Music Critics Must Die: Pricing Yourself Out of the Business
COLUMN: People in the business of presenting live music bear some responsibility for the current turmoil in our industry. Bob Lefsetz has written passionately about the outrageous overpricing going on for arena shows, but there are also problems on a smaller scale at local shows. Witness a current practice at many clubs. Here’s the situation as it happened to me: I took my son to see my favorite band, POWDER, playing at The Key Club on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.
The advertising and promotional materials contained the usual ingredients of band photo, logo, date, time and location. The other pertinent data: it was a show for “age 16 and up” and the price was $15, or “$12 with flier.” In fact, the online version of the promotion came with instructions to print the flier for the discount.
All righty then, we drive the twenty miles to the club, pay the eight bucks to park, weave our way through the four lanes of cars and trucks to cross the street to the club, and present the flier. The cost should be $24, right? Nope. The cost would be $27 for the tickets. Why? “Because you only have one flier,” we were told. “See? This is one flier,” said the wizened woman in the club’s box office as she flapped it at my face. “If you had wanted a discount on two tickets, you should have brought two fliers.”
Several words came to mind at this point, many of them unprintable, but we had already made the journey, paid to park, defied death from traffic on Sunset Boulevard, and clearly wanted to see the show, so twenty-seven bucks it is.
“That’s $33,” said the woman. Wait, what? “He’s under 21, right?” Yes, my son is under 21 so we were told he must purchase two non-alcohol drink tickets of $3 each. “That’s not in your advertising,” I pointed out. A shrug and a grimace were the only reply.
Here are a few interesting results from working through this equation. POWDER runs the risk of losing fans and the Key Club is on the verge of losing customers. I should point out that I like the Key Club and have attended their presentations four or five dozen times since they opened in the late 1990s on the site of the old Billboard Live, which itself was erected on the site of the legendary Gazzarri’s. Indeed, I have frequently lauded the Key Club verbally and in print for its decor, sound, and lighting. Even their security staff is worthy of praise. But in this case, praise cannot be extended to the person controlling the flow of money from customers.
There are also potential legal ramifications to this situation. Obviously, the public is being overcharged. Sean Healy Presents (SHP), the promoter of the show, may be given an incorrect tally of receipts on the show. Certainly the band may be shortchanged in terms of what they earned for the evening. I contacted all three parties the next business day.
A representative of the band got back to me almost immediately by phone and e-mail. They stated that “These surprise additional entry fees to the show at the Key Club on Saturday night were unknown to POWDER. If the band was advanced that particular information, they could have either printed a warning on the flier or dropped the price to $9 with a flier for people under 21 to make the 2 drink minimum less of a hit. Now that POWDER has been informed of this situation, they can address it for future shows as these additional fees are not only unfair to their fans, but could affect CD and merchandise sales.”
Sean Healy e-mailed me and asked me to call him to discuss the situation. On the phone, he apologized, offered to personally reimburse me, and said his organization would be more careful about informing the public of up-charges in the future. It was his contention that the two drink minimum for patrons under 21 was standard practice, something that at least one other local promoter disputed, although this may vary depending on what clubs are being booked.
He did agree that the treatment we received in terms of the flier discount was inappropriate. “I’ve never heard of a club not honoring the discount for all members of a party,” he told me. “If this is how a club wants to work the discount flier situation we’ll just have to make sure the bands know about it and give that information on their fliers.”
Healy also pointed out that “the woman doing the box office was given rules by somebody and she was just abiding by them. It is my job to find out what the rules are or if they have changed” and he reiterated his intent to do just that in the future. Throughout the call, Mr. Healy was friendly, courteous, and professional — something that could not be said about the Key Club employee in the box office.
Just before my deadline for this column, Chris Kamps, general manager of the Key Club, e-mailed a response:
“Since Key Club was merely a room rental on the night of Powder, Key Club was not involved [in] any part of promoting the show and did not receive any money from the door. As Sean mentioned, while the 2 drink minimum was posted on the tickets and his flyers, apparently there was no mention on the flyers you received (perhaps from the band directly). Although we were not part of the promotional process we never like to hear about a negative customer experience and would be more than happy to reimburse you for the cost of the drink tickets.
“With regard to the box office, the entire door goes to SHP. We helped him out by letting him use one of our Box Office people to collect money and it appears there may have been a miscommunication somewhere in the process. I assure you it was not intentional and there was nothing shady going on. As a matter of fact, since Key Club didn’t get any money from the door it would actually have been in our best interests to let more people in to increase bar sales. Also, I have been doing business with SHP for 10 years and can
guarantee that there was nothing dishonest going on from their end either. Sean is one of the most honest promoters I know and I can assure you that what happened was an honest mistake.
“Thank you for bringing these issues to our attention. We take great pride in the integrity of our venue and always strive to give our guests the best experience possible. We will take your comments to heart and hopefully be able to use them to fine tune our operations. Please let me know if you have any further comments or concerns.”
It’s interesting that the club and promoter offered to reimburse me. I’m not taking them up on their offers (although it is tempting to pull a stunt similar to the box office woman’s approach and try to collect from both the club and the promoter). I can’t help hoping that other patrons who objected to the extra charges that night will get in touch with them to see about receiving the same offer.
This week, the Concert Industry Consortium meets at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles and I’m sure the topic of surprise up-charges will be discussed.
For me, the main thing is the bad feeling that has been created between club and concert-goer. As a journalist, I usually get in free. I had no idea how lucky I’ve been to avoid being treated like a mark and a rube.
[tags]G-Man, Scott G, music, clubs, Powder, Key Club, nightclub, Sean Healy Presents, Bob Lefsetz, Concert Industry Consortium[/tags]