Korea's ticketing model should be taken into consideration for the US live music market

Concert tickets should be affordable

What’s the most, and least, you’ve ever paid for a concert ticket? Whatever it was, I bet you that those prices are doubled nowadays for equivalent tickets.

Last week, I got a text from a doctor I know, questioning if she should start asking patients for Taylor Swift tickets instead of financial payment, because bartering seems to be the only way she’ll be able to get a ticket when resale is currently a minimum of $1,000 per ticket, even in the nosebleeds.

“So only rich people can go to shows now?” she asked, echoing something many others have been saying in recent months, as increasingly America’s live music market’s extremes have become even more extreme. “[I’m happy to pay for live music, but ] not the price of international travel.”

Yes, if you have a pair of Taylor Swift Metlife Sunday tickets, I have a new doctor for you! (She’s Shabbat observant like me, so we cannot even hope to buy tickets for the Friday or Saturday shows).

She, and I are, are obviously both joking (she will deliver your child even if you won’t cough up Tswift tickets, I promise!!!), but the exchange stuck with me. I tend to get tickets either for concerts I really want to attend as press, or I wait until the last minute and buy a ticket day-of, because I am broke and cheap, and increasingly media industry is not caring for live concert coverage so I’m not able to cover shows the way I would like to. This typically works out pretty well, but sometimes I miss things, like Itzy and Lady Gaga because I held out too long and prices didn’t drop. That’s fine! It’s okay, live concerts are indeed a luxury, as my doctor acquaintance said, but historically they have been a rather modest luxury for most concertgoers, with at least nosebleeds being affordable for most people to splurge on once in a while.

Nowadays, that’s far from the case, with even indie artist tickets being over-the-top, and artists not making enough to cover their tour costs.

The industry is a mess, and others are writing better pieces than I am, but all of this has been on my mind lately and it’s made me think of the first time I ever bought a ticket for a K-pop concert in Korea.

It was hell. Trying to get a seat. But I was only trying to get a seat. I didn’t care about the price. Why? Because many concerts in Korea have the same price across the whole venue, and it’s relatively cheap! I paid the equivalent of around $100USD for the seat I got. It was a seat in last row in the whole venue. The person in the front row paid the same price.

Not every concert does this in Korea, and increasingly concert prices are going up, but it’s pretty rare to see original ticket sales surpassing over $200 for Korean concerts, at least in my experience. $150 is seen as a pricey ticket by many fans.

Yesterday, I bought a last minute ticket to see Tomorrow X Together at UBS Arena in New York for resale from someone whose friend couldn’t come last minute for around $140. It was more than I really wanted to spend, but it was a great seat and a fun concert, and I had missed TXT’s tour last year, so I really wanted to go even if I wasn’t covering.

Side bar… I actually love going to concerts without covering them, without being in press sections, just enjoying the experience for fun instead of for work. I always have fun at concerts, even the ones I’m covering in some aspect, but it’s nice to have a chance to turn off and just dance and sing along with a crowd of thousands enjoying the same thing I am.

Obviously the Korean and American live music markets are very different, but it is wild to consider that the same artists can perform at one of Seoul’s major stadiums are making $150~ on a ticket per person while if they tour in the US it can be upwards of $400 a ticket.

A panorama shot of Tomorrow X Together in concert, with crowd's lightsticks lit up in neon green
MOA and tinyyyyyy TXT at UBS Arena on May 9, 2023

Don’t believe me? Blackpink’s Seoul tickets cost from around $115-200 at face value. Currently for Blackpink's upcoming Metlife show, tickets are between $106-1,250 on Ticketmaster. *Ticketmaster doesn’t share prices ahead of sales, allegedly to make people pay more for things like "platinum” and “official resale” that are just normal tickets… aka why lawsuits are happening!), so I can’t figure out how much the original ticketing costs were. If anyone knows, please ping me and I’ll update this.)

Korean netizens debate over the price of attending the Seoul stop of  BLACKPINK's upcoming 'Born Pink' world tour | allkpop

There’s a bit of an upset going on right now among fans as ticket prices have increased in Korea, and dynamic pricing (aka Ticketmaster hell) may be coming into play, but in comparison to the US they’re still so low it’s kind of shocking to me after living in this hellscape. I hope they outrage keeps prices low, but inflation and the economy is going to hell right now so I imagine prices everywhere are going to keep going up as long as people find a way to pay for things…

How do the ticket prices stay so low? One reason is because of fanclub membership, with only dedicated fans - who often already spend money on artists in other ways and usually pay for official fanclub membership - having access to initial sales. Another is that people simply won’t pay more. Concerts need to be affordable

Another factor is that  because resale is much more restricted, typically price surging doesn’t happen, with most people buying tickets to actually go, and then selling only if they can’t make it. There is a resale market in Korea, but ticket resale culture is far less outrageous than it is in the US at the moment.

