We’ve spent a year and a half listening to music by ourselves, watching Instagram Live shows, and pre-recorded performances. Now that live shows are back, we’ve realized that many people who got into music during the pandemic or are now old enough to go to shows for the first time may be lost when it comes to all of the jargon and conventions around buying tickets to live shows, especially ones where the tickets are in high demand.
With literally hundreds of shows under our belt, Staged Haze’s years of experience are here to acquaint (or perhaps re-acquaint!) you with the ticket-buying process. If you want to get both the best and cheapest seats, what do you need to be on the lookout for?
The Tour Announcement
- Headliners & Openers: Most tours include a “headline” act and a “support” or “opening” act. The headliner is the main artist: the one who plays last. They usually play an hour to an hour-and-a-half long set, sometimes even longer. In some instances, bands will play co-headlining tours where both acts play a main set.
- If a band announces that they’re playing “with” or “supported by” or with “special guests,” those subsequent bands (usually one or two artists) are the openers. These artists are typically lesser-known, but generally are booked with the intention to appeal to the fans of the headliner. They play shorter sets before the headline band plays, usually anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.
- Shows announced without openers will not necessarily stay that way; they might get support bands or local acts added closer to the date. This is common with smaller shows: in most instances, a major label act playing large-scale venues will almost always have one to three set supporting acts scheduled to play the entirety of the tour.
- However, shows billed as “An Evening With” or something similar indicate that there isn’t an opener; the headline act will go on shortly after the doors to the event open. You can almost always find this information in your ticket confirmation email, on the venue’s website, or the various forms of social media from said venue or artist. The artist may or may not play a longer-than-normal set for these opener-less shows.
- Doors/Show Times: Show announcements usually have two times listed: “Doors” and “Show.” The doors typically open an hour before the show begins. If you want to be in the front row, you should be there when the doors open, if not before. Besides “reserving” your standing spot, this is also a key time to buy merch. You’ll have to hold it the whole show (bring a tote bag!), but if you wait until the end of the show, the merch line is typically long and they might sell out of something you want.
- If you want to bring a tote bag, be sure to check with the venue’s bag policy. This is becoming more common than the past: independent venues in Los Angeles like The Echo have started to enforce a very specific policy beyond the normal “no outside food or drink or dangerous items” policy from before the pandemic.
- The “show” time is when the first act goes on. If there are openers, this is when the openers will start their set. There’s typically at least a 20-minute break to reset the stage between each act, so do the math accordingly if you think you’ll be running late and are wondering when the headline act will go on. Sometimes, the venues will post the artists’ set times on the doors of the entrance, but this is less common than not.
- All Ages/18+/21+ Shows: If a show is at a bar, it’s likely that the event is 21 and up. In most instances, you are allowed into these venues with an adult over 21 if you are under 21, be sure to look at the individual websites for these venues and/or email/call to inquire. Almost 100% of the time, this information will be easily accessible online or when you’re getting ready to purchase tickets.
Either way, make sure to bring ID with you when going to a show. Even if you’re over 21, you may get denied entry if you can’t prove your age. Venues also often check IDs at the door so they can mark underage concertgoers hands with an X or give over-21 guests wristbands so the bartenders and waitstaff know who is of legal drinking age.
- The Only Show in My City is a Festival! If an artist’s only show in your city is a festival, don’t automatically assume you’re going to have to go to either the festival or another city to see them. Some festivals have clauses that prevent artists from having shows within a certain radius or announcing shows within a certain timeframe so they can sell tickets for the festival.
Sometimes the artist will do an “aftershow” for the festival, which is essentially a separate, regular show. These are announced sometime after the festival tickets go on sale and you don’t need to attend the festival to attend these shows. Some of my favorite shows have been Lollapalooza aftershows; headline artists typically play a much smaller venue for the aftershow than they would normally play.
Other times, an artist will announce a show in the festival’s city after the festival tickets have been sold or after the festival itself. If you can, be patient.
Before Tickets Go on Sale
- Ticketmaster Verified Fan: In the last few years, this Ticketmaster program has become more popular with artists who know the demand for their tickets will exceed the supply. This program “verifies” each person who registers and, if chosen to receive the opportunity to buy tickets, gives them a unique access password that is tied to their Ticketmaster account in an attempt to eliminate ticket bots.
If the artist you’re seeing is using Ticketmaster Verified Fan, you MUST register through VF to buy tickets. This is not a pre-sale. This is the only way to purchase tickets.
