Monday, July 22, 2024

Count Zero performs Friday at Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. (Photo: Michael Gutierrez via Hump Day News)

The white-hot incandescent outrage experienced by Taylor Swift fans who found themselves unable to buy their way into her 2022 Eras Tour was supposed to result in concrete reforms in the ticketing industry. Surely we should see some gains by 2023?

So far, so little. Aside from a showpiece Congressional hearing last January in which Ticketmaster got “grilled,” there hasn’t been much progress other than a commitment by the major ticketing services to “all-in” pricing. In fact, the music industry seems ready to move onto other fights as Spotify, in a classic “hold my beer” moment, vies for chief villain status with its new royalty model

But let’s back up for a second. What’s “all-in” pricing? That’s when the ticket seller shows the ultimate cost of the ticket upfront rather than the “face value” before fees are added at the end of the order. That’s a good thing, right?

Sure, probably! In Between Days, an indie rock festival in Quincy, made a splash this summer when it got ahead of the curve by going “all-in.”

In a missive to ticket buyers, the festival trumpeted: “Effective immediately, In Between Days will eliminate all fees in our ticket pricing structure.  When you see an advertised price, you should pay that price. So, in the spirit of fairness and out of respect for our fans, ‘what you see is what you get’ on all ticket pricing from this moment forward – no fees, no advertising tricks.”

No advertising tricks, eh? We asked box office employees at your favorite venues in Cambridge and Somerville what they thought of “all-in” pricing. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The response was generally favorable, with a few caveats.

Michael J.: “I mean, it’s good. Customers should know what a ticket is going to cost them before they get to the final screen in the purchase portal. By the time you get there, with the timer ticking down, all your info entered, you don’t want to go back. We shouldn’t be messing with people on that last screen by suddenly showing the fees.”

Tito J.: “I like it. I don’t know anyone who works in the box office that doesn’t like it. But I also want to say that the idea you’re not paying fees is crazy. It’s idiotic. It still costs the same to put on a show. It didn’t suddenly get cheaper. The cost of the ticket will go up by whatever it needs to include fees, to be ‘all-in.’”

Jermaine J.: “As long as every venue does it together. I don’t want my box office doing it and nobody else does and it looks like we’ve suddenly raised our prices higher than everyone else.”

What’s clear from these responses is that satisfaction around ticket purchases depends on the perception of value as much as the reality of value. A ticket that is a good value is great. A ticket that is a good value and also seems like a good value is even better.

How to manage expectations? Cody Rico of Ibookthings, the booker that brought rock ’n’ roll to Tasty Burger, took his case straight to the ticket buyer. In a September Instagram post he announced the switch from the ticketing system Eventbrite to Dice, which supports “artists and their art better.” That amounts to less fees, more money for artists and more-affordable tickets, in Rico’s estimation. The close-knit community that performs and attends shows such as the one at Harvard Square’s Tasty Burger appreciates the ethos that motivates the switch.

What works for the smaller DIY music community that Rico serves, though, might not scale up to medium- and large-sized venues. Ticketmaster controls 70 percent of the ticketing market – Dice doesn’t even count as a competitor. The ticketing giant can ride out occasional blowback from episodes such as the Eras Tour debacle.

If “all-in” pricing is not the game changer some might hope it to be, there are battles left to be fought in the ticket-selling wars. While the Swifties and fellow travelers prepare for a second assault, let’s take a deep breath and follow the sage advice of Michael J.: “Be kind to your box office. The employees working it are not Ticketmaster. They are people who buy tickets themselves, love shows, want to do right by the customer.”

The next time you get angry about an exorbitant ticket fee, write that angry letter to your congressperson instead of the box office.

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Here are a few box offices that deserve your tender loving care in the coming days:

Nov. 28: Ovlov, Pile, Disco Doom, Rong (Crystal Ballroom, Somerville)

Peel back the Get to the Gig bumper sticker on this show poster (careful, it’ll rip) and you might find the words “Exploding In Sound” penciled beneath. The indie label by the name has put out music by three of four acts on the bill. Who knows, maybe the odd duck out Rong is next? “The Little Label That Could” (hat tip, Brooklyn Magazine) got its start amid the textbooks and tater tots of Northeastern University. Every local show by bands on its roster feels like a homecoming.

Nov. 29: Eddy Dyer (The Plough & Stars, Cambridge)

Eddy Dyer might play a traditional instrument – the bouzouki – but when his band gets cooking on the new album “Heretic,” they are anything but the weird nostalgia folk act playing for tips in the corner. Let shades of psych, mischievous pop and maybe even a theremin enchant you over a dark pint and nom-noms at the beloved Cambridge pub.

Nov. 30: WERS Discovery Series: Nation of Language, Miss Grit (The Sinclair, Cambridge)

What are we discovering? Music, dummy. “Boston’s Uncommon Radio” WERS 88.9 commits two journo faux pas in the description of its music discovery programming. First, it describes the showcased songs as “buzzworthy,” which is a descriptor retired at some point in the early aughts. Second, it describes the showcased artists as “up-and-coming.” No comment. All is forgiven, though, with a sold-out banger by the New New Wave headliner Nation of Language. If you can’t buy a ticket, can you just get in free? So says The Sinclair FAQ: “Maybe, but what are you going to do for us? Relationships are a two-way street.” Yikes!

Dec. 1: Island of Alaska, Amulette, Cloud Nine, Allston Rat Problem (The Jungle, Somerville)

You know you want to get knee-deep, hip-deep, neck-deep in the steamy, nacho-infested thickets of The Jungle on a Friday night. Cool off with a craft brew while taking in a pop, punk and prog sampler. If you get to the venue too early, kill some time across the street by paying to throw axes at walls.

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Not listed above is Lizard Lounge. The subterranean venue, destined by the gods to be a sultry jazz haunt, is a beautiful scene to catch music in any genre. Last Friday night it played host to a twin rock bill with Count Zero and Landowner.

Veteran alt rockers Count Zero wished their guitarist Will Ragano a happy birthday. The celebration included party hats, streamers, frosted cupcakes and candles. The crowd was invited to partake in the confectionary delights. That’s the kind of crowd participation you can get behind.

Holyoke’s Landowner opened with skittish, Sahel-inspired post punkery, driven by a strong rhythm section that’ll get the heads dancing. Shades of Horse Lords meet Fugazi meet Talking Heads meet Bombino. The set counted plenty of songs off their latest LP, the superlative “Escape the Compound.” But the real jewel of the set was a lark cover of Sleep’s “Dopesmoker,” a doomy stoner metal masterpiece – and a one-song album that runs more than an hour long. Landowner committed to covering the opus at “600 percent” speed. In other words, swiftly.


Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News.