Something light to consider the next time you are finalizing the regular, run of the mill, “no special deals included,” purchase of tickets to a classical concert over the team of girls across the street in Barnes and Noble waiting in a queue online for tickets to see pop icon Lady Gaga.
I’m a supporter of exposure to the arts, and I’m also a supporter of broadening programming and pricing so that a variety of people can feel comfortable approaching a box office window to attend their first concert, having a positive experience. That’s why subscription packages or single ticket deals that appeal to atypical segments like,
“THREE or more” (as opposed to let’s say the cliche 2, or outrageously large six or even eight,)
or the “I’m not a student but I’m still in my 20s and trying to break a dollar” appeal to me as such a good thing.
It does show that the marketers for arts non-profits aren’t keeping a permanent lock on the occasional triple-digit prices of their admissions. And let’s not forget appeal of things like final dress rehearsals and pre-concert Q&As/lectures either, which allow for cheaper pricing and give a sense of exciting “behind the scenes” flare.
Nonetheless, it’d be false to say that arts organizations don’t still keep around the flat out “regular, ‘full’ price, [almost] no gimmick,” single tickets and subscription deals. True, when bought in bulk, many times the more affluently priced tickets are packaged to offer the consumers flexibility in what concerts or shows they wish to see. The mix-n-match variety if you will. The prices still remain though, and they probably will, as long as there are those who have the substance and desire in their funds to pay. And as the old fashioned, simple equation used to go, the more expensive the ticket, the better the seat, right?
Here’s where my light commentary kicks in:
Just for a moment, think about the irony in paying for a “better seat” to see Lang Lang perform at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. (Right now you can actually buy an add-on for concerts in January 2012, at the NY Philharmonic’s website and tickets range from $30.00-$117.00.) Let’s say you were one of the $117.00 buyers. okay, so you’re up close and personal. You’ve got a great spot.
The music is going to be fantastic and the acoustics are flawless. That aside though, what is really your main focus in having that prime seat? I don’t know about everyone else, but if I wasn’t a violinist, I don’t know if I would necessarily be looking on with unwavering intensity at a player’s hands, which obviously are better seen up close. So in essence, besides a lack of seeing every small movement on stage, I don’t have a huge “loss” over those behind or above me, sans some potential weakness in acoustic solidarity, but that’s not my main focus right now.
While reading a blog post about arts funding, cuts and leaders in the arts, Ph.D. candidate Diane Ragsdale writes here about how she somewhat agrees with feelings of unnecessary actions on the part of arts orgs. in their high ticket pricing and that such decisions fuel on the idea that arts tend to be more expendable on the balance sheet.
“The arts (which in the minds of most people equates with ‘the fine arts’) are clearly not everyone’s cup of tea (and no amount of rhetoric will probably change this); having said this, it would be shortsighted to dismiss current attacks as being driven primarily by barbarians. Many politicians evidently perceive that they can safely target the arts for cuts on the basis of their being exclusive, elitist, extravagant, or wealthy (and suggest that taxes and subsidies would be better directed elsewhere) because the arts often serve and are defended by a relatively small percentage of their constituencies.“
The sad truth is that I can understand the substance in her full article that elaborates on this viewpoint, even though I am NOT an advocate for cutting arts programming of arts funding in schools. The problem is arts organizations are not always helping their own case.
Back to the hypothetical girls online for Lady Gaga tickets. StubHub! is a prime source in google searches for purchasing tickets to several contemporary concerts. Right now, Gaga is on tour and is set to play a show in April at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum on April 23, 2011. Lady Gaga is known for putting on a show. She wears head turning outfits and pulls off gossip inducing stage theatrics. (Remember when I referred to “eggs” in my last post?) So suffice it to say that aside from wanting to scream along with the songs at the concert, Gaga’s fans want to see her up close –in all her jewel studded, pointy wig wearing, scantily covered, make-up explosion glory. Ignoring the taste factor, there’s no denying that in going to that concert, there will be things to visibly take in. You want to know what she’s going to burst on stage wearing and what she’ll be doing while singing. So the “more expensive ticket for the better seat” seems like a logical choice, at least when taking the aforementioned into consideration.
ON THE OTHER HAND……
Now, the girls I mentioned were imaginary, but these ticket prices are not. Directly from StubHub!’s website, the listed range of prices for the Uniondale show go from, (and I hope you’re sitting down) 79.00, to $4412.00.
Four digits… makes the 117.00 dollar top tier price for Lang Lang look like child’s play, doesn’t it? The irony is that while Ragsdale does bring up a valid point about arts orgs. making themselves “look bad” in the face of various levels of government while trying to retain funding and space in various budgets, if 117 dollars for a world class pianist means the New York Philharmonic is still gearing too much toward “a relatively small percentage of their constituencies,” then really, I’d like to know what reversely “large percentage” Lady Gaga’s marketing/finance team is gearing toward with a $4000+ tag. (Not to mention the minimum is 40 dollars more than Lang Lang as well.)
True, there’s more to see/do with front row spots at a pop-rock concert, but something else to keep in mind. A lot of classical concert ticket packages are built to work with the more limited finances of various audiences segments. ‘Orchestra X’ knows aspiring musician Jenny Smith can’t afford the heavy hitting tickets so they offer a deal where she can call up and buy a ticket she can afford. Notice how Orchestra X doesn’t just keep things all one price, assuming that Jenny Smith’s parents will pick up the tab. (because you know Orchestra X is thinking, “Who cares who pays for the ticket, as long as we fill the seat and get the money, right?” *insert point-making sarcasm here*) Meanwhile, it’s clear from the wide age demographic of Lady Gaga’s fans, that no juvenile is able to independently fork over the cash to get the maximally, visually beneficial seating but the prices remain, so of course the idea is that parents or relatives get the tickets. I see two things wrong with this. Please note, the following is personal logic, so thusly more loose opinion than usual, for the sake of driving in a point.
1) How can government figures attack the targeting of arts organizations, insinuating bias to the affluent and “well-off” while some parent paying 2000 dollars for their kid to see Gaga isn’t considered snobby, elitist marketing exclusion? Pop-culture doesn’t so much as blink at a move like that. Government involvement or not, isn’t there a bit of cultural-priority contradiction going on here? And on top of that, it sends that message that we nod yes to one type of “costly music event thing” over another.
2) I’m sensing that even though Jenny Smith might start out having to get the slightly acoustically weaker seat, or not see the sweat on Lang Lang’s forehead, at least she’s gaining some sense of pride and self achievement in being able to make an independent purchase, which teaches the value of a dollar, can make the purchase mean more and maybe even deepen the connection Jenny Smith develops with the New York Philharmonic because she has her own supplier/consumer relationship, without a parental middle man. Therefore, at the end of the day, isn’t the arts organization still being more directly inclusive and engaging than initially inferred simply from their ticket prices?