My finger hovers over the mouse of my laptop for a couple minutes, my eyes staring blankly as thoughts swirl in my mind, pushing their way to the front, waiting to be addressed. The reflection from my laptop shows a contemplative face, doused with worry and concern. My pounding heart and sweaty palms are now simply part of the process.
Can I really afford this?
I convince myself it will be worth it, though the doubts continue to tip-toe through my head. I have my final stare down with the “confirm” icon. I take the plunge. I click “submit”.
Leaning back in my chair, I breathe a heavy sigh of relief and wonder, since when has buying a concert ticket come with the side effects of nausea, shortness of breath, and anxiety?
I have long considered myself to be the ultimate music fan, always on the front lines and in the trenches, working to find the newest and greatest sound. Though I will admit, after a short time here at Decoded, I am finding that I am much more of a novice than I had realised, only exacerbating my concern for the fans of electronic music.
There is no argument to be had about whether the cost of being a music fan is increasing. In a blog post for the Huffington Post, Danny Feinstein and Colin Ramsay look at the rise of the genre and explain that “For the electro-elite, live shows are the most lucrative source of income” and that “the demand is skyrocketing. Promoters are capitalising on the live experience with wildly successful Dance Music festivals including the Electric Daisy Carnival, Hard, Tomorrowland, and Electric Zoo, the first of which drew 320,000 people over three days this year in Las Vegas. At the most recent Electric Daisy Carnival, attendees were willing to pay $215 per ticket.” As the bubble that hoists up electronic music grows, so do the prices, and you have to wonder, can the average fan afford to grow with it?
Beatport.com, arguably one of the most popular electronic music purchasing sites, will charge you at least $1.99 (US) per song, $2.50 (US) for the top tracks. That means purchasing the 10 Most Shazamed Tracks from Tomorrowland would cost $25 (US), or over 3 hours’ worth of work for those making the federal minimum wage here in the states. Remember when outrage ensued after iTunes raised their prices to $1.29 per track? Starts to make piracy look pretty good, eh?
Now I’m all for supporting the artists, and I understand the abundance of free downloads available, but I also understand that those free downloads are available to those who understand the system and follow the artist closely – not the majority of fans finding their music from sites like Beatport, iTunes, or YouTube.
An article from ABCnews.com examines the issue of rising concert ticket costs, noting that some say that a monopoly on the music industry by Clear Channel Communications is to blame. The group is number one in radio station ownership, concert promotion industries, and concert arenas, allowing them to dictate the state of music almost single handedly. In fact, ABC Reports, “since Clear Channel started buying up the industry, the average concert ticket price has risen by one-third. The sharp increase was so alarming, it triggered a Senate investigation.” While some place blame on the media conglomerates, others put blame on the artists’ greed itself and the massive amounts of cash they bring in per show.
Regardless of whom you decide to blame, when looking at the state of the industry, and assuming its continued growth, one of the biggest implications of the growing costs is the increasing division it is creating amongst fans. Despite the PLUR (peace, love unity, and respect) movement, the gap between the average and the wealthy fans is making for a disparaging scene, and unfortunately, finding examples is easy.
With a record-breaking 360,000 tickets selling out in under an hour, Tomorrowland is widely considered the holy grail of music festival. The festival truly is a city in and of itself. With amusement rides, tea houses, bakeries, love making stations, phone charging docks, and food to suit any craving, Tomorrowland offers its fans the ultimate music festival experience. Debby Wilmsen, a Tomorrowland Spokesperson explains that “It’s all about music and friendship. We encourage international bonds; friendship reuniting people to dance and to love music, that’s what Tomorrowland is.” And with the naked eye and perspective from the outside, that is what I see too, but in delving in a bit more, we begin to realize the reorganization and societal division that takes place within.
After a day of fist-pumping, making your rounds through the Dreamville Market, and buying your Tomorrowland souvenirs, you finally get the chance to retire to your sleeping place – and you have a few options as to where you can get yout beauty sleep.
The tiered housing system utilised by festival organizers essentially separates people into different neighbourhoods. Starting at the bottom you have Dreamville where you “can pick your own spot to pitch your own tent.” Now if that doesn’t sound like a dream, I don’t know what does! But what if you don’t want the hassle? Well you can stay in the Easy Tents, where organizers “install your limited edition tent with inflatable mattress and a little light to make it cosy.” Don’t feel like sleeping on the ground? How about Dream Lodge where you will “have a stay in a spacious, luxurious tent with a full size bed and comfortable mattress. You’ll get your own locker, electricity in every tent, extra storage space and a spacious terrace with comfortable chairs.” Now that’s a dream, but wait, there’s more!
If all of that seems a little mundane for you, check out the Tomorrowland Mansion. Described as the “ultimate experience in luxury accommodations” the Tomorrowland Mansion allows a place where (bear with me here): “All visitors can sleep in a fully equipped bed and in the mini kitchen you will find a filled fridge and an espresso machine waiting for you. To guarantee your privacy, we also install your own sanitary unit. After the festival, you can chill out on your stunning private lounge terrace. To make this carefree stay truly unforgettable you can choose to add some additional pampering items such as a Jacuzzi, room service and cleaning. All of which are available at an extra cost.”
This pack includes Access to your own mansion with private garden, 24h reception staff, fully equipped bedroom, private bathroom, living room & terrace, filled fridge, same basic infrastructure as the Relax Rooms, access to separate upgraded relax room facilities. Whew…
Looking at the chart below, it is worth noting that the cost of each package does NOT include food, drinks, or transportation to the festival, but with private Tomorrowland Flights and VIP tickets, it is expected that an experience like this can be in excess of $15,000 (€11429.01). For some idea of how much all these options really cost, the chart show costs for TomorrowWORLD, not Tomorrowland. You can start to get a better idea of the astronomical costs.
