How Taylor Swift Broke Ticketmaster

Make no mistake: Ticketmaster deserves the scorn it currently receives from Taylor Swift listeners, a population of such size and power that it probably deserves a place in the United Nations. Earlier this week, the company’s fan ticket presale for Swift’s 2023 concert tour was plagued with bugs and delays. More shockingly, Ticketmaster later canceled the consumer sale due to technical issues and, are you ready?, a lack of inventory. Yes, amidst a lot of confusion, the presale has become (for now) the only sale. The fiasco seems to present a tidy parable of what happens to institutional competence when a company holds what many lawmakers claim is monopoly power for more than a decade.

Still, the story is bigger than Ticketmaster, and maybe even bigger than Taylor Swift. (She weighed in today: ‘It’s really amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they’ve been attacked multiple times by bear to get them.”) The 32-year-old singer-songwriter dominates at a time when live touring is, by many estimates, more expensive to undertake, harder to pull off and more in demand than it might be. never have been. Three big trends may explain why a series of embarrassing glitches has taken on the air of an international incident.

The fast of everything

According to Ticketmaster, Swift’s desire for tickets broke all records and reasonable expectations. Fourteen million users — and bots — tried to buy tickets, the company’s president said, and a now-deleted Ticketmaster blog post reported that pre-sale traffic eclipsed any previous spike by a factor of four. To meet such demand, Swift would have to play “more than 900 stadium shows (almost 20 times the number of shows she does),” Ticketmaster said. The company’s figures raise many questions – what role have resellers played, for example?

Think about it. A decade and a half into stardom, Swift somehow retains the most prominent constituency fascination with pop music: teenagers. But she’s also an object of cross-generational acclaim working in her prime, consistently winning Grammys for album of the year and breaking sales records (her latest album, Midnights, had better first-week sales than any album by any other artist in the past seven years). On top of that, she has established herself as a de facto legacy act by re-recording and promoting her albums released years ago. Above thisthe coronavirus pandemic has created demand keeping her off the road – and has also driven Swift to create the curveballs that expand the fandom of Folklore and Still. She’s released four new studio albums since her last stage show in 2018, and the title of her upcoming tour, “The Eras Tour,” hints that she’ll make a point of playing not just recent hits.

What are the precedents for its current hold? Names like Michael Jackson and Madonna come to mind, but when I emailed Steve Waksman, the author of the history book Live music in Americahe mentioned Jenny Lind, the Scandinavian opera singer whose rise to prominence in the 19th century “was a prototype of what modern pop stars have become”. Some Lind fans have paid the modern equivalent of thousands of dollars at auction for tickets to see her perform. In our current whirlwind of circumstances, I wonder if Swift’s draw looks like the Beatles would have been had the band – which stopped touring more than three years before breaking up – reunited in the 70s (and if they were, just as fantastically, known for better gigs).

Of course, comparisons of this nature are difficult to make. “In terms of tracking demand for concert tickets, there would have been no way to quantify this sort of thing until fairly recently,” Waksman warned. “Pre-Ticketmaster…it would have been virtually impossible to know how many people were trying to get tickets for a given show or tour. Swift’s kind of popularity, and the way that popularity translates into demand for tickets to her shows, is pretty much a product of concert ticketing shifting to the internet. Which brings us to the second factor in this mess: the online world.

In the digital age, live music is more important than ever

Swift’s success has long been tied to the technologies fans use to connect with her. She used social media to turn the old-school concept of a fan club into something like a metaverse. She fought with digital distributors – Apple, Spotify – when their business interests didn’t align with hers. And, with her extravagant tours and famous in-person fan listening parties, she has long capitalized on a modern reality: when streaming makes music more abundant and disembodied, the scarcity and tangibility of live experiences takes on a new value.

This value was clear before the pandemic, when revenues from the live music industry were reaching unprecedented heights – a rise also facilitated by digital ticketing. Artists had even started toying with new models to capitalize on their fan base. In 2020, Swift has planned something of a one-time tour involving her hosting two US “festivals,” one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast. The itinerary thwarted by the pandemic reportedly matched a trend for stars to apply for residencies in certain cities. When the demand is high enough, an artist can count on the coming of his fans.

The pandemic has turned the live music ecosystem upside down

The pandemic has pushed that demand even higher. But the costs and stress of touring have also obviously skyrocketed lately. In recent months, top talent, including celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes, as well as independent figures such as Animal Collective and Santigold, have canceled or postponed tours. The reasons cited, as varied as money and sanity, point to an undeniable reality: something is wrong with the live music ecosystem. In a recent fan letter, pop star Lorde explained the situation:

Let’s start with three years of shows rolling into one. Add the global economic downturn, and then add the completely understandable onlookers’ distrust of health risks. Logistically, there are things like huge crew shortages (here’s an article from last week on this in New Zealand), extremely overbooked tourist trucks and buses and venues, costs of inflated flight and accommodation, ongoing COVID general costs, and really. mind-boggling. transportation costs… Ticket prices would have to go up to start accommodating even a little bit of that, but absolutely no one wants to charge more money from their harassed and extremely compassionate and flexible audience.

Such problems, Lorde noted, are much more perilous for smaller artists. And we still don’t know exactly what structural factors led to Ticketmaster’s turmoil this week. But Swift nonetheless seems to be affected by a pervasive trend: across all of live music, supply and demand don’t match and the core systems are collapsing. A win-win dynamic can emerge in which only the biggest stars can afford to play, but are then overwhelmed by demand, leaving listeners frustrated and cheated. Fans who bought tickets to see Swift should treasure them. In the meantime, Ticketmaster better take a closer look at its software: rumors have it that Beyoncé and Rihanna will soon be embarking on their first tours in years.

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