History of Ticket Distribution / Ticket Fees

History of Ticket Distribution / Ticket Fees

Strong credit to Rockonomics by Alan Krueger.  Without this book, I may have never had confidence to grow out business in music revenues larger.  He wrote a beautiful book about the power of live music, and how the analytics of live music response from the community can provide insights into the regional development, strengths, and weaknesses of an industry.  His perspective, position, and personal story gave me the confidence, energy, and purpose to see the larger goal of what is possible from live music.  He was an artist (failed professional career, respectfully), turned economist, that ended up becoming Barack Obama’s economic advisor from 2008 - 2016.  Various parts of his book are cited in the writing below and most of my thinking around music.


(The story begins well before internet/cell phones/etc)

Rock and Roll music began growing exponential interest in the 50s and 60s, beginning with Elvis and many other artists. 

Alongside this development, the printing press and vinyl record manufacturing became considerably more within reach for many regional markets.  Printing mass music and sharing with friends was now possible for the first time, ever.

Prior to this change, music could only travel if the artist would travel.  Airlines began growing around this time period as well, which allowed artists to travel with their instruments, bringing new sounds to new places that otherwise never had heard them.

Music is the epitome of culture, in its purest form.  The ‘best’ music is created from real experience, people, love, etc.  The ultimate intangible definition of culture - built from regional experiences/growth.

This gave music the power to BOOM throughout the world, as well as the beginning push of globalization and equality.

Not just the music industry, print catalogs (Macy’s, Bergdorf, etc) began building global/domestic brand value with this newfound power.  Most large luxury brands that date back before this era had exponential growth here (save for lux design talk later)

Music began getting shared way more than ever.  Vinyl records could be handed off to friends, and manufacturers could make deals with music labels to share master pressings and manufacture/distribute in their own area.  Artists would include mail in papers so they could have their fans from far away join their mailing list - not emailing list, mailing list

Some top artitsts today (Jay - Z, Metallica, Fleetwood Mac, and many more) built their fanbases during this era.  This kind of investment / care to their foundation of fans is one of the reasons they’ve been able to maintain such a trusted fanbase over the past 30-60 years.  As we began collecting records from the 90s and prior, we found some of these mailing list sign up cards, we believe these will be just as or more valuable than sports stubs from early games.  Sports tickets were printed in the 6 figure level weekly for arena sports, these cards are usually less than a few million in production, and if they reached that high of production, they probably were used to sign up!  Only pristine condition copies of records from this era still have these cards inside.

When you are thinking of the history of fashion, is it the design or the noteworthy musicians/sports stars wearing those designs that come to mind? 

During this era, tickets were sold at venue box offices, or record stores (just like we do!).  There were even ticket selling ATMs at record stores.  Stories are told that the earliest ticket brokers/scalpers would bribe record store owners to let them in the store early to buy tickets before the public could enter the store.  

This allowed low or no fees as there were little to no middlemen between the physical stage, music distributor, or artist.  

You might be wondering how tickets to sold out shows were purchased.  Ticket brokers / scalpers at this time would list on the newspaper.  Stories have been told how the local brokers would have an internal discussion as people called down the list to price lock and hold at a certain price so they wouldn’t be undercutting each other.  This may sound bad, but it also allowed a real benefit to be provided to a recurring customer.  Unlike today, all digital exchanges are chasing a new customer, and battling each other to the bottom (first page) and up-charging fees.  A reversal of this model is in the works as we speak back to how it was before.

Stories in Krueger’s book discuss how it was essentially impossible for venues to change prices, because of the newspaper.  Concerts would be posted for $0.25 cents to a show, and people would travel to buy their tickets from the box office well before the show.  In an era that was completely using cash (for the most part), it made it especially hard to change ticket prices.  If someone was traveling to buy tickets, they would only be prepared with the funds that were required from the newspaper posting.  Fair, right?  Today, ticket prices are changing every day!  More on that later.

Then came the dot com boom and everything changed when the internet became available to the masses.

