As Ticket Bundles Become a Go-To Chart Boost, Not Everyone Is Celebrating
Packaging albums with concert seats can bump artists' chart positions, but promoters sweat higher ticket prices and premature tour sales.
This week, Kenny Chesney's new concert album, Live in No Shoes Nation, became the first live album to top the Billboard 200 in seven years and the biggest-selling live album since Paul McCartney's Back in the U.S.: Live 2002.
The reason: The country star bundled it into the price of tickets for his upcoming tour, a decade-old tactic that artists are now using with increasing success as the concert business booms and labels become savvier about getting fans to redeem their offers for CDs and digital albums. The album's cost, which is baked into the ticket price, isn't visible to fans.
In October, P!nk's new album, Beautiful Trauma, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, with two-thirds of her 384,000 albums sold tied to ticket sales, while about 80,000 of the 134,000 copies of Shania Twain's Now album sold in its first week came from ticket bundling, according to Nielsen Music. Katy Perry, Arcade Fire and The Chainsmokers all topped the chart with bundles, too.
"Every couple days, I get a new request," says One Live Media's Andy Martel, who helps artists create ticket bundles.
Ticketmaster began regularly bundling albums with tickets about a decade ago, and Warner Music Group was the first label to embrace the strategy, says David Marcus, Ticketmaster executive vp/head of music.
For a bundled album to be eligible for the Billboard 200, the ticket purchaser has to download or redeem it. Kevin Leflar with Official Community, which helps artists bundle, says he recommends artists bundle one album with every pair of tickets, because trying to deliver an album for every single ticket sold can be cost prohibitive and a logistical nightmare. About 20 percent to 30 percent of fans tend to redeem their album offers, with most favoring CDs or vinyl over downloads, though nudges on email and social media can drive better results. When Metallica bundled its 2016 Hardwired… to Self-Destruct album with tickets to its North American stadium tour earlier this year, the band worked with WMG to remind fans to download the album, pushing it back up to No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Maroon 5 recently announced its Red Pill Blues Tour and issued a rare call to action on Twitter, noting: "Each bundle purchase comes with our album, so redeem our record as well."
Record labels like the practice because they collect money for every ticket bundle sold whether fans redeem the album or not. But some promoters are wary of scaring off fans with high prices.
"It's just a flat-out scam," says indie concert promoter Seth Hurwitz, who owns and operates Washington, D.C.'s Anthem venue. Hurwitz says bundling forces people to buy music so acts "can jack up first-week album sales," but in doing so "people are putting tours on sale way before they ought to."
"The tour onsales are suffering greatly, and then those shows' momentum is gone forever. It becomes a house that's on the market too long," says Hurwitz.
Meanwhile, "it adds to the ticket price without adding anything to the gross," says Emporium Presents promoter Dan Steinberg.
Taylor Swift flipped the script this fall, telling fans to buy her merch and pre-order her new album to improve their chances of scoring her concert tickets after the album is released Nov. 10.
Ticketmaster notes that "participation does not guarantee access to purchase tickets or the ability to purchase tickets," but at least Swift's model allows fans to opt in. "We'll have a much better idea if her launch was successful after tickets for the tour go on sale," says Marcus.