Nick Mango

The Convenience Fee Culprit

Something I haven't been extremely vocal about is that I've never been to, what I would call, a "concert". It's debatable that the Danzig Legacy Tour was a concert. It might have been, who knows. But basically, I'm 33 years old and I've never been to a concert. Thousands of shows, but never a concert. Which means I've had limited experience with buying tickets from these monster online companies like Ticketmaster, Ticketfly, etc. But over the past few years, as bands try and increase revenue with more shows, I've had to deal with these companies more often. But it wasn't until the other week, when one of my most favorite bands of all time put tickets up for their first NY show in nearly 15 years, did my temper hit it's boiling point. And when the bubbles creep to the top, and the steam starts to rise, I do the only thing I can, I write something about it.

I've been listening to Quicksand since the early 90s. They are easily in my top 5 favorite bands. I have the front and back cover of Manic Compression tattooed on my leg. 3 years ago, when my grandfather was in the hospital, I listened to Slip non stop, all day, every day. I have no idea why, it just calmed me down. So when it was announced that Quicksand would reunite for the Rev 25th anniversary show in California, I nearly pooped myself. I also knew something big was going on. They would never just reunite in California. They're a NY band and they would have to play here. And if they played 2 shows, they must be playing more. But what I couldn't predict, was why they'd play more.

When Quicksand announced their NY show a few people, including me, seemed a little confused by their choice of venues. Bowery Ballroom is a nice play to see a show. There's no doubt about it. But their capacity is very limited. They can hold 550 people. Some of their upcoming shows include The Mountain Goats, Mewithoutyou, Kevin Devine, and Xiu Xiu. Popular bands for sure. But they're nothing compared to Quicksand playing their first NYC show in nearly 15 years. When the tickets went up for sale on August 1st at noon, they sold out "between refreshes". A term I use to describe an absurdly fast sellout from a store using Limited Run to sell very reduced quantity items. It basically means that while you sit refreshing on the "coming soon" page, waiting for an item to be put up for sale, the page goes from "coming soon, to "sold out". Meaning you never even saw the "listed for sale" page, because it sold out in the seconds during a refresh. This is what happened to my brother/partner Tom when he tried to purchase tickets for this show.

So how does something like this happen? Well it's a combination of things. One reason was obviously the venue size. But more importantly it was the booking agent's lack of confidence in how big the show would be. I'm not sure if it was Walter booking the show, or if it was an actual agent, but they seriously underestimated the excitement level. Another problem was that there was no limit on how many tickets one person could buy. This problem was compounded by the fact that it wasn't just Will Call, which means you could request a physical ticket. Why is this combination such an issue? Because this allows scalpers to buy tons of tickets with automated buying systems, have them shipped to them, and then resell them in front of the venue, or at places like eBay/Stubhub and other online ticket resellers.

I speculated with Tom that they would have to do another show or move to a bigger venue. They did indeed announce a second show. Then I speculated publicly that doing another 500 person show would not help the situation at all. Especially with a band this popular and performances being this rare. There's many reasons for this prediction. One being that when you do a highly anticipated reunion show, one that some people have waited their entire lives for, you can't expect people who bought tickets for the first show, not to try and buy tickets for the second show. I don't blame these people, I blame the system. And I was right. Even with Will Call only and a 2 ticket per person limit in place, the show sold out in seconds, and people were pissed. But what Bill Gordon doesn't realize is, it's not Ticketmaster's fault. Ticketmaster is just a tool. It's just a shield. The real culprit is the venue. The venue is the one who decides to sign a contract with Ticketmaster. The venue is the one who agrees to negotiate with Ticketmaster on the "Convenience Fee", a term even more terrible then "Revenue Share". The venue is the one that asks for a kickback on those "Convenience Fees", which keeps them astronomically high. Why do you think venues don't sell the tickets themselves? It's simple to do. It's because the venue is trying to put the onus on Ticketmaster for all the problems, we as customers, face. They want you to think the fees are all going into Ticketmaster's pocket. If you believe that, then you need to do some math. 500 tickets with a 5$ service fee on Will Call. You think Ticketmaster banks more than $2500 in a couple of seconds, and the venue just sits there and asks for nothing? That's ridiculous. The venue is the egregious party here, and Ticketmaster is just the facilitator. Ask yourself this: Why do venues sign a contract with Ticketmaster in the first place? You think they make their customers pay crazy service fees for nothing? Does Ticketmaster provide some incredible purchasing experience? Does Ticketmaster give you an elegant way of buying your tickets? Do they help the customer in any way shape or form? No. Then why do venues use them? Because they negotiate the best terms. They provide the biggest kickback. And I'm not even talking about the agent kickbacks either. Just the venue. So blaming Ticketmaster as the root cause of the terrible situation we're in, is not the best place to point guilt. In fact, Ticketmaster is actually the person that should be complaining here. We all piss on Tickmaster, yet they're not ultimately at fault. They want venues to use them, so they need to negotiate. If they didn't, venues would go to someone who did.

Now I'm not just going to complain about the current situation. I'm going to give you the solution. But first let me warn you, it's not pretty. The first thing that needs to be done is bands need to put their foot down on the necks of venues, that don't demand tickets be sold Will Call only. No more physical tickets. Physical tickets are the main reason we have scalpers. And scalpers completely screw up the industry. I'm not even touching the environmental issues of cutting down thousands of trees for worthless pieces of paper. I'm just talking about scalpers. I'm not even sure why venues allow this. When scalpers jack the price up on tickets, and they go unsold, the venue is less full. This means they lose on bar and food money. Plus they lose out on fan excitement. When the venue is jammed, the experience is usually better. I assume they've done the math, and they like the scalpers because they will ensure that the show sells out, and they receive the maximum amount of "Convenience Fees". Ticketmaster likes physical tickets as well. They make more money because the show has a better chance of selling out, plus the fee is higher because it costs more money to print and ship tickets, than it does for Will Call. The only issue with this is gigantic concerts with thousands of attendees. To get rid of physical tickets for those, we'll need to scan QR codes from mobile devices. Which is ridiculously simple now a days. The next thing that needs to be created is a quality ticket selling platform, with extremely low fees. But the key is they need to have a strict no negotiation policy with venues and booking agents. They need to exist for the benefit of Artists and their Fans. Not the venue. The last, and easily the most difficult thing that needs to happen is, we need venues created for the love of music and live performances. They need to book their own shows, and they need to sell their own tickets. We need 924 Gilman style venues, but on a gigantic scale. And of course, we'll need ones without a no signed bands rule. If venues believe they will make less money this way, I believe they're wrong. Money follows passion, not the other way around.

I told you it wasn't pretty.

To change the world we need all 3 of these things. But to better the world, we need only one. We're seeing a few ticket selling sites like EventBrite, and Brown Paper Tickets, but their fees are still too high. They're a small percentage of the existing Ticketmaster fees, but they still nail you. The fee needs to actually be a "Convenience Fee". Not this bullshit excuse for a "Convenience Fee". This term "Convenience Fee" was coined because instead of going to the venue to buy the tickets, you could buy them online. Incredibly though, this has turned into a scam as well. A lot of times tickets are not sold at venues. The Quicksand tickets for the second show, the ones that were Will Call only, were only available through Ticketmaster. So how could there be a "Convenience Fee", if there's no non convenient option? The world needs to revolt. We need more bands like Pearl Jam. I may not be a huge fan of their music, but these guys do what they can to prevent this garbage. And they've been doing it for a long time. I respect that a lot.