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A New Option for Buying Tickets Online

October 08, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

Math problem:

A ticket for Elliott Smith's Wiltern Theatre show Nov. 14 is priced at $13. A seat for Aimee Mann's date at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison, Wis., on Saturday is priced at $22.

Which one will cost you more?

If you buy them online, Smith's will be the costlier. Ticketmaster, which is selling tickets for that event, charges a convenience fee of $7.20. The Wiltern adds a $3 facility charge and Ticketmaster then tacks on $3.25 for handling. The total is $26.45.

Mann's show, sold online by a new company called Virtuous.com, has a surcharge of $2--and nothing more--for a total of $24.

Virtuous (http://www.virtuous.com) is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh, formerly of the band Throwing Muses, and her manager and husband Billy O'Connell. The enterprise, they say, is designed to give artists more control of such matters. It's the latest example of the way the Internet is being used by artists to take more control of their careers.

In contrast to Ticketmaster's charges, Virtuous adds just $1 for tickets under $15, $2 for tickets $13 to $24.99, $3 for those $25 to $49.99, and $4 for anything $50 or more. And Virtuous plans to funnel a portion of its profits--if and when it makes any--to charities in the communities where it is selling tickets.

"We created this company simply as an answer to fans' complaints," says O'Connell, president and CEO of the venture. "They said they were buying $12 tickets for $18, and the blame was thrown back at us."

Such complaints are nothing new, of course. Artists have tried to tackle it before--most notably Pearl Jam, which took on Ticketmaster in the early '90s, but ultimately backed off because Ticketmaster's exclusive deals with many large facilities limited where the band could play. (A $26 ticket for Pearl Jam's show Oct. 28 at the Blockbuster Pavilion, by the way, will actually cost you $40.25 if bought online--which is about the standard Ticketmaster markup.)

But O'Connell believes that at a club and small theater level, at least, artists can dictate more on these costs.

"We hope to encourage artists to take control of that part of their business, and we think the idea of artists selling tickets directly to their fans will take hold," he says.

Virtuous has started building a network of clubs around the country, with McCabe's in Santa Monica on board and the new Knitting Factory Hollywood just signed up. The next step is to build ongoing relationships with artists who would use the service for at least some online ticketing for entire tours. In some cases, involving shows in buildings with Ticketmaster deals, O'Connell says, a percentage of tickets could be reserved for the artist's fan club and not sold by Ticketmaster.

The Mann show is a one-off deal made with the concert's promoter, but the singer's manager, Michael Hausman, says there could well be more.

"I've been talking to Billy a lot about it, and I think it's a great idea," he says. "It seems like a great way to help artists take care of their fans."

A Ticketmaster spokesman pointed out that online tends to be the most expensive way to buy tickets--a function in part of its convenience. Additionally, Ticketmaster takes on the costs and risks of the computer inventory systems, operators and ticket printing equipment involved.

Virtuous, O'Connell says, is merely an alternative to that system. It's the same concept as making music available on the Internet, which Hersh has been doing for three years now. For a $15 annual subscription, fans can download one otherwise unreleased song per month. O'Connell says they currently have 3,000 subscribers.

"It's a matter of engaging our fan base," O'Connell says. "And that success led to the 10-person team we now have coming together to make Virtuous."

TRAVEL CHANGE: The outbreak of conflicts between Israeli troops and Palestinians has led Wynonna to shift a TV shoot that had been planned for Jerusalem and the historic Masada site to Mt. Sinai in Egypt. The singer is to be featured in an episode of "Music in High Places," a series taking music artists to far-flung locales with spiritual and cultural significance.

Two episodes have been filmed so far, one with Alanis Morissette in the Navajo lands of Arizona, the second with Brian McKnight in the Brazilian town of San Luis. The series is airing initially on the Direct TV satellite system, with the Morissette episode having just premiered.

"When the problems erupted, we had to change our plans," says executive producer Anthony Eaton. "So now we're going to where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. We'll be there in two weeks. It's difficult to change the plans, especially to a place 175 miles from the nearest town. But that's the way it should be--pilgrims need to suffer."

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