Why Coachella and the Whole Music Festival System is Broken: and we are all (Partly) to Blame

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Another day, another music festival, and this time it’s Coachella (Their tickets on sale today).

If you’ve ever been to – or wanted to go to – a music festival such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, or Lollapalooza, then I’m sure you’re familiar with all the hassle. The process goes a little something like this:

THE HUNT FOR RED TICKTOBER

Find out when [FILL IN THE BLANK] Festival starts selling tickets to the public…

You know there’s an early-bird special for select fans that have insider codes, yet you’ve missed out on those. So, now you’re stuck waiting until the actual first day that tickets go on sale.

Scrounge together enough money…

As you wait for tickets to go on sale, you beg, borrow, or steal enough money from your parents, friends, or hell, even a job, to hopefully pay for the ticket.

Next you play the computer countdown game…

On the day of ticket sales you wake up early, boot up the computer, open a few browsers for good measure in case one fails or is slow, and then you wait. Tick, tick, tick, BOOM! It’s time.

Click buy! …and pray

You follow all the steps on the page that tells you what to do, then it comes time to select the tickets. For festivals, it’s either General Admission or VIP (for those trust-fund babies, celebrities and corporate folks). You hover the bad boy that is your trusted mouse’s cursor and click buy. If you’re lucky, it blinks a congratulatory message and asks for payment information, but if not, it says sold out.

Womp, wah…

Sold out, already?! It’s not even 10:01 and tickets went on sale at 10:00am. You look at your watch, seeing it’s only fucking 10:00:59, and you curse the music gods that have no concern for your desire to dance yourself silly for three solid days. Hell, I remember the days when you could buy tickets to Lollapalooza the day before the festival. And that was only like 5 years ago…

Next, look for alternate options.

Now what? Do you head over to the various second-market ticket sites and scour the listings for tickets that scalpers have already posted onto the likes of StubHub, Craigslist and eBay at exorbitant prices? Or do you cry yourself to sleep, wishing you had clicked just one millisecond faster.

Everyone handles it differently, but what we all can understand is that there’s something wrong going on; something that is broken.

“The whole music festival system is broken and guess what? We are all to blame.”

It’s “the system”. The whole music festival system is broken and guess what? We are all to blame. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not completely our fault. At least not any one of us individually, but together we all still contribute to the problem.

In order to illustrate the degree to which the system is broken, I’d like to tell you some experiences from last year’s Coachella round.


THE THIRST IS REAL

Last year, a friend of mine told me that as an April Fool’s Day prank, she put her friend’s cell phone number on a craigslist ad that claimed to be selling a rather cheap Coachella ticket. Her friend started getting a few emails, then came the texts, and finally the actual calls. It all came pouring in; offers left and right to try and buy the tickets. And her poor friend had no idea why it was happening.

Eventually she had to get a new number and my friend felt rather horrible about the whole prank. She apologized and they made amends, but that’s beside the point.

A few days later, while I was procrastinating work and scouring Facebook, I came across another friend of mine who posted a status that read:

“SELLING COACHELLA TICKETS. Asking for an arm and a leg (literally the body parts; not the expression).”

He told me he thought it would be a funny way to comment on the outrageous overall yearning for Coachella tickets that was quite literally flooding both his and practically everyone else’s Facebook newsfeed as the days before the festival began to wane.

I guess people misunderstood the joke and just like the April Fool’s prank, the same thing happened again. Endless calls, emails, texts, and even Facebook messages from people who were not friends with him, all the while not even having actual tickets for sale. It annoyed him quite a bit, but that was the price he paid attempting such a joke. But once again, that’s beside the point.

The point that I realized from all of this was that the thirst for Coachella tickets – and music festivals in general – is alive and real. And it’s quite ridiculous, actually.


THE EXPERIMENT

After reflecting on those two stories, I got to thinking: being the writer I am (but also somewhat of a businessman) I started to get curious about how I could learn more about this festival-seeking subculture.

With a few drinks in my system per usual, I got the great idea that it could be fun to jump into this little game and perhaps turn it into a little social experiment as well. Without even having tickets of my own, I posted a simple Facebook status saying that I have Coachella tickets for sale. There I sat back and waited to see what kinds of requests, either monetary or otherwise (believe me there were otherwise) that I got.

Well, the social experiment got crazy as expected; tons of requests pouring in. Some were in the ballpark of several hundred dollars over the tickets’ original list prices.

Some people were trying to trade me things such as different concert tickets, playoffs tickets to the LA Kings (one in a suite), their old, but really nice bike, money, gift cards, and more. One person even offered me their cat. Seriously, a cat. Now that’s just downright weird.

Now after just several minutes of fielding offers from prospective buyers – these people were like vultures – I decided that perhaps I would like to go the festival for real myself. I’ve been to my fair share of music festivals before, most notably Lollapalooza in Chicago, but never this specific one. I’d heard all there was to know about it and thought, why not?

“So I put my feelers out there and surprisingly within minutes, I had found three tickets at cover price. It depends on a lot of different factors.”

So I put my feelers out there and within minutes, I was able to find a girl who my friend met while on Holy Ship (the music festival on a boat thrown by some of the same people who throw the Hard music festivals (http://holyship.com/)). I also was put in touch with a friend’s ex girlfriend’s family friend’s dad who had two extra tickets and a camping pass. Both of these sellers were somehow willing to sell them at cost and it wasn’t even that close to crunch time. Anyway, I texted the necessary people from both parties to make the deal and there it was, I had found three tickets at cover price within minutes.

