It’s been a long time since I experienced sticker shock. You know: that moment when you can’t believe how much something costs. I haven’t dealt with that in a long time.
I’ve never had a cheap hobby. First, I played tennis. When my knees no longer permitted that, I switched to golf. Around the same time, I took up guitar. You can try to do those things on the cheap using crappy equipment, but it doesn’t take long to learn a valuable lesson:
Quality costs. Get used to it. And damned if the more expensive gear didn’t help me play better.
The one constant in my world has been music. I’ve bought (and will continue to buy) records and CDs since I was in the sixth grade. It’s wasn’t ridiculously expensive, even as I watched prices rise slowly and consistently over the years.
The albums I bought at 13 for $6.99 ($9.99 for a double album) were $14.99 by the time I was a rookie cop in ‘95. They continued to go up a buck at a time until I consistently saw them on sale for $18.99.
I just rolled with it.
Concert tickets were next level expensive. But if you wanted to see your favorite band live, you paid the price for a ticket. I was slow to make my way to seeing bands live on a consistent basis, so I missed out on the days of $5.99 tickets. I remember hearing kids talk about having to nearly beg, borrow, and steal to come up with $15 to see a show.
By the time I decided to stop waiting for friends to go with me to my “weird-ass” shows in the mid-90’s, a ticket ran me $30 or so. Okay … I’ll pay it. Bigger concerts in large venues sold for $40 or so before I stopped going. I preferred smaller rooms with my more obscure favorites, so rare was the day I paid more than $30 to see them.
Prices have held pretty steady for club shows. But “mid-level” theater shows have rapidly begun to escalate rapidly. My new Chicago friends invited me to see Steve Hackett. One of us agreed to buy tickets for the group and we could pay him back. Cool. But I was a little shocked to learn the ticket would run me a cool $100. I wasn’t happy, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime show for me, so I got past it.
I wanted to see both Midnight Oil and Porcupine Tree this year. I got a ticket for the Oils at the Riviera theater for $65. Porcupine Tree … well that was just craziness. A standing spot toward the back of the room was gonna run me $73! The front row? A cool $400.
What. The. Actual. Fudgesicles?!?
I’m of two minds about this. The first (minority) mind is beside himself with anger. From where do these people get the nerve? It’s not like they’re selling out stadiums. They should be glad we’re showing up in the first place! Four hundred bucks for a ticket? They know where they can shove that.
But while I still think $400 is craziness, my other mind kinda gets it … up to a certain point. This, I’m starting to believe, is the backlash of the streaming services and the near absence of record sales. The only way musicians can come close to making a living is by going on the road and selling their music directly to fans at the concert venues. Even then, it’s a battle to break even. Most of the artists I love play in multiple bands or have day jobs.
What people conveniently forget is how ungodly expensive it is for a band to tour. There’s little to no label support for “smaller” bands, so they must absorb the expense. Transportation, gas, hotels, meals … all that is on the artist. And God forbid the van or bus breaks down. That’s a whole new level of disaster.
And then there’s the equipment. Non-musicians have trouble grasping how expensive all that gear is! Never mind the instruments themselves ($2,500 for a Gibson Les Paul anybody?). Think about amplifiers, effects pedals, patch cables, microphones, fuses and speakers (for the amps), guitar strings, drumsticks … and BACKUPS for most of that stuff, because things always break on the road!
I have an embarrassing array of guitars and gear in my home. And I will never be going on the road! So I get how much this stuff costs. That $40 ticket will buy the guitar player a couple of much-needed cables to plug his axe into his amp. Now you have a down economy, rising costs, competition with other bands for stage spots due to fewer venues post-Covid … it all adds up. Fast.
The bottom line: we’re gonna have to get used to concerts being more expensive. We’re gonna have to pick our shows sometimes. I opted for Midnight Oil over Porcupine Tree. That’s just the way it goes. Contrary to what many think these days, music IS NOT an entitlement.
We can wail and gnash our teeth over it all we want. We can “take a stand” and refuse to go to shows. But I remember how I felt when I had to pay tuition for my daughter’s private schooling. I also remember the lesson I learned when I considered pulling her out:
If you won’t pay the price, someone else will.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) 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. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
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