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Local venues explore alternatives to the big-ticket enterprises

MUSIC: That's the ticket 

Local venues explore alternatives to the big-ticket enterprises

The conversation happens all the time among concert-going friends, and it tends to go something like this: "Hey dude, you should come to this super awesome fun time special concert." "I'd love to man, how much does it cost?" "Fifteen bucks, no big deal, you can scrape it." "Yeah man, I'll go check it out, hold on....Sorry, I can't go, with service fees the massive ticketing website is charging me almost 30 bucks. Not going to happen."

Wash, rinse, and repeat. And sometimes there just isn't an option — some shows and venues go through the big ticket enterprises only. But, in Rochester's music scene, at least, several local clubs and venues have found away those sites and their exorbitant service fees, working with other ticketing alternatives that, at this point, seem to be offering more consumer-friendly alternatives.

The biggest and most recent change was Water Street Music Hall, which shifted away from Ticketmaster a year and a half ago in favor of Front Gate Tickets, an Austin, Texas-based company. Water Street had previously been using Ticketmaster as a ticket outlet for the past 10 years.

"The reason we changed over to Front Gate was the fact that Ticketmaster was charging too much for fees, plus they were not progressing on the house side of the software and stayed concentrated on the ticket buyer," says John Chmiel, owner and general manager of Water Street Music Hall.

The switch to Front Gate afforded Water Street an integrated website and ticketing system, as well as allowed the venue to enter its own ticketing information into the site without having to wait for the several-day turnaround Chmiel says it experienced with Ticketmaster. Ticket money is also given back to the venue twice as fast, and also gave Water Street use of Front Gate databases for advertising opportunities, according to Chmiel.

"It just made a whole lot more sense to go in Front Gate's direction," Chmiel says. Chmiel also mentioned the financial gains on the business end, stating that Water Street now spends 30 hours less a week working on shows with Front Gate as it did with Ticketmaster.

And, as for any losses that may have come with switching to a smaller company as opposed to a giant like Ticketmaster, Chmiel admits that at first there was some decline, but that customers quickly learned where to purchase Water Street tickets, even with the loss of marketing efforts like Ticketmaster's mass customer e-mail service. He also says that the new Front Gate-run website also helps to counter any loss of ticket sales, as has Water Street's increased focus on and use of social media.

Water Street isn't the only local venue that uses Front Gate for ticketing. Montage Music Hall also recently started using the company for its national ticket-providing services. Montage offers online ticket sales for both local and national acts, but only for local acts that warrant them, or if a band requests them for a show.

"Some bands prefer to promote with hard tickets in hand," says Randy Peck, owner of Montage Music Hall. "They feel that by selling their fans tickets in advance, it aids in and enhances the overall attendance."

But for national shows, a ticketing system is needed, instead of just relying on day-of sales at the door. "We need to use a ticketing system so that people from out of town and out of state can find and purchase tickets to our shows," Peck says. "It guarantees them admittance rather than waiting in line and possibly being shut out of a sold-out show."

As for going with Front Gate over Ticketmaster or other services, Peck echoed similar concerns as many concert-going consumers. "I think they are more customer- and user-friendly," Peck says. "Their surcharges are more reasonable and the online promotion is a benefit." Rochester Events, the group that brought Wilco to the Highland Bowl and puts on the weekly summer Party in the Park concerts, also uses Front Gate for its tickets.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is a unique example, in the way that it offers its own ticketing software so that all RPO events are sold and handled by the RPO directly on its website (the exception being summer shows at CMAC, tickets to which are also sold through Ticketmaster, because that is CMAC's preferred vendor).

But, for many of the smaller local venues, advance or online sales aren't necessarily needed, and thus a venue will handle all the ticketing work itself, only relying on advance online sales on a case-by-case basis. The Bug Jar, for example, handles most of its shows with day-of door sales, and at least on the local level, has only ever done online advance tickets once in recent memory. For bigger national shows, the venue works with Musictoday, a company under the Ticketmaster umbrella, when agents or larger bands request advanced ticketing. Several local venues also occasionally will have tickets available through Ticketweb, such as the Bug Jar, Montage, and Dubland Underground.

Before we completely cue the orchestral performance of "Ticketmaster is Evil: The Symphonic Overture," there are still many locations in Rochester that rely on, and possibly need, a website the size of Ticketmaster to handle their events. Even Ticketmaster has seen crashes when large events go on sale, and locally the Blue Cross Arena, CMAC, the Auditorium Theatre, and Darien Lake all use Ticketmaster (or Live Nation, which at this point is part of the same company). The Main Street Armory is the largest local venue that does not, using Ticketfly as its main ticket outlet.

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