Beware of using Brown Paper Tickets, Detroit performer warns

The ticketing service left an artist waiting for weeks to get paid — until Metro Times asked questions

click to enlarge Jennifer Westwood performs at Aretha’s Jazz Cafe in Detroit. She says it took Brown Paper Tickets nearly a month to pay her for the event. - Jane Cassisi
Jane Cassisi
Jennifer Westwood performs at Aretha’s Jazz Cafe in Detroit. She says it took Brown Paper Tickets nearly a month to pay her for the event.

Jennifer Westwood is an independent Detroit-area performer and promoter who plays roots rock music with her band Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils. For years, she has used the online ticketing system Brown Paper Tickets to sell tickets for her events, which she books at a number of small, local venues.

But now, she says she won’t be using the service anymore.

“I hate to do that because I’m not wanting to trash a business and say don’t use it,” she says. “I’ve used them with no problem for years, but unfortunately, I can’t say that anymore.”

Westwood has been waiting for weeks for the $1,785 she says Brown Paper Tickets owed her for her “Detroit Sounds” event held Jan. 27 at Aretha’s Jazz Cafe in Detroit, a venue that she loves. She hoped it would be the first in a quarterly showcase of Motor City artists.

“That was like my little dream project,” she says.

But issues with Brown Paper Tickets have postponed the next installment of the series, she says. Westwood tells Metro Times that nearly a month after the event, she has still not been paid. In the past, it was understood that Brown Paper Tickets would pay within 10 days of an event.

As the days and then weeks ticked by, Westwood decided to contact Brown Paper Tickets’ customer support by email and phone. She says she only got an automated reply saying that the company was experiencing technical difficulties due to COVID-19.

“We all know that that’s bullshit,” the soft-spoken musician says, adding that she was reluctant to make a fuss about the incident.

“I just try to give people a little breadth to take care of their business,” she says. “You know, there’s always behind-the-scenes issues we don’t know about, and I’ve never been given reason to believe I wouldn’t get paid.” Still, Westwood says she began to wonder if it would take a class-action lawsuit to get her money.

After Metro Times contacted Brown Paper Tickets for comment on Thursday, the company sent Westwood an email saying it had initiated payment, which would take a few days to be complete.

In a statement, the company blamed the delays on “our ongoing recovery efforts from COVID-19.” It also noted that the company is in the process of being acquired by events.com, with the goal of refunding all outstanding payments. A Google search reveals Westwood’s experience is far from unique, with artists and promoters across the country complaining about delayed payments from Brown Paper Tickets.

“As one of the industry’s only independent event ticketing companies, BPT was hit especially hard by the pandemic,” the company said in a statement, adding, “As a result of Events.com’s support in advance of the acquisition and its future support, BPT will continue to process all remaining refunds and payments to customers impacted by delayed payments due to the global pandemic.”

Westwood says she was previously considering looking for a new ticketing service, but had already booked an acoustic “Detroit Sound: Unplugged” event scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 22 at Ferndale’s Valentine Distilling tasting room and was using Brown Paper Tickets for sales. With Wednesday’s massive ice storm, however, Westwood decided to postpone the event, sending ticket holders a message through Brown Paper Tickets letting them know that the date was rescheduled for March 22.

To add insult to injury, the company told Westwood it would not pay her for tickets sold for the postponed Feb. 22 event until after the March 22 event — and went ahead and changed the date on the event page to March 22 without contacting her.

“If that’s their protocol, fine, but that’s just not cool, especially when I can’t get a hold of them ever,” she says, adding that Brown Paper Tickets has “absolutely no customer service right now.”

In an email, the company acknowledged that it changed the date on the event page as a result of the message Westwood sent to her fans.

The company says it made the change to protect ticket-buyers. As a policy, it only pays once an event is successfully completed.

“As a standard and best practice, the event webpage was updated by Brown Paper Ticket event support staff so all current and future ticket holders know when the event is actually happening,” the company says. “It is essential that ticket buyers have access to the updated and accurate event information on the event webpage.”

Westwood says after she gets her payments for the Detroit Sound and Detroit Sound: Unplugged events, she will no longer be using Brown Paper Tickets.

“No, not at all. Not after this,” she says. “As soon as I get paid, that’s it. I’m done with them.”

Westwood says she knows how important it is to pay musicians promptly, and paid for all Detroit Sound talent out of her own pocket. The delayed payment from Brown Paper Tickets left her in the hole, forcing her to postpone a planned studio session to record an upcoming album. And now, the next installment of Detroit Sound likely won’t happen until the fall, she says.

“We have such slim margins as entertainers,” she says. Her experience with Brown Paper Tickets was especially disappointing, she adds, because by all accounts the Detroit Sound event was a success.

“I’m still getting messages about how great the show was, and asking when we’re going to do the next one,” she says. “Which is what breaks my heart because it did go so well. And here I am a month later, I haven’t received my ticket revenue. That creates a hardship for me to even think about doing it again. Of course, I can use another ticket processor in the future. But right now, I’m out this money.”

Westwood says she started booking and promoting her own events because she wanted to treat other artists the way she would want to be treated.

“I’m serious about what I do,” she says. “Do I always do everything by the book? No. But I get it done.”

She adds, “I know I can’t change the world. I just want to sweep up my own little corner.”

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Lee DeVito

Leyland “Lee” DeVito is the editor in chief of Detroit Metro Times since 2016. His writing has also been published in CREEM, VICE, In These Times, and New City. He once asked porn star Stormy Daniels to spank him with an issue of Metro Times. She obliged.

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