We, as human beings, love music. There’s something about it
that connects to us in a very primal way; and thus we place great importance on
it in our lives. Country music is arguably an extended version of that, because
of the emphasis on community, collective identity and a sense of belonging,
brought on by music that incorporates shared experiences, values, beliefs,
hopes and dreams. So as country music fans, fuelled by radio, live music and
the internet, we set out to engage with and immerse ourselves in as much
country music as possible.
When we find an artist or band that we connect to more than
the others, this immersion begins to take place as we get emotionally involved
with the objects or our musical affection. In today’s society and marketplace,
this generally involves buying singles, albums, various merchandise (the range
of items being huge and diverse) and tickets to see them play live, the
ultimate musical experience. A big fan will own all music ever recorded by the
artist (be it commercially released or not), have been to several shows on
every tour (even those where the artist was supporting someone else), own
posters, every magazine cover, T-shirts, hoodies, wristbands, dedicated online
pages they will regularly update, have a premium fan club membership for
exclusives, will have signed material and no doubt a few photos of them with
the star, having gone out of their way to meet them. This process of becoming a
collector of memorabilia and trying to be the biggest fan they can be is very
emotionally satisfying and many make it the focus of their existence.
However, this comes at a price.
Increasingly, due to the decline in record sales induced by
the rise of illegal downloading and file sharing (for the most part anyway),
record companies are raising the prices of everything else they sell in order
to keep the extortionate profits they receive. This includes allowing them to
make money from tours which they previously were not able to do, and therefore
the prices of tickets have increased noticeably in the last five to ten years.
The cost of merchandise has increased tenfold because in the day of the online
superfan it has become very important for articulating your fandom to other
fans. This is equally the case for the price of fan club memberships and other
gear, including special bundles for new album releases.
Back in 2008 I was a Taylor Swift superfan and in the run-up
to the release of Fearless, her highly-anticipated sophomore album, her record
company offered three special CD packages to pre-order. Bearing in mind that the
majority of Taylor’s fans have always been between the ages of ten and
eighteen, fans would have to rely on parents’ bank accounts. The gold package
was $75 plus $15 shipping, and included a jazzed-up cardboard box to send it
in, some stickers, two small posters, the CD, a T-shirt, a cheap wristband,
your face in a mosaic-style poster of Taylor and what else I really cannot
remember, but it was not a lot. The bronze and silver packages included a lot
less. This is fan manipulation.
In addition, the Dolly Parton concert I’d been to a few
months before, tickets ranged from £50-£75 ($80-$125), and it was at a huge
arena where even with binoculars I could barely see her tiny figure on stage.
The same was true of three years later, when I went again to see her and the
prices were very similar, and certainly didn’t drop below $80.
This year I had a look at the album packages for Taylor
Swift’s new release ‘Red’. The bonus package includes the CD, a rubber
bracelet, a ‘special note from Taylor’ and a sticker. This is $19.99. The
deluxe package consists of the bonus material plus a limited edition print of
Taylor (unframed and unsigned) and a Tervis cup with the album cover printed on
it. This is $49.99. So basically a poster and a plastic cup cost $30? Right. The
ultimate package is all of the above but the print is framed and signed, there
is a signed CD insert and a blanket with the album cover printed on. This costs
the shocking $169.99.
Now obviously this is unacceptable. But it’s not just Taylor
who does it. I recently heard that LeAnn Rimes is charging people $13 just to
register on her official forum. What?! Numerous artists do it outside and
inside the country field, and it’s just not fair. The record companies are
making a huge profit on it and we’re out of pocket for frankly below-par goods.
It’s not good enough. Even with the decline of record sales, country and other
genres are still doing more than well enough to survive without raising these
prices like that.
I’ve had a look at some online stores and the Pistol Annies
are charging $40 for a hoody that probably cost a fraction to make; Miranda
Lambert is charging $30 for a T-shirt; Blake Shelton’s Christmas CD package
includes the CD, a printed bauble, a 2013 calendar and a pint glass and costs
$49.99; he’s also charging $20 for a pair of hotpants/shorts; Scotty McCreery
is charging $10 for a poster and $8.25 for a car sticker; Eric Church is
charging $8 for a bottle opener and $45 for a photobook covering his career;
and Luke Bryan is charging $5 for a wristband, $35 for a T-shirt and $25 for a
But we want to buy this stuff because we want to prove our
fandom, we want to feel part of a community, we want to be country proud. But
it’s so expensive, and being a music fan has definitely been one of the most
expensive things I have ever done.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do, there isn’t a
solution we can implement, we can’t rally against the record companies,
nothing’s going to change, it can only really get worse the way I see it. But
next time you want to buy that Rascal Flatts T-shirt or Brantley Gilbert pack
of plectrums, just remember that the artist will barely receive any of your
money, and you’re better off dedicating yourself to them rather than your money
when it comes to merchandise.
It’s really not worth it.
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