Brown Paper Tickets owes thousands of dollars to Madison venues and promoters

The popular ticketing company has fallen into a pattern of delayed payments across the country.
A photo illustration shows a pile of printed tickets with Brown Paper Tickets’ recognizable brown, blue, and orange color scheme, with the text field describing the event info blurred and distorted.
Photo illustration by Scott Gordon.

The popular ticketing company has fallen into a pattern of delayed payments across the country.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect payment actions Brown Paper Tickets has taken as a result of… this story. If you’re a Madison-area event organizer or ticket buyer and would like to talk with Tone Madison about your experiences with Brown Paper Tickets—good, bad, or otherwise—please reach out to me at

The online ticketing service Brown Paper Tickets has delayed paying several Madison event organizers their share of ticket sales since 2020, and still owes money to several of them. When reporting began on this story last week, BPT still owed thousands of dollars to a number of Madison-based event organizers and venues, including Arts + Literature Laboratory, Atlas Improv Co., musician Josh Harty, and the organizers of the new Dirt Camp music festival. BPT claims it has since begun taking action to pay off these debts, but those payments came after receiving inquiries from Tone Madison for this story—despite the fact that event organizers themselves had been complaining to the company for weeks, months, and in some cases years, without receiving payment or anything more than an automated response from BPT. 

Founded in 2000 and based in Seattle, Brown Paper Tickets has long been a popular service among venues and promoters of all sorts. Small, independent, and non-profit arts organizations have come to rely on it for its ease of use and low fees. But when the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the live-events industry in 2020, event organizers and ticket buyers quickly began to complain that BPT wasn’t promptly refunding ticket purchases for canceled events. In September 2020, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office sued to compel BPT to pay out millions of dollars in refunds. In March 2021, BPT settled the suit, agreeing to pay $9 million dollars to a total of 45,000 different parties, The Seattle Times reported. By October 2022, BPT still owed about $2 million of that.

The problem has spread far beyond pandemic-driven cancellations. People kept using BPT as live events returned. And well into 2023, they’re not getting paid on time.

The complaints illustrate the popularity of BPT as a ticket management option, and how widespread the issue is. From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, from Idaho to Texas, from bookstores to musicians to roller derby leagues to theater companies to wrestling promoters, event organizers have been demanding their money from BPT. Their stories are all pretty similar: The event organizer waits weeks or months for a payout, reaches out to Brown Paper Tickets for help, receives either no response or boilerplate responses, then a reporter—usually from a local newspaper or TV newsroom—reaches out, and then BPT finally pays up, but doesn’t offer much in the way of comment on the situation. 

The company seems to be addressing its debts piecemeal when customers make a stink. Event organizers say BPT has rarely if ever taken the initiative to communicate about the backlog or reassure them that help is on the way. BPT’s own website says its customer service phone number is offline. Another phone number listed for the company’s Seattle office also seems to be disconnected. BPT’s rating with the Better Business Bureau has plummeted to an F, thanks to hundreds of complaints., which announced in October 2022 that it would acquire BPT, has not addressed the backlog publically and did not reply to multiple requests for comment for this story. It’s not clear whether the acquisition will give BPT the liquidity it needs to catch up more quickly on back payments, though announced in December that it had secured $100 million in new investment capital. 

Brown Paper Tickets was forgiven for $1,357,830 in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans it received during two rounds of the COVID business relief program, records show. also received two rounds of PPP loans, and has been forgiven for a total of $2,076,946 in relief from the program.

The delayed payments sting more severely because of the solid reputation BPT had built over the years with event organizers and ticket buyers alike. For well over a decade, if you were buying advance tickets to an independent music, theater, comedy, or other cultural event in Madison, odds were pretty good you were buying it through Brown Paper Tickets. You’d likely pay a fee of a couple bucks on top of the base ticket price, and you might have had the option to add a charitable donation to the transaction. It drew a nice contrast with the exorbitant fees Live Nation’s Ticketmaster service charges—which have become an ever more common problem for ticket buyers as Live Nation has conquered more and more of the live-music industry, including here in Madison.

For a working, independent musician like Harty, the stress and money saved made a big difference.

“As far as I’m concerned, [BPT] were the Bandcamp of the ticketing side of music—you got the most out of them,” Harty says. “The service was good, and they gave you the biggest percentage.”

BPT’s name recognition among ardent live-music fans also made it easier for smaller venues and event organizers to sell tickets ahead of time.

“A lot of audience members were also familiar with Brown Paper Tickets, so that kind of helps, when people feel like…they can trust in it,” says Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL) co-founder Jolynne Roorda. “They also want to know that the money they’re paying is going to the performers and the venues that are putting on the events. I think that the audience members would also be very sad to know that this is happening.”

