Worried you won't be able to land a ticket to your favorite concert this summer? Not to fear, the music industry has a club you can join. For a small fee.
In a trend that started with the Grateful Dead and has taken off in recent years, artists are offering tickets to members of their fan clubs before sales open to the general public. Even some venues have exclusive and pricey clubs fans can join with the promise of premier seating.
The artist fan clubs offer an increased chance but no guarantee of getting a concert ticket. Members also get access to fans-only Web sites and limited-release CDs. Some sites give away opportunities to hang out with band members.
Comcast-Spectacor, which owns concert venues in Philadelphia, last month announced guaranteed premium seats for all its summer concerts, including Madonna, Prince and Beyonce for a $200 VIP club fee.
Fan clubs are viewed as a way to connect with and reward an artists' true fans, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade publication Pollstar. But some clubs are a new revenue stream, too, he said.
"It makes sense to try to take care of your loyal fans, but it's a fine line before that moves over into just a way to up the ticket price," he said.
What artists charge for club membership usually parallels their fans' wallets: Britney Spears charges $25, Dave Matthews Band charges $35, while Fleetwood Mac has $50 and $80 levels.
Many fans say the clubs are worth the price. They enjoy the CD and Web site perks, but most join for the advance-sale tickets, even though seat aren't guaranteed or sometimes aren't even that good.
That's caused problems in the past. Fleetwood Mac and the Dixie Chicks both faced complaints from angry fans that the clubs didn't deliver on their promise of good seats, said Todd Lokken of Ticketsnow.com, an online ticket broker.
"Fans were expecting more than they got," Lokken said. "To avoid that you've got to tell them what they're getting up front, and you don't want to gouge them."
Many fans join the clubs so they don't have to wait in line at Ticketmaster, even though that might net them better seats.
"I did get better seats through Ticketmaster," said Mary Going, of New York, a member of the Dave Matthews Band fan club. "I'm just not a person who has the patience to deal with Ticketmaster."
Dave Hruby, a 32-year-old Dave Matthews fan from Minneapolis, echoed those thoughts: "I got sick of waking up at 5 in the morning and waiting in line and hoping tickets weren't sold out by the time you got up there."
Members of Comcast-Spectacor's VIP club in Philadelphia are willing to pay $200 for a season of ticket-buying convenience, said John Page, a senior vice president for Comcast Spectacor. He said fans don't complain about the price.
"Particularly if you're looking to pay $100 or $150 for an Eagles seat ... when you look at ticket prices it's really not that much," he said. "You don't have to wait in line and you can get a quality seat."
The artists' fan clubs foster a sense of community, too. Going, a 26-year-old administrative assistant who's seen Dave Matthews 11 times in the last year, said she's made new friends at members-only parties.
"There's definitely more to the $30 than just the tickets," Going said.
By Jason Straziuso