How We Listen

In The Club: How Much Do You Pay For Live Music?

Marcus Anderson; credit: Alex Spoto / NPR i i

hide captionMarcus Anderson, standing outside Washington, D.C.'s Black Cat, says the most he's ever paid for a concert ticket was $265.

Alex Spoto / NPR
Marcus Anderson; credit: Alex Spoto / NPR

Marcus Anderson, standing outside Washington, D.C.'s Black Cat, says the most he's ever paid for a concert ticket was $265.

Alex Spoto / NPR

Sparked by concert promoter Live Nation's sluggish numbers, we wanted know if concertgoers have been feeling the same way they've been spending. We wondered how much people are willing to pay to see live music; whether their habits have changed in the last year; and if high ticket prices actually kept people away. So last weekend I chatted with folks outside of the 5th Annual J Dilla Benefit Concert at The Black Cat in Washington, D.C.

The DC Loves Dilla Crew performed (with a guest appearance from Talib Kweli, among others) to celebrate the late, legendary beat guru and to raise money for the J Dilla & Lupus Foundations. Sporadic rain showers instigated pandemonium at the Black Cat door — the show sold out, and the sidewalk outside was littered with concertgoers, crestfallen hopefuls, and drenched, stray U Street clubbers. A Dilla tribute draws a mixed crowd: attendees fell anywhere from diehard underground/D.I.Y. hip-hop heads to unabashed suckers for the top 40. But Dilla was a musician's musician, and many in attendance make their living playing or recording music, so the fate of the live music industry, for many, was more than a matter of recreation.

Ashley, 19
"I work at CD & Game Exchange in Silver Spring."

Ashley i i
Alex Spoto
Ashley
Alex Spoto

Have you skipped shows you wanted to see recently? If so, why?
"I didn't go see Sage Francis at I think it was Rock 'n' Roll Hotel or D.C. 9, I didn't see Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek at the Black Cat. I'm not going to go to Rock the Bells [a touring hip-hop festival] because it's more than a hundred dollars!"

Opiyo, 25
Videographer

What's the most you'd pay for a concert ticket? Who would you pay that much money to see?
"Jeez, depends on how much I have. I'll say this: If I had it, I would pay a thousand. I'd pay a stack for Maxwell, Kanye West, Jay-Z … with other people on the bill. Especially if N.E.R.D. was on the bill. I only say that because I've spent that much on a Jay-Z show before. I spent $1100."

Opiyo i i
Alex Spoto
Opiyo
Alex Spoto

Blackheart (from left to right: Marcus Colbert, 24, and Benefit, 27)
Blackheart produces music. Benefit says, "I rap and I write. That's it."

What's the most you'd pay for a concert ticket and who would it be?
Blackheart: "Oh man. Real artists that play live music … Eminem, Mos Def or somebody."
Benefit: "Eminem. (laughs) I spent about 65 for him. I think he's worth it. It's awesome if I get to meet the artist too. I can't just be at some concert way in the back, you know what I mean, I gotta be up front on stage being like, 'Hey, what's good man?'"

Have you gone to fewer concerts this year?
Blackheart: "Actually, there's a group called DC rap that does a lot of shows in this area. So, pretty much most of the shows are not that expensive. Usually they are 5 or 10…"
Benefit: "We've been going to a lot of shows, actually. It seems like it has been picking up in this area. There's so many clubs now."

Blackheart (Marcus Colbert) & Benefit i i
Alex Spoto
Blackheart (Marcus Colbert) & Benefit
Alex Spoto

Brian Hickey, 25
Consultant

What's the most you'd pay for a concert ticket? Who would you pay that much money to see?
"The highest dollar amount I have paid to see a concert in the last few years was $45 for The Roots and it was completely worth it."

Marcus Anderson, 23
Engineer/Sound Tech/Live Engineer

What's the most you'd pay for a concert ticket? Who would you pay that much money to see?
"Oh man, the max amount I paid for a show was $265 to see Trey Songz, I took my girlfriend there. It was crazy, man."

Brian Hickey i i
Alex Spoto
Brian Hickey
Alex Spoto

Have you gone to fewer concerts this year than normal?
"No, I'm a constant concert-goer. I'm always checkin' out the scenes, checkin' out how everything is going, how the live sound man is doin'. The overall outcome is what I'm really worried about because I'm studying that."

All Skill, 28
"I do music and fashion and acting and styling and anything artistic you can come up with — landscape design, whatever."

Have you gone to fewer concerts this year?
"Actually, yeah. Since I've moved back to D.C. I have. The music scene here has died down a lot; we're getting a lot less great bands coming through, unfortunately, because the venues we have are dying down, so you're losing a lot of great venues for bands to come through."

Marcus Anderson i i
Alex Spoto
Marcus Anderson
Alex Spoto

Sarah Crawford, 31
International Development

Have you gone to fewer concerts this year?
"Not in particular. Actually I've probably been going to more concerts this year, not because of the economy, but because I felt like I lost my concert-going side and wanted to regain it."

Vickey, 34
Photographer, Music Promoter

What's the most you'd pay for a concert ticket? Who would you pay that much money to see?
"The most I paid was like $125 and it was for Maxwell."

All Skill i i
Alex Spoto
All Skill
Alex Spoto

Val, 30
"I'm a law student."

What's the most you'd pay for a concert ticket? Who would you pay that much money to see?
"$200. Led Zeppelin. I almost went to France … almost did. Their show got cancelled."

What happened?
"I have no idea. I sold their tickets. I actually slept out for them when I was 17, then sold them like an idiot."

Sarah Crawford i i
Alex Spoto
Sarah Crawford
Alex Spoto

Xander Johnson, 26
"A cook for the government"

How much did you pay for your ticket to this show?
"I paid $15."

What's the last thing you spent that much money on?
"I spent $15 on a CD last week at Best Buy. I got a group called Air: Love 2."

Vickey i i
Alex Spoto
Vickey
Alex Spoto

What's the most you'd pay for a concert ticket? Who would you pay that much money to see?
"The maximum I have paid is $110 to see A Tribe Called Quest at Rock the Bells '08 and it was worth it. Like Tribe, there's a couple groups out there — I would pay probably no more that $200 to see a show."

Tim Chapman, 36
Letterpress printer

Have you gone to fewer concerts this year?
"Yes."

Val i i
Alex Spoto
Val
Alex Spoto

Which ones did you decide not to go to and why?
"I think in New York I don't go [to shows] because everything sells out in advance. I don't react fast enough. Or, the other problem is that bands that I like have a tendency to play larger venues than I want to see them in. I think in New York people play larger venues, where if you go to smaller town, you're going to see them in a much smaller place which is generally a better show."

Xander Johnson i i
Alex Spoto
Xander Johnson
Alex Spoto
Tim Chapman i i
Alex Spoto
Tim Chapman
Alex Spoto

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