If you are selected to receive a code, that does not mean you have tickets. This just means you have access to the on-sale. You’ll get the code via text the night before the onsale and can enter it into access the website when it’s your turn to purchase tickets.
Approximately Two Days Before Tickets Go on Sale:
- Some shows will have pre-sales. In a pre-sale, a select amount of tickets are available for purchase for a certain group of people before the general on-sale.
There are venue presales (the venue might send the password out on their social media or email list), artist presales (the artist might send the password to their mailing list), Spotify presales (Spotify might send the top X percent of an artist’s listeners a password), et cetera.
These pre-sales start one or two days before the actual sale. If you score a ticket in a presale, congratulations! You don’t have to stress out on the day of the actual sale. If you don’t, or you don’t like the seat options, this does NOT mean that the show is sold out. Only a small portion of seats are available during the presale.
The tickets sold during presales are also rarely “the best seats” on sale. Personally we’ve never been able to access the best seats during fan presales; it seems more like an opportunity for the most dedicated fans to secure tickets regardless of the seats’ location at the venue.
Day of Ticket Sale:
- Double-check to see what time tickets go on sale. Oftentimes the sale opens at 10 am or 12 pm local time, meaning the time zone that the venue is in. Sometimes they go on sale at 10 am ET, for example, meaning that West Coast folks might have to get up early to compete.
- When buying tickets, do NOT Google “[artist] [city] tickets.” You will get ads and Google results for Stubhub, Vivid Seats, SeatGeek, TickPick, TicketSales, TicketsOnSale, SeeTickets, and many other websites and it is VERY hard to tell which one is the official site.
Let us tell you: NONE of these are the official ticket site. All of these sites will have marked-up resale tickets on a sliding scale of questionability.
- ALWAYS access the ticket sale by clicking on a link the artist provided, going to the artist’s site, or through the venue’s site. Venues typically use Ticketmaster, AXS, Eventbrite, Ticketweb, Ticketfly, or an internal site software.
- If the ticketing system your venue is using has a queue (usually only larger sites like Ticketmaster and AXS) and you’re worried about demand being high, get in the queue early and do not refresh the page. If the site does not have a queue, you might need to refresh the page at the time the on-sale starts.
- Do not worry about how many people the site tells you are ahead of you or how long they estimate you will have to wait. In general, these numbers are kind of black magic baloney. Just keep waiting and do not refresh the page, or else you will move to the back of the line.
- If you enter the ticketing website and it tells you “Sorry, no tickets are available at this time,” it does NOT mean that the show is sold out. For the first hour or so, tickets will be in and out of people’s carts, especially for a seated show where people are deliberating over whether they think they can get better seats or seats more in their price range. Keep trying for at least the first 20 minutes; usually you will get something. (I’ve found GA tickets after refreshing for 40 minutes before; it happens.)
- Ticketing sites typically let you have 5-10 minutes to check out once tickets are in your cart; otherwise the tickets get tossed back out as available for others to purchase. Ticketing websites may or may not keep the timer going if you have to create an account while checking out, but it’s always best to create an account ahead of time and already be logged in.
Types of Tickets and Ticket Prices
- What is GA? Some shows are seated, some shows are standing-only, some shows are a combination of both. In general, general admission (the standing area, also called “GA”, “pit,” or “floor”) is where the action happens and the seats are more calm. Sometimes people in seated areas also choose to stand; it depends on the show.
If the venue is outdoors, there might be GA in the front close to the stage, seats in the middle, and then “GA Lawn” seats further out, where people sit on the grass. All GA tickets, whether regular GA or GA Lawn, are first-come, first-served. For some artists, getting the first row requires lining up outside the venue three days in advance; for others, getting there an hour before the doors open is enough to snag a front-row position. It just depends on the fans.
Generally, in small venues, GA tickets are the cheapest, and prices for seated tickets are higher. In arenas and stadiums, GA tickets may be in the middle of the price range. Depending on the size of the venue, seated tickets may also vary in price depending on the distance from and view of the stage.
- To find out more information about the venue, what seats it has available, and how expensive they will be, look at other shows on the venue’s calendar, especially ones for similar bands. Ticket prices and seating plans vary depending on the artist, but it can give you an idea if the venue is all-seated, all-GA, or a mix, and let you preview the general price range for different seating areas. You can also get an approximation of how far a seat is from the stage or how good the view is by looking up the venue on A View From My Seat.
- Ticketmaster has “Official Platinum Seats” that use “market-based pricing”; ie, their price fluctuates based on demand. During an initial ticket onsale, or if most other tickets have already been sold, these will be very expensive, and they’re not necessarily better than other seats.
