As TikTok does, the social media platform recently resurfaced a months-old interview with the 1975 frontman Matty Healy and honed in on a 30-second sound bite — a tiny fraction of the hour-long conversation with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe — that was sure to spark discussion, if not controversy.
For the unacquainted, the 1975 is one of the most innovative, influential and divisive bands of the past decade. They tour arenas all over the world and Matty can’t walk down the street in any major British city without getting mobbed by fans. For all intents and purposes, he is a superstar, even though his band exists slightly outside the mainstream.
In this extensive interview, after discussing how he doesn’t want to take for granted the “transient, ephemeral thing” that connects the fan and the artist at a concert, Matty hits on his disdain for meet-and-greets. This is where the TikTok clip begins.
“It’s people reaching for something,” said Matty, “which is why I hate paid meet-and-greets: you’ve paid for the album; you’ve paid for the ticket; you’ve paid for the parking; you’ve got them in the room and somebody’s gone, ‘How do we monetize that bit?’” Matty revs up: “If you’re an artist and you do paid meet-and-greets … you take the money off the fan. I challenge you to do that.”
“It’s fucking gross,” Zane interjects.
“It’s absolutely fucking gross,” Matty concurs.
First off, album sales are all but dead; the fans paid Spotify or Apple for the music. How much of that will the band see? Maybe a few pennies. The fans paid Ticketmaster for the tickets, and the venue, or a garage, for parking. How much of that trickles down to the artist? Very little.
One of the last remaining avenues for artists to monetize — directly and on their own terms — is enhanced fan experiences, whether that’s in the form of VIP meet-and-greets, soundcheck Q&As, fanclub subscription, patronage or crowdfunding.
Streaming has proven extremely profitable for major record labels and artists given massive platforms via top playlists. But it doesn’t help acts with modest (albeit die hard) fanbases — like those of indie artists. Ticket sales are also not enough to sustain a touring band if the promoter, venue and ticketing platform keep the majority of the sale. Santigold said as much in 2022, telling Variety, “[Touring] at my level — somewhere in the middle — it’s fucking rough. … I was making some money but not enough to live off of.”
VIP packages offer fans a way to support the band financially and get a once-in-a-lifetime experience in return. It doesn’t have to be gross. There are hundreds of indie artists doing this with integrity — enabling them to actually earn a living making music.
It’s not 2012 anymore. Bands don’t blow up or get signed because of a key radio spin, like the 1975 did. Big breaks don’t come through gatekeepers anymore. And major record labels aren’t developing artists or taking many risks anymore — they’re signing sure things: singles that went viral on TikTok.
Being a working musician is hard these days. It takes an incredible amount of grit, know-how, creativity and talent. We as a music community should be encouraging our fellow artists and lifting them up. Not chastising them and telling them they are “gross” for trying to find ways to make a living when most other traditional revenue streams have dried up. Indie artists nowadays have to monetize fandom if they want to survive.
Superstars exist in an alternate universe. There’s a big difference between those who tour arenas and charge $1,000 for a 30-second photo opp and an indie artist playing clubs charging $150 to attend a soundcheck and Q&A or receive perks like a gift bag, photo opp or early venue access. For indie artists, this is literally the difference between a successful and a failed tour; eating and not eating.
So Matty, instead of making black and white statements and chastising musicians who look up to you, why not use your power to change the system? Go after corporations that charge fans exorbitant fees, none of which the artist sees. I challenge you, Matty, to look an indie band in the eye who can barely make their rent, and tell them they don’t deserve to earn a living with their art because you’ve defined the moral standard of what’s acceptable. That’s fucking gross.
Ari Herstand is author of the best-selling How to Make It in the New Music Business, the host of the Webby Award-winning New Music Business podcast, the CEO and founder of the music business education company Ari’s Take and a Los Angeles-based musician.