PAY (transfer money)
Mission Statement: It is my belief that building a strong music/art scene is vital to the success of musicians and that pay-to-play is not only a rip off but counterproductive to sustaining a healthy music community. I further believe that the practice of paying-to-play will ruin important/unique opportunities for the next generation of artists. My aim is to provide an opinion (based on 28 years of experience) and facts (based on internet research and accounts from musicians that have directly worked with these companies) about pay-to-play promoters/companies currently operating in the US and beyond. These companies have huge websites with teams of paid representatives working on every free social networking site available (myspace, facebook, craigslist, etc) in an attempt to exploit uninformed, inexperienced young musicians into selling tickets for their shows/battles. Since there is little information on this subject, I felt someone should at least offer an opposing perspective. While it is up to every musician to make their own decision, most established musicians throughout the country agree that pay-to-play mostly benefits the promoters. No matter where you live, no matter what kind of music you make, this is a practice that affects musicians and fans alike. Good luck to all of you!
10 WARNING SIGNALS IT'S A PAY-TO-PLAY SHOW (Does your show match these warning signals?)
PAY TO PLAY AND HOW IT WORKS
PAY TO PLAY TALKING POINTS (They repeat it over and over)
10 MOST COMMON PAY-TO-PLAY ARGUEMENTS (Manipulation tactics used by P2P promoters)
THE PAY-TO-PLAY GRAPHS (A visual study in how pay-to-play shows work)
WHAT DOES PAY-TO-PLAY SAY ABOUT YOUR BAND?
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (Including answering our critics!)
I got sued over this website. If you want all the details, I've written the whole story!
|WHAT'S NEW?|| NEWEST! 2-07-14: What is a Promoter? What to look for.
NEWER!12-03-13: The Shots band tells how it was to be part of Gorilla Music Management.
NEW! 9-9-13: MadMan Productions - Yet another branch of Gorilla Music.
6-21-13: 14 Pay-To-Play Talking Points. See if you've heard these before!
5-8-13: Must Read article: You Are Not A Music Promoter!
5-8-13: Check out the new Gorilla Music Price Breakdown! Yikes!
1-19-13: How I Put On My Own Show (and you can too!). Tacoma kids do it themselves! Also check out another account of DIY from Matti Eirikson Frost!
|THE BIG MENU OF P2P||Pay to play comes in many forms. Check out the genres and click on the link for the specific details on shows and companies.|
Afton (aka AftonShows): From Salem, OR, operates nationally. The original post.
Current Afton information: Includes actual emails, info on their online ticket sales.
Afton Resources: Don't forget to check out what they are telling new musicians!
|BATTLE OF THE BANDS||
Gorilla Music: The biggest pay-to-play BOTB company in the US. Check the extensive info!
Thinking about being part of the Gorilla Music Management? Read this first.
The Day I Attended a Gorilla Music Battle of the Bands: What a nightmare!
Book review: Rock Your City: The 5 Steps to Becoming the Biggest Band in Town
The Gorilla Now website: A former Gorilla employee argues the merits of pay-to-play!
Supernova Battle of the Bands: From Canada.
Miscelleous Battle of the Band companies: There are more than one!
Emergenza: The Granddaddy of Pay to Play, still operating in Europe and some US cities
BOTB Prizes and Opportunities: What do you actually win?
The Battle of the Bands Pyramid: A handy chart illustrates how these shows really work!
|FESTIVALS, SHOWCASES & TOURS||
Festivals, Showcases and Tours: Two and three day ticket selling events. What to look out for!
Exposed Music Festival: It's been under different names, but it's still the same.
Miscellaneous pay-to-play: More companies and promoters you might encounter!
The Bodog Battle of the Bands: It's over, but still an interesting story. A good lesson for us all.
A Pay To Play Tour: Bands share their incredible story of a P2P tour gone wrong.
TIPS & THOUGHTS
Some "food for thought" pieces from somebody who's been there!
Six Steps to Starting a Band - and keeping it together. (Help for beginners)
Playing Without Paying - You can get shows on your own!
On The Road - Tips for Touring (without paying for it): The dynamics of tours and how to do it
The Song Poem Story - A History Lesson in pay-to-play (See if this sounds familiar!)
If you don't believe anything I'm saying, just go to all these websites!
|VIDEOS||If you'd rather just watch a good video, here are a few to get the point across!
Band Vs Promoter - From 2009 and still happening today
Pay To Play - Really entertaining explanation from Seattle musician, Eric Charles
Don Cole - Chimpanzee Music - See a satire of one of the biggest P2P promotion companies
Should Bands Pay to Play - an experience musician sits you down for a down to earth talk.
In April 2010 all the members of my band Girl Trouble were sued by Gorilla Productions (aka Gorilla Music) for my personal opinions on this page.
After almost two years
The transfer of money from an artist to a promoter before playing. The term pay-to-play is used to describe a performance where an artist (primarily applies to musicians) turns in money before taking the stage. This payment can originate either directly from the artist or be collected from the artist through the sale of tickets (aka pre-sale). All or the majority of the collected funds go to an independent promoter or to a pay-to-play club.
Paying to Play is the practice where independent promotion companies (not affiliated with any specific club) exploits young, inexperienced musicians for their profit. These promoters rent “dead nights” at local clubs to host pay-to-play shows. They typically send flattering spam emails through myspace to new bands notifying them of shows they can play, either straight shows or Battles of the Bands (BOTB). Many of these new bands have barely formed. In order to play these shows, the company expects the band sell a quota of expensive tickets with all the money being turned over to the representative before showtime (or obligates the band to purchase tickets outright). The band sees a very small percentage, or often times nothing, for all their hard work. The promotion company pays the club rent and takes the biggest profit for themselves with very little effort and no promotion. These pay-to-play companies are acting as unnecessary middlemen. FYI: This practice can also be intiated by the club itself. Any time a band is expected to sell tickets, they are paying to play.
