By Larisha Paul
What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a concert ticket? My answer used to be just over $125 — the cost of a face-value ticket to see Harry Styles at Radio City Music Hall — until that number jumped to $175, the resale price to be graced by Lorde’s presence on the Melodrama tour. Somehow, this doesn't even feel too outrageous. As the general cost of concert tickets has risen over 27 percent in just the past three years, with the average ticket price jumping from $74.25 in 2015 to $94.31 in 2018, according to Pollstar, fans have found themselves paying in the mid-hundreds or higher for certain top-tier live entertainment experiences (even as much as $2,850, if you’re a BTS fan buying resale).
A significant jump in pricing, however, comes alongside the option to purchase VIP meet-and-greet packages. These opportunities often include early entry into the venue, a soundcheck experience, tour merchandise, and a meet-and-greet where guests will be treated to a photo opportunity and a chance to chat briefly with the artist. The length of these interactions largely depends on the artist’s schedule as well as how many guests purchased the package. It can be exhausting to speak with dozens of people back-to-back and maintain the same level of enthusiasm and attention for each of them.
But when The 1975’s Matty Healy took to Twitter earlier this year to question the origin and motivation of paid meet-and-greets, he raised a number of critical points about the monetization of human connection and the costs of touring. “The problem is that a lot of artists don't understand how brutal [paying for meet-and-greets] is, because MAJOR LABELS have normalised it,” he tweeted. Fans have as well.
“I feel like the more you love and support an artist, the harder it is to say a certain price ‘isn’t worth the experience,’” said Jared Green, a 20-year-old Tori Kelly fan who dropped $125 on a meet-and-greet package for the singer’s Unbreakable Tour. He recalls Kelly coming across as both open and genuinely appreciative of the relationship she has with her fans. “As a huge fan of an artist, we’re only going to want the best VIP package each tour,” he continued. “With that being said, I do feel like sometimes artists and their managers understand that and take advantage of fans by setting VIP packages very high.”
Emmy Levine, a tour manager currently working with rising artist Lauren Sanderson, believes that the prices of many VIP packages are fair when you consider the often overlooked costs that go into putting on a tour. Artists are creatively involved in the development process, but entertainment companies such as Live Nation are tasked with organizing the packages themselves. In exchange for their curation and coordination, these companies take a percentage of the income, Levine told MTV News.
There’s also the cost to produce the merchandise usually included in these packages, as well as fees to hold more time at a venue for the meet-and-greets. Levine specifically cited the added issue of “paying for the production of the tour, which could be anything from the lights and the sound and tour buses to backstage catering [and] the crew.”
In short, tours are expensive. And one way to recoup some of those costs is to charge music fans hundreds of dollars, in addition to the price of a ticket, for a chance to interact with their favorite artist.
“It is hard to turn down the kind of money you can make by charging people to shake your hand,” drummer Pat Kitch, who plays in pop-punk band The Maine, told MTV News. “I can only see it going more and more in the direction it is headed now.” But not for his band. In The Maine’s more than 10 years on the road together, they’ve never charged fans an interaction fee. Instead, they make an effort to stick around after their shows each night to meet as many people as they can manage.
“It’s always been our position that music should never be about your position of monetary privilege,” added frontman John O'Callaghan. In previous years, those attending the Vans Warped Tour could find The Maine perched under a tent with a backdrop that asked in all caps, “Why would you pay money to meet a human being?” It’s the tactic that’s helped them build the diehard following they have now. Four stops on their current tour have sold out, and low ticket warnings are in place for a few others.
When founder Kevin Lyman started up Warped Tour in 1995, he immediately implemented the event’s “no paid meet-and-greets” policy. “Once the bands start charging to meet fans, it just changes the role. It’s just a transaction,” he told MTV News. Though Lyman was told monetizing these interactions would be more financially beneficial for the bands, he decided he’d sooner walk away from the festival. “It might solve some financial issues you might be having. But in the long term will those people be there for you when you maybe really need them?” Lyman asks.
Warped Tour’s controlled outdoor environment makes it easier for fans to meet bands than it would be if they tried to do so at larger-capacity spaces and arenas. Recently, artists have created personalized systems of their own to get around this issue, while assuring that they’re able to meet their fans at no additional cost apart from a ticket.
On their current North American tour, pop band LANY are randomly selecting 15 to 20 fans each date to attend soundcheck and hang out with the group. “We want it to be as fair and open as possible,” LANY manager Rupert Lincoln told MTV News. He first brought the idea to LANY in 2018 as a means of connecting with fans safely; they were immediately on board.
With the band’s growing popularity, it’s no longer plausible for them to hang around and meet fans after shows like they used to. This new method preserves the fan-to-artist connection they’ve always had. Similarly, Troye Sivan had members of his team scout fans in the audience to bring backstage after the show on his Bloom tour for a free meet-and-greet experience.
One of them was 16-year-old Liza Tijerina, who met Troye at his Denver stop. As opposed to the usual rush of formal meet-and-greets, she had the chance to actually talk to him, and he even humored a request that he write out a tattoo for her. These randomized processes also counteract the hierarchy that can form within fandoms when access is dependent on how much disposable income a fan has.
“Being on stan Twitter over the years, I’ve seen people who have the chance to meet their favorite artists often and people definitely tend to feel and say that those fans act more superior,” Tijerina said.
Maybe Matty Healy was right when he sardonically suggested, “They should make all fans pay in cash — directly to the artist.” Or maybe, like Tijerina points out, the mere presence of money changing hands can taint an otherwise positive experience. “[If I had to pay to meet Sivan], I feel like it definitely wouldn’t have been as intimate and special.”