Is an album really free if it makes a ticket more expensive?  

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The Real

No, says a growing chorus of indie promoters, who are starting to push back on the bundling of digital albums into ticket sales by managers and labels, arguing it’s driving up the cost of concerts and forcing fans to pay for something they don’t necessarily want.  

Dan Steinberg with Emporium Presents called the practice an “industry-wide problem” that adds as much as $3-$5 to each ticket, often without the consumer’s knowledge.

“As a ticket buyer, you see it as part of the gross ticket price and you just think that we're giving you the album,” he added. Steinberg said the once-rare practice is growing, while actual downloads of albums are shrinking.

Only 25 percent to 35 percent of fans actually download the album, and fans who pay cash aren’t told they purchased an album and given download instructions.

“Bands used to tour to support the albums. Now the acts are touring so they can sell albums and make it mandatory for us to pay them,” Steinberg said. He said it’s often band management that insists on including a “free album” with every ticket – not only does it bring in revenue but juices an album’s position on the charts.

Promoter Seth Hurwitz with I.M.P. and the 9:30 Club in D.C. told The Real he’s not against offering ticket buyers the album at checkout but “it needs to be an option for the fan and never forced on them.”

Indie promoter Danny Zelisko compared album bundling with VIP meet and greets, where artists collect big bucks for pre-concert events without sharing any of the upside.

“It’s forced down our throats without any participation,” he said. “This whole issue would be better received by promoters if they were included as part of the sales.”

Brian Penix with NS2 said packaging was a symptom of “record companies not doing their jobs.”

“The big con is in most cases they only give a download to every ticket purchaser but not for every ticket sold. If a consumer bought two tickets to a show, they only get one download,” he said. “I wouldn’t have as much of an issue with it if every consumer who walked through the door was handed an actual album – Prince did that once. That is adding to the overall fan experience, which is what we as promoters are selling.”