Poll

What's your position on freebies?

Everyone should pay their own way, regardless.
0 (0%)
Reviewer copies and press passes should be allowed to designated individuals as part of their compensation, but only if the person publishes a review of the event or recording.
2 (66.7%)
Unlimited reviewer copies and press passes should be allowed to designated persons and their guests in general, as there’s no way to monitor if a review will result.
0 (0%)
Some discounting for reviewers should be allowed, but no one should get away with paying nothing.
0 (0%)
It’s OK on an occasional basis, but shouldn’t be abused.
0 (0%)
It’s all part of the game, and if you can get away with it, more power to you.
1 (33.3%)
Of course I get them, but you don’t think I’d be stupid enough to admit it publicly, do you?
0 (0%)

Total Members Voted: 3

Author Topic: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies  (Read 1132 times)

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Offline (poco) Sforzando

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As we all know, prices for concert tickets and CDs are often through the roof, and in some cases (like a hot concert or a CD that goes out of print) demand greatly exceeds supply. Same thing with restaurants, theater, sports events, airline tickets, hotels, and similar expensive and desirable attractions. But there is also a large network of complimentary tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies that the general public has no access to, so that while you are paying $100 for an orchestra concert you may be seated next to a fortunate someone who’s been “comped” and is paying nothing. Some of the issues involved are well argued here:

http://arts-marketing.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-i-hate-comp-tickets.html

So, what do you think about comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies (one vote only)?
"I don't know what sforzando means, though it clearly means something."

Offline Brian

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2016, 06:37:07 AM »
As we all know, prices for concert tickets and CDs are often through the roof, and in some cases (like a hot concert or a CD that goes out of print) demand greatly exceeds supply. Same thing with restaurants, theater, sports events, airline tickets, hotels, and similar expensive and desirable attractions. But there is also a large network of complimentary tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies that the general public has no access to, so that while you are paying $100 for an orchestra concert you may be seated next to a fortunate someone who’s been “comped” and is paying nothing. Some of the issues involved are well argued here:

http://arts-marketing.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-i-hate-comp-tickets.html

So, what do you think about comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies (one vote only)?
First, congrats on post #4444.
Second, congrats on creating a post way more interesting than the job I'm supposed to be doing in this office right now.

So I haven't been comped any concert tickets yet, but, as most GMGers know, I've received probably around 400 "reviewer copy" CDs since 2009 through my affiliation with MusicWeb. And, obviously, I have selfish reasons for enjoying that arrangement. (But, less obviously, there are also selfish reasons to not envy that arrangement. For instance, 400 CDs that you were not necessarily planning to purchase is a lot of space in a 600-square-foot apartment with limited storage. Also, not all of them are good. I keep probably somewhere between 40-60% of them.)

Something the average listener might not know about review copies of CDs is that there are a ton of CDs out there. Thousands per year. And, yes, I've gotten a couple Deutsche Grammophon releases to review (I can remember 2), but most of them are on tiny record labels. Toccata Classics is run out of somebody's London flat. Others have a staff of 1-2 people. There are quite a few artist self-releases. Our lists, from which we select "freebie" CDs to review, usually include dozens of albums with names like "The Organs of Lancashire Churches Volume IX" or "Solar Praxis: Music for Marimba Octet". (Thankfully those examples are fictitious - but not by much.)

And, truth be told, these labels really genuinely need the reviewer copy system to survive. The Alexander String Quartet sent me almost their entire discography because the first review I wrote of their music literally helped keep their record company afloat. Realistically, the time I convinced Todd to buy an ultra-obscure Edward Rosser album might have accounted for > 1% of the sales of that album. Last year one of my MusicWeb Recordings of the Year was a passion project by a husband-and-wife-label showcasing the husband's piano teacher. (That label is probably run out of their living room, too.) I would like to think that the review helped their business, because that was Volume IV and they're up to Volume VIII in the series.

I hope there aren't many people who are motivated solely by the access to free swag. Honestly: the free stuff is a mighty part of the appeal. It really is. Do I love getting lossless FLAC copies of any BIS Records album I want? Oh goodness yes. But there is a weighty responsibility that goes along with that - and even if only 20 people are reading, you must assume that the responsibility weighs the same. My publisher regularly sends emails when reviews go "missing" or CDs are sent out but never written about. Occasionally a label or artist inquires. Right now I'm dealing with a situation where a pianist personally sent me a copy of her CD, from Germany, but the MW editors are having some petty squabble with her record label so they won't publish my write-up. So I have an obligation to find somebody, somewhere, who will. It's not just a present.

