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The future of concert ticketing

An experiment by Topspin and the Pixies for a couple of U.K. concerts demonstrates that in the future many acts won't need ticket brokers or promoters.

Are you fed up with the antics of the big-time concert industry? The continually rising prices? The huge service charges? (Not that this is entirely the fault of the ticket sellers--a percentage is usually kicked back to the artist.) The quick "sell-outs" of all decent seats, followed by the mysterious appearance of marked-up tickets on scalper sites?

virtual Pixies tickets
Fans who bought tickets to these Pixies shows paid no surcharges or service fees. The Pixies and Topspin Media

Then here's some good news. In June, The Pixies teamed up with digital-music marketing agency Topspin Media to perform an interesting experiment in London. The Pixies--who didn't have an e-mail list before they started working with Topspin--sent an e-mail message to their fans advertising two upcoming gigs at a venue called The Troxy. All tickets cost the same--30 pounds--and were available from a special one-time Web site. At the venue, fans presented their printed tickets, and staffers scanned the barcodes on those tickets using their iPhones.

Here's the brilliant thing: the show had no promoter and no ticket broker. No service fees, no big markups. Topspin explains the details in a blog entry and video posted Thursday morning.

Concert promoter and venue owner Live Nation, which bought Ticketmaster in 2009, is already having enough problems this year--ticket sales are down, and the company recently received some well-deserved scorn for implying to investors that future acts would be able to go from first recording to sold-out concerts in a matter of months rather than years. (I know a lot of bands who could use some of that magic formula, please!)

Direct-to-fan ticketing isn't going to take over right away: artists planning massive stadium tours will probably still need to use a ticket broker like Ticketmaster to serve large numbers of customers quickly, and Live Nation does a lot of marketing to build demand. But in five years, I wouldn't be surprised if most touring artists are using platforms like Topspin's to sell their tickets directly to fans, no middlemen required.