top of page

Buy Concert Tickets or Don’t, but Understand We All Have a Hand in Their Skyrocketing Prices

Ticket companies, promoters, venues, artists, the music industry, streaming services, technology, and fans are all responsible for the massive increase in the cost of going to see live music

Stop me if this sounds familiar…

“I remember the first time I saw (insert artist’s name here), the tickets were $20 and now they want $350? All they care about is money; I’ll never see them again.”

We’ve all heard this take before; we may have been saying it ourselves in some cases. It’s almost an automatic and understandable response, but it’s also lazy.

Everything in life is relative, so depending on your age, economic status, level of music fandom, and so many other factors, where you fall on the outrage meter of concert ticket prices will take all of that into account.

For transparency, my first concerts occurred in 1985 (Iron Maiden, Prince, and Duran Duran) when I was 12 years old. I don’t remember the ticket prices because it was 39 years ago, and I was 12. A quick Google search revealed that the ticket prices for the Iron Maiden show ranged from $12 to $20 for decent seats. Maiden was one of the biggest bands in the world at that time.

Photo credit Etsy

If you think one of the biggest pop stars ever would charge more at that time than a metal band, you’d be wrong. Check out this ticket stub from Prince’s Purple Rain Tour:

Photo Credit — Ebay

As I said, everything is relative, so my perspective on going to concerts and watching the entire music industry change covers many decades. Seeing these prices for such popular artists is astonishing for some, and that makes complete sense to me. Why did it all change so drastically?

Prince’s last tour, which started in 2015, offered ticket prices from $200 to $600 at face value. Prince played in smaller venues to try to keep as many tickets off the secondary market as possible, and the low inventory meant higher prices to fans. The idea was to fill the place with as many “real” fans as possible. Forbes has a good article about it all here.

The secondary ticket market, or scalpers as I grew up calling them, has long since been a reason for the cost of ticket prices to rise steadily. It’s not the only reason, however.

Like any other product, concert tickets are a commodity to be bought and sold. The United States operates under a capitalistic economic system. Supply and demand rule the day, and oftentimes, the “winners” in this system come down along the lines of the haves and have-nots. If you can afford something, you can have it, and if you can’t, someone is always coming up behind you who can.

In addition to the secondary market, inflation affects how much tickets cost. These two reasons are just part of the messy web of skyrocketing ticket costs.

Surging concert ticket prices have been happening for a few years now and seemingly, they’re only getting higher. This is a topic however that needs a view from 30,000 feet to see and understand all of the reasons why. We can yell and scream and dislike it all we want, but that won’t solve a thing. We need to know what caused this hefty surge and collectively figure out how to manage it.

You’ll find many articles citing mysterious and hard-to-understand ticket fees, dynamic pricing structures, the COVID-19 pandemic, fuel and transportation costs, and so on. These are all valid reasons and important pieces to the puzzle of why prices have become astronomically high.

One such article by Natalie Harmsen of CBC Music lays all of this out very accurately.

Something I’ve spoken about in prior articles and social media posts included all of the reasons already listed. Still, there’s one more aspect I discuss that I don’t see much of, and in my opinion, it’s one of the harshest realities facing artists and fans today.

When streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music became the new normal concerning how the world consumed music, musicians’ ability to earn a living selling albums essentially became obsolete. Artists have little choice but to pivot and make money in other ways since selling records is no longer viable. Touring has always been a lucrative but supplemental revenue stream for musicians. Now though, it’s the number one way for them to earn a living. Yes, there are additional ways like co-branding with corporations, making money using social media platforms, and if you’re big enough, selling parts or all of your publishing catalog.

See, I told you this topic needs a birds-eye view to even remotely figure it all out.

According to a report in Forbes, music streaming accounts for 84% of total music industry revenue. 2022 music streaming revenue reached approximately $17.5 billion (IFPI). In comparison, recorded music revenue (inflation-adjusted to 2022 figures) was nearly $26 billion in 1999, according to reports from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America).