After hearing on Wednesday that BPT planned to make up its late payments—not directly from BPT, but secondhand through Tone Madison—Roorda still expressed bewilderment and concern about the company’s business practices.

“Why not be open about their challenges and manage people’s expectations so they might retain clients?” she asked. “They are destroying their brand.”

Brown Paper Tickets’ debts in Madison

When reporting began on this story last week, Brown Paper Tickets owed more than $10,000 to Arts + Literature Laboratory—the non-profit venue/gallery’s share of ticket sales from concerts over about the past six months, ALL founder Jolynne Roorda tells Tone Madison. (Full disclosure: ALL and Tone Madison have frequently partnered to put on events over the years.) 

On Wednesday morning, Brown Paper Tickets sent a response to Tone Madison‘s inquiries through its customer-support system—an unusual and comically janky way for a company to handle press—claiming that ALL had been paid in full. (As of this article’s initial publication time, Roorda could not confirm whether ALL had actually received this payment; a few hours after publication, Roorda informed me that she had received an email from Brown Paper Tickets indicating that ALL would receive its funds within one to two days.) The un-signed, unattributed message largely consisted of boilerplate:

Payment for the client you mentioned was processed. Some customers have experienced delays as we navigate past the pandemic period and into an acquisition transaction. As a result of the transaction, we expect to soon be accelerating payments to any of those who were affected by delays.

Specifically, is in process of acquiring Brown Paper Tickets. Throughout the process, Brown Paper Tickets event organizers are being paid on a daily basis, and we continue to make progress on getting everyone paid.

In addition, our acquirer has offered any Brown Paper Tickets events a price-match program. If they would like to switch to’s technology, the event organizers may set up an Event on event for free and use their own, or sign up for their own stripe account connected to ticketing and registration. The system allows organizers around the world to get paid out immediately, as transactions process and settle, so they do not have to wait for their funds.

As mentioned above, we have confirmed with our accounting department that the Arts + Literature Laboratory has been paid in full. 

We would be happy to look into the other organizations that you mentioned. Feel free to pass along their information for further review.

Below this, the message copied in an October press release about acquiring BPT.

The inaugural Dirt Camp Festival, organized by Madison band Free Dirt, took place June 24 in Sauk City, but BPT has yet to pay out about $2,000 from the event’s ticket sales, says Free Dirt guitarist Joe Copeland. Guitarist and songwriter Josh Harty is still waiting for about $400 from a show he played in March 2020 at North Street Cabaret. Atlas Improv Co., which hosts comedy shows and improv classes at its venue on East Wash, is chasing down about $3,000 from the ticketing service. 

Several other Madison venues and event organizers also say they’ve had trouble getting their money from BPT since 2020, but did eventually get paid.

All the people who spoke to Tone Madison for this story have said that pre-pandemic, BPT would reliably pay out their share of ticket sales, usually within a week or two after a show, by check or electronic bank deposit. Several people also shared screenshots or forwards of their communications with BPT support. Most have gotten nothing but automated replies from the company’s support-ticket system.

Arts + Literature Laboratory is actually on its second round of chasing down substantial amounts from BPT. “Earlier at the beginning of this year, we were looking back at 2022 and realized that we hadn’t been paid for a long time, which set off a little bit of an alarm. Because even when they were first having problems during the pandemic and other people were saying they weren’t getting paid, we thought we were still getting paid,” Roorda recalls. “So we hadn’t really noticed any problems. So we sent them an email and very quickly they sent a large payment to make up for all the payments that they had missed in 2022.” That payment represented more than $9,000  in ticket income from concerts ALL hosted in fall 2022 and January 2023.

With that initial payout resolved, ALL kept using Brown Paper Tickets for events into the spring and summer. But regular payments never resumed, and now Roorda says BPT owes more than $10,000. 

“The only reply that I’ve received is the standard auto-responder saying that they’ve received our message and I’ll hear back from their customer service very soon, which doesn’t happen,” Roorda says. “When you try to call, they claim they no longer have any phone support and email’s the only way to reach them.”

Last Friday, Roorda says, “I felt like I had to escalate the matter, because I’d already asked them a couple of times about this and they’d ignored my messages. So I said that we might have to pursue a lawsuit, and we [still] haven’t received a response yet.”

Needless to say, this is an aggravating situation for anyone who has to make sure performers get paid at the end of the night. “Right now, essentially, what’s happening is that we are giving them zero-interest loans of our money, because we’ve already had to pay the artists for these performances,” Roorda says.

