Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why I Don't Go To Concerts in Japan Anymore: Guest Lists

This is an open-letter to music and concert promoters in Japan. I'm writing this for me, but you can be sure that there's lots of industry insiders who feel the same way I do (if they don't, they were brought up under rocks and households that didn't teach them any manners either, so forget 'em.)

Promoters of Japan, it's bullshit. It's bullshit how you handle "Guests" to your shows. I used to go to concerts all the time. But I stopped in 2005 or so. It doesn't seem that any promoters have the sense to think about why (or they don't care... That's fine too!) 

This post will be hard to understand for most people. But try, OK? This isn't completely and uniquely about the music business in Japan and concerts, per se, it's mostly about manners and common sense.

I have been a music industry professional for over 30 years. I have always produced and created Alternative and underground music shows. When new artists come out, I always play them first. When new artists come out and need a break, I always play them first in Japan. It's been this way since the mid-80's.

When artists needed a break and needed airplay, I gave it to them. Sometimes, rarely, these artists struggle and "make it" most just fade away.

When these artists come to Japan, I always get invited. I always get put on the "Guest List." I haven't paid to go to see a "Rock" concert in 30 years. The last time I remember paying to see a concert was a Jazz performance. 

I don't play Jazz music generally on my shows, so it is understandable that Jazz promoters would not treat me special. I don't "help" them.

It used to be that "Guest List" meant that you were a guest. Like in the word, "Guest" like G-U-E-S-T. That meant I could get into the concerts for free. I'd walk up to the door, say my name, and they'd let me in. I didn't have to pay any money.

Not anymore.

A few years ago, the venues and cheap-assed producers changed the rules. Now, when they ask me, or plead for me to go to a show, and tell me that I'm on the "Guest List" it costs me money.

Contradiction? Yeah. And that's why it's bullshit. And that's why I don't go to concerts anymore. Let me explain more.

Even though your name is put on the Guest List, in Japan, in the last 5 years or so, the claim is that the venue still charges for one drink. That one drink is usually ¥500 (about $6.00 USD). If you don't pay this ¥500 at the door, they won't let you in.

Get that? You are on the guest list, which means you get in free, but if you don't pay the fricking ¥500, upfront at the door, you can't get in. I don't get it. How could having to pay ¥500 be free? 

So much for being on the "Guest List."

It didn't used to be that way in Japan. I'll bet the foreign artists don't know this or they've been told, "It's the way things are done in Japan." Well, maybe it is, nowadays. But it didn't used to be that way. 

The first time I was "welcomed" to a concert this way was 4 or 5 years ago. I walked up to the venue and said I was on the Guest List. They checked and I was. I walked in. Soon the door attendants stopped me and said that I had to pay ¥500

I protested, "I'm on the Guest List!" They said that it didn't matter. I still had to pay ¥500 for one drink. I insisted that I wouldn't. I had never heard of such a thing. I insisted that I wouldn't pay. They insisted that I had to or I wouldn't be allowed entry. "Wow! I'm glad I'm on the Guest List! How warm and welcomed I feel." 

I was pissed off. Here's an artist whose music I played heavily for a few years and these clowns invite me as a guest, yet they want me to pay to enter!? What's wrong with this picture?

I turned around and walked out. 

¥500 (about $6 USD) is a paltry sum for sure. But this isn't about the money. It's about the principle. (I usually wind up with a drinking tab of over $50 anyway when I go to a show) so this isn't about the amount of money. ¥500? ¥5000? ¥50,000 it doesn't matter; it's the principle of the thing that matters. And that principle means means that "Guests" don't pay (unless, of course, you are running a hotel).

I didn't ask for any tickets to any shows. If I wanted them, I'd buy them. The promoters asked me to come, "as a guest" to a show. They asked me. I didn't ask them! Then they want me to pay money at the door? With the bullshit excuse that "it's the venue's rules"? No thanks. (I promote shows too. I know the venue doesn't decide this by themselves. It's a part of negotiations over venue rental price).

Think about that for a moment.

How about if the shoe were on the other foot? Say, your artist comes to the radio station and is a guest on my show. Can I charge you all ¥500 to get in at the door? No? Why not?