I’ll get into physical music sales soon because that’s what I mentioned in this section, but I wanted to put the streaming numbers into perspective with live music since that is the overall theme of this article.

Paid music streaming makes up 23% of all music consumption, followed closely by video streaming at 22%. The list drops off quickly from there. Radio is at 16%, short videos at 11%, ad-supported music streaming is 9%, also 9% for purchased music (CDs and downloads), 5% falls into the “other” category listed as Netflix and music borrowing, social media is 3%, and coming in dead last, live shows at 2%.

One can easily fall down a rabbit hole of numbers and statistics (I certainly did) when it comes to dissecting the music industry and all of its tentacles, but in this case, I think it’s worth it. If you’re like me, you’re very curious about this from an entertainment point of view but also an educational one. We need to know what we’re dealing with before we can hope to change or positively impact it.

No one can or should argue against the convenience and overwhelming selection of music that streaming services provide. The problem though is that the numbers clearly show people are paying less for music now than they did 23 years ago. This is great for the consumer and even better for the streamers, but what about the artists? We cannot forget that without them and their creative output, we’d have nothing to buy and companies like Spotify and Apple Music would have nothing to stream. Denying musicians the opportunity to make a living doing what they do best by paying them less and less for their work is not a sustainable formula.

Something has to give.

On top of that, the generations that grew up paying real money for music (not percentages of pennies like the streaming services or $0.03 per day for a monthly subscription to said streaming services) are quickly going away. My generation, Gen X, was the last to understand that music ownership wasn’t free. The generations since have grown up with the mindset that if music isn’t completely free, it costs next to nothing to own. These are also some of the same people complaining about high ticket prices. You can’t have it both ways.

Travis Kelce and the Super Bowl aside, Taylor Swift, currently the most popular musician on the planet, has been making headlines in the high concert ticket pricing debate for some time now. One has to look no further than the superstar’s recent Eras Tour, which grossed approximately $1.04 billion, making it the best-selling tour in history, according to Pollstar, a music industry publication that reports on the touring industry. One does not make this type of money by selling $20 tickets. What makes this figure even more impressive is the fact that she accomplished this by playing just 60 dates, selling more than 4.3 million tickets, making the average ticket price about $238.95. A far cry from the average general concert ticket price of $94.78 per ticket in 2018. What happened?

A lot!

Nothing stays the same. As time moves on, prices for just about everything in life must change, as is evident from the most recent Taylor Swift example. There are many reasons for this and I could probably write an article for each. For now though, here’s a short list of the main changes as I see them.

  • Major overhaul in the music industry as a whole, mainly because digital music and streaming have replaced physical sales drastically reducing the amount of money artists can make selling music.

  • Normal economic inflation and rising costs in the logistics industry, global fuel prices, etc.

  • Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Additional ticket fees and dynamic pricing models. A 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office states that fees on initial ticket sales added 27% on average to the cost of the ticket.

  • An ever-growing and evolving secondary ticket market.

  • Record labels taking larger percentages of artists’ touring profits and artists raising ticket prices (meet & greets, premium plans, and so on) to make up for the new structure.

Not all artists have gone down without a fight, however. Long before the Swifties got all riled up about their idol’s ticket prices, American rock legends, Pearl Jam, led a fight against Ticketmaster at the height of their power in the mid-90s.

On June 30, 1994, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, two of the founding members of the band testified in court about their concerns over the ticketing company’s monopolistic behavior.

