Price To Meet You: Inside the world of the “Meet and Greet”

One Direction. Lionel Ritchie. New Found Glory.

Price To Meet You: Inside the world of the “Meet and Greet”
Price To Meet You: Inside the world of the “Meet and Greet”

By Rob Barbour

Dec 13, 2014 16:41

In the words of the Sesame Street song, ‘One of these things is not like the others’. What bizarre category, you’re wondering, could include the world’s biggest boy-band, that dude your mum fancies who’s got, like, one song about saying hello, and Florida’s favourite pop-punk export? The answer is that all three acts offered or are offering ‘VIP Meet & Greet Packages’ on their latest tours.

I’m not alone in noticing that an increasing number of bands in the alternative ‘scene’ – in other words, bands we cover here at Punktastic- have begun selling similar ‘upgrades’, ‘experiences’ and ‘VIP packages’. Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynolds – who has form for calling bands out on this sort of thing–  recently penned a piece for Alternative Press in which he posited the question, ‘If someone charges to meet them, do they deserve to be met?’ Whatever your views on his band’s music, Reynolds’ championing of fans and insistence that bands remember who put them in the positions they’re in is consistent, sincere and admirable.

Although I agree with a lot of what he writes – ill-considered comments about prostitution aside – he is writing from the perspective of a young musician who’s had the fortune since very early on in his career to make his music financially viable in itself. A brief search of Twitter will show you examples of fans clamouring to get their hands on these meet and greet passes and desperately hoping their favourite bands will offer said packages on their next tours. In the face of that kind of demand – and falling music sales – one might argue, why shouldn’t bands exploit that demand?

The sale of meet and greet ‘experiences’ is nothing new per se and for acts like One Direction, who couldn’t set foot outside of a venue without being mobbed by thousands of adoring fans, it makes sense. Their fans aren’t gig-goers in the traditional sense and that might be the only show they attend in any given year. Ticket prices range from ‘eye-wateringly expensive’ to ‘call a surgeon and prep an ice bath, I’m selling my kidneys’, and paying even more to meet and have your picture taken with bona fide pop icons could be seen as a logical extension of this fantasy experience. You aren’t about to bump into Harry Styles or Zayn Malik in a record shop up the road from that night’s gig venue; pre-arranged meetings are likely the only way that

A) One Direction fans can meet their idols

B) One Direction can be protected from their fans

By contrast, New Found Glory – who brought their Pop Punk’s Not Dead tour to the UK in November – are playing to between 2,000 and 3,000 people per night and can walk down the street in any city in the UK without most people having a clue who they are.

Yet, two months before the tour started, they began offering ‘VIP Upgrades’ to existing ticketholders. Fans who’d already shelled out to see the Floridians on their first tour here as a four-piece could – by paying 150% of the ticket price again – secure themselves a photo opportunity with the band, access to a ‘soundcheck party’, a laminate and a ‘signed exclusive album lithograph’.

The general consensus among people I’ve spoken to – none of whom, of course, would ever participate in such events either as musicians or as punters – is that these bands are taking their fans to the cleaners. Charging for something that ought to be free in lieu of finding generally innovative ways of diversifying their revenue streams.

On the other hand, it could be argued that if music fans – the same fans who are voluntarily handing over the equivalent of five months’ Spotify subscription, or six albums on iTunes to get their pictures taken with their heroes – were spending more money on music, bands wouldn’t want or need to do this in the first place. There’s no longer the demand for a £10 album that there used to be, but you can’t pirate the experience of attending a show, much less a face-to-face meeting.

I’ve also noticed a distinct correlation between being a musician (or, for want of a better phrase, an ‘industry type’) and being appalled by the popularity of these packages. It’s important to remember that most bands aren’t saying that this is the only way you’ll get to meet them – but it’s a way of guaranteeing that you will. If you’re fundamentally opposed to the concept of the meet and greet, it’s going to be difficult for you to understand the mentality of someone who might want to attend one.

So who are these events for, and what are they actually like?

