This article originally appeared in Cherwell on 19 March 2016.
“Don’t get any big ideas / They’re not gonna happen.”
It was always going to end in tears. Under 10,000 tickets in total released for Radiohead’s three London shows. An internet scrum of gargantuan proportions. Touted tickets selling for £1,000 online twenty minutes after sales began at 9am, and thousands of fans staring at a queue, waiting for tickets which were no longer available. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke put it best on Twitter hours later: “I’m as fucked off as you are. And am only human”.
If the latter sentence was a cheeky jibe at the Ticketmaster security system which repeatedly worked hard to ensure that ticket buyers were not robots and were, in fact, just slightly bleary eyed, pissed off music fans, the former was certainly directed at the vitriolic tirade of abuse received in the wake of the ticketing disaster, and at the hefty £65 price tag.
Regardless of whether one was able to get into the position to pay it or not, that price is a massive issue. It goes without saying that music, increasingly an art-less industry, is now so financially unviable that it is only through extortionate live fees that artists that make profit from their musical endeavours. Indeed, Adele tickets can escalate to £100 – Radiohead, as an independent band, are increasingly reliant on such incomes to fund their albums and tours. This pricing strategy may be cynical, but at least it is understandable.
Less forgivable are the technological glitches which hampered both the Ticketmaster and Roundhouse sites. Like many, this writer attempted to buy tickets, only to face a Ticketmaster site which, at 9am on the dot, failed to recognise the tickets’ existence, while the Roundhouse site’s queue position would jump from the low hundreds to the high thousands without cause. Meanwhile, the venue’s own phone lines were down. To remedy this, there is always the possibility to go all-physical once more: to sell directly from the venue, thus crushing ticket-buying bots and ensuring that queues actually work fairly, free from glitches. However, this would be punitive for those who live far away from the venues – the interest in Radiohead’s Roundhouse shows were, and remain, worldwide. Thus to punish non-local fans would be heinous, and is clearly not the solution.
What then? Buying directly from the venue website doesn’t work, as most simply aren’t robust enough to handle the huge internet traffic which some bands generate. Perhaps a better solution would be to stagger sales – to make sure that batches are released incrementally, allowing people multiple chances. Moreover, maybe there should be a lottery system, allowing tickets to be parcelled out fairly among number holders.
However, whatever the solution, Radiohead, no matter how “fucked off” they might be, only have themselves to blame: when one of the biggest bands in the world decides to be obtuse and play for only a handful of fans, it will never end well. As it turns out, trying the best you can, as Radiohead recommend in ‘Optimistic’, is not, actually, good enough.