This past summer, Taylor Swift fans gathered in masses to watch “The Eras Tour” across the United States. Back in Nov. 2022, the process of buying tickets for many fans with presale access, like junior Hannah Friedman, was almost impossible.
“I was sitting in Cohen Auditorium about half an hour before Bio 13 started, and I had a presale code,” Friedman said. “I was waiting in the 2,000+ person queue, [and] finally it gets to my turn. I put four tickets in my cart … I am ready to go, ready to press checkout, and then it kicks me back to the end of the line. I personally did not get tickets that day, but my aunt was able to get through and she got us tickets.”
Ticketmaster’s website crashed as millions tried to snag tickets, causing many fans to lose out on getting tickets. Ticketmaster canceled general public sales accordingly, due to this excessive demand.
Following the Eras Tour presale fiasco, fans have sued Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation, alleging that Ticketmaster’s monopoly control over tickets has become harmful to consumers.
According to Silke Forbes, professor of economics, the suit against Ticketmaster connects to the Sherman Act, a law passed in 1890, which allows the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene if companies are abusing their market power.
“The Justice Department has the authority to step in if it thinks that a company is abusing its monopoly power, and it can then sue the company,” Forbes said. “What can happen is either that the company stops whatever they were doing, or sometimes they negotiate with the Justice Department and this is a settlement … or sometimes this goes to court.”
Forbes said that internet companies are structured in a way which makes breaking them up more complex, but one solution to weakening Ticketmaster’s market influence could be for the court to address the contracts between venues and companies.
“There are these exclusive contracts between the stadiums or the venues and either LiveNation or other companies like Ticketmaster. … Those contracts say any artist who comes through here will have to use Live Nation to promote it and will need to use Ticketmaster as their ticketing system,” Forbes said. “From the economic side, you could, say, stop these contracts … [and] it would create more competition.”
Taylor Swift fans buying concert tickets on Ticketmaster also experienced inflated prices, which were worsened by a lack of transparency about prices when selling the tickets.
“The Biden Administration has talked about forcing companies to disclose all those fees upfront … just to say, look, at the end you're going to have to pay Ticketmaster a fee of so many dollars and just know this now before you spend your next hour trying to get this,” Forbes said.
Stephan Pennington, associate professor of music, also feels the lack of mid-range venues available to artists in the music industry creates more obstacles for emerging performers, and Ticketmaster does not seem concerned with supporting more mid-range artists.
“We still have a bunch of these little small venues here in the Boston area … and then we have all these massive arenas, but where are the mid-range ones?” Pennington said.
Pennington added that this structural gap impacts artists’ careers in the music industry.
“It’s pretty hard for bands to go from being small to big if there’s no mid-range venues,” Pennington said. “Ticketmaster I do [not] think is really interested in the mid-range ventures or the really small ones, so there’s a bit of a structural gap that I think impacts people’s careers.”
According to Melinda Latour, associate professor of music, the idea of a few major players, like Ticketmaster and Live Nation, holding onto power in the music industry is not new.
“Leading up into the mid-‘50s and ‘60s … music publishing was all controlled by just a few, it was very much a top-down approach,” Latour said. “Then we had various movements from the birth of cassette recordings … and then of course streaming services actually opened up so much.”
Latour went on to further explain the power dynamics of the music industry.
“I feel like part of what the implications for this are about top-down versus bottom-up music cultures, and do fans and communities wanting to show up to an event, do they shape the music industry or are they only essentially manufactured by a few people at the top who control who gets to gather and make all these decisions,” Latour said.
Yet Pennington and Latour feel that fans contribute to the power amassed by online platforms like Ticketmaster because people appreciate the convenience of buying concert tickets online.
“Audiences want convenience,” Pennington said. “There are ways around all this but it would involve going to a concert venue to buy tickets, and nobody wants to do that, they just want to go online, [and] they want to get their tickets.”
While the internet makes ticket sales more convenient, it has pushed artists to work harder to be discovered by record companies that end up owning their work. Pennington feels that Taylor Swift has helped highlight the exploitative nature of the music industry through educating the public.
“[Taylor Swift] has done a lot of important work in educating the public about how abusive the music industry is,” Pennington said. “She is in the process of releasing all of [her albums] because when you make an album, you own the songs but not the album … and people were like,
‘no one is going to buy a second copy of the album,’ and then her new copies hit number one on the charts, and that is shocking to the record industry.”
Despite the music industry’s many issues, concerts are constructive for both artists and fans as they allow for mutually beneficial interactions that cannot happen through recorded music.
“Part of the function of live concert-ing is that it allows the performers to understand what works and what doesn’t and adjust and hone their skills and their relationship to their audience,” Pennington said.
Additionally, Latour feels concerts can have further reaching effects on an individual’s physical experience than listening to music in an isolated setting.
“There is something about the visual, using all the senses, and I think that’s the other part of this is the way in which concerts are innately … multisensory, and they can engage every sense in a way that is so powerful,” Latour said.
This rang true for Friedman, who, as a longtime Taylor Swift fan, found that attending The Eras Tour was an incredible, and even emotional experience.
“I’m not a crier, unless I’m seriously injured, I don’t cry. As soon as she came out on stage, I just bawled,” Friedman said. “I guess I was just in such shock that someone who I’ve thought about, looked up to, listened to, … she was just standing right in front of me.”