Some other comp stuff I've gotten: last year, for a wine article, a couple wineries sent me free bottles in exchange for honest commentary from a group of friends when we had a tasting. And since getting into the restaurant review gig for a Dallas paper, a PR exec for a family of restaurants treated my best friend/co-writer and me to a very fancy schmancy dinner. We sat on metaphorical needles the whole time waiting for her to reveal what she wanted from us in return; it turned out that she suggested my friend interview somebody whom she'd have been happy to interview without any freebies. So I don't think there was anything ethically murky there. But it felt like getting away with something, for sure.  ;D

Spineur

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2016, 08:24:39 AM »
It would be interesting to know the percentage of concert seats that are given away.  My impression is that it is next to nothing compared to tickets to big soccer matches in Europe.
It it is the case, it changes nothing or next to nothing to the economics of live music events, so why bother ?
CD cost less than a $ or € to produce.  Most of the cost is distribution, storage and marketing.  So again why bother ?
Brian, you should not feel you have to justify yourself for receiving complementary copies.  Furthermore, we like it when you post the "recent releases"  :D
Anyway, the problem is for those who would like to access the music and do not have the means to do so.   For most GMG's members this does not seems to be the case, and most of us are quite happy to contribute to the financing of an artistic community we respect and appreciate.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2016, 08:26:51 AM by Spineur »

Offline jochanaan

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2016, 04:02:23 PM »
For the concerts I've played, each orchestra member regularly got two comp tickets per concert series.  We figure it's better to have rear ends in seats than a nearly empty hall. 8)
Imagination + discipline = creativity

Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2016, 06:36:17 PM »
I had hoped for more interest in this thread; either it's too touchy a subject or people just don't care, yet I think it's an important aspect of musical life that I've never seen discussed here.

Thanks first to Brian for his illuminating post. I can't see any objection to a reviewer receiving complimentary copies as part of his or her compensation; the only question is whether the reviewer can maintain total impartiality under the arrangement. If a pianist directly sends Brian her CD, does Brian feel subtly pressured to favorably review it?

Jochanaan's comp tickets seem to me also to fall under the heading of reasonable compensation. Spineur has the "impression" that few concert seats are given away, but if you read carefully the article I linked to, it would appear that at least in the theater world the problem is widespread, with people thinking of comp tickets not as an occasional privilege but as an entitlement. "No other industry gives away product the way we do and it drives me wild that this comp policy madness lives on and on across the nation." (To say this is theater but not music is to my mind splitting hairs.) You will see in the comments from the article I linked a paragraph from a Mr. Jacobs, who seems fine with the press receiving comp tickets even for performances they don't review. "There are situations in which press may not be writing a review or feature or blog post on a specific event, but has demonstrated a commitment to a venue (or artist, or...) over the long-term, and whose knowledge of what the venue (or artist, or...) offers will be material -- indeed, essential -- to future coverage." Why that commitment or knowledge necessitates the press being given a free ticket worth $100 or more for doing nothing escapes me.

But what bothers me most about comp tickets is that they result in higher prices for those paying their own way. The concert hall or opera house plans its budget in advance with projections for revenue and expenses, and they know how much they have to take in to meet their goals. If they aren't meeting their revenue projections from direct sales, then they'll raise ticket prices for the general public. And that ain't right.

"I don't know what sforzando means, though it clearly means something."

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2016, 06:31:42 AM »
Thanks first to Brian for his illuminating post. I can't see any objection to a reviewer receiving complimentary copies as part of his or her compensation; the only question is whether the reviewer can maintain total impartiality under the arrangement.

It is some years since I wrote reviews of the BSO from complimentary seats.  I don't say that there was ever any actual pressure that my reviews should be positive, from any source;  but more than once I did wonder:  if two or three concerts in a row which I reviewed suffered from poor performance, would an eyebrow be raised?

The concern is sharper in the case of ensembles less historically robust than the BSO.  I was given a complimentary seat at a new music ensemble concert.  I didn't think much of it.  It was quite possibly the coward's way out, but I decided that not writing a review was preferable to writing a negative review which might be construed as any kind of 'violation of trust' . . . an active composer, in particular, wishes to offend as few new music performers as may be strictly necessary.  (Not that the eggshells I've walked on have actually benefited me, in the longer term.)
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2016, 10:00:27 AM »
I had hoped for more interest in this thread; either it's too touchy a subject or people just don't care, yet I think it's an important aspect of musical life that I've never seen discussed here.

Didn't have the time to write a proper response until now.

