DANIEL VAUGHAN: Oliver Anthony and Being Unprepared for Success and Fame

September 15, 2023

Oliver Anthony and his music have swept the country for several months now. His hit single "Rich Men North of Richmond" is such a cultural hit that Fox News decided to lead with it as the icebreaker question during the first Republican Primary Debate. His songs have topped the iTunes charts and would still dominate those same charts had Jimmy Buffett not tragically passed away.

In our culture, fame, and success can come suddenly and without warning. Oliver Anthony's success is more than the proverbial "15 minutes of fame." He's selling music and filling up concerts — people are actively seeking his opinion on everything under the sun. Watching all this, though, it's not hard to understand why Oliver Anthony has struggled with poverty and now his fame.

Canceling the Concert.

I first thought this when he abruptly canceled a concert at the Cotton Eyed Joe bar in Knoxville, Tennessee. On his Facebook page, Anthony posted, "I apologize for the price at Cotton Eyed Joe. Have a friend of mine trying to help me book gigs. I told him I don't want to do anything that's more than $40 a ticket, ideally no more than $25 a piece. These are supposed to be affordable shows. Please don't pay $90 for a ticket. I'm going to work out the details with him and if we have to reschedule this event somewhere else we will."

Based on what we know of the concert details, Anthony had signed a contract to perform an hour-long concert at Cotton Eyed Joe for $120,000. The venue holds around 1,500 people, so the forum did the easy math. If you split $120,000 among 1,500 concert attendees, that's $80 a person without factoring in any other costs. And there are additional costs.

As the venue noted, "After doing the math and knowing we can only hold [approximately] 1500 people, paying the ticket website their fee to sell the tickets, paying the tax man, opening the JOE on a closed night… we set the ticket price to break even and bring our customers a show we thought would be fun." The breakeven price for them was $90 a ticket, which brings in $15,000 on top of the $120,000 to cover all the other costs involved. 

Poverty Math.

Anthony's preferred price of $40 a ticket would only bring in $60,000, half of his contracted price, without factoring in other fees. Suppose the venue went with $25 a ticket. In that case, you're talking about $37,500 of revenue to cover a bill closer to $135,000, factoring in all other costs.

That kind of math is laughable if you own a concert venue, music club, or any venue. Even if you sell drinks, food, and other things, you won't make up the difference to even give a paycheck to employees working the event. 

You can choose to make up the difference by hiking prices on other events and concerts to accommodate Oliver Anthony or skip him and keep your business profitable with other acts. Cotton Eyed Joe chose to move on and warned other venues. 

This is the kind of business math that creates and encourages poverty. Instead of becoming a music act that lifts all boats, bringing more business to venues, Oliver Anthony wants people to lose business on his concerts. His creed of never paying more than $25-$40 for a ticket sounds great in theory, but what do you tell the people making minimum wage or depending on tips at the events? Lose your jobs? 

Two wrongs don't make a right.

I would note here that this is an entirely separate critique from when bands like Pearl Jam launch diatribes against Ticketmaster for its abusive price gouging and hidden fees. What Ticketmaster does is predatory, and everyone is right to attack them. What we're talking about here is the self-worth of a single artist.

What Anthony is doing is also the opposite of what some artists do, chasing nothing but fame and fortune. See Madonna's multi-decade career destroying herself at the idol of youth, vanity, and notoriety. But being the polar opposite of something bad doesn't lead you to something right.

Anthony's mindset is what happens when a person is not prepared for success. It scares them. When he says his concerts are worth no more than $25 to $40, he's showing everyone he thinks so little of himself that he can't take more. God Himself is trying to bless Anthony with more, and Anthony is turning down that blessing. It's a mindset of poverty and low self-worth that may create an incredible sense of self-righteousness and pride but will destroy you in the long run.

Anthony needs to escape his poverty mentality.

The crazy thing is that Anthony's worth is much higher than prices quoted by any of the parties involved — and people will happily pay it. But he rejects that. This poverty mindset destroys people like athletes, lottery winners, and other one-hit wonders. They meet wild success, fame, and fortune and aren't ready for that. They end up broke, right where they began. They may have spent all their days and nights praying for fame and fortune, but it's all gone within months because they couldn't handle the success.

I hope Oliver Anthony finds his self-worth and realizes a path to success here. I fear his poverty mindset will destroy him long-term because he'll burn bridges with a fanbase trying to make him succeed. No one cares if he makes money. He comes from a poor background like so many - it's amazing he's got a chance at escaping that. Anthony rejecting this monetary blessing isn't humility on his part — it's low self-esteem sabotaging great talent.

If he continues listening to that destructive voice, he won't have the Rich Men from Richmond to blame for flaming out as an artist. He'll only have himself to blame. I'm not asking him to price gouge, buy Lambos, or sign a record deal. I'm asking him to realize his self-worth is not as low as he thinks. He's worth more than $40 a ticket — a lot more — and hopefully, he'll realize that.

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