Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Everything Is for Sale

I went to a music industry networking event on Thursday and one of the people there wondered why bands aren't selling tickets to sound checks. He mentioned that some venues are now selling VIP backstage passes.

So I began to think what is and isn't for sale these days and if there are limits to what can or should be sold.

Here are some music-related examples of what extra money can and does buy:

  • The volume of business in that rarefied sector has surged dramatically in recent years. It's now quietly commonplace for A-list stars to sing to middle-aged billionaires as they blow out candles.

    "You have a lot of people who want to celebrate their 40th or 50th birthday party and have someone there whose music meant a great deal to them during a part of their life," [Robert Norman, who heads the corporate and private events division for Creative Artists Agency] said. "They have the money, and if they are willing to spend enough of it, they can get the Rolling Stones. Their wives might also say, 'I love Green Day, and I want them for the 30th birthday party.' You can make that happen these days."

    The notion of Grammy-winning artists moonlighting as wedding singers at the peak of their careers would have been scoffed at a decade ago. But times and taboos change. Now, according to Norman, it's rare to find an artist who won't at least peruse the offer sheet. "You too can rent a rock star," Los Angeles Times, 1/11/07.
  • John Wesley Harding: 20 Reasons Why A Private Concert By Me Is Worth $5,000
    For the exorbitant price tag, ticket buyers will get the chance to see Prince, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Billy Joel, James Taylor and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in separate shows during July and August in an "intimate' outdoor setting." "Only in the Hamptons: a $15,000 Rock Concert," ABC News, 7/12/07.

    Musicians are also offering non-music packages as a way to generate extra money and sometimes attention. The artist who has gotten the most publicity for doing this is Josh Freese, who has sold lunch dates and trips to Disneyland.

    Another variation are the VIP packages are being offered by artists, venues, and events. A few examples:
  • Moody Blues VIP packages
  • Rock The Earth! VIP packages for Flyleaf
  • Britney Spears VIP package
  • Crossroads Guitar Festival VIP Packages Available From American Express
  • Here's a company, All Access Today, that will put together VIP packages for artists.

    Not all artists and venues offer these packages, though. One reason is the recession.
    It also makes sense that VIP packages would be on their way out. Paying a couple hundred bucks for preferential treatment seems strange at a time when all signs point to more cautious spending. "The big ballers just don't have the money to come out and drop $500 on bottle service any more," says [Travis Hellyer, who handles talent for Mezzanine], who has had to adjust offers to touring acts based on a drop in VIP sales. "Tough economic times hit Yoshi's, VIPs, and your CD collection," SF Weekly, 12/10/08.
    (On the other hand, Rolling Stone says VIP packages are doing well. But the magazine only cited major acts.)
  • "VIP Tour Packages In Demand, Despite Slumping Economy"
  • "How to Rock Like a VIP: Five Pricey Packages Competing for Summer Tour Bucks"
  • Another reason why you may not see a VIP package is if there is no financial benefit to the artists/bands and therefore they don't agree to it.
    Although most VIP deals sell access to bands, the offers usually don't have an impact on how much money a group makes. Sometimes artists, promoters or venues split the extra cash. But most headliners work for a guaranteed amount that the venue has to pay, regardless of how many tickets it sells. Typically, the VIP ticket just helps the promoter reach that amount. "VIP FTW!: How bands are using VIP packages to give fans more bang for their buck," St. Louis Music, 9/23/09.
    In some cases VIP packages fall short because the people who have the money to spend on them want more than just a meet-and-greet. They actually want to have some serious face time with the stars.
    We used to include in our definition of access places you couldn’t normally gain entrance to. VIP access to a major sporting event, for example, used to sell fine on its own merits. But even those types of lots have lost their allure, if the buyer isn’t sure that they’ll be building a relationship while they attend it. "Sell Relationships Not Stuff at Your Fundraising Auction," Reynolds & Buckley Fundraising Blog, 11/3/09.
    Okay, so now I have established areas of music where selling access is pretty common. But is there a line beyond which one shouldn't sell access?