- Be aware that you will end up paying more than the stated ticket price, especially when paying online. A $35 ticket will likely end up closer to $50 with the unavoidable service fees, convenience fees, delivery fees, etc. that every ticket website or venue adds.
Sometimes venues, especially smaller ones, will waive these fees if you buy or pick up your tickets in-person.
- In the last few years, an increasing number of venues have been going paperless–they deliver the tickets to you through an app or through a PDF. Post-pandemic, I suspect that paper tickets will mostly disappear.
I like to have paper tickets as a memento of a show. If this is the case for you, but paper tickets aren’t an option, some venue box offices will print you a ticket when you get there if you ask.
In the past, I’ve asked for a paper ticket before, only to be told they couldn’t print it after I’d opened the ticket on my phone. However, with the advent of SafeTix from Ticketmaster, where the barcodes change every 15 seconds to deter scammers, this might not be a problem anymore.
- Whether you get paper tickets or digital ones, ticketing systems will often delay ticket delivery to three days or two weeks before the show to cut down on ticket scalpers. They will usually let you know if this is the case when you check out.
- Additionally, some venues (especially small venues) will only have “will call” as a delivery option. Will call just means you’ll just pick them up at the venue box office right before the show. However, many smaller venues don’t have physical or digital tickets whatsoever and their “will call” is just checking your name off the list when you arrive, which is easy for the venue, easy for you, and an excellent deterrent for reselling tickets.
- However, generally avoid counting on buying resale tickets or selling resale tickets for venues who just do a will call name list (such as Schuba’s Tavern and Lincoln Hall in Chicago!) For these kinds of venues, you might have to go to the venue in person to change the name on the will call list or change it manually online, making buying one from a stranger a little more difficult.
Speaking of resale tickets…
If You Don’t Get A Ticket
If the show you want to attend sells out, do not freak out. It is still possible to get a ticket to the show.
- If the demand is high enough, artists will sometimes add a second show in a given city. The second show might be announced later that day or week, or it might be a month or two. Holes in the artist’s or venue’s schedule might suggest possible second shows, but artists can also circle back after their announced tour ends or go to a different venue for a second show if the first venue’s schedule doesn’t line up with theirs.
- You might also be able to score a ticket closer to the show through radio station or venue contests. If the venue was holding tickets for the artist or someone else and the tickets go unclaimed, they might release them for purchase the week or day of the show. We’ve even gotten tickets a few hours before the show when the artist dropped additional tickets to a sold-out show.
All of this supports our next point:
- DO NOT buy a resale ticket immediately after a show sells out.
- Scalpers know that demand is high and people are desperate in the days after a show sells out and will list tickets for unreasonable prices, like $400 for a ticket that was originally $50.
Buying from these scalpers at these prices feeds their system. In our opinion, there is no reason to buy these tickets.
Even if you are desperate to see an artist, tickets will still be available on the secondary market closer to the show, and their prices will be lower.
Buying Resale Tickets
- As the show gets closer, scalpers will lower their prices because they want to make back the money they spent on obtaining the tickets in the first place. Prices do not always decrease linearly as the show gets closer, but the prices are usually reasonable the week of the show.
- We typically wait until the day of the show or the day before the show to buy; ticket prices generally dive on those days, though they sometimes do bounce back up if demand is high; you’ll have to gauge how much of a risk you want to take. You can sometimes buy a ticket for less than the original price on the day of the show.
- However, keep in mind that most resale sites also have fees and that sometimes you cannot buy a single ticket out of a listing for multiple tickets (has happened to us before…RIP that Jason Isbell concert).
- We can’t tell youhow to 100% make sure you’re not getting scammed when buying a ticket on the secondary market; all we can say is that we’ve never gotten scammed using StubHub.
- Generally avoid using Zelle, Apple Pay, and Venmo if you’re buying from a person you don’t know because it’s impossible to get your money back if you get scammed. Using PayPal’s “goods and services” feature is the safest way to buy from strangers because it’s covered under PayPal’s purchase protection.
- AXS and Ticketmaster also have official resale platforms that are usually quite safe since they’re through the original ticket seller and the tickets are usually, if not always, legitimate. However, the prices on these platforms tend to be higher than other resale sites.
Let us know in the comments or on our social media (@stagedhaze) if you have more questions about live shows or buying tickets. We’re here to help you navigate all aspects of the music industry, including attending shows!