I think like lots of people I’m totally and utterly ‘fed up’ (edited by request of the boss) with the price of concert tickets these days. I mean, it has been reported that on average people are paying nearly $400 to see Adele, nearly $240 to see Taylor Swift… the cheapest price for the Rolling Stones near me is about $160 (which you would need a telescope to actually see them) and so on and so forth. The question I’ve been asking myself recently is why?
I have a couple of theories about this - and they may be crap, or I may be full of BS (likely), but something somewhere has changed. And that thing, I think, is mostly due to us. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Ticket touts… Scalpers…. Whatever you call them. The advent of the internet and sales on the internet has made it very easy for third parties to get involved and make a quick buck or two (million). It’s really hard to tell which are the legit sites and which aren’t, legislation has been passed to restrict this from happening but the trouble with the law is that it doesn’t move as quick as the brains of the people who are trying to take our money for effectively nothing. Is this a fight we can ever win? Also, the promoters of the events charge what they can get, so why not maximise on ticket prices if they know it’s still going to sell out? Everyone would do it if they could.
Those of us who are of a certain age will remember the Napster ‘revolution’ and remember seeing Lars from Metallica on TV moaning about theft, copyright infringement (and the subsequent lawsuits that followed) and most people laughed at him and treating him pretty badly… I do believe this was when the whole “Lars is crap” thing came from (well, that and the snare sound from St Anger, but that’s a different story) as he was actively stopping everyone’s fun in getting free music, because everyone loves free stuff, right? It’s always been interesting as being a kid listening to rock music in the 80’s, Lars was a legend up until around this time, then everything changed.
Since the whole filesharing thing has been embedded into our psyche (and lets it, pretty certain that at one point everyone has either done it or is close to someone who has) the eventual response by the music industry was to provide streaming services (I know it’s much deeper than this, but let’s face it, it was all they could do) and everyone jumped on it as, well, for all intents and purposes, it was still free. These days a lot people pay a company like Spotify about £10 a month to lose the adverts but in my experience, in just talking to people, most people just put up with the adverts and have it for free, because right now, that concept of ‘free’ music, or a variation of it, is legal.
What does that do for the bands? And I know what you are all thinking, 99% of the bands didn’t get an income from record sales so this doesn’t apply, but I’m looking at the large-scale acts here… obviously, a massive chunk of their income has gone. Completely. There is that famous break down of payments from Spotify that shows that a band in 2016 who had their songs streamed over 1,000,000 times and received a total payment of just under $5000. At this point, I could list how much that would have broken down if those had been airs on the radio or physical sales, but I won’t, because we all know that an income from that would be well in excess of $5000.
You know what this means, don’t you? Of course, I mean that the bands, record companies, management etc etc have to reclaim their income from elsewhere (as they ain't going to take a pay cut) and the only viable place to do that is either via endorsement deals (rare that they pay that well), merch sales (and those are now pirated ridiculously – just check out all the many adverts in your FB feed of companies selling cool band related shirts) and touring. Before the Napster revolution a band used to tour to support the album in order to provoke sales, but these days it’s pretty well their only source of real income. This is a hard pill for us to swallow, especially when you consider that the most expensive tickets these days are bands like Rolling Stones (and I’m pretty certain they’re fairly comfortable financially) but they are still a business, and guys who manage them aren’t going to let them go out on a tour to support an album that won’t sell, so that income figure has to come from somewhere else.
The fans fault (and yes, this is a little tongue in cheek)
Our expectations of live shows are somewhat more complicated than they used to be… Long gone are the days when you see a band and it’s a bunch of people playing the hell out of their instruments with a few lights behind them, you now have full interactive shows with everything from massive custom built OLED video screens showing content aimed specifically to the night of the performance, to fireworks, light shows that are just incredible, complicated sets with raising platforms etc and just about everything else… Shows are now events. Each time we go to see a show we expect it to blow us clean off our feet, it has to be better than the last one we saw so touring bands are obliged to up their game every time. It all kinda adds up. As an amusing aside to this concept of crowd expectation, a mate of mine – Tim Stark - is the chief builder at Mansons Guitar Works, so he makes every guitar Matt Bellamy plays, both in the studio and on tour. Those of you who have caught a live show from Muse knows what this means, as it’s expected now by the crowd… Let’s just say that the expectation of the crowd keeps Tim a very busy man, and those guitars are hand built in the UK, so they aren’t a $100 Squier used for the final song of the night!
