When I first meet Iain Bluett, co-founder and president of Ticket Alternative, an Atlanta-based independent ticketing and printing company, news broadcasts are flush with music industry magnates and megastars testifying before Congress in support of the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger effort.
Bluett is decidedly uninterested, almost flippant, about the proceedings because his mind is already made up. While Ticketmaster is indeed the corporate behemoth of music ticketing, and Live Nation the premier promoter for most major venues and artists, Bluett and his cohorts at Ticket Alternative have found a healthy business in supporting the little guys—the local clubs showcasing independent and unknown talents.
“That’s where music is born—in these small venues, like the ones we work with,” Bluett says in the company’s Midtown headquarters. “They’re not any less important than the amphitheatres and arenas.”
Since its founding in 2003, Ticket Alternative has rapidly grown into one of the nation’s leading independent ticketing companies, printing 500,000 tickets per month and working with 150 venues across the country, as well as several large annual events like the Decatur Beer Festival and Taste of Atlanta. Bluett also has watched the company expand from its original staff of two—Bluett and his partner Jamie Dwyer—to a staff of 16 and a satellite office in the United Kingdom with an additional three employees.
As the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger talks escalated, Bluett and his colleagues found themselves as one of the leading voices for independent promoters and artists. So, in February, taking a cue from the Obama election playbook, Ticket Alternative launched the Campaign for a Ticketing Change, a survey intended to reveal ticket buyers’ true preferences. They found that over 92 percent of responders would prefer lower convenience fees, rather than more retail ticket outlets.
The response was an overwhelming endorsement of Ticket Alternative’s business model, one that relies heavily upon online sales and low convenience fees, over Ticketmaster’s penchant to open outlets at a host of big-box stores and charge much higher convenience fees.
“We really just wanted to prove that lower service fees and better customer service can go a long way in building a business like this,” Bluett says.
‘We can do better’
In fact, it was that same impulse for a more customer-friendly approach that spawned Ticket Alternative in the first place. Bluett is a veteran of the Atlanta music scene, having played in local band Film then launching the online Atlanta Music Guide. When he and Dwyer, themselves both live music lovers, became increasingly disappointed in their experiences with other ticketing companies, they decided they could do it better on their own, and Ticket Alternative was born.
“At first it started with us going to clubs like the 10 High and just begging them to let us list their events,” Bluett says. “If they did, we just promised them we’d promote the hell out of it.”
And the pair made good on those promises, as more and more clubs turned to Ticket Alternative for their ticketing needs, at least in part because of their extra promotional muscle.
“Their marketing arm has really helped us out,” says Patrick Hill of The EARL in East Atlanta, which has relied on Ticket Alternative for three years. “They want to sell tickets just as bad as we do.”
In the company’s early days, just like now, Bluett and Dwyer focused on the web to promote the shows, taking advantage of the relatively cheap medium, as well as existing online properties they also happened to own like Atlanta Music Guide, to spread the word. Soon, clubs across Atlanta were taking notice.
“Ticket Alternative is a driving force behind ticket sales for Vinyl and The Loft,” says Brandon Mize, talent buyer for Rival Entertainment. “They’re easy to work with and have a great knowledge of the venues they work with, always going above and beyond just selling tickets.”
‘How do I get to The EARL?’
More than anything, Bluett suggests it’s Ticket Alternative’s commitment to the overall customer experience that differentiates it from a corporate entity like Ticketmaster. The company operates a customer service call center out of its office where they field a wide variety of requests from ticketholders, ranging from what time a band starts to where to park at a certain venue.
“Customer service is really in the forefront of what we do. In some sense, our customer service is an extension of the venue we are selling tickets for, so we want to make Ticket Alternative not only a cheaper place to buy, but a better overall experience than other companies,” Bluett says.
Because of this, Ticket Alternative’s growth happened fairly rapidly and by last year, the company had contracts with nearly every small-to-midsize club in Atlanta, as well as a burgeoning presence across the entire Southeast and pockets of venues coming on board in distant locales like Washington, D.C. and Columbus, Ohio.
But despite the rapid expansion, the company isn’t slowing down. In fact, Bluett’s looking for more. He’s recently hired a sales representative who he hopes will grow the number of venues under the Ticket Alternative umbrella. At the same time, Bluett is equally focused on growing the company’s call center in order keep up with the jump in ticket sales, and as always, more than anything else, keep the customer happy.