It has not been a good week for the music industry. Sure Mumford & Sons are still selling LPs and concert tickets like hot cakes, and XL (courtesy of Adele) turned a healthy profit, but few weeks have brought more ill will. In an age where the middle and working classes are squeezed, and youth unemployment is soaring, the news that the Rolling Stones are charging a minimum of £90 a ticket (£105 with fees) feels like a punch to the gut.
Effectively ruling out a whole class of Rolling Stones fans and fleecing those less well off diehards who will inevitably pay, the band, who have already boasted about making a $16 million pound profit from these four gigs, have become the symbolic straw that broke the camel’s back. The Stones are the kind of pop culture institution that makes the BBC and Channel Four sit up and pay attention. If the Stones are fleecing every penny out of a tour, then the story can no longer be ignored. The BBC wisely spread the blame around, pointing to the cost of other recent gigs at the O2: £60 for The Killers, £70 for Radiohead, £120 for Bon Jovi, £500 for Barbara Streisand.
The uncomfortable truth remains: the demand is there. Bands can and will charge what they like. Prices will inflate even as wages fall and VAT rises. The question we face is straightforward enough: will this high profile example of price inflation spur on other bands to raise their prices or will it lead to the kind of public denouncement that few band’s can abide. The Stones can afford ill will, their place is set in stone, but could The Vaccines, Adele or Mumford & Sons repeat the same trick?
It certainly appears that fans have had enough. In the wake of the Stones scandal media scrutiny has broadened. Ticketmaster are under fire for charging fans to print tickets at home or, in the case of Radiohead’s recent gig, being charged for a ticketless gig. The touts are getting another pasting as already expensive Stones tickets have appeared in huge (pre-advertised) numbers on Ebay and Viagogo. Finally, the contagion has spread to football, for the best part of a century the bastion of the working class; it has now become farcically expensive to watch Premier League games, and long term fans are fed up.
Sadly, as is always the case, outrage will relent, and the temptation of the next great gig will lure us all back to Ticketmaster. The legendary £200 pound price tag as hardly kept us away from Reading and Leeds. Furthermore, the bands do having something of a point. The O2 is the perfect arena, big but not too big, it can play host to emerging stars (The Vaccines) or super established globe-trotters (The Stones). It’s easy to fill, but it takes a high cut (reportedly 50% of the ticket sales), so prices naturally rise. Band’s rightly point out, for what are often than not one off arena shows, they have to assemble great stages and employ extra staff without the promise of a long tour to off set the cost.
Whether that justifies the huge price tags remains to be seen, but we have to ask ourselves a fundamental question: how much is too much?
Should we simply accept that excessive top end demand will always exist and wave goodbye to unaffordable big name acts? Do we say £100 is too much for 90 minutes entertainment and leave it to those who can pay, or should we campaign for some kind of affordable balance? Should everyone be afforded a chance to see the great bands of their age without enduring crippling expense? It’s tough, the band’s might pose the questions in reverse: why should deprive ourselves profits when we continue to play to joyous sold out crowds? Would fans really be happy if we halfed the price but halved the spectacle? Sure come for £40 pounds but there will be no jumbo screens, no dynamic light shows, no glistening sets?
It’s swings and roundabouts, but as long as these shows continue to sell out, prices will continue to rise.