Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Papering the show

It’s one of the live music industry’s many little secrets. If a show isn’t selling and it’s too late to use “unforeseen circumstances” to cancel the event and yank the act off the bill, you give out free tickets to …

Tue, Jul 26, 2011, 09:37


It’s one of the live music industry’s many little secrets. If a show isn’t selling and it’s too late to use “unforeseen circumstances” to cancel the event and yank the act off the bill, you give out free tickets to take the dirty look off the room. These giveaways are in addition to competitions and guestlists and ensure that the performer will not be playing to an empty venue. The promoter might even make some cash when the punters hit the bars and food concessions.

Most times, promoters are quite subtle about papering the show (for instance, here’s a rare look of the process from the inside). After all, you don’t want to put potential punters who might well shell out for their tickets wise to the fact that there are freebies doing the rounds. You also don’t want those who’ve already paid for their tickets to take the hump with you over the fact that they’ve spent good money on a ticket which the lad or lass next to them got for nothing.

Because of this, most of freebies usually go to tried and trusted entities such as, for example, businesses who supply goods or services to the promoter or radio stations who plug the gigs. Sometimes, it’s even more random than that: for instance, you used to sometimes find free tickets for poor selling gigs on the counter in Tower Records in Dublin on the day of the gig. Nearly everyone wins: the punter gets to see a show for free, the business has a nice warm glow for doing a good turn for their employees, the promoter has a busier room than he would have otherwise and the act gets to play their new songs to more people (the act is probably already on a guaranteed fee for the show so they’re happy anyway)

Like I said, the act of papering a gig is a subtle one, which makes the pre-show happenings for last Sunday’s Joanna Newsom show in Dublin all the more unusual. The Yankee harpie is one of a couple of acts playing the @ the Park gigs in a 5,000 capacity tent in Marlay Park this summer, a series of shows which has already featured a sold-out show for The Coronas and will also feature gigs by Roger Daltery, Seasick Steve, Bell X1, Rodrigo y Gabriela and 2 Many DJs before the tent is taken down and given back to the circus.

It was during the Villagers’ show at the venue on Saturday that tweets and texts began to appear talking about ticket giveaways for the Newsom show. Various punters reported about being approached, offered Newsom tickets for free and encouraged to take as many as they wanted. One source reported being offered half-a-dozen tickets and to come back if she wanted more. Another said that the girl with the tickets seemed to have “loads” of them to dispose of.

By Sunday, there were even more tweets and online snippets doing the rounds about the situation. Such was the number of freebies doing the rounds (or lack of interest in the show) that one poor fan had trouble giving away his spare ticket.

The problem with the show was simply that Newsom was the wrong act for that venue. Even a small amount of research amongst fanatical J-New fans, including those who type enthusiastically about her on OTR threads, would have told you that they had no intention of paying €40-plus to see her in a tent in SoCoDu. They just didn’t buy it – and if the fervent fanbase who saw her at the Olympia and Grand Canal Theatre weren’t going to head to the tent, you knew you were in trouble. After all, Newsom just doesn’t have the mass fanbase or daytime hits to fill a 5k tent, regardless of the support cast or promotion done to sell the show. It was one of those shows where you literally couldn’t even give away the tickets for it.

Many may think it’s depressing that the Coronas sold out on the same weekend that Newsom and Villagers didn’t do similar business, but that’s the way the live music cookie crumbles right now. It’s a damn tough summer out there and getting people to pay good money for live music tickets is getting harder and harder. As we saw with The National at Oxegen, the days of hoping to entice the dedicated fanbase to a show which they wouldn’t normally go to are over – perhaps just for now or perhaps, indeed, for good.