With these neighbourhood settings comes the division of the everyday folks from those who can afford to put a wall between you and them. Though perhaps unintentional, the consequences of this division reaches far beyond just the neighbourhood. It begs to raise the question, who is the festival really catering to? Those with $400 tickets or those willing to spend a casual $5,000 per day. Even reading the simple descriptions of each accommodation style paints a picture of who the top clients are. You can “pitch your own tent” or “have a stay in a spacious, luxurious tent with a full size bed and comfortable mattress.” Depends on how much you are willing to spend.
Even something as simple as the bathrooms creates a separation between the haves and the have-nots. You can use a port-o-potty like the bumpkins, or “to guarantee your privacy” you can have your own “sanitary unit” installed.
This division of groups within the festival walls becomes overarching and begins to expand and trickle down to the smaller venues and shows. Some of the starkest reminders of this division are the biggest and baddest nightclubs out there. Though they may be more affordable, relative to the cost of a festival, they are not without their own drawbacks.
My visit to XS Nightclub in Las Vegas presented more than a show when I was there, the whole experience was a spectacle, though unfortunately not in the way that I was expecting. For a spring break show at XS Nightclub with performances by Warren Peace and Avicii, preorder tickets ran $25 for women $60 for men. Really not bad. Tickets for the show the day of: women $60, men $150. Fine, it’s Vegas, variance in ticket prices for women and men is as common as slot machines, that’s how it goes.
I began my experience by waiting in line, but only after making all sure all the VIP and bottle service ticket holders were taken care of, was I allowed in. I walked past the gold-plated walls, admired the rotating chandelier, waded through the uber-rich and their bottle service, paid $18 for my drink, and walked to the dance floor to claim my 2 square feet of space. I was overwhelmed by the gaudiness and the ostentatiousness that was laid on so thickly, though Vegas is truly the only place that could get away with it, and that is why I was there! In the club, it seemed that there was no division, no telling the haves from the have-nots, everyone was all part of the sensationalized experience that comes with being in Vegas.
My experiences in “clubs” in my hometown of 150,000 people could have, in no way, prepared me for what was to come. As if he were handing out the hooker cards on the Strip, an older gentleman from one of the tables up front began to pass out $600 bottles of champagne, complete with burning sparkler. Bottle after bottle was sprayed onto the masses on the dance floor as a wave of people rushed to grab what became fountains of champagne. This same man then stepped up onto one of the speakers in front of the stage unimpeded by security, stuck his champagne soaked hand into his pocket, urged the crowd to make noise, and proceeded to throw a stack of $100 bills into the air like candy from an adult piñata. As it rained down to ground, the pushing, and shoving began, just in time for Avicii to hit the stage.
After this spectacle, my previous beliefs of unity and respect for everyone in XS proved to be false. With the lack of security in the general admission area, the bum-rush to the stage to compete for money, alcohol, and a better view of Avicii turned to a scene reminiscent of Hillsborough and sent me and my friends gasping and looking for an exit. Like a scene one might witness at riot, security was pushing people INTO the crowd to be sure that they would not interfere with those who had purchased a table. Those sitting comfortably in the booths with their $10,000 bottles watched, pointed, and laughed at those in the swaying crowd. In an attempt to escape we crouched under the precious velvet rope that so discreetly stated that we were not welcome, only to be pushed back into the crowd and forced to try and escape again. After minutes of panicked pushing and shoving, we managed to escape outside where the scene was calm and we could breathe, left to watch the rest of the show from outside the club with our $60 tickets.
These experiences make the point that those fans who were pushed, shoved, hit, and left gasping for space and air, are the fans who cannot afford to reserve the minimum $10,000 (US) table. The fans who are there to see their favorite DJ, who spent their time and money on an experience, only to have it ruined because their money wasn’t enough to ensure their enjoyment, simply enough to let them fight for it.
So what does it take to have some comfort and enjoy your time at the show? Well $80k and 400 cases of beer will help. On August 18th, at XS Nightclub, someone dropped almost twice as much as the average annual salary of an American worker on cases of beer to stack around his VIP table so, as BroBible puts it, “he wouldn’t have to rub shoulders with the club’s filth.” (His Twitter feed here)
I love music. I will always love music, but I fear that the music will not always give back to those who enjoy it most. With costs continuing to rise, whether it be $100 for a single show, or $5000 an entire festival, those with less are continuing to be pushed out. Paul Oakenfold shares the understanding that the costs are becoming exorbitant. Both he and Afrojack shared with BBC that the costs of tickets in Ibiza, as one example, were becoming too much. Oakenfold stated that clubs are charging too much, that “it just gets more and more expensive.” DJ Afrojack shares those sentiments stating that “the whole magic you used to have on Ibiza is not possible anymore because tickets are 75 euros (US$96).” Even Steve Angello understands that these increased costs are pushing out average fans and that “it has become what it is everywhere else.” Though “Steve Hulme, who is Pacha’s music director, added: ‘It is as expensive as any other holiday destination that has to make it’s (sic) money in a small window when the tourists are here.’ ”
With what seems to be the heart and soul of the electronic music, the average fan, being ushered out on the same red carpet that brings in the rich, I am left to wonder how much longer the piles of cash can keep the electronic music scene afloat.