Indirect consequences: the saga of Ticketmaster and the artists

“That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.

Dave Grohl


As with every podcast I have ever done, after finishing my discussion with Dave Wakeman on his podcast The Business of Fun I wish I had said something and wish I had said something better. In this case it was about Ticketmaster and how they screw artists (even while making them money). This could be several discussions:

  • How transactional relationships have indirect value consequences
  • First impressions versus last impressions
  • How first impressions frame (value) expectations and last impressions are the value received

I have no doubt Ticketmaster makes artists a lot of money. Its their slightly ruthless “ticket price optimization” strategy that I believe tends to make the value exchange a tricky concept. They treat it all as a transactional relationship (how much money can I squeeze out of this opportunity) and they ignore the value exchange relationship (value offered/value received). In their little (big) world they see the value they offer is the extraction of money from people. They exploit their position as a monopoly to do so, but that is a different discussion for a different day.

So, let’s shift to the artist perspective. Ticketmaster owns the first impression and the artist owns the last impression. Ponder that a bit. Research has shown that first impressions establish the value exchange expectations – what I expect and what I think type impressions. A great first impression often sets the bar from which the last impression typically just has to land somewhere within an acceptable range and an acceptable value exchange has occurred. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that human bias steps into this equation. People, once having established a positive first impression imprint in their heads, almost immediately begin purposefully seeking out proof points to affirm their first impressions. That is why crappy business candidates get hired. They made a good first impression and then people went out of their way to confirm the impression rather than truly listening and assessing the candidate. Anyway. A crappy first impression can be overcome. There are first impressions, middle impressions and last impressions, all of which create the ultimate “value received” imprint and all of which are opportunities to shape value perceptions. There is even some guy who argues that when creating a message, in totality, you can leave the best impression, of highest value, if you have a slow start and conclude great <he calls it his ‘sailboat chart’>.

While I agree conceptually with him, I would argue this is not a particularly healthy strategy especially in the music industry.

  • *** note: music performers clearly understand this concept. All you have to do is watch how they plan out the last song played, encores, and how they like to leave the audience every evening.

Anyway. Here’s the deal. The crappier the first impression the higher the over delivery in the last impression has to be to establish a fair value exchange. Now. To be clear. If you highly overdeliver versus crappy first impressions, you really (really) win. Over delivery, while often a bit subjective, creates incredibly high value. But think about this from the artist’s perspective. Ticketmaster creates scenarios in which they have to overdeliver EVERY NIGHT. I don’t know about you, but while I tend to believe I am fairly good at what I do, I am not sure I would be mentally in a good state if I knew I had to overdeliver every single day I went into the office. Shit. I am not sure I could. Off days? Tired days? Something happened outside of my career days? This scenario gets a bit worse if those days are actually out of my control. Which makes me circle back to Ticketmaster. I am an artist. Every day I wake up to perform and do my job (even if it is something I love doing) and someone is establishing expectations OF me before I have even stepped into my job. To be fair. An artist can see first impressions if they care to. Pick up a paper, open up a local music blog, and I would bet they will gain a fairly clear picture of how a % of the thousands who will be attending are feeling about the ticket buying process as they walk into the venue. But even while music is a business and I imagine every artist understands someone has paid money to see them and they desire to “put on a good show,” in their heads they aren’t equating ‘good show’ as a transaction, they view it as an experience. And therein lies the largest rub between Ticketmaster and musicians – transaction versus experiences. Ticketmaster in in the transaction business and musicians are in the experience business. Yet. Musicians are dependent upon someone, who has a completely different business model than they do, to enable them to do their business. And maybe somewhere in the in-between is where I dislike Ticketmaster the most. Music is clearly a business, but Ticketmaster has no interest in creating the highest value of the music business itself. That, my friends, is a parasite. A parasite that seeks to extract nutrition and exploit the context within which it exists. Ponder that.

Written by Bruce