Postcards: String Cheese Incident’s No-Fee Summer

As long as there have been live concerts, there has been the hassle of obtaining tickets. For many fans that means dealing with big, bad Ticketmaster and their hefty fees. In an age where scalpers, often by use of bots, scoop up the primo seat locations, which drives the market price up through the stratosphere, artists have often thought creatively to try and circumvent the system. One prevalent story of this upcoming concert season has been about the String Cheese Incident and their “No-Fee” ticketing program, which in theory allows fans to obtain tickets to the Colorado jam titan’s shows at exactly the face value of the ticket, and cuts out ticketing vendors such as Ticketmaster in the process. While the theory may seem to work, and be an applaudable idea, there is always more than meets the eye.

A recent New York Times article detailed the unorthodox steps SCI was going through to try and cut service fees for their summer shows. This included drastic measures like having groups of fans that they organized buy tickets directly at venue box offices ($20,000 in cash at the Greek Theatre in L.A. for instance), and then having the band re-sell these tickets back to their fans, at exactly the face value – with no service fees. In fact, SCI actually lost a little money on this venture, as bassist Keith Moseley told American Public Media’s Marketplace. But, it’s the principle that he, and the rest of the band, stand behind.

While saving fans service fees seems like a great idea on the surface, and something fans can rally behind, the amount of work it took to make this happen was simply absurd. As one of the most on-point music insiders and bloggers, Bob Lefsetz replied, there is more to the story than what the casual fan may know, or the NYT’s article suggested.

The service fees are often the way that venues and promoters make their money. As Lefsetz points out, the acts make their nut before the fees even come into play. So, while an artist is leading a charge to save the average fan money by not paying fees, the band is still making their cut, while others involved with the show suffer.

Now, I’m all for paying less for a ticket – if it’s easy enough. In this day and age, when I have the convenience and monetary means to easily obtain a ticket, I always prefer to do so. Anyone who knows me knows that I support the bands I love – almost to a fault – and I’m glad SCI has tried to take matters into their own hands. However, you must keep in mind that there are two sides to every story. In fact, the writer of the NYT’s feature, Ben Sisario, was inclined to offer a follow up a few days after the initial story ran, trying to answer questions from fans, as to how the charges are distributed. I encourage you to read not only the reply, but also all of the links I have included here to make up your own mind and form an opinion of whether you feel this is a battle that is worth the effort.

In the end, my heart as a fan praises what the boys in SCI are trying to do (and in fact, the group has been battling Ticketmaster and their fees for years. They just seem to be getting more press for it this go round). On the flip side, the music business is just that – a business – and it allows us to see the bands we want, and offers a CHOICE to pay a little extra for the convenience of not having to wait on line for hours to try and secure a hard ticket, with the cost being investing some extra time.

At the end of the day, if I can get a ticket directly from a band I support and make sure most of the revenue goes directly to them, well of course, I’m all for it. But, if I have a half an hour on a Saturday morning to grab tickets online before my day gets going, and it costs me a few extra dollars for it to be delivered to my email instantly, or right to my doorstep, well, I’m not entirely opposed to that, either. If it’s the consumer and fan that SCI is trying to help here, and willing to do the leg work, with no affect to us, well then, kudos. But, if they manage to circumvent the system all together and cut off Ticketmaster, realize there is a ripple effect that will cost the promoters and venues money, while changing the places these bands are able to play, since no one on the music business is going to lose money to save face. That’s the cold hard truth, as Lefsetz also mentions in his reply.

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2 Responses

  1. I’m currently reading a book called Ticket Masters by Dean Budnick and Josh Baron, and it mentions that TM allows artists to “hide” fees into the base ticket price. However, if the artists want to lower the ticket price, they have to take a smaller cut.

    Pearl Jam’s fight with Ticketmaster was about the same thing. They wanted to have lower priced tickets, but the band themselves was not willing to take less money to make it happen…

  2. Yes, Ticket Masters is a revelation. Venues and promoters (who take the financial risk) have operating costs and *gasp* profits, too. That’s why $12 beers and $20 parking are a reality. Ticketmaster is a convenient punching bag, but they almost come out as exonerated in the book. If bands really want to be customer friendly, play for less money and agree to an “all-in” ticket price.

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