The sad thing is that due to the way everything pans out, we are unlikely to see concert tickets come down to a more sustainable level for your regular person any time soon. You will always be able to see your favourite band, well, I doubt you’ll see them, but you’ll be able to hear them as you’ll be SO far away from them you’ll end up just seeing the video screens. The reason many people took the Napster route, and all the services that followed them, was because they couldn’t afford to buy all the music they wanted so they downloaded it. Stole it. The people who could afford to buy the music still did… And now, the people who could afford to buy the music still can and now they are the only ones who can realistically afford to pay top dollar to see the best bands, actually see them. The irony is not lost on me.
Here’s a final thought - I travelled 400 miles (round trip) by bus to see 6 bands in 1988… Helloween, Guns and Roses (full original band), Megadeth, David Lee Roth (with Vai), Kiss (without makeup) and Iron Maiden (full “7th Tour of a 7th Tour” production) for a total cost of £31 (about $60 USD at the time). Even with inflation that only comes to £80 ($115 USD) today. I wonder what that show would cost now?
Artist relations – A tale of two Dave’s.
I can almost guarantee that the FIRST thing people ask when you tell them you work for a company like Wampler Pedals is something like this… “I bet it’s great hanging out with artists all the time.” Many people actually apply to work with us based on the fact they think we spend all day playing guitars and hanging out with Brad Paisley. If only that was true, life would be considerably more interesting than sales meetings, product development discussions and manufacturing scheduling… Having said that, someone does have to work in artist relations and sometimes that aspect of the job IS awesome. You do get tickets for gigs, or invitations to hang out and things like that but the reality is that those days are incredibly rare. Most of the time, if I’m being totally honest, artist relations is usually just disappointing people who want to be part of our artist “family”.
When considering the artist list, we have to be choosy about who we work with. There has to be a reason for the both of us. The artist has to offer us something that no one else does, or have the ability to open the brand to a new audience (a classic example of this is the relationship we have with Tom Quayle. No one was targeting the modern fusion market until we released the Dual Fusion and Tom was the perfect person to do that with). Making the decision about bringing someone in is not as easy as you may think because quite often that person has already bought loads of our pedals and spends a large portion of their life working extremely hard to be successful in the music business. It’s not easy to let down people like that without in some way damaging their view of us.
Anyway, back on topic. After doing this for years I have found that most people really don’t seem to know how to sell themselves to us. They appear to make the same mistakes when approaching us that venues make when approaching them for gigs. Rarely does an offer that involves “you’ll get great exposure” as its unique selling point end well, especially when like gigs, you probably won’t.
I’m going to highlight this issue with two examples. Each are from opposite ends of the spectrum and will give you an indication of how you should approach a company about working with them – how to start the relationship that allows them to actively endorse our product and our company, and be able to use us in their own marketing. For those of you who are hoping for me to provide a sure fire script or check list on how to be accepted you are going to be disappointed, but if you read on, you’ll get the idea of how the decision makers brain works in this situation.
OK, so I bring you “A Tale of Two Dave’s” and everything you read here is true (and yes, it was really hard not to start this piece with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times).
Dave 1 is Dave Murray. Dave is the only guitar player to have appeared on every Iron Maiden record from the Soundhouse Tapes to the Book of Souls. Take a moment to reflect on that, take a moment to consider the amount of gigs he’s done with Maiden, the world tours, the live albums – and most importantly (considering the subject matter of this post), the potential for albums and tours of the future. Our first contact with Dave came through the “contact us” form on our website from a guy called Johnnie. Johnnie is Iron Maiden’s touring manager and also has the general responsibility for all of the bands gear. That initial contact was extremely polite, brief and requested the opportunity of testing some tones for the forthcoming album, basically it was an exploration about making this happen. Now, as you may or may not know from previous posts on this blog, I’m a long standing fanatical Maiden fan so once I’d taken a moment to get myself together, I emailed him back (acting dead cool) saying “Sure, we can do that”. Johnnie quickly put me in touch with Dave’s longstanding guitar tech Colin to sort out the details.
