On Friday night, my favourite band of all time – the recently reunited Soundgarden – played the Phoenix Concert Theatre here in Toronto in support of their new album, King Animal. I wasn’t at the show. Instead, I was in my living room singing Nickelback.
Why? Two reasons. The first is that I’m a consummate professional. Nintendo’s new Wii U video game console was being released in two days, on Sunday, and I needed to get some time in with it in order to write my review. I had friends over play-testing some games, including the karaoke affair Sing Party. With the other song selections including the likes of Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen, Nickelback seemed like the best of a bad lot. A really, really awful best of a bad lot.
But the real reason I wasn’t at the Soundgarden show is because the band had done just about everything wrong in respect to its fans and its new album/tour, in light of the new digital age they’ve reunited into.
At first, they seemed kind of clever. An email went out a few weeks ago to those of us who had signed up to their fan club. The message announced a handful of shows in tiny venues, with Toronto being one of the band’s lucky choices. There would be a pre-sale of tickets open to fans in those cities who pre-ordered King Animal online, with passwords being sent out the day before.
I couldn’t get to the band’s website fast enough, only to be disappointed. If you pre-ordered a digital version on iTunes, you were excluded from the pre-sale. Fine, I thought, I kind of wanted the CD anyway, with packaging, artwork and lyrics and all that. Since I had to pay for shipping, I figured I’d get a T-shirt too, so I plopped down about $45.
Of course, it was only after paying that I noticed the fine print on shipping – purchases weren’t guaranteed to go out till Nov. 13, or the same day of the album’s release.
This made no sense. Why in the world would the people who wanted the new album the most – those who pre-ordered it – be content to wait for it to arrive days after its official release? It’s almost as if Soundgarden was telling them they’d have to buy it again in digital form if they wanted it on Nov. 13, or they’d have to go out and pirate it.
I got an email last week telling me my order had shipped, but I’m still waiting for it to arrive. Did I download a digital version of the album from an, ahem, grey-area source in the meantime? You betcha, as I’m sure everyone else who legally bought the CD, but is still waiting for it did.
What about the concert pre-sale? Well, the band did send out a password the day before as promised, but it was a generic password to Ticketmaster’s site that was in no way tied to your order. The password was inevitably and instantly shared online and tickets were gone within seconds when the pre-sale opened.
No sooner did these small gigs sell out than the band announced a larger winter tour, complete with passwords going out for a similar pre-sale event, although this time there was no purchase necessary. It was the same generic password to the same Ticketmaster sale this time around, and the same result – tickets were gone in seconds, with huge fans like myself shut out.
Fortunately, I have a friend who I affectionately refer to as the true Ticket Master – his prowess at securing tickets to shows knows no equal. True to form, he managed to snag tickets to one of the two Toronto shows in January. Barring disaster, I’ll be singing Spoonman that night instead of Nickelback.
The larger story here is that Soundgarden did just about everything wrong by its fans online. Not only did those who legally purchased their album end up having to wait for it, they also didn’t get any sort of special treatment for concert tickets despite being given some sort of inkling that they would.
As a band that has always prided itself on its integrity, the whole thing came off as a bit of a cynical cash grab. I haven’t wanted to think that way about their entire reunion, but one thing’s for sure – many of their biggest fans are going to think twice about doing the supposedly right thing next time around.