Music and tickets began getting distributed on the internet.  Music revenues began taking a dive as Napster, Kazaa, LimeWire, etc broke down the barriers to reach music, essentially deleting music sales from record labels.  Alternatively ticket prices began rising consistently.  Through 2010, even though the recession of 2008, we have been told tickets steadily rose over time, even through the recession.  Not only did access grow exponentially, but also marketing of the underlying asset of these tickets, the sports teams, music artists, theatre shows, became global brands overnight.  A recent Hulu documentary on Chippendales, the male strip club, shows the story of the brand developing and how they truly grew not from being first to the market, but by cementing their name in the Male Strip Club scene globally with the first tour of its kind globally.  Similar to the Beatles, their A-list success/brand value came AFTER they had performed live in front of millions of people.  This fundamental is skipped by many artists who began releasing music after 2010, whether a pro or con is subjective to the artist and perspective of the judgement.  This type of ‘hard work’ may be replaced in other ways, holding up the same simple logic of hard work paying off

A few years after tickets began primary distribution on the internet on TicketMaster and other sites alike.  Artists could finally allow their fans to buy tickets through a much easier system accessible in their home, or at the worst case a local library.  No longer needing to travel to the venue.

A tough part about this, is the solution wasn’t across the board / the same for all distribution.  As google became a large part of the process, various players realized they needed to compete with advertising spend to get the chance to sell the ticket.  As the tickets were usually digital, the value of the business became much better than selling physical goods, attracting the best marketers around.  As this competition increased, and more unicorn companies were created, the fees kept rising.  In addition, the fanbases of the average successful artist became global, putting an exponential pressure on the rise of ticket prices.

 The list of $1B+ valued exchanges is not a short one in 2023, and we believe it will keep growing - as fairness here can only be created with a level playing field across the above.  Similar to the decision Nike is making to choose a list of safe distributors for their highly coveted limited sneakers.  MSRP stays the same between these retailers, and they are trusted to have good process to distribute the goods to the customers deserving most in fairness.  Unlike Nike, the average artist doesn’t have this decision power.  Today, artists are at the mercy of the owner of the venue, or the owner of their music rights.

This began taking fees higher and higher.  From StubHub going public to 2023, ticket fees have almost doubled according to my tracking.

Currently, a ticket broker / scalper selling a ticket for $100 on a large ticketing platform will only receive $50-$60 for the sale.  With up to 40-50% of the revenue going to the middling exchange. 

Is this good or bad?


  • Artists are reaching more fans than ever, growing quick as possible with unbelievable reach.  They are no longer stressed with being the only marketers for their asset - music / performing.
  • More concerts than ever, live music is beginning to be played, accessible, and marketed to people in cities of all populations, not just the top ones.  More feet dancing!
  • Artists are getting paid more!  Independent artists launching 2010 or later have reached catalog values into 9 figures, in less than 15 years.  The other artists with similar valuations have up to 60 years of resume in the business.  This may sound like these artists are not deserving the way the older artists are, but I disagree.  This revenue has always been generated and nearly fully credited to the artist the way I see it.  No luxury brand or record label would be standing today without 1 or 20 true artists that had this magic about their career.  Whether or not they were credited or paid is another discussion.
  • Globalization - these new revenues to music and new music are allowing the most international music to travel across state lines without problem.  Unlike physical goods, music has no barriers to be traded between countries (in digital format, not Vinyl!).  Beyond music this allows culture to trade hands, and globalization to progress.  Breaking barriers down of racism and increasing socioeconomic equality across the globe.  My personal favorite part about the future of music 


  • Supply and Demand causing tickets to become next to unaffordable for most shows.  Average prices on top 40 artists at $100-$800 for good seats near the stage.
  • The crowd just aint the same: the top seats are rarely filled with the real fans, they are filled with the influencers.  The battle between cost of the seats vs. the marketing value of ‘being at the show’ has been demolished by the marketing value side.  Services like SnapChat / Instagram Story / TokTok have made it worth $1000s to get to these seats.  Appearing to be so cool to be in these seats has stopped most fans from being able to discuss entering the market.  MSG floor seats are rarely under $300 each, whereas the household median income is under $75k.  Taking a family out can be $1200 - $2400, almost 3% of that median income, for just 4 hours of performance. 

Conclusion:  High ticketing fees are greatly hurting the consumer, but if artists are properly developing, they are able to lock in and take care of their core fanbases and give them access to affordable prices for any earning level.  Examples can be seen in many artists, that require extensive fan verification / buying processes to make it especially hard for ticket brokers / scalpers to purchase in bulk.  Only the A list can/has done this: Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Rush, Zach Bryan





















  • Additional topics include the variation between live music development in the two top growing economies post 1960 alongside rock and roll music development - China and the US - reread rockonomics first
    • Up through 2000 (check date)


  • What is the complete music data set?  We are working to build it!  And why..


  • Landscape of music business - signed vs independent
      • Why 360 deals are starting to make sense - Roddy
  • Anticipated tours this summer and what will be different about them



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