Rewind a decade or two, and the opportunity for a fan to meet their favorite musician or artist seemed to be but a passing daydream pondered while reading an album's liner notes.
The dream was further romanticized by reading music magazines, listening to the radio or watching MTV, all while waiting for that special summer concert date at the local amphitheater. But in order to actually meet their musical idol, one would likely have to resort to either tomfoolery or rely on happenstance — waiting at baggage claim at the local airport, sneaking in the windows of hotel rooms, hanging out next to the band tour bus, or asking the cousin of a friend of the sound engineer to go backstage.
In recent years, such opportunities have become a reality with everyone from Lady Gaga to Clay Walker offering their fans officially sanctioned VIP experiences. But they come with a price. Ranging anywhere from $50 to more than $1,000, these packages are not only attractive to fans but are helping musicians increase their revenue in an era of dwindling album sales.
What's included? Lady Gaga's $400 package on her 2009 tour included a premium reserved seat within the first two rows, a meet and greet with photo opportunity, and a limited-edition deluxe CD. Sheryl Crow's VIP experience comes with front-row concert tickets, merchandise and a photo for $335. The Shakira meet-and-greet experience includes one premium ticket in the first five rows, a chance to meet the Latin songstress and take a group photograph. Bon Jovi's current VIP experience runs a lofty $1,750 and includes a front-row seat, a photo op with Jon Bon Jovi's mic stand and maracas, and maybe the chance to press flesh with Mr. Bon Jovi himself.
When Joe Satriani's manager Mick Brigden approached the guitarist about the concept of a meet and greet, he could not fathom why anyone would "want to spend an hour with me before a show." But they developed a concept of a pre-paid ticket package for up to 60 people involving an intimate question-and-answer session, merchandise and autograph session.
Encouraged by the initial positive reaction, they continued offering them during Satriani's solo tours. "People get to walk in and hang around and pick up the instruments and take pictures," explains Satriani. "As long as they don't squeeze my left hand I'm okay."
"We really want to have the chance to meet fans, which we would do regardless, but putting these packages together is a way to support your band for the loss that you incur on the album sales," says Sevendust guitarist Clint Lowery of their VIP offering. "It's a good way to encourage people to buy the CD, and then we actually get to thank them for buying it."
Sevendust charged approximately $50 in the past for a package including "sticks, tixs, [photos], and maybe a shirt. It was a pretty hefty package."
Indie artists are also benefitting from the concept, enabling them to establish a stronger connection with their fan base. When underground Goth artist Emilie Autumn did her first U.S. tour last year, she offered a $50 VIP package that included her poetry book The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls, the chance to see her read from it and the opportunity to meet her and take photos.
"Everyone talks about how MySpace and Facebook bring fans a lot closer to artists because it gets rid of that buffer between them," says Autumn's publicist Rey Roldan. "This [experience] brings them even closer because now they have the face time. Granted they have to pay for it, but it still has that same effect."
What could possibly be better than meeting your favorite artist? How about the opportunity to actually jam with them?
That's where Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp comes in. Founded in 1997 by former sports agent David Fishof, who also reunited the Monkees in 1986 and produced and co-created Ringo Starr's All Starr Band tours, the popular event has been held in New York and Los Angeles. Currently running in London through May 30, attendees spend anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 for the five-day "rock 'n' roll boot camp," which includes master classes, a professional recording session, jamming with famous rock musicians, and the chance to perform at a name venue.
For singer/actress Lisa Margaroli, her L.A. experience last year was a "Sunset Strip dream" that included recording at Capitol Records with legendary producer/engineer Eddie Kramer, singing with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and performing at the Whiskey A Go-Go.
Margaroli found the experience to be worth the money.
"[I] decided to change my whole life and move to L.A.," she says. "I took six months to save money, then moved out here to try to live the rock and roll dream.
"I ended up getting involved with rock camp as an employee [part-time], so for the last two rock camps I was one of the band managers, which is basically an assistant for four of the bands. As a result, I now have relationships with the counselors."
Fishof asserts that Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp is as beneficial to the stars as the people they are mentoring. Past participants range from Tyler to the Who's Roger Daltrey, Kiss' Paul Stanley, Journey's Neal Schon, Slash, and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason.
"They've been able to meet a whole new breed of people, people who don't hang out at concerts or backstage," Fishof says. "They've been able to meet people who are presidents of companies and Iraqi war veterans. They have been able to jam with a woman who survived breast cancer. All of these people have great stories."
Given the potential financial gains for artists and positive fan experiences, it would seem that VIP experiences are likely here to stay. Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, draws a parallel between VIP ticket packages and the boom of concert T-shirts in the '70s and '80s. "Three decades ago, they were introduced as a new way to make money off of touring and still, for a lot of artists today, they make as much in merchandise as they do in ticket sales. So, VIP packages are an excellent way for a band to make additional cash."
And the fans? They walk away with the memory of a lifetime.
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)