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Say No to Pay to Play

(By Richard Morales)
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Ok, so your band has finally come to the point where you’re ready to play out.  You do some searching and researching, and decide to contact a venue and/or its promoter/booking agent hoping to book your first gig, only to find that they want you and your band to guarantee ticket sales or to buy tickets from them up front.  Wait a minute, hold on there! You are the ones who have spent your time practicing, writing, working; and your money on equipment, rehearsal space, and perhaps even lessons; and they have the audacity to tell you that you now have to PAY more money just TO PLAY for your fans! (Hence the term Pay-to-Play) How dare these clubs and promoters charge you, the bands/acts/talent, to provide entertainment at their venues?  Believe it or not, it’s supposed to be the other way around.  The entertainer is supposed to get paid to perform, while the promoter is supposed to be the one who pays for the talent/act/band and sells the tickets to the public.  Paying to play sucks, but if you’re not yet convinced, check this out: 10 Reasons to say ‘NO’ to PAY-to-PLAY 

  1. Pay-to-Play gigs are NOT showcases to the world. Nobody (including record company talent scouts and most of the general public) wants to see ‘headliners’ that are not necessarily headline talent but simply sold the most tickets that particular night. 
  2. These pay-to-play ‘promoters’ are exploiting you. You are the ones selling the tickets. You are the ones advertising yourselves. AND you’re the entertainment. What the hell are you paying these ‘promoters’ to do?
  3. Your family and friends will get tired of buying tickets to your every show, and unless you’re expanding your sales-base each time, they’ll start running for the hills when they see you coming around.
  4. If you don’t sell all your tickets, you have to eat the difference.  Also, your gear MAY be taken hostage if you don’t come up with the money.
  5. House sound-engineers don’t give a shit about your band’s sound, and often sound-check only one band on the ticker, and if it ain’t yours, too bad.
  6. The money spent paying to play could be used for a hundred better purposes, like renting studio time to rehearse or record, or making promo packages, or creating merchandise; ways that will make your band money, not sap money from it.
  7. You will most likely get a very short set (only 30-40 min.) on a four or more band bill, and be paying anywhere from $200 to $400. 
  8. You’ll be charged an arm-and-a-leg for a video and/or audio tape of your show.
  9. It’s not a way for musicians to "learn the business side of music." Selling tickets isn’t going to prepare you for anything but a job in sales when your career fails in the pay-to-play scene.
  10. Even if you don’t always have to pay at a particular pay-to-play venue because the booking manager digs your band, and even if she invites you back for future shows consider: what nights you are getting (Mondays?); if you’re just being used to fill last minute dates; what (if anything) you’re getting paid; how long your set is and whom you’re playing with; and most important of all, how respectful they treat you. 
 Think about it.

The clubs can't survive without the entertainment. If all the bands said no to pay-to-play, no club would be able to exploit you. So forget about all the sell-outs; the local press that won't write about the evils of pay-to-play because the clubs advertise in their publications; the national tours that play these venues; and the promoters and booking agents who do not have your best interests at heart.  Shame on them.  You have the power to create a new order in the clubs and in club policies. It's time to stop pay to play. It's time to put respect back into the music business and get back some of our dignity.  It’s time to say “NO!” to pay-to-play.

Updated: February 18, 2008

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