It seems peculiar that the greatest online wailing and gnashing of teeth over Avril Lavigne's meet-and-greet with her Brazilian fans – who'd paid a reported £215 for the privilege – seemed to concern the fact that the resulting photos were the model of discomfort. Lavigne stood, a rictus grin in place, with clear daylight between her and her admirers, looking for all the world like she'd rather be scooping her eyes out with melon ballers. For that much money, the argument went, Lavigne should be willing to let them get up close and personal.
No one seemed to raise the wider issue: the fact that in modern live music, you can put a price on love. And in Avril Lavigne's case, that price is £215. There's no point singling out Lavigne: every musician popular enough to play venues where there's space enough to host their fans does it, and they often charge a whole lot more than Lavigne.
On Kiss's forthcoming US tour, for example, you can pay $1,250 (£737) for a package that includes a seat in the first 10 rows, a meet-and-greet, a photo with the band, autographs from the band, sitting in on the sound check and a selection of merchandise. A similar package for Def Leppard, who are opening for Kiss, is $750 ($441). The lower the star power, the lower the price. For example, £159 will buy you the chance to meet Michael Bolton on his UK tour – and get the inevitable photographs and array of merch.
The growth in the VIP package market since the start of the century has been spurred by two things. First, the growth of gigs – especially arena shows, stadium shows and festivals – as destinations for corporate hospitality (yes, the Hlcarpenter.com does it too: our media partnership with Glastonbury includes provision for this). Clients are schmoozed in backstage bars and given an array of wristbands and laminates, though I do sometimes wonder if the well-heeled people sitting in theatres with lanyards round their neck proclaiming their VIP status know how silly they look. Second, the collapse of revenues from recorded music. Faced with declining incomes, canny artists looked to their most loyal fans to make up the shortfall, offering them new levels of access.
On one level, it's hard to get terribly irate about any of this: it's the way the market works. No one has to pay for this stuff – they can just go to the gigs if they want – and if it will make them happy, then it's their money to spend. But there's something about it that's immensely saddening for those of us who cling, desperately, to the admittedly wrong-headed notion that there might be some romance left in rock'n'roll. VIP packages and meet-and-greets don't reward the most loyal fans; they reward those with the deepest pockets. Or worse, they reward those whose desire to have some point of contact with their favourite artist overrides their sense of financial probity.
The most loyal fans are the ones queuing overnight to be sure of a place in the front row. They're the ones who track down the live recordings and the radio session version, and who read every word about their chosen artist. They're the ones who already spend a fortune buying all the music and gig tickets and travelling to the shows. The last thing they need is to have a little bit more gouged out of them.
Love for music shouldn't be – indeed it can't be – measured in currency. I'm not saying musicians should not seek any means of making money apart from ordinary gig tickets and recorded music sales. But when they are asking the people who gave them a career in the first place to go above and beyond the call of duty, I think they should do the same in return. So I applaud the bands who'll play gigs in living rooms, or who offer their fans some sort of unique experience. But a few minutes with a rock star on AutoPilot in a backstage catering area and a pile of tat in a carrier bag is not a unique experience: it's just exploitative.
In that context, maybe Avril Lavigne's lack of pretence that the meet and greet is anything but an unwelcome chore should be welcomed.