One way that the Korean, and many Asian, markets are different is that you often need to confirm your identity to buy tickets, which limits resale capability. This probably sounds illegal to many readers, if you hail from the US. But when I was living in Hong Kong, using my HKID number was pretty much my login for everything; I used to have to write it down when I entered friend’s buildings during Covid’s peak, and almost every item I bought online was associated with my ID. It was just a way for people to know that I am me.

In the US, social security numbers are supposed to be kept close to heart since identity fraud is rampant, so the idea of using them or licenses or anything to identify people for a commercial sales like ticketing would be shocking, and limiting for people who live in this country without documentation. There are some attempts to verify sales, but as we’ve seen in recent months, in the US this clearly isn’t working.

Ticket market and resale regulation has gone out the window, so the Korean option of making tickets flat rate is one thing I think that could help at least reduce initial resale prices. I don’t think it really matters, because if someone is happy to put up a Taylor Swift ticket for resale that originally cost $50 for $1,2000 and one that originally cost $400 for $2,500 (these are real numbers!) it means that someone at least thinks people think these concerts are worth those prices, and prices won’t drop. Like luxury bags, concerts of the biggest artists are now officially luxury commodities, and unless market regulation forces it otherwise, I doubt we’ll see live ticketing ever recover. But I can’t help but hope, and flat rate ticketing a la Korea is something I’ve been thinking about could be a potential way forward.

Just a heads up… I will eventually write the post I keep promising about nursery rhymes and children’s songs in K-pop, but that day is not today, sorry!

What I’m listening to

aespa’s Welcome to MY World is a song I didn’t think on first listen would become a favorite, but something about its haunting pop-trap balladry just works for me. I kind of was hoping we’d actually hear what naevis might sound like on this since she was mentioned as a feature for the music video, but I guess that will come. With Hybe launching their upcoming VR artist and others, including Apoki, doing a lot of promotion, we’re clearly in the web3 era of K-pop debuts. I’m curious to see how they take off.

On the podcast side of things… I'm a big fan of Fansplaining, and the episode with media critic and fandom journalist Stitch was both a great listen and horrific. We all know fandom’s power for good is sometimes, too many times, used for attacking dissent, and racism is rampant in many spaces. If you’re threatening someone’s life or using racial slurs due to their fandom opinions, you need to take a good look in the mirror.

What I’m reading

Read Aamina Inayat Khan’s Notes on “Flopping” if it’s the only thing you do today. It is a really important read, and also felt very cathartic for me for a variety of reasons, least of all the media industry’s explosive self-implosion is causing my already-poor sense of accomplishments to spiral. I have recently felt that every failure of my life and career have collided, to the point that I’m pretty much either on the verge of a breakdown or lethargic comatose procrastination nonstop nowadays. Getting dressed and going to see TXT yesterday was a big win.

I just got off a call with an editor/friend that ended up in me crying about how I’ve not accomplished anything, can’t pay my rent, people only want me to work for free, I’ve never written a cover story, I’ve never won an award, my work doesn’t mean anything, editors don’t seem to like working with me, pitches are going nowhere, readers hate me, job applications are getting crickets, nobody is in my corner while everyone else seems to have a support system etc. (She was way too nice about me being a mess because she had in fact called me to talk about something serious, but thank you girl I love you! And yes, don’t worry. I’ve been having lots of chats with my therapist.) I still feel that way, and I think it’s pretty clear if you read this newsletter or know me that I’m in a moment of crisis right now and I don’t think there’s a way out, but that’s fine. Humanity has survived forever, I will too. Hopefully. Until then, I’ll be playing and giving all my dwindling funds to the MMPRG that has become my emotional comfort distraction over the past two years as my relationship with my former emotional comfort support system- K-pop and writer circles - have faltered. I should probably delete all of this, but I don’t really care anymore. I’m a mess, not the best dressed, just in distress.

What I’m watching

The WGA is striking because screenwriters deserve to be paid. Which means I feel like a shill right now for reccing a Netflix show write now, but Jewish Matchmaking is perhaps the best representation of modern Jewish existence I’ve ever seen. I really want to write about it, so if you know any editors who would like to commission, and pay, me, please do let me know.

Brief explainer for those not aware: it’s the “Writers Guild of America,” it primarily reps TV and film writers and its screenwriters who are on strike, just a heads up that digital and print writers are not striking so please support us and our outlets as long as they’re still open!

If you’d like to stand with the WGA strike, they have a handy guide as to how to support.

I stand with the WGA slogan featuring hand in fist straight up, holding tight onto a pen

I’m thinking of starting a secondary column each week to flag important news stories and thoughtful responses to newsletters. Let me know if you hate the idea, or forever hold your peace before I arrive more frequently in your inbox!