“…we brought to the Government’s attention certain conduct by Ticketmaster that we believe is unlawfully interfering with our freedom to determine the price and other terms on which tickets to our concerts will be sold. The high price of concert tickets — especially the imposition of excessive service charges — is a significant issue to us and we believe to the public generally. In this statement we will discuss the reasons why Pearl Jam is especially sensitive to the price of tickets to our concerts; describe some of the incidents that led us to bring Ticketmaster’s conduct to the attention of the Justice Department; address the reasons why we believe Ticketmaster’s business practices violate the antitrust laws and the consequences those business practices have on us, on our fans, and on others who purchase tickets to concerts; and finally discuss the type of change we hope will occur in this industry and how Government action might help bring that about.”
excerpt from Pearl Jam’s testimony before Congress June 30, 1994

Photo credit Pearljam Online/Youtube

It’s unfair to compare what happened in 1994 with what’s happening in 2024, not only because three decades have passed, but changes in technology, governments, global health issues, and the music industry have turned things upside down and sideways many times over. What is fair to mention, though, is Ticketmaster and the music ticketing world are still (for the most part) in control of and making a mess out of live music.

“…many of Pearl Jam’s most loyal fans are teenagers who do not have the money to pay the $50 or more that is often charged today for tickets to a popular concert. Although, given our popularity, we could undoubtedly continue to sell-out our concerts with ticket prices at that premium level, we have made a conscious decision that we do not want to put the price of our concerts out of the reach of many of our fans. Moreover, we do not want to be responsible for teenagers, who may be influenced by peer pressure to feel that they must see Pearl Jam perform, spending more money for that concert ticket than they can really afford. All of the members of Pearl Jam remember what it is like not to have a lot of money, and we recognize that a teenager’s perceived need to see his or her favorite band in concert can often be overwhelming.
For these reasons, we have attempted to keep the ticket prices to our concerts to a maximum of $18. We have also tried to limit any service charges that may be imposed on the sale of those tickets to 10 percent of the ticket price and to ensure that any service charge will be separately identified from the price of the ticket itself so that fans know how much is being charged for the ticket and how much is being added on by the company selling the ticket. As a result, even where a service charge is imposed, our goal is to make it so that no one will pay more than $20 to see a Pearl Jam concert.
— excerpt from Pearl Jam’s testimony before Congress/June 30, 1994

Pearl Jam lost its infamous battle against Ticketmaster as the government ruled the ticketing giant was not a monopoly. Still, I’d argue the band raised enough awareness that Ticketmaster lost the fight in the court of public opinion. A small victory in an overall loss, but at least the band’s message was heard loud and clear.

Since then, there hasn’t been much of a backlash against Ticketmaster from popular artists until the recent Taylor Swift tour, as tickets on the secondary market were listed as high as $11,000 per seat! This was after the face-value seats ranging from $49 to $449 disappeared quicker than it took you to read this sentence.

This fiasco brought the debate back full circle, and suddenly, it was 1994 all over again. In an interesting twist of timing, Pearl Jam has recently announced dates for its upcoming world tour via the band’s website and fan club (in conjunction with Ticketmaster because there’s no choice) with tickets costing $185 each. Even though they try as hard as they can to keep their ticket prices as low as possible and utilize a lottery system through the Ten Club (their longstanding fan club), many of their fans have been shut out (myself included) of the opportunity to purchase tickets to this tour thus far. They do have a fan-to-fan ticket exchange that will also run through Ticketmaster at a later date, so I’m confident I’ll get to go to a show or two, but trying to see live music these days feels more like a part-time job than a fun and exciting experience.

I wanted to write this article because I’ve been witnessing the speedy descent from how things used to be within the music industry to the current way things are, with very little room in between to figure it all out. It’s the new Wild West, but instead of saloons and six-shooters, there are streaming services and AI bots. We’re all still navigating the landscape.

We need a music industry — which includes fans, by the way — that values the work and contributions of artists so much more than it does now. If we continue to devalue what they do, there will come a time when it’s no longer feasible for them to make music. This is likely what the AI companies and record labels want so they can one day share in all of the profits with each other because the human element will be phased out. That sounds like something from an old Sci-fi film, but if you’re paying attention, is it that difficult to envision? I don’t believe it is.


If you’d like to follow more of my work, please follow me on IG, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Reserve your signed copy of my forthcoming book, SLACKER — 1991, Teen Spirit Angst, and the Generation It Created (Inspired By You Books 2024) here.

This article first appeared in The Riff Magazine on Medium.


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page