Are Rage Against the Machine Selling Out?

Rage Against The Machine have found themselves in hot water regarding the prices of their tickets. Mike Stebens investigates. (Editor's note: this article was written before the Covid-19 pandemic and does not address the current cancellations of public events)

Rage Against The Machine is going on tour in 2020 for the first time since 2011. Many fans did not think that the band would reform and have since jumped at the chance to see them play live. However, there’s a catch. There has been a huge controversy about the steep ticket prices that fans had to pay in order to attend a show. Guitarist Tom Morello, the spokesperson of the band, had to do a lot of explaining to enraged fans via social media.

In large part, behind the controversy is a strategy; the band is trying to fight the phenomenon of scalping. Scalping means that tickets are bought in order to be resold again at a higher price, either by individual people or by platforms such as StubHub or Viagogo. This problem is not new; in fact, ticket sellers have been rather clueless for years as to how to effectively solve the issue. Nowadays, scalping is easier than ever and is especially affecting more popular artists. Since RATM hasn’t been on tour in a long time and many are eagerly awaiting their return to the stage, they present a particularly appealing target for scalpers. As soon as the band announced their reunion tour, scalping became a pressing issue, with the respective websites immediately announcing ticket prices even before the first official tickets were up for sale.

RATM have decided to counter this problem in a creative way. They explained through their social media accounts that up to 50% of the tickets were in danger of being scalped. Their response is to sell 90% at a high face value, with extra efforts to protect them from the ticket resale scheme. The remaining 10% of tickets were reserved and set at much higher prices. They call these ‘charity’ tickets, as all the profits made past the base price will support charities of the band’s choice. For the first three shows in El Paso, New Mexico and Arizona, the money will go to organisations promoting the rights of immigrants. RATM explained that these tickets should still be below the price that scalpers would usually ask for. But since scalping websites are forced to decrease their ticket prices to remain competitive, some are now selling their tickets for much less than the official ‘charity’ tickets. At the beginning, scalper’s tickets were anticipated to be 400 dollars with the best seats going beyond 1000 dollars. Now some are available for a third of the price, which can be seen as a win.

The price for a regular ticket is 125 dollars, which is still seen by many as very expensive. However, ticket prices in this range have become the norm for the big names in the business. Many bands that profit from the status of being legends, like the Rolling Stones or Metallica, are fully aware that they can charge people with these outrageous prices as they will still sell out every arena. This is definitely not in the classic spirit of rock ’n’ roll, but for a band like RATM, it becomes even more of an issue. It is somewhat ridiculous to pay 125 dollars to see a band which has become famous for its anti-capitalism and anti-establishment revolutionary stance. Additionally, while Ticketmaster is the go-to company to handle large events like this, it’s still questionable to see RATM work with them as they are often criticised for their inflammatory extra service charges. Ironically, many of the fans that the music is targeted to, those from working class backgrounds, will struggle with the high prices.

RATM has at least come up with a way of addressing part of the problem and raised three million dollars for charity in the first 48 hours. According to Morello, 85% of scalpers have been stopped by their efforts. Maybe this acknowledgement of the problem with scalping will also lead to a general debate about basic ticket prices as set by the artist. It’s hard not to feel instinctively betrayed by this commercialisation of a band that stands for the exact opposite. It is the artist themselves who determines the face value, without additional service, facility and other charges, so the question needs to be raised: why RATM consciously decided to charge this much. Many artists justify these high prices with the need to fund their big productions and stage designs. It remains to be seen if RATM will have such a show or not. If so, then one might still wonder why they didn’t choose to keep it simple and let the music speak for itself. It seems the band are well intentioned but questions of greed and selling out will surely follow them for the extent of the upcoming tour.