Gone are the days of the mysterious, untouchable rock stars from the 70s and 80s. In today’s music world, you can meet almost anyone you want, no matter how big they may be. That is, if you’re willing to pay the often extortionate prices attached to “meet and greet experience” packages.
It’s a strange concept when you really think about it – potentially paying hundreds of pounds to simply meet another human being and interact them for a short period of time. After all, we consistently do this on a daily basis in university, in work, in the pub. Yet this doesn’t seem to deter a huge amount of touring bands/artists offering some variation of a meet-and-greet or backstage ‘experience’ to their fans, often advertised as an ‘upgrade’ on a general admission ticket. These ‘experiences’ range everywhere from simply standing next to the artist for a photo against a backdrop to watching the band’s live set from side stage.
Let’s not forget these incredibly awkward fan photos from an Avril Lavigne meet and greet…
As a music fan, I first realised the trend of VIP upgrades developing in the world of pop-punk. One of the most notable recent examples is Pierce the Veil, who recently came under heavy criticism for charging fans £60 to meet them before the show. This package didn’t include a general admission ticket, making the entire experience a total of £82. Considering that the average demographic for pop punk bands such as Pierce the Veil is in the 13 to 18-year-old age bracket, can it really be considered ethical for bands to charge their fans so much money for a one-off meet-and-greet, or are they simply exploiting them?
Obviously, opinions are divided. There are those who wholeheartedly believe that the very principle of paid meet-and-greets are signs of the selfish, Hollywood ego infecting the world of music. On the other hand, some view meet-and-greets as an invaluable opportunity to get one-to-one, unique experiences with your favourite artists. Personally, I lie somewhere in the middle. I think it goes without saying that charging fans extortionate prices for a photo and a simple ‘hello’ is completely ludicrous. Before he stopped doing them all together, a selfie with Justin Bieber on his Purpose tour would’ve costed you $2,000. Alternatively, you could pay $925 for a group(!) photo with the singer. If Biebs isn’t your thing, you can enjoy a meet-and-greet / cocktail reception with Madonna for the small price of $125,000.
For the smaller artists who don’t benefit from the same level of exposure, success and records sales as Bieber and Madge, it’s an entirely different issue. As we all know, the music world has changed. The dawn of the digital ages means we’ve stopped buying records now and the impact of streaming on artists has been widely reported, investigated, criticised and praised. On the plus side, we’re discovering and listening to more artists than ever now that we have the world’s music library so readily available at our fingertips. The reality of this, however, is artists aren’t making much from album sales. For many of them, this means they have to rely heavily on the success of their tours and their merchandise sales – areas where the profit is more likely to go into their pocket. In this case, if meet-and-greet upgrades can simply be viewed as another revenue stream that allows the band to continue their musical career, is it really so wrong?
All Time Low have one of the more interesting models when it comes to meet and greets and I believe it is something that should be more commonly replicated by other artists. Fans can pay an annual subscription of roughly £25 to join the band’s fan club and in return they receive exclusive merch, access to an active online community of other fans and exclusive opportunities for meet and greets with the band, as well as other special events like Q&As with the band, acoustic sessions and opportunities to appear in their music videos. As All Time Low’s fan base fall into the young tween/teen age group, it’s likely to be their parents paying for the membership fees and gig tickets anyway, meaning a fan club model like this is probably going to be a lot more popular and value for money. All Time Low are considered to be one of the most fan-friendly bands in the business and this can largely be credited to the huge amount of one-to-one interactions and experiences they have with their fans every day, often facilitated by their fan club meet and greets. Obviously, for them and for their fans, it’s working.
Taylor Swift often hangs out with her fans ahead of shows.
That being said, paid meet and greets aren’t the only way to meet artists and there are some who offer plenty of opportunities for fans to meet them without spending a penny. If you’re in the right time at the right place, you can often catch Rihanna by her tour bus before a gig, where fans can chat and take photos with her for free. Taylor Swift often goes out of her way to provide exciting and innovative ways to hang out with her fans without offering paid meet and greets. For example, she used Tumblr as a means of singling out some of her biggest fans and invited them to her house for an exclusive album-listening party. On a smaller level, rock bands like The Maine that have large, dedicated fan followings often scrap the idea of paid ‘experiences’ entirely and can often be found meeting and greeting every member of the audience after they’ve played a show.
All in all, it’s clear that there are fundamental issues with the principle of a paid meet and greet. Paying money just to meet someone really is quite bizarre when you think about it and the sad reality is some artists are using young fans’ desires to meet their idols as a means of exploitation. The fan club model is arguably a more rewarding and fair way for artists to engage with their most dedicated fans, or maybe scrapping paid VIP upgrade all together and meeting fans after shows instead is the way to go. But at the end of the day, meet and greets can allow young people to share unique moments and create unforgettable memories with their most favourite band, so should anyone really stand in the way of that?