Joe Copeland was familiar with BPT from his time working with local concert promoter True Endeavors in the late aughts. “Then, when setting up ticketing for Dirt Camp, I Googled what my options were, and they still seemed like one of the better options fee wise compared to [their competition],” he says. Dirt Camp was a success, as it featured excellent Wisconsin artists like Cribshitter and Graham Hunt at outdoor venue The Vines in Sauk City. But Copeland has yet to see about $2,000 from the advance sales he conducted on BPT, and the emails he’s sent to the company’s support address have gone unanswered.

“There’s an option to connect your bank account, [so] I assumed after the event there would be a transfer,” Copeland says. “As of now, I have no idea how I’ll get paid, and there is a non-working help number.”

Atlas Improv Co. has been using Brown Paper Tickets for its pre-sales since 2015, says the comedy group’s business manager Michael Thomas. When I reached out to Atlas for comment for this story, Thomas checked his records and discovered that BPT hadn’t sent the comedy company a payout since October 2022. Atlas does most of its ticket sales through other means, Thomas says, except when it comes to its biggest-selling show of the year—The Cut, a multi-night, reality-show-style improv competition. 

“Pretty much every ticket is going to be a pre-sale, and they usually sell out,” Thomas explains of The Cut. “So when I noticed that we hadn’t received any money since October, that was all of the money from that big show that we do.”

A few hours after this article was initially published, Thomas emailed me to say that “BPT sent an email just now that they are processing a payment for us,” and attached a screenshot of that message.

Josh Harty’s problem stems not from a pandemic cancellation but from a just-barely-pre-pandemic show that did go through. On March 13, 2020, he played North Street Cabaret with fellow singer-songwriter Blake Thomas.

“There were people there [with] face masks and stuff, and like, people were like, ‘This might be the last time we’ll get out of the house for two weeks, so we’re coming out,'” Harty says, with a rueful laugh at that “two weeks” bit. Harty sold tickets to that show through BPT, and still hasn’t seen his cut, which he estimates to be between $400 and $500. 

“The next day [after the show], I think, their website was down,” Harty recalls. “I think I may have gotten one email from them, a bulk email out to all the people, that was just like, ‘We’re restructuring and we’ll get back to you,’ and that never happened. I’ve called and I’ve emailed countless times, and just nothing—it’s been absolutely crickets.”

Harty has since written off the loss, but it’s worth stressing that he was initially dealing with that setback as musicians and performers faced a devastating blow to their livelihoods. “My calendar had been completely wiped out, so I had no income coming in. And that two weeks, as we know, turned into an awfully long time,” Harty says. “At the time, that $400 or $500 was a lot. Now it’s water under the bridge, and it’s more so just the principle of it.” He’s moved on to selling tickets through PayPal.

North Street Cabaret itself still sells tickets through BPT, and it’s worth noting that booker Al Rasho doesn’t currently have any complaints about the service. “We had some trouble related to lockdown, but all has been resolved and we are continuing doing business with Brown Paper Tickets,” says Rasho in an email.

The long trudge of pestering Brown Paper Tickets has paid off for some in Madison. Broom Street Theater successfully recouped $3,200 in June after a reporter from Channel 3000 reached out to BPT about the long-running theater company’s money. The Wisconsin State Journal‘s “SOS” column has also managed to prod Brown Paper Tickets into making good on a refund to a ticket buyer in 2021. In these instances and many others around the country, Brown Paper Tickets sent payment promptly after hearing from reporters, without making much public comment about it.

East-side club Crucible has also had its share of problems getting BPT to pay up over the past few years. Co-founder Greg Kveberg says BPT has since made good on payment..

“It was never an enormous amount of money—I don’t think they ever owed us more than $5,000 at any one point in time,” Kveberg says. “We were never more than one or one-and-a-half, maybe two shows behind in getting money from them. I just had to keep contacting them to get them to issue a payout.”

He adds: “We did eventually get all of the money that we [were] owed, but it took a great deal of work getting it out of them.”

Crucible has since figured out a workaround: Connecting its BPT account to its in-house point-of-sale system, which routes the funds in such a way that BPT never ends up holding onto anything but its share of fees. Still, that might not be a practical option for event organizers who’ve previously relied on BPT for its simplicity and timely payouts. The whole point of a plug-and-play service like BPT is that small businesses, small non-profits, and solo musicians need to save time and money wherever they can. They seldom have the resources or infrastructure to deal with the complexity of a ticketing system otherwise. “We’re relatively tech-savvy—my business partner is a web developer—so it was pretty easy for us, but that would be a real challenge for a lot of the people who use Brown Paper Tickets,” Kveberg says. It’s not every venue or arts organization that has its own in-house IT experts.

