Pay to Play and Why it’s Not All that Great

One the greatest debates within any music scene has been the issue of the “Pay to Play” system. Often times, this system only ever benefits the promoter while disregarding the bands or their effort in drawing attendance. Many people consider this structure as deceitful business tactics aimed at using bands as mere tools for selling tickets. This article focuses on the concerns and problems with “Pay to Play” and questions whether there is any real use for it?

Well, in order to answer this dispute let’s break this down into a few separate questions:

What is Pay to Play?

A system designed to issue tickets to bands who are performing in order to attract more people to said performance. These bands must fulfill an obligation by selling an X amount of tickets before the day of their show as a prerequisite for performing. Now, should a band fail to sell this required amount of tickets, then they run the risk of performing at a lesser time slot or not at all. The overall argument towards the “Pay to Play” system is that it places the artists as capitalistic pawns within the promoter’s business venture.

Depends on who is throwing the gig, really.

The responsibility of possessing any blame (for the most part but give me a minute here) solely relies on the one who has put the event together. At the end of the day, the person throwing the show is spending his or her free time and money to put together a gig and should accept the duties and responsibilities of such a position. Event coordinators or venue managers are generally only responsible for executing the pay to play system during the day of show.

However, the person putting the event together could very well be anyone so it’s important to know who that person is should problems ever arise.

The notion of ownership almost always leaves the promoter (let us use this word in referring to the one in charge of the show) with a sense of entitlement of his or her event. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It does however rely on the character of the promoter and that individual’s attitude towards others. Ethical and moral judgements based on concerns for those around you is what will help any person in developing healthy and successful relationships.

Unfortunately, this is such a system that only notorious promoters ever seem to use.

Humanity is genuinely respected when paired with a morally sound and ethically correct attitudes towards others. Most solid promotion agencies and individual promoters do a rather tight job as they understand the value of using people as an end in themselves. Still, any seasoned touring musician could tell you a handful of nightmares from playing gigs. Not every venue is ideal nor is every promoter trustworthy. The use of pay to play may very well be the first red flag.

Keep in mind that most venues do not rely on their own promotion or throw together most of their events. In fact they rely heavily on hiring professionally experienced promoters to handle that fucking headache. Still, should a promoter develop a history of faulty or questionable behavior, it would be pertinent that the venue takes appropriate actions in either correcting their actions or ceasing bonds with them.

Why Do Venues Ask Attendees What Band They Are There To See?

A little off topic but nonetheless important question to the overall issue as lack of attendance is what inspired this system.

Plain and simple, a music venue is a fucking business that requires a proper level of profit in order to continue operating. Everything is a money sign for an owner. From the water you use when washing your hands after taking a piss (that you uncontrollably stained on the toilet seat mind you) to putting a hole in the wall during an Absolute Suffering set, there is always a cost to house an event. Keep in mind also that without decent acts playing a event people wouldn’t bother coming out of their dwellings to see a show.

Simply put there are two major reasons why the door guy asks who you’re there to see:

1.) Draw – this lets us know who YOU want to see the most. Music is very much a popularity contest to a degree and unfortunately not everyone is going to have the chance to see the band they’d like to at any given gig. Same goes to the bands trying their best to get on those bangers.

Telling the pissed off door guy who you are there to see is simply giving the promoter viable information on attendance. Keep in mind, promoters have the right to book who they want and frankly, your opinion on the matter may very well be shit. Still, it would be keen for any promoter to grant the wishes of their scene and to take some chances when possible. For without a demand for bands to play and people that want to see them? Fuck, I wouldn’t even be writing this damn article.

2.) Payout – what’s fair is fair and equal compensation is absolutely up that alley. Without musicians, this debate would be nonexistent. Bands that draw should be compensated to a fair level based on the crowd they bring. Clearly the question here is how much and at what point do they start getting paid? The amount of expenses that add up is much more than people realize so in order for a band to be paid they should be able to draw a crowd. Hell, most locals will play bigger shows for free in hopes of getting the proper spotlight or out of due respect towards the headlining act. Regardless, even a tank of gas, some food, or help finding a place in being put up for the night can go a long way for the non national touring acts or just locals driving a couple hours out.

Pay to play may have a stipulation that not only requires pre-sale tickets but also a fair amount of ticket sales at the door the day of the show.

The question here is should the band that has the potential with the highest of a turn out have the right to play the show or should the promoter give what would be an equal opportunity for bands to prove themselves? Could you not argue that the ability to sell an X amount of tickets is not already an opportunity to prove your turn out? After all, should a band wish to ever be successful or yearn for popularity than it would be pertinent in promoting your own band. That means going out and selling hard copy tickets to your fans in person or putting the hours to get that music out there on social media. Remember, proper business ethics must always be in place should you ever want to have a reputable or professional name.

So what exactly is so terrible about pay to play?

Depending on the promoter the use of pay to play may very well have the potential in ruining a scene. If you’re only angle of promoting an event is to rely on the local bands to sell tickets? Well, you better find a better promotion tactic quick because that is sure to fail eventually.

Yes, bands should be able to draw but in no way should it be dependent solely on themselves for the outcome of a successful gig. Reign Supreme could get together for a reunion show and sell out any given Sunday as long as the public is well informed of the happening. To have bands go out and sell tickets seems more like a bunch of pawns in a sketchy business tactic. Unless of course every band on the bill is a bunch of unknown acts with no distinct fan base then and only then could I agree upon such a flawed promotion tactic.

Furthermore, to provide ultimatums or false promises towards an act is quite the dirty move. I’ve seen it quite too many times when the specified total of tickets that should have been sold apparently was higher than previously agreed upon or that the promise of a pay out becomes compromised or denied.

Should someone ever pull this kind of stunt on you then I urge you to reach out to us and let it be known.Seeing actual artists go out there and bust their own ass getting fans out to show and only end up getting screwed over is an irritating fucking feeling.

Granted it’s one thing when a promoter has falsified or withdrew their business standard and another if you just do not agree with how they operate.
Promoters can be the ugly twin of a car salesman. No seasoned musician has never not experienced a shady booking agent or promoter in their day. Still, always make sure that there is enough evidence or proof of anything wrong.

What Does This All Mean?

In my personal opinionated bullshit, people just love to fuck one another and take them for what they are worth these days. It’s only inevitable that we cross the path of shiesty promoters or venues with poor operating standards. Don’t get me wrong, bands should definitely promote the shows that they are booked on. A duty to inform your own fans and to get a few new ones out should always be something the band is working on. An instagram post here or a repost of the event page on facebook does more than you may think.

At the same token, it should not be the sole responsibility of a band to promote a show as much as they should never be used as puppets by the promoters.

Always remember to get things in writing when making any deal or agreement. If a promoter, booking agent, or venue decides to fuck you over or pull something slick on y’all? Drop us a line with what ever proof or reasoning that you think there is of the matter. We might just be able to help you out.

About the author: admin