts I see to FutureSex/LoveShow because it surpassed my every expectation of what concerts should be like.

Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveShow, 2007

Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveShow, 2007

Even for someone like me who goes to a lot of concerts, I have my limits. I remember not wanting to shell out $150 when Britney Spears came to Toronto on The Circus Tour, because as we all know, live singing isn’t exactly involved and there’s little to no interaction with the audience; you’re pretty much paying for the spectacle of it all. But because it was Britney, I ended up going anyways…sitting in the cheap seats. I have always wanted to see Madonna live because she’s always been such a great performer, but for her past two tours, the ticket prices were always ridiculously high, with the cheap seats not even being that cheap. So what’s a girl to do? Well, simple – not go.

Britney Spears, The Circus Tour, 2009

Britney Spears, The Circus Tour, 2009

Remember those pesky facility/convenience fees I mentioned earlier? Yeah…they’re the worst. You may start off with a reasonable $80 ticket for an arena or stadium show, but then you get a facility charge of $2.50, a¬†convenience charge of $14 (sometimes higher), and then to top it all off, you get charged a $5 order processing fee. An extra $20 in fees! That’s not including how you want to receive your tickets (Print them off yourself or regular mail? Free. Anything else? Pay up.)

Like I’ve said before, going to concerts is a regular and normal thing for me, so ticket prices usually isn’t an issue. At the same time, I also understand that for others, attending a concert, particularly one as big as the Legends of the Summer tour, can be a luxury. I have a friend who currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta and there isn’t a tour stop anywhere around there, so I jokingly tried to convince her to come back to Toronto to go see the show, to which she replied “Tempting, but I should be responsible and not spend a mortgage payment on a concert, no matter how good it will be.” Which to be honest is a fair point to make. Living so close to Toronto and having the money to spend on going to concerts (along with purchasing merchandise and other fees that come up in the process like food and parking) has essentially made me spoiled, but I have friends who can’t be as frivolous as I am and just spend money on any concert that I want to go see. They have to be selective on who they want to see and what their budget is for any particular concert. As exciting and fun as it is to see a band or an artist perform live, the counterpoint can be made that you shouldn’t spend money on something that lasts 2-3 hours, when chances are there will probably a DVD released for it and you can save yourself a lot of money that way, thereby using the money you saved for something more practical.

But who’s to say what is practical? If you think about it, the same logic can be applied to going to the movies, buying your coffee every morning, eating out a restaurant – things we spend money on that we don’t necessarily NEED to but WANT to. So for some (like me) the want to go to many concerts (which for the record, stems from the fact that I have varied tastes in music) a year is just the norm. For others, it’s all about saving up to go to that one concert every year that is an absolutely MUST. That ends up being our choice as fans, based on our circumstances and what we want. However, the idea that we have to save up for a concert (not for a car or a vacation) goes back to the fact that ticket prices these days are getting out of hand. The more expensive the ticket, the more of a luxury it seems. And it certainly leaves me wondering what kind of normal person (or sane for that matter) would have the $1500 to spend on a VIP concert package. Yet there are/will be people willing to pay that money for it, which does nothing but benefit the artists/labels/promoters and leave you with probably a fantastic concert experience but a huge hole in your wallet. I understand that the bigger the tour, the bigger the spectacle, the more people are employed as part of the tour roster, thereby somewhat justifying the hefty ticket prices. But in consideration of those fans who might not have such disposable income but would still very much like to experience a concert to its fullest potential, would it be too much to ask for more reasonable ticket prices?

Something to think about the next time you want to go to a concert.

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