Kveberg and his business partner, Jason Socha, have even considered writing their own ticketing software, “or licensing an off-the-shelf e-commerce portal to do our own ticketing website, but the Brown Paper portal seemed like a better option,” Kveberg says. “But that’s a pretty high bar to clear and it’s just dumb luck that we happen to have the skills needed to do that in-house. Almost nobody would.”

Darlene Buhler has organized folk music concerts in Madison for years. Before the pandemic, Buhler used Brown Paper Tickets and had “absolutely zero problems.” Then COVID forced her to cancel a couple of 2020 shows for which she’d already sold some tickets. “Those patrons were having to fight to get their money back,” Buhler says.

She has since also experienced the more recent phase of BPT’s payout problems. After two concerts in March and April of this year, the company didn’t pay out her share of ticket sales with the promptness she’d gotten used to before the pandemic. “In the past, we would get checks within [about] two weeks from the show,” Buhler says. Like a lot of other customers, Buhler tried to contact BPT but got no response.

Finally, in June, Buhler threatened to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, then went ahead with it. “It was just dead silence until we filed with BBB,” she says. A couple days after making that complaint, she got an email from Brown Paper Tickets saying a direct deposit was on the way for a total of $578 from the two shows. The money hit the bank a few days later.

Late payouts add to cash flow worries

The problems with Brown Paper Tickets illustrate how COVID’s impact continues to reverberate through already precarious areas of the arts and entertainment world. Even the Washington State Attorney General’s office has stopped short of accusing BPT of deliberate malfeasance. A May 2021 press release about the Washington AG’s lawsuit against BPT offers an almost forgiving portrayal, suggesting that the company was, more than anything, a victim of its own lean business model: “Brown Paper Tickets historically operated on tight margins to keep its fees low, and relied on incoming funds from new ticket sales to cover its costs and debts.” This does not explain why BPT has delayed paying out money that was meant to pass through to event organizers, or whether BPT has been using those funds to backfill other shortfalls.

The damage cascaded onto thousands of event organizers who sold tickets through the platform. Whether they’re for-profit, non-profit, or an individual musician selling tickets to his own show, they too tend to operate on slim margins and don’t always have extensive cash reserves to fall back on. Whatever COVID relief funding was accessible to them has since dried up. A delayed payout of several thousand or even a few hundred dollars can create a serious financial crisis for a small venue or arts organization.

Fortunately, none of the organizations Tone Madison spoke with for this story expect the missing BPT money to sink them. They have other sources of revenue, and in some cases have successfully ramped up their fundraising efforts to create a navigable financial cushion. That doesn’t mean they’re taking this lightly. The arts don’t happen for free, and routine bills are still due.

“It’s unfortunate because we have had rent increases this year, with rent going up everywhere in Madison,” says Atlas Improv’s Michael Thomas. “Not having access to $3,000 does mean that we have to kind of keep an eye on our finances a little bit more stringently and look at alternative methods. Or be more aggressive in our workshops and exhibition shows that we do sell to see if we can make up for that.”

Joe Copeland was already planning on using another ticketing service for the second edition of the Dirt Camp festival. For now, the delay from BPT is making it difficult for Copeland and his Free Dirt bandmates to close the books on this year’s event. 

“A few of the artists were paid with day-of show funds,” he says. “The rest is on me personally as of now. If BPT fully flaked on this, we’d probably just have to eat it as a band. Which would suck, but we’d figure it out.” 

As of July 19, Arts + Literature Laboratory is waiting on the largest delayed BPT payment Tone Madison knows of in the Madison area—again, more than $10,000.

“Right now, it’s not having an immediate negative impact,” ALL founder Jolynne Roorda says. 

“But I can imagine that if this was to continue long-term, or for organizations of smaller size to have that much of their money tied up by Brown Paper Tickets, would be very harmful. [And that] could potentially lead to some organizations not being able to pay their rent and their utilities and things like that.”

ALL has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years, moving into a large new space at the corner of East Main Street and South Livingston Street, and raising enough money to create full-time staff positions. But Roorda knows that ALL isn’t that far removed from a time when the Brown Paper Tickets shortfall could have spelled disaster. 

“Had this happened to us before our growth…having $10,000 missing from our cash flow would be devastating,” Roorda says. “We didn’t have that much for reserves at that time. Now, it just happens that we have more reserves, thankfully.”

Darlene Buhler will be able to keep on booking, in part because her own BPT backlog didn’t get too large.

“We’re lucky that we do have some funds in our account that [the delayed BPT payments] didn’t strap us,” Buhler says. “But if that would have been a whole season’s worth or something? Yeah, we would have been having some financial issues. Thank goodness it was just our last couple of shows.”

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