It was an experiment rooted in greed that was destined not to end well.
As my teenage life became centered around live music, it was clear I needed additional income to support my concert addition. At an average price of $13 a ticket, plus that patented 35% Ticketmaster surcharge, how was this high school kid supposed to get by?
The formula I devised was straightforward: Buy a few extra tickets to a show I was planning to attend anyway, and sell them for enough profit to cover the expense of my ticket.
It was a win-win, making the mass-transit travel and early-morning West Coast Video trips (they were a Ticketmaster outlet and ill-fated VHS rental chain) a bit more tolerable.
At 16 years old, ticket scalping was not my first foray into entrepreneurship.
A few years earlier, (’91? ’92?), I launched my first “business,” Punk Rock Pals.
Built on a simple premise, customers told me the name of their favorite band, sent a SASE along with a few dollars, and I would scour the World Wide Web to curate articles and photos. There was a longer-term goal to connect like-minded music fans.
This “startup” was made possible by my buddy who lived down the block, the first person I knew who could access the Internet via Prodigy/14.4k modem.
I will never forget my first screen-name: NCJG34B
I don’t recall how many subscribers PRP had, it was only a handful, but the markup for profitability was phenomenal and helped fuel even more concert ticking buying. Hey, I had to scrape up the money to afford the additional tickets I planned to scalp.
Things were going well, and I attended many shows for “free.”
It was a Mudhoney show at Irving Plaza that had me go all-in as a ticket reseller.
The Chrome Cranks opened. And word on the street was Eddie Vedder and/or Pearl Jam was in town. Midnight was the time. A secret show, played following the Mudhoney set. I have no idea where the rumor came from and if there was any truth to it. What I did know was that Mudhoney tickets at Irving Plaza were in demand. High demand. And guess who happened to have a few extras.
“Pearl Jam. Midnight. It’s a sure thing.”random people on East 15th Street
Pearl Jam never showed, but it was my first business lesson: buy the rumor, sell the news.
A couple of months later, I’d take my first significant financial loss when Soundgarden played two sold-out nights to support Superunknown. The shows were at the New York Armory, and if you’re wondering where the fuck the New York Armory is, and why a military building was doubling as a concert hall, you’d be asking some good questions.
I overshot, buying at least a dozen extra tickets. Perhaps it was the funky venue. Bad weather? A poor sales strategy? But I was having trouble moving the merchandise.
I missed the opening acts, Eleven and Tad, as I scrambled to make a sale.
I have no memory of the show itself. I only recall the dejected feeling of selling the tickets at a loss, with each tick of the clock resulting in a lower and lower sale.
Some lucky bastards even scored a few tickets for $10 a pop.
As a relatively quiet kid, I look back in wonderment. Who was that introvert walking up and down the surrounding blocks of venues asking, “tickets? need tickets?”
My early success wasn’t rooted in any secret sales tactic. It was simple: people liked to buy tickets from people who looked and sounded like they did. Another business lesson.
And it was a fun run. Until November 1994, that is.
Two nights at Roseland, and I had secured a handful of tickets for each show.
Things were going well before the first show. I was excited to hear Madonna’s alt-grunge darlings (signed to her Maverick record label) play their self-titled debut album, a record that was awesome from Intro to Voodoo Child.
Business was brisk, with kids shelling out FIVE times what I paid to see the show (face value was $22.50, all in).
It was an unseasonably warm evening, and I was feeling goooood.
With just a few more tickets to sell, the glow of Broadway’s Stardust Diner feeling a little extra bright, I was approached by a large man, who by all appearances, did not appear to be a Candlebox fan.
“You got tickets?”
I reluctantly showed the few tickets I had left, clutching them tightly.
He then took his lit cigarette and pressed it against the piece of ticket not covered by my sweaty hand. The ol’, will-it-burn-through-if-it-doesn’t-it’s-official-thermal-paper-stock test.
“I’ve seen you around a lot lately,” he said.
“You better stop. These are our shows.”
“It’s a free country.”
“You don’t understand our reach. We’re everywhere. I better never see you selling here again. Or anywhere.”
I walked–OK jogged–to the front gate at Roseland, the ballroom once again serving as a refuge.
Knowing that I was already profitable for the night, I had no real need to sell my remaining tickets. I sought out a couple of kids in front of the venue, and in a small whisper, asked, “Need tickets?”
I like to think I made their night, but frankly, I didn’t give a fuck. I just needed to get inside, away from Mr. Cigarette.
Candlebox was great that night, but it was the opening band that left me talking for days.
It was my second time suffering through The Flaming Lips. Holy shit. It was painful, like having my ears violated. I was sure I’d find blood.
The first time I was subjected to The Flaming Lips was at The Academy, November 6, 1993. It was a show that was part of the CMJ Music Marathon. Little did I know that I would end up working for CMJ during college. But I wasn’t there for The Lips, I was there for the opening acts: Boredoms, the Japanese act that employed multiple drummers; Adam Sandler (WTF!?); And, oh yeah, Green Day. 🙂
A year later, when The Flaming Lips played the Peach Pit After Dark on 90210, I was still angry and confused. “Who booked these ‘talent-less’ bastards?!”
Of course, that was just my naivety talking at the time.
Back to ticket scalping.
In hindsight, it’s incredible that the scalpers, who often worked together, as displayed by the constant passing of tickets and cash between one another, did not respond sooner. This was their livelihood, and I was a 90s alt-rock high school kid fucking up their flow.
There was one problem: I still had six tickets to the second Candlebox show at Roseland two nights later. I was scared to return to the scene of the crime, so I unloaded those tickets in Penn Station to a bunch of straggly kids. The price? Face value, and my career as a ticket scalper.