Oh, but I know that "your artist" is important to you - much more than I am of course and that's natural... As they make money for you... (OK. So let's even the tables: I don't play them anymore. You don't make money from their airplay or from my help selling their albums or their concert tickets anymore, agreed?) 

Or I start charging ¥500 at the door of the radio station to let you and your artist in... But! Aha! You can't trick me! You'll try to secretly pay for them at the door in order not to have the artist insulted (of course, who wouldn't be insulted?) But I will make that against the rules. Your artist will have to pay in person, from their own pocket, or they won't be allowed in. That's fair. 

So, this set-up, using the typical promoter's rationale and lack of common sense, seems a good deal. No? Why not?

You sure are hard to please. How about this option, then: If I have to pay ¥500 to get in to your show that you asked me to attend, then let's make it fair? How about I don't go to any shows at all and I don't play your label's music as favors anymore... That's fair. (And, actually, probably better for music in general and for everyone else.) Then, if I want to go see your artist, you sell me a ticket. If I want a drink, I'll buy one.

For my radio show that you guys always ask for support, on air plugs for your artist's shows, and for allowing your artist to be a guest on air (trust that there's lots of artists and labels who ask to be guests and we politely say, "No!") I can't charge you a measly ¥500 each to get in? Why not?

It's only ¥500 yen. No big deal, right?

At least, in the case of my radio show, I didn't ask your artist to be a guest on my show (it's a music show. Not an interview show. I don't really want any artists on it at all actually). If and when I do ask your favor to have your artist be a guest on my show, you can bet that your artist will treated as a guest and not be charged anything for entry... In fact, I always buy guests drinks.

Funny that. I always treat guests as if they were special! My, what a quaint and out-dated, old-fashioned notion! 

It seems doing favors for labels and promoters in Japan and being a "Guest" isn't a two-way street. 

So that's why I don't go to concerts anymore. 

NOTE: This is not an attack on any artists. I like the music of all artists I play. This is a complete attack on promoters.... On top of pissing me off about this pay at the door bullshit, they give me pressure to show up at the shows or give me shit after the show when I don't show up. Gee, it's wonderful feeling wanted and cared for.... How about used and bow-legged?

PS: I also think it's bullshit that the fans - the ticket-buyers, who buy tickets for entry, should have to be charged again when they arrive at the venue. People already pay exorbitant sums to go to concerts in Japan; sometimes paying $70 ~$80 (USD) or more for a show to see ONE artist and then the get hit for a ¥500 drink charge at the door? Nonsense! 

No wonder the music business in Japan is doing so poorly. It's run by idiots who don't know how to treat people (as in people with money who they need to make a living) properly. If they thought about it for half-a-second they'd realize that people don't like being treated like this. THAT'S why concert ticket sales are down!

UPDATE: Working at radio and promoting music (especially alternative music) is a low-paying crappy job (in spite of how cool people think it is)... So getting treated with the cheap-assed trick at a venue door is just like being kicked. My wife was just making fun of me about this article and saying that I might be perceived as acting like a bratty kid... If so, I don't intend that and I'm sorry for being, well, for being a bratty kid. 

Second Update: Bands! Managers! Artists! The only way to screw this up even worse is sending out a blanket invitation to everyone on Facebook! Gee... Makes a media person feel important and wanted! NOT! 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I am not in the music business and used to love to go to shows all the time. But the prices are ridiculous and then they charge for drinks at the door? What if I don't want a drink? What if I only want water? (I only drink water mostly)... Oh, and then body searches, too? No mas!

Anonymous said...

There does seem to be an increasingly common business practice in Japan of antagonising your customers, clients guests...whoever...over essentially paltry sums of money. There is an endless stream of handling fees, service charges, gift money...which, as you rightly point out, all make very poor business sense. How anyone can think that that 500 yen drink fee can justify all the goodwill it destroys it simply beyond me.

(Having read this article I do now feel a bit embarrassed that I paid the equivalent of 80 quid to go and see Aerosmith play this month. I will think myself lucky if there is a support band!)

Anonymous said...

remember that they used to charge people ¥2000 each for Narita airport use? remember how mad people were about that? now they include it in ticket prices. some will say you just pay it anyway, but it is different. convenience and less hassle is important to people.

if the clubs are short of ideas for getting cash, why don't they also charge for use of toilet? isn't that the same thing?

i don't go to concerts anymore at all either for the same reason.