    Sometimes celebrities will do for charity what they might not be comfortable doing just to raise money for themselves. Here are three examples of "celebrity access for charity."
  • Clothes Off Our Back: Celebrity Clothing Auctions
  • charitybuzz | Celebrity Experiences
  • NIN's Trent Reznor Raises More Than $645k for Fan in Need
  • (In case you want to know which celebrities are most successful in helping to raise money for good causes, check here.)

    (And, as a cautionary tale, here's an article about someone who got carried away at a charity auction: "I blew our £27,000 life savings on dinner with Neil Diamond.")

    In fields outside of entertainment and sports, selling access is sometimes frowned upon. For example, while in politics donations often come with invitations to special events where the donors can hang out with politicians and the celebrities who support them, the practice has raised many concerns. Here's an example of another type of VIP offering that was aborted because of controversy.
    Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth yesterday canceled plans for a series of policy dinners at her home after learning that marketing fliers offered corporate underwriters access to Post journalists, Obama administration officials and members of Congress in exchange for payments as high as $250,000. "Washington Post Publisher Cancels Planned Policy Dinners After Outcry," Washington Post, 7/3/09.
    The stakes aren't so high in the music business, so presumably selling access to those with money won't trigger the same objections. However, are there situations where musicians have or might cross a line? Where does good business end and tackiness begin? If you have an opinion, please share in the comments section.

    I'll leave you with this.
    So just wanted to keep you all updated on my open house Garage Sale! There's so much stuff there that I can't even go through them all! I don't have time! The ONLY thing I'm taking with me from that house is my Piano and my 2 flatscreen TV's. Everything else is for sale. From High end dresses, to super sexy shoes, stilletos, to a refrigerator, to my washer and dryer, my California King size Bed INCLUDING the bedframe, lamps, personal love letters, I mean, pretty much EVERYTHING is for sale.

    Suzanne Lainson
    @slainson on Twitter

    UPDATE, 4/8/10
    [Gang of Four] really went off the deep end with their reward for fans who donate £45 — along with a book showing “ceramic tiles depicting the last 40 years of world history” created by band members and “a book of drawings of our emotions,” 500 “Ultimate Content Cans” will contain vials of blood....

    Let’s hope GoF meet their funding goals before they start selling toenail clippings and old retainers, too. "Gang of Four Sells Vials of Blood to Fans to Fund Album," Paste Magazine, 4/8/10.
    UPDATE, 4/15/10
    Comin' to see the Vandals tonight in Anaheim w/Bad Religion? I'm going to be selling my CD out the back of my station wagon tonight from 7-7:30 on the NE corner of Chapman and Harbor in the Mega Shoe Factory/Del Taco parking lot. Come say hi and buy a CD (I might be selling other bands CD's and some clothes too. Maybe some energy bars?) Facebook | Josh Freese, 4/15/10.
    UPDATE, 4/18/10
    Paying someone like Gotti, Kardashian or Snooki four or five figures to step foot inside a garishly decorated club may seem like a rip-off. But C-listers are considerably cheaper than hiring the bigger-name musicians who used to pack clubs. Doing some quick math, [Andrea Hayes, an entertainment broker] adds up the cost of music: fat performance fees, expensive sound systems and needy entourages. "Reality show stars cost less." ...

    One other difference between hiring a musical act and a fameseeking reality star: a certain amount of humiliation is part of the package. "We paid [Snooki] for three hours but I actually had to ask her to leave after two hours," [George] Fox says. "She was sweating so hard on the dance floor that her spray tan bled on my girlfriend's $300 Ed Hardy tank top." "Inside the Bizarre World of Reality TV Nightclub Appearances," Gawker, 4/18/10.
    UPDATE 11/10/10
    I'm just getting around to adding this, but here's an article exploring the idea of VIP tickets: "Are VIP ticket packages good or bad for fans?"
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