What is Pay to Play?
Pay-to-play is primarily described as any event that a band has to pay to perform. This is most often seen when a band is asked to sell x amount of tickets and must remit ticket monies before playing an event, or else they forfeit their time slot. Musicians themselves are held responsible for promoting these types of events with little help from promoters and are often mailed tickets to sell to people in-person.
What is the difference between Pay to Play and Presale/tickets for an event?
Some musicians prefer to perform at events where there are ticket sales as it provides the benefit of show-goers buying tickets in advance, often online, giving the event coordinators & bands an idea of how many people are actually attending. Most often, for these types of performances, the band is given either a guarantee for performing and/or a door split based on sales. The event coordinators are responsible for promotion of the event; so, of course, more work goes into booking quality talent.
Why is pay to play hurting musicians and the music scene?
The pay-to-play structure of promoting puts money first and talent second. Bands are left to promote themselves AND the show, with little more than a flyer from the promoter. Come show night, they hardly make money off merch (if at all since their fans just had to pay $ to get into the venue) as the majority of pay-to-play deals leave the venue/promoter keeping all funds from the door. There are many promoters sending contracts to bands to send all the ticket monies prior to the show, to guarantee their time slot ($$$’s or more), sometimes taking a percent of their merch sales as well. With money being of the highest priority, it puts young, inexperienced musicians on stages they aren’t ready for because they have financial backing (often from their parents). It has made the promoters lazy since there are always new, fresh faces gracing the scene (at least here in California). It’s very obvious to any band that’s been around more than a year that these promoters send mass messages to new bands with minimal social networking presence or bands that have already expressed disinterest; throwing a wide net trying to catch any band they can. This makes show lineups poorly thought out, with bands of various genres and ages being on the same stage in the same night. It has fans come in for just the one band they bought a ticket directly from and they leave right after. Music fans have no idea where to go to find new music and they believe all new music is of the same lack of caliber
What can I do (as a band) to help the scene in this struggle?
Don’t succumb to performing pay-to-play shows, they are not your only option! If your band is new or not ready to perform on a stage for pay, play a free show! There are bars, venues or even people with large backyards that are willing to host music for honest musicians for free or for a split of the bar or door. If booking isn’t your forte, hook up with some of the few promoters in the area that are against pay to play. Go out to shows in your local scene that your band is not playing.
What can I do ( as a music fan) to help the scene in the struggle?
Quit complaining about a $5 cover and support people pursuing their passion to share that they have created with you. Check in at the event online and put your phone away! Artists want interaction and you’ll meet like minded people easier and a lot less creepier than on Tinder, I promise.
What if I want to play a venue that only does pay to play?
Patience. Build your brand and eventually they will come knocking. Build a solid team and a great local pull, document it correctly on all social platforms, and then these places will call for you. Crazy to think about not looking for a shortcut, isn’t it? In closing, there are a lot of better ways that you can spend your money to progress your band than a 30 minute set time for one night. Once we all say no, bands will stop being taken advantage of. The music scene is a team effort and the more we act like it, the better off everyone is including the fans who make this all possible.
Thanks for reading.
John Safari President/Co-Founder OCML