Obviously I didn’t need all three, so I decided I was going to keep one, sell the other two and see how much I could get for them.

The first two tickets went quickly. I sold them to a girl named Grenada (like the island) for 150 bucks more than I paid. And frankly, it was still a rather fair price considering everywhere else I’d been looking, had people selling theirs for $100-400 more than I sold mine to her.

After that I got a thirst for it. Just like the others. I wanted more. So I created a goal for myself. I wanted to see if I was able buy enough tickets at the right price, flip them, and pay for myself to go to Coachella for free.

In the beginning, I would field offers to buy tickets at a certain price, while searching to buy tickets at a cheaper price. I didn’t even have the tickets in hand. I felt like fucking Jordan Belfort or any other crooked trader on Wall Street.

I was flipping tickets left and right with the constant stress of people hounding me for tickets as soon as possible while the festival was quickly approaching. Thoughts of being stuck with unsold tickets loomed over my head at all times, causing anxiety. Finally it got to be quite stressful.

Not to mention, I realized that I was acting almost selfishly and quite sketchy rather. I felt slimy. I wasn’t doing this for a job or for the love of music and art. I was doing this for a game. I was contributing to part of the problem and the main topic of this very article.


THE PROBLEM

Like I said, the whole festival system is broken. It’s filled with corruption, greed, apathy, and superficiality. After taking a step back and examining the process as a whole, I realized you could boil the broken system down to problems that were rather basic and twofold:

1) The festival circuit has become much more of a spectacle, a fashion show, and quite frankly a downright drug holiday for strung out college bros and under-butt shorts-donning divas, than an actual celebration and appreciation of music, art and togetherness.

This transformation has led to a vibe that is Don’t get me wrong. Coachella is a great time and so are many of the other music festivals, but they just aren’t the same as they used to be. Whether it’s the rise of electronic music that creates an MDMA culture full of rolling bros bobbing their heads to DJs they’ve never even heard of or the commerciality and superficiality imposed on the atmosphere from celebrities and fashionistas attempting to look their best, something remains wrong.

Year after year, people buy tickets to festivals whether or not they have the true intention of going and of course whether or not they even have a passion for the music and experience of temporarily stepping out of reality to have a sensational practice that embraces the art, both visually and aurally, jamming out, and making new friends with whom to share the adventure.

This leads to many people exploiting the system and taking advantage of the true music fans who are just trying to secure list price tickets, but often have to give in and pay higher-than-cover price for tickets that these scalpers and faux fans have eagerly scooped up.

In my opinion, there are only two reasons people buy tickets: Because you’re a huge fan and love music festivals in general, or because you want to make money.

(Disclaimer, that’s obviously my own personal opinion based on my own personal moral value system.) Obviously, there are people who buy for several reasons (i.e. they love the whole festival hubbub and enjoy going every year, but have the stipulation that if they can’t go, they will still at least be able to sell their ticket and for a pretty hefty profit as well.) Regardless, it just doesn’t allow for a “fair” system of ticket purchasing. Once again, though, who’s to say what is “fair” and whether something even should be fair. It’s business and capitalism, afterall.

If GoldenVoice (the company that organizes Coachella) really wanted to cut down on scalping tickets, they would limit people from being able to buy more than one or two tickets in a single transaction. They claim they have certain measures in the works to cut down on this, but there are so many ways around it.

Which leads us to the second problem of how the whole system is broken.

2) The promoters, producers, and ticket sellers (namely resellers) are all in bed together.

It’s not even fucking hidden. It’s all out there in the ether of the Internet and print news. Deals are made and companies are under the same umbrellas or ownership that allow for severe double dipping in ticket sales and live event promotion/production.

Stubhub, AEG, Ticketmaster, GoldenVoice, LiveNation. They may facilitate our actions causing some to pass blame on we the fans, but we are the ones still navigating through their mechanisms, exhibiting exactly the type of behavior that perpetuates this crazy cycle of scalping that continues to run almost in perfection.

How the DOJ hasn’t investigated this and found blatant collusion is beyond me. But whether or not what they are doing is right or wrong, they’re still doing it and it’s still creating an avenue for outrageously over-priced tickets sold by ill-intended individuals, who are just as bad as, if not worse than, that alliteration I just used.

I started to do some digging of my own into the inner workings of all these production, promotion, and ticketing companies, looking for something that could shed light into why the whole system is fucked up and if there was potentially a way to fix it, but then I found Rolling Stone article that already did the work for me and probably a better job too. Take a read, it’s really interesting to see how in bed everyone is with each other and how almost no one is doing anything about it.


THE SOLUTION?

It would take much more time and effort – more time and effort than a functional alcoholic writer like myself has time to delve into – to truly uncover the truth behind the companies and their almost clandestine and illegal alleged collusion.

Perhaps, I could dig deeper sometime in the future, but for now, it would be interesting to see someone with better resources than myself take a more extensive look behind the scenes. For further reading on the matter of funky ticket resale/scalping laws that mimic that of a patchwork quilt, check out this article on seatgeek.com.

As of now, though, the only solution I can offer is to be a true fan. Don’t buy tickets to a festival with the intention of making some extra money. Go for the music.

For more fun, controversial, or crazy stories Cheers me on facebook, Raise a glass with me on twitter @ChuckGreenman, or Toast me at chuckgreenman@gmail.com.

One thought on “Why Coachella and the Whole Music Festival System is Broken: and we are all (Partly) to Blame

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