In a previous life, I worked in the college textbook division of a well known publisher. In that area, comps run rampant. In order to sell your textbook, you basically give a free copy of the appropriate textbook(s) to the professor(s) teaching the course. This means comping thousands of books in the major subjects (psych 101, accounting 101, etc.). Many professors (immorally in my opinion), sell that book and make money off of it. The idea is to give them the book to read/look through in hopes they will adopt it for that course. Again, with intro courses, this might mean thousands of kids buying your book (just at your school). The best books sell hundreds of thousands of copies in a year (the first year, before used copies hit the market). It is arguable if selling a book you didn't ask for or want is so bad, but much worse if you ask for the book and then do it. People think they are sticking it to the big publishers, and they are. But they are also sticking it to their fellow colleagues who wrote the book and are probably getting compensated depending on many they sell (in one way or another).

And this brings me to my point here. When you get a comp, someone is paying for it. And the end giver of those services is the person who creates whatever it is you got for free. So in the case of a concert, the performers (and the company and concert hall, for example) are also essentially giving away their service for free. In music, one does not get a free seat in order to tell your friends to go see it (though I suppose this can be done with certain select individuals). it is usually for some form of 'word of mouth' or other positive vibes to convince others to come on a different night or to create positive PR around the group in hopes you might buy something else of theirs (say, that recording they made of that concert). The problem comes in when you didn't like the service/concert or don't reciprocate.

In Karl's case, I think I would suggest he not review such concerts in the future as he is an interested party, and it will be difficult for him to write something fair and true. And it is understandable when that same party may be the launching pad for a new work of your own. But ignoring that, whether it's Karl or Brian, there IS a subtle pressure/concern (as both have eloquently stated) to write something, well, at least not too negative (or less negative). As a result, I think taking a comp is a very slippery slope. Ideally, the reviewer would pay for his own copy and thus be free to say whatever he/she wants (and with full disclosure of that). But this is the real world, and things don't work like that.

That said, I'm not sure how a big a problem it is. I find it hard to believe that comps are more than a handful of seats on any given night. Perhaps opening night is an exception. Am I wrong in this? Perhaps it is more of a problem in smaller organizations (less well known, no big stars, etc.)? If you give too many away, you won't have enough money to survive. Personally, I've never accepted a comp to a concert if I could afford a ticket, in part because I wanted to support my friends and the artists involved. That said, I don't have any professional artists at that highest level, so maybe my perspective would be different in this case. 
« Last Edit: March 31, 2016, 10:05:20 AM by mc ukrneal »
Be kind to your fellow posters!!

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2016, 10:37:50 AM »
In Karl's case, I think I would suggest he not review such concerts in the future as he is an interested party, and it will be difficult for him to write something fair and true.

In a "voting with my feet" way, I have retroactively agreed.  It is several years since I wrote such a review, or received such a comp.
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Parsifal

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2016, 10:46:30 AM »
Clearly it is something that can be (and probably is) abused. But in the case of press, it seems sensible to reserve tickets for purposes of reviewing. Is a reporter supposed to scramble to get a ticket to a concert that is sold out before it is even put up for sale? Does it make any practical difference if the reviewer gets a comp ticket, or whether he or she applies for reimbursement for the ticket from his or her employer? Of course there are other comps. I only got to see Karajan perform Bruckner with the WPO because I know someone who worked for a classical record label who was able to score a comp ticket. The concert was sold out to subscribers long before it ever went on general sale. In the end, as long as the comp tickets account for a small proportion of the capacity extra cost to paying customers would not be substantial.

Offline jochanaan

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2016, 10:57:47 AM »
Well, if every member of a major opera company--cast, crew, chorus and orchestra--got two comps, it would add up to at least 600 free tickets; a significant fraction of seats even for the likes of the Met.  Even one comp per performer would result in about a tenth of the seats being filled for free. -- Does anyone know whether such actually happens?  As I've said, I have played with orchestras, but never on a world-class level...
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Offline Brian

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Re: Comp tickets, reviewer copies, press passes, and similar freebies
« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2016, 06:11:10 AM »
the only question is whether the reviewer can maintain total impartiality under the arrangement. If a pianist directly sends Brian her CD, does Brian feel subtly pressured to favorably review it?
Most certainly, yes. I'm quite lucky that no crappy artists have tried to befriend me yet, and count myself thankful for that. One pianist sends me albums that I think are just OK, but they feature super-obscure music, so I just describe the music and tell MusicWeb's outsized gang of obscure-music lovers that they should investigate.