A piece titled How Much Does It Cost to Book Your Favorite Band? posted by the site Priceonomics last Friday has gone viral this week for purportedly offering an insider’s look into the world of music. The sensational price tags, reaching upwards of a million dollars in some cases, and the draw of the names involved – Kanye, Macklemore et al – make it an almost impossible to resist piece of content for the dozens of other sites that have shared it. The problem is, it’s being completely misinterpreted, either willfully so by sites who should know better, or inadvertently, by people who aren’t paying attention.
This Giant List of What Bands Charge to Play Live Reveals a Grave Injustice, Slate claims in a post they’ve been flogging hard since yesterday, essentially using the numbers as an excuse to post a Macklemore joke under the veneer of data info. Music sites like Alternative Press and Consequence of Sound have shuffled it along the viral digestive system as well, as have Variety and The Daily Beast. The Huffington Post at least qualified their version of the news with Here’s How Much It (Apparently) Costs To Book Some Of Your Favorite Artists.
The work the “apparently” is doing there can’t be overstated. As Priceonomics points out in the original piece, the numbers come from Degy Entertainment, a booking agency that specializes in college bookings, meaning they’re likely inflated prices. As one veteran talent buyer for a number of venues in the northeast explained to me, “colleges and festivals are a completely different price structure than typical venue tour dates.”
You may have heard a thing or two about colleges spending lots of money on everything but the actual essentials of teaching? One of the areas where a lot of that money goes is into annual entertainment budgets. The groups responsible for booking musical acts at year end festivals on campus and so on, like in any other bureaucracy, have to spend their budget, or it might get cut next time around. On top of that, they don’t have to recoup costs for shows like a normal venue would. “I mean, nobody that cares how money is spent is giving Alexa Ray Joel $5-10K,” the booker told me. “There’s a wildly divergent pricing scheme when promoters who expect to make money on ticket sales are involved,” he went on. “I sometimes get an email where the agent didn’t adjust the money request from the template being sent around to colleges and we both laugh about how I’m never giving them that much money.”
One act listed at $5,000 on the list recently performed at one of his venues for $250. “It’s pointlessly inflated,” he says of the numbers. “They might as well have just grouped artists into tiers based on perceived popularity and then just attributed dollar figures to the tiers. Beyond useless.” Many of the sites that have shared the numbers point out the sketchy math going on here, but brush past it with a quick disclaimer. “Before you read these lists, a few things should be clarified. First of all, they aren’t perfect: a few acts are out of place, or suspiciously off,” Priceonomics themselves wrote in introducing it.
OK, then why are you sharing it? Or, at the very least, why sharing it under the guise of a guide to booking your favorite musical acts anywhere across the board? It’s no such thing. On top of that college performances aspect, nearly everyone who’s written about it has pointed out how off and out of date a lot of the numbers seem. Kanye West is not going to perform for $400-600k everyone seems to agree. Nor is One Direction coming for $150-200k. “There’s a lot with this list that is questionable,” the Huffington Post writes. “Most would expect Lady Gaga, who was the second highest-grossing act in 2013, to bring in more than $1 million per show. There are also a number of artists who are commanding more or less than their status and/or yearly earnings indicate.”
Fine, even if it’s a little fuzzy, disclaimers like the Daily Beast’s suggest, “the numbers give you a rough idea of the ballpark expenditure.” Says who? That sort of thing is essentially an admission that, sure, a lot of this seems wrong on its face to me the reporter, but I’m going to go ahead and share it anyway, because it doesn’t matter if anything is real or not. “Most of this is probably wrong,” isn’t the type of admission that should appear on a respectable publication’s story, bloggy entertainment news or otherwise.
This is exactly the sort of thing the Internet Thinking Apparatus was talking about yesterday in the wake of Facebook exec Mike Hudack’s anti viral media rant. Nothing matters to anyone anymore but share potential. Being able to affix a few famous musicians’ names and some big dollar figures to a headline under the guise of Data is a perfect recipe for viral success. It’s certainly worked here. The post is one of Priceonomics biggest traffic hits, with 1.2 million views as of this moment. Someone should put together a list of what traffic-worshipping sites charge for their integrity. A few ten thousand views seems to be about the going rate. That would be a huge viral hit.