Swifties, Ticketmaster & the Embrace of Limitations
You likely have heard of the great Ticketmaster fiasco last week. For the unacquainted, Ticketmaster bungled the pre-sale of tickets for Taylor Swift’s first tour in 4 years, due to unprecedented traffic from millions of Swifties (the moniker of the true T-Swift fans). As of now, it turns out to be the sale as, on the other side of the carnage, Ticketmaster cancelled the general-public sale, tossing a Molotov cocktail on the already smoldering debacle.
There’s one thing we’ve all learned over Taylor Swift’s storied career: you dare not cross her, lest you end up as the villain in one of her love songs.
This whole saga seems to have rolled over several logs, revealing the squirming warms and scurrying bugs that have been living under the surface for some time. The largest log certainly is Live Nation’s (Ticketmaster’s parent company) monopolization of the live-music industry, which has been under scrutiny for some time. Though much could be said about that, and should, I found myself looking at some of the other logs that had been turned over (of course, they’re much connected).
The Technological Bargain
The point of technology is to take us beyond ourselves. This is not an inherently bad thing, but rather simply a fact of human existence. Hammers, forks, cranes, computers, iPhones, they are all tools that allow us to do more than we can do with our own physical bodies. Technology rubs out the frayed edges of human limitations.
In many ways, technology makes us more than human. Or at least that is its promise.
Artists use Ticketmaster because it is easy for them (or so I would assume). Send over a concert schedule and Ticketmaster will handle everything else. Consumers use Ticketmaster so they don’t have to wait for hours in the rain to purchase T-Swift tickets; a couple clicks of the button from under the warmth of your down comforter and your mezzanine seats to Eras tour is in your inbox.
But of course, technology doesn’t take away problems, it simply creates new problems.
Consumers have traded the time spent waiting in line to try to navigate our way through captcha’s created to weed out bots.
Artists have traded ease for exorbitant costs and little control.
The Cost of Production
Another log that has been turned over in all of this is the fact that touring is becoming a luxury of the mega-stars. Just a month ago, indie band Animal Collective canceled their tour due to cost. They wrote…
“[P]reparing for this tour we were looking at an economic reality that simply does not work and is not sustainable,” the band shared in a statement. “From inflation, to currency devaluation, to bloated shipping and transportation costs, and much much more, we simply could not make a budget for this tour that did not lose money even if everything went as well as it could.”
In his article, How Taylor Swift Broke Ticketmaster, Spencer Kornhaber points to other artists — Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, and Lorde — that have faced the same economic realizations. He writes, “Across live music, supply and demand aren’t matching up, and core systems are breaking down.”
The reality, it seems, is that for most artists the old way (by that I mean, pre-COVID) of touring simply will not work any more.
The pandemic was a moment in time, that I believe in the future, will be looked back on as a hinge point in history — a time when everything changed. But, the reality, is that we all must change with it. The challenge I think many of us face is that we still remember the way things used to be; though pandemic-time feels like ages ago, we all remember the sold-out concerts, the highly produced events, and we long for that old way. And I think the artists do to. I’ve never played a sold-out show, or stepped away from the mic to listen to a group of people belt the words of a song I wrote, so I’ll never know what it’s like to have that, lose it, and then not get it back.
But, I think artists have an invitation to embrace their human limitations and thrive. How might they do that?
Embrace the Music: The CCR Way
For literal millennia, people enjoyed live music simply for the live music. Only in the last 20–30 years (and perhaps it’s even more phenomenological in the age of Instagrammability), did shows become as much, if not more, about the visual production than the music itself. Visual production is great, don’t get me wrong (Coldplay’s A Head Full of Dreams Tour was visually stunning, and I loved it). But, ultimately, fans fall in love with the music.
I just recently watched Travelin’ Band, a documentary about Creedance Clearwater Revival, which features a concert they performed in London. I was struck by the simplicity of the concert. There were no light shows, there were no digital tracks supplementing their instruments, it was just a four-piece band, embracing their unique sound in a live setting.
We, of course, find ourselves in a highly produced musical time, but nonetheless, the embrace of the music itself is what’s important.
Embrace a Place: The Vegas Way
The joy of digital technology is that it has enabled artists to have a truly global reach. Yet, the shadow side of this is the feeling of needing to play a show for fans in Tokyo, Stockholm, and Dallas all in one tour (or maybe even just playing there at all).
We are all emplaced beings, what if artists lived and embraced their emplacement?
Rather than artists feeling the weight of touring around the globe, the weight was disbursed upon the fans to come to the artist? Admittedly, that would be a major paradigm shift for live music, but if Lorde only performed shows in Australia, and the occasional show in LA, people would do what they could do to see her. The same is true for a slew of other artists.
Las Vegas has built an entire show business model on people coming to see the artists, and not the other way around.
Embrace the Analog: The Pre-Phone Way
This one, is perhaps the most challenging, but if costs of so insanely high for artists (and consumers) due to the technological bargain that has been made with Ticketmaster, it may be high time for us to allow some of the frayed edges of our humanity to ruffle up a little bit.
Regulation is important and should help with monopolies, but the other way to deal with monopolies and the economic restraints that come with them, is to step out of their ecosystem.
Again, for the shows that I really want to see, I would gladly wait in line to buy a physical ticket for. I’d also do it just so I could have the artifact of a physical ticket that I so dearly miss. Screenshots of the Ticketmaster app don’t draw up the nostalgic joy quite like holding the physical ticket from a concert I went to.
The Change In Us All
The odds of anybody reading this being a touring musician is slim to none, so what does this mean for you?
The reality is that we are all find ourselves in a state of in-between. A place where we are all, if even out of habit, trying to get back to the “old way” of our lives. But we have been through a culture changing event (and I would argue period of time, including political and social events of the last 2 years). Because we now live in a new reality, we face new limitations.
Even as of this writing, the immensity of global economic pressures weigh on all of us in different ways. And they likely will only continue to increase. But embracing the new limitations, is the only path forward to living in our new reality, and thus to flourish in new ways.