VIP Isn’t Really for Me

It’s a tough time to be a musician. Unless your name is Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, or one of the lucky few occupying this rare and glorified air, you’ve been doing more than a little scuffling to make music your full-time job.

There was a time when selling records and touring were all the musician needed to do to ensure himself a living in the music business. These days, things have become a bit more … complex. The “record deal” as we once knew it has long since gone by the wayside. Big-time advances against album sales is not a viable option in today’s musical marketplace. In order to turn a buck, musicians have had to become a bit more creative.

One thing some artists have turned to is the “VIP” package, which they offer at concerts. For a price, fans have the opportunity to briefly get “up close and personal” with their favorite bands before the show. Packages usually include a special souvenir, a chance to witness the band’s sound check, and a little face time with the artist, culminating in a handshake and a photo.

I’ve seen these packages offered for anywhere between $50 and $250 per person. I’m sure they bring a nice boost the artist’s bottom line, while giving the fans a once in a lifetime thrill. I’m happy for all those involved.

But I’m afraid VIP is not for me.

When I buy a concert ticket, I have no real expectations outside of getting to see the band perform live on stage. Hopefully, the band is close enough that I get both a great view and perhaps a photo or two to share on my page. Some artists strictly forbid photography. I can live with that. It keeps me in the moment. Being allowed to take a picture is an added bonus.

The point is, I made no additional demands of the artist outside of the gig itself. When I made club-sized gigs my primary emphasis, I began to see artists willing to go the extra mile for fans, and that was really cool. Apparently, the trend has made its way up to A-list acts. Rush made quite a name for themselves by offering this level of treatment.

I think Adrian Belew was the first to enhance my concert experience. Like anyone else looking to move product, he told us there were CDs for sale at the merchandise table. Then he added, “And I’ll be back there after the show to sign them.” As far as I was concerned, that was my first VIP experience. Where Adrian is concerned, there have been several since then.

Maybe it’s because I’ve met, spoken to, and have been photographed with my musical idol several times already that I’m lukewarm to shelling out three times the ticket price for such an opportunity with others. I can certainly understand someone idolizing a musician who will only “meet and greet” via the paid VIP route coveting such an experience. Power to you, I say. It’s your money. Do what you like!

A friend of mine is about to see TOOL for the third time in several months. For at least the second time, she’s doing it via the VIP route. She’ll be in the front row for the show. She got one of Danny Carey’s drumsticks autographed. I’m sure there were other goodies. That’s pretty cool. And it’s probably the only way I could tolerate a big room for a concert. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. The concert, for me, is its own reward.

There are more than a few artists, fans, and journalists dead set against these VIP experiences, which they see more than a little cynically as a greed-driven cash grab. I’m not ready to go that far. Like I said, the business is rough, and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. And people like me can simply choose to walk away.

Admittedly, approaching more and more shows from the journalist angle has given me a certain level of access not always available to others. It’s a perk, to be sure. But there is a trade-off: I’m expected to write a story about the concert experience or interview I may conduct. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We can call that a bit of professional quid pro quo. And if the artist in question says I can’t have a personal photo with them, then that’s the way it goes. I am there to do a job, after all.

It would’ve been nice to get a moment or two with Les Claypool, Bruce Soord, or Gavin Harrison. But they chose to go the VIP route. That’s fine. I’m hoping to catch up with them via Skype or something down the road. The fans who opted for VIP got a special thrill. I got a killer concert with a few good photos.

Fair trade.

Tonight, I’m off to see Foxing. I wanted to take the journalist approach, but my day job kept me so busy, I never got a chance to arrange it. So I bought a ticket. I’m planning to get there early, so I can get reasonably close to the stage. If it works out, great. If not, well, I should get a good concert all the same.

There seems to be a lot of entitlement at shows these days. Fans feel they have the right to take pictures, record video, shout stupid things, and demand autographs when they go to a show. I’ve never understood this. As far as I’m concerned, anything allowed outside enjoying the show itself is an added bonus. But more and more these days, I seem to be more in the minority.

Maybe that’s where the VIP idea took wing. If the entitled get unfettered access before the show, they’ll act like they have sense during the show. And they’re willing to pay for the privilege, which works out that much better for the artists. It’s just a theory.

Some bands seem to be playing pretty much hand to mouth. Playing a club to around 200 people and selling a few CDs and t-shirts sounds lucrative until you have to split the proceeds between band members and pay for everything that comes with touring. Most bands are thrilled to break even when they come off the road. I suppose the VIP treatment helps toward that aim. I might question bands selling out arenas resorting to this. But I suppose it’s all relative.

Apparently, multiple bands booking cruises featuring themselves and similar acts are also quite the thing these days. I know people who have gone and really enjoyed themselves. But this isn’t my cup of tea, either. Starting with the fact that I have no desire to go on a cruise. I’m sure my lack of swimming skill has something to do with that.

In the end, I suppose I’ll do nothing to prevent an artist from making a buck. That is, after all, what makes future records possible. I’ll buy a ticket, I’ll buy a CD, and I’ll even buy a t-shirt more often than not. But if that’s as close as I can get to the band, I suppose that’s the way it goes. I know what I’m paying for. Anything else is just icing on the cake.

#cirdecsongs

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My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers.

Would you like to have your album reviewed? Contact me at cirdecsongs@gmail.com

5 Comments

  1. The best moments are the unexpected ones, where you simply happen upon the artist outside the confines of the gig. Record stores are a fun place to hang out on the day of your gig, especially stores scoring lots of vinyl.

    I once read about a Dream Theater VIP package – you could meet the band but no handshakes because they were worried about tight grips ruining their performance….so it was fist bumps or nothing at all.

    Like you, I’m making a determined effort to focus on club gigs this year, partly through cost and travel, but also to support the needy, not the needless. And I’m sure there’ll be opportunities to chat to the players before and after.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The only time I paid for the VIP package was for a Steve Hackett show in Seattle in 2016. It only cost $25 and I got to meet the great man, get a photo, and chat for a couple of minutes. $25! Pretty reasonable.
    Another time I paid for a pre concert presentation before a King Crimson show in Victoria, Canada. It was lecture describing the Thrak recording process. We listened to early versions of tracks as presented by David Singleton. It was nice to meet Patricia Fripp as well. I don’t recall exactly what I paid but it was pretty reasonable…perhaps $20.
    No way I can stomach paying the $100 to $250 for the VIP treatment for many shows!

    Liked by 1 person

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