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Why are gig ticket prices so expensive these days?

It was a monumental moment for K-Pop fans: Blackpink, the South Korean girl group, were headlining the British Summer Time festival in London’s Hyde Park. Jess knew her 11-year-old daughter would be desperate to go; she’d been a massive fan for years, singing along to their tunes since she was tiny. But the cheapest tickets to see the four some were £90-plus, rising to £380 for the best ‘seats’ in the house. And the expense didn’t stop there. Not even close. Jess’s daughter was hankering for the official Blackpink lightstick – a black, mallet-like plastic object that was going to set her back another £50. Then there was the travel, snacks and drinks to consider.

This couldn’t be more at odds with mum Jess’s formative experience in the 1990s. As a teen, she paid for tickets to see the likes of The Prodigy, Oasis and MC Hammer with her modest pocket money. ‘My daughter simply couldn’t do that,’ she says. ‘The prices are astronomical. She won’t get the same experiences I had.’

Being a superfan of any artist can be a costly hobby these days, with ticket prices for festivals and gigs reaching extortionate highs. A study from French consulting firm PMP Strategy found prices of concerts rising at almost twice the rate of inflation since 2019 – and in some cases, by as much as 22%. Tickets for Glastonbury cost £355 this year – up from £205 in 2013, and £105 in 2003. Meanwhile, a standing ticket for Olivia Rodrigo’s Guts tour, which comes to the UK in May, cost £92.95 in UK venues, while the most expensive VIP package for Taylor Swift’s upcoming Eras tour set fans back £662.40.

With young people feeling the burden of the ongoing cost of living crisis, many fans have been priced out of going to gigs. A YouGov survey found 51% of Britons say ticket prices have prevented them from attending concerts at least once in the last five years, forced to fork out on other essentials instead.

But what’s fuelling these hefty prices? Matt Grimes, a lecturer in music industries and radio at Birmingham City University, says the 2020 Covid lockdown still has the music industry in its grip.

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‘When Covid put a halt to touring, many professionals in the industry were forced to find new jobs, and they didn’t all return when the lockdown lifted,’ he explains. ‘This led to a shortage of personnel in the touring industry – with those left being able to charge more for their services.’

Many musicians also blame Brexit for causing ticket costs to soar. A survey by industry body UK Music found 82% of British performers have lost income since the UK left the European Union. Costly paperwork and new regulations mean touring Europe is simply too expensive for smaller artists – so they may look to recoup lost earnings by charging more for gigs at home. On top of this, industry experts point towards the rising cost of fuel following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, with the price of gas and electricity hitting venues hard. Simon Eaton, head of live music at east London’s Troxy, says that their energy bill that year was 12 times higher than their original price. ‘It does mean we have to raise costs for tickets and alcohol, but it’s about finding a balance to stop people being priced out.’

External factors aside, the very definition of fandom has also changed, and the rabid nature of stan culture could be factoring into rising prices as well. Yes, fan culture has always existed (Beatlemania, anyone?), but the introduction of social media means pledging allegiance to your favourite band is visible for all to see, fuelling consumerism and a need for the best seats in the house. ‘We’ve definitely seen this at gigs,’ Eaton confirms.‘It’s almost more important [for fans] to prove they’ve had the experience of being there, as opposed to actually just being there.’

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Some bigger artists have drawn greater criticism for ‘price gouging’, which is essentially the practice of sharply increasing the cost of goods and services to a level that feels much higher than considered reasonable. Taylor Swift faced backlash for releasing multiple editions of her album Midnights, while Beyoncé was criticised for selling ‘hearing only’ tickets for her Renaissance tour for a staggering £122. With the aforementioned price hikes in touring costs, it’s perhaps no surprise that – rightly or wrongly– artists are using merch and other experience ‘add-ons’ as lucrative ways to make money from their music.

Streaming services such as Spotify pay artists an estimated £0.0031 per stream, meaning they would need roughly 3,000 streams on a track just to make one hour of minimum wage. As Dr Grimes argues, ‘[Music] is now a promotional tool. It’s part of a brand. Touring and streaming doesn’t make the same money anymore – it’s about the additional extras alongside your repertoire.’

So, what does this mean for the future of gigs, tours and fandom? It’s clear there’s still an appetite for live music and shows, but fans are now having to seek cheaper alternatives. Ticket sales app Dice promotes thousands of shows for less than £10 a ticket, to give fans an option to still go to gigs without breaking the bank. Elsewhere, bigger artists are filming their stadium tours and releasing them in cinemas, to allow those fans with smaller budgets to still enjoy the experience.

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Regardless of the cost, the collective experience of fans coming together and enjoying music as a group is something that won’t die out, Eaton reassures. It’s just about finding new ways to do it. While throwing hundreds of pounds at a stadium gig isn’t possible for everyone, the Troxy now regularly holds ‘Swiftogeddon’ club nights, playing Swift’s oeuvre for fans to singalong and dance to for about £12.50. ‘It’s a shortcut to keep fans going between gigs, or for those who can’t pay for tickets,’ he explains. ‘Touring may not come cheap – but fans will always find a way to enjoy the music, no matter their budget.’

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