It turned out that Colin was already a Wampler user having at the time a Hot Wired v2, so when Dave mentioned to him trying out some new tones for the album Colin thought of us. We sent out a Triple Wreck as per the request but we quickly heard back that wasn’t right. Colin and I chatted quite a bit about Dave’s tone and worked out that as Dave generally subscribes to the school of “stuff a Tubescreamer in front of a screaming amp” to get his lead tones, a Clarksdale would be worth testing out. We sent one out, he loved it and subsequently the Clarksdale is all over his lead tones on the new album.
Now, here is the important bit. Throughout this whole experience the bands representatives had zero expectation of free gear and offered to pay for everything at all times. Any unit that wasn’t used was returned to us instantly by first class post. There was absolutely no hint at any time of “yeah but, look at the exposure you will get” or “excuse me, you do know who we are, right?” about it. Just professional people acting professionally. I’m pretty certain you can imagine how much credibility it offers us to have an artist such as Dave Murray “outed” as a Wampler user, but not once was this leverage used by them. For me that was extremely refreshing and put the approach of others into perspective.
Now, because I’m not a horrible person – well, most of the time I’m not - I’m not going to tell you Dave 2’s full name or which band he is from. I can confirm though he really is called Dave (or at least that was what his now deactivated Facebook profile said, but I do have my suspicions) and unlike Mr Murray and his representatives, he had zero professionalism and no sense of how professional relationships work.
He initially contacted me via my personal Facebook profile having adding me as a friend some days before. His message told me that his band has enjoyed minor success with their first album and have managed to work a tour across the U.S.A. in support of the album. He was honest about the size of the venues, about how many people were in them and the likely exposure he was getting. He told me of their plans for the future, future bookings and how the second album was in the works. When written like that, it’s quite an attractive prospect – we actually support more emerging artists than established ones, so he has a fighting chance based on the evidence above. He was obviously an extremely hardworking guy who was determined to make his way in the music industry. On that basis alone, I could almost forgive the “PM through Facebook” thing.
The thing I can’t forgive is when approaching us about working together is the use of this phrase, or something like it (and some of you will have heard this in terms of being paid for gigs… yeah, you guessed it) and I quote directly from Dave 2’s initial contact: “I can give you significant exposure for your brand if you give me the gear and some t-shirts so I can use them on tour and the album, we are really keen to partner up with a reputable brand such as yours and I’ve been told how great you are and how great your gear sounds”.
Hang on a minute, is that a generic cut and paste statement put to many other companies? Is that a generic statement that isn’t even pedal specific? Is that how a professional person approaches a professional company? The pedal industry is actually quite close knit, we all talk to each other and actually have each others backs (there are some personality clashes but I can say with almost 100% certainty that every company talks to all the others in one way or another). I spoke to the guys I was closest to at the time (and the ones who happened to be available on Facebook at the time) and we’d all received the same thing in quick succession. I since found out that he had approached some other boutique guitar luthier’s and amp builders the same way. Well, way to go to make us feel special Dave 2, way to go.
It’s pretty simple to work out that Dave 1 is in a better position than Dave 2 to obtain gear and to work with the people who will represent him well. Companies will want to work with Dave 1 regardless because he’s Dave 1. The thing is though, Dave 1 is acting like Dave 2 should and Dave 2 is acting as if he is Dave 1 (or at least how people would expect someone as 'big' as Dave 1 to act). If you think about it, there is the cornerstone of this issue, the moral of the story - If you want to work with us, or want to have access to our products and create that professional relationship – because even if you are a significant rock star don’t act like one. Be Dave 1. Then buy Dave 1’s last album with Maiden, the Book of Souls and go see them on tour (or try to spot their private 747 being piloted by singer, Bruce Dickinson), his solo tones are nothing short of magnificent!
*please note – as a rule, we don’t send out pedals to be auditioned by artists, but certain situations allow.