Price To Meet You: Inside the world of the “Meet and Greet”
Price To Meet You: Inside the world of the “Meet and Greet”

My girlfriend is exactly the type of person at whom meet and greet packages are aimed. A gig-goer of some fifteen years for whom the excitement of seeing and the novelty of meeting bands has never worn thin, getting a photograph with or an autograph from the band she’s gone to see turns a great night into a truly memorable one. ‘I’d rather pay to guarantee I’m going to get to meet a band’, she says, ‘than take an afternoon off work to stand around outside the venue or take my chances standing around in the rain afterwards.’ The increasing popularity of these events suggests she’s not alone.

With all of this in mind, and with tickets for the Pop Punk’s Not Dead tour already ordered, I stumped up for the VIP Meet & Greet Upgrade package. Here’s my experience.

One week before the show, I receive a reminder email. This is the first time since paying for the pass that I get a slight tinge of cringe:

NFG E-mailI’m simultaneously being pre-emptively shouted at AND encouraged to get excited about an ‘opportunity’ I’ve specifically paid for. Someone needs to explain to Ticketspin the definition of the word ‘friends’. But we’ve already established that I’m approaching this with a higher-than-average level of cynicism, so I’ll let that slide. Onto the event itself.

On the day of the gig, I arrived at the venue to find a short queue of our fellow ‘meet and greeters’ outside The Forum. Chatting to a couple in the queue behind us, I discovered they’d travelled all the way from Munich just to see the show. For them, the additional cost was peanuts on top of what the weekend had already cost them and was a way for them to ensure they’d leave with not just memories and battlescars (sorry) but with autographs and photos too.

I asked them if they’d ever attended any similar events before. They’d been to see Angels & Airwaves, but the “Meet and Greet” had consisted of ‘watching them play a couple of songs, then throwing some sweets at us. That was it.’ No handshakes, no photo ops. Now that, in my view, is true exploitation: selling your fans the promise of an experience which you subsequently fail to deliver.

We could hear the band soundchecking in the auditorium and I began to wonder what exactly this ‘soundcheck party’ would entail, given that it obviously wasn’t going to involve an actual soundcheck (which ,as anyone who’s ever endured a soundcheck will tell you, is no bad thing).

As we filed into the venue, NFG’s charismatic tour manager explained how the session would play out. We were all given laminates reading ‘I GOT TO MEET NEW FOUND GLORY’ which would then act as earlybird tickets for the gig that evening, allowing us to jump the queue and get in 15 minutes before everyone else. We were then taken into The Forum where a somewhat subdued New Found Glory awaited us, to perform a 3-song set. They took requests from the ‘crowd’ (there were sufficiently few of us that everyone was on the barrier) and ensured they only played songs which weren’t going to be performed that evening.

As people shouted different songs, Chad Gilbert put the various requests back to the crowd for a popular vote and eventually we got ‘2s & 3s’, ‘Boy Crazy’ and ‘Coming Home’. Played to a virtually-empty room with no crowd to absorb the sound, the songs sounded awful – echoey and indistinct – but there was an undeniable joy to having NFG perform a private show at such close quarters. Afterwards, we queued up to have our photos taken with the band, who were happy to sign whatever was thrust in front of them and handed us a pre-signed lithograph of the ‘Resurrection’ album cover.

It did seem that the other members of the band other than Gilbert might have felt as awkward about the situation as I did – there’s something strangely forced about any situation where you’re queuing up simply to meet people and get their signatures but everyone else, including my girlfriend, was incredibly excited and clearly having a great time. It also helps that Chad is one of the single most enthusiastic and friendly human beings it’s ever been my pleasure to encounter and he managed the situation like a champ – asking people questions when they were tongue-tied and even taking selfies on people’s phones with them.

As we shuffled out of the venue and back onto the streets of Kentish Town, I asked my control subject what she’d thought of the experience. ‘It was awesome!’ Our new German friends had had a similarly great time, reflecting on how much better it was than the AVA don’t-meet-and-don’t-greet.

Would I do it again? Not personally, but then I’m not who these events are for. I enjoy gigs for what they are and – barring a personal invitation from Matt Skiba or Ben Gibbard to go backstage and collaborate on a new song they’re struggling to finish –  I struggle to imagine a situation in which my enjoyment of a show would be affected by whether or not I got to meet the people performing it.

And that, I think, is what people forget when they viciously attack the entire concept of the ‘Meet and Greet’. If the difference between a fun night and an unforgettable one lies in whether or not someone got to meet the band and have a mini-show played just for them, £30 seems like a small price to pay for an iron-clad assurance that that will happen.