If you’re an avid fan of live music in Glasgow, chances are you’ve been to the Glasgow Hydro recently. Chances are also that you’ve returned to the Glasgow Hydro, again and again, and again.

Until recently, it was Scotland’s largest venue, with a hefty £125 million construction cost. The 14,300-person capacity arena dominates live music in the city, with acts of completely differing popularity and appeal appearing on its dense schedule.

Huge acts with universal appeal like Take That and Tom Jones can easily fill in the large Roman amphitheatre-inspired space, but if you want to see such acts like indie rock favourites Idles or legendary thrash metal band Anthrax, the Hydro is also the place. Somehow.

With the loss of the O2 ABC and The Arches, and the continuing damage done to music venues from the pandemic wreaking havoc, Glasgow has become a city where the scope of its live music scene has dwindled and fallen into disrepair. The corporate-backed ease and push of booking the Hydro regardless of its appropriateness and half-filled floors has made it a cursed blessing for the city’s live entertainment.

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There is a persistent attitude of acts being booked in the Hydro and figuring out the logistics later. Try to purchase tickets at the start of their going on sale and prices can sit at a hefty three figures, and if ticket sales are slow then they are often reduced in price heavily to fill capacity. This is all before considering the considerable service and handling fees added to what is an automatic electronic process. Are we already in a techno-dystopia where computers need financial compensation?

The core issue at play is greed. All tickets for the Hydro are delivered by Ticketmaster, and mainly booked under Live Nation, who merged in 2010 into one Goliath-like entity under the name Live Nation Entertainment. Acts and musicians signed to a label with touring capabilities have no other choice but to submit to these corporations or change careers.

The overwhelming dominance of Ticketmaster and Live Nation has had a catastrophic effect on live music, restricting its boundaries and funnelling up the resources of live music scenes. What once organically grew and was driven by an entrepreneurial spirit infected with passion and determination of the art is now at the mercy of bland corporate facelessness, ready to hoover up the monthly entertainment budget with additional fees and overpriced drinks.

Public and legal awareness of the dangers of any live music monopoly reared its head as early as 1994 in the US. Seattle grungers Pearl Jam, still clinging on to the punk rock ethos of their early days, were unhappy with Ticketmaster’s practices. Having the advantage of selling millions of records and becoming one of the biggest touring acts in the world, they attempted to lay down the law by limiting tickets for their tour to $18, with the service fee $1.80. This was rejected by Ticketmaster and an investigation by the US Department of Justice began.

Meanwhile, Pearl Jam went on tour, playing venues not under the control of Ticketmaster. This led to the logistical nightmare of playing in sports arenas not equipped for live music and in some cases playing in large barns in the countryside. A lesson in just how widespread and deep-rooted the company had become.

Poster for Pearl Jam's 1995 tour which boycotted Ticketmaster-controlled venuesPoster for Pearl Jam's 1995 tour which boycotted Ticketmaster-controlled venues (Image: Pearl Jam)
The Department of Justice dropped their investigation and Pearl Jam soon gave up their campaign. The house always wins. Ticketmaster was only rewarded, tightening their control with the Live Nation merger. Today the problem is even worse, with new additions such as surge-pricing for in-demand events and the introduction of their own reselling system, where it has become impossible to sell unwanted tickets without their service.

The Glasgow Hydro is just one example of a complex, wider problem that has curtailed the health and spirit of live entertainment. Plenty of acts that play the Hydro have little previous live performing experience, due to their popularity rising online rather than the traditional club circuit, yet they are still placed in a huge-capacity arena at an exorbitant ticket price. Rapper Doja Cat, who found success through her highly viral memeable songs, is due to play the Hydro, and ticket prices range from £81 to £137. Would even the most diehard Doja Cat fan think her live performance is worth that amount of money?

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And even if there was some reason to justify this extreme price, the result is that Glasgow’s live entertainment has turned into the domain of the financially comfortable. Many are priced out of live entertainment altogether, and surely it’s only right that everyone can experience the things that make life rich and colourful and interesting?

The only way this will ever resolve is if there is viable competition in booking and venues. There is also the option of opting out of mainstream live entertainment altogether and building something independent and our own. But yet again, the house will always find a way to win.