WHY DO PAY-TO-PLAY COMPANIES SEEK YOUNG MUSICIANS?
|Since older, established musicians will not fall for this practice, these companies primarily target the young, new band who is just starting out. These targeted newcomers don’t realize they are being exploited. We feel that if this practice is allowed to continue it will ruin the scene for the next generation of musicians. Paying to play is an exploitation of musicians that should be discouraged. Please help us spread the word...|
|1. UNSOLICITED SPAM EMAIL: You typically receive a friendly often flattering email (or random facebook comment) from a company you’ve never heard of, with show dates to choose from, or how to sign up for their Battle of the Bands (BOTB) contest. Their websites are usually professional looking/elaborate. No matter how new your band is, or if you even are a band, they’ll claim they are interested in your music and want to work with you. Typically they don’t even listen to you.
2. THEY CLAIM THEY ARE NOT PAY-TO-PLAY: The pay-to-play company goes out of their way to mention many times over that they are not. No legitimate booking company has to make this claim. These companies are constantly doing damage control on blogs and message boards, trying to defend themselves against unhappy musicians. Always google first to see what other bands are saying on musician forums/blogs (FYI: “glowing praise” on their pay-to-play site does not count).
3. YOU ARE GIVEN TICKETS TO SELL: Whether it’s a requirement to play a show or suggested in order to win a contest, a bands’ role is not to be in charge of pre-ticket sales. Promote the hell out of it, but let the club (or promoter) do the actual ticket selling. You are “the artist” and your role is to put on a good show that people will want to see.
4. YOU HAND MONEY OVER BEFORE YOU PLAY: If you hand any money, no matter where it comes from (your friends, family, your own pockets, the sofa cushions) to a company representative before the show, you are paying to play. The representative keeps a detailed tally of who came to see which band either by asking at the door or counting hands at a BOTB. This is never the way real shows are produced.
5. THE COMPANY TAKES THE BIGGEST CUT: You get none (as in BOTBs) or a small percentage back from the money you turned in. No matter what the situation, the company always takes the biggest cut for themselves. They are acting as unnecessary middlemen.
6. ONLY VERY NEW OR INEXPERIENCED BANDS ARE ON THE BILL: Pay-to-play companies work with inexperienced bands. Notice who’s on the bill (if they can even tell you) and see if it’s anybody you’ve ever heard of. Established bands are hip to this con job and won’t do these shows. In fact, ask any established band what they think of paying-to-play (unless you are profanity sensitive) and see how they view this practice.
7. CRAPPY SHOWS: Too many bands on the bill, a mismatched lineup of acts, too short of time on stage, admission price higher than normal, and an audience that won’t stay for the whole show (or are only interested in the band they came to vote for).
8. BIG PROMISES, BIG PRIZES: If you play this show your band will be on the road to Fame and Fortune. You’ll play in a venue you’ll never get on your own, you will win a chance to do a major tour, play at a major festival, get a million dollar recording contract, receive free recording time at a major studio, have major label A&R reps to evaluate you, exposure you could never acheive without them, etc. The percentage of any of this happening through these shows is remote at best.
9. NO PROMO: The company doesn’t print flyers for the show, there are no special print ads in the local music papers, no mention in the free concert calendar. The only promotion is done by the bands. Only the club might list it on their website and that’s it. BECAUSE...
10. YOU DO ALL THE WORK - THEY GET ALL THE MONEY. And if the show doesn’t turn out well and you complain, you get the blame for not working hard enough, or for being a band that will never make it in this biz. In addition, pay-to-play promoters will always stress what a big favor they do for bands, how much they are sacrificing to help you obtain success, how they too are musicians who’s only unselfish goal is to “help other musicians”.
|These pay-to-play companies will tell you that doing their shows is a way to let people know how hard you can work, that you are a go-getter, that you want to be successful. THAT IS A LIE. In reality, no real hard-working band would ever think of doing a show like this. They know they are a huge waste of time, effort and money...not to mention they’ll do damage to your image. The image your band (or you as a solo act) projects can be as important as the music you play.
So you need to ask yourselves a few questions. For instance, who plays these shows? Aren’t these shows typically filled with beginners and bands who need more practice time? Do your favorite bands ever pay-to-play? Of course not! No legitimate band would ever fall for doing these stinky gigs. They’d never consider selling tickets and handing all the money they collected over to some “company rep”. Older bands view this practice as pathetic.
It’s important to consider what your image will be and how people will view you. What does paying to play say about your band?
* We’re not good enough to do a real show.
Paying to play sends the wrong message. Doing these shows makes a bad impression. Paying-to-play can do more damage than you think!
THE 10 MOST COMMON PAY-TO-PLAY ARGUMENTS
1. THEY ARE THE EXPERTS: These promoters always have many years in the business, lots of experience with thousands of shows, they are musicians themselves so they obviously know more than you do. This is to diffuse the musicians who protest. "I have the experience and you don't." They have paid their dues, are famous or work with famous bands, boast of their enormous amount of street cred, have done thousands of shows. If you are a new band how can you argue with an EXPERT?
2. THE “BOO-HOO” APPROACH: These promoters spend a lot of time telling about how they are not making money or in this for themselves. They are sacrificing so much just to help you, the struggling musician. They’ll go into extremely specific details about how much everything costs and how they are losing money with every show. How can you dare criticize a person who’s helping so many out of the goodness of their hearts?
3. SHAME: The next tactic is to shame the musician. After all the company has sacrificed and done for you (see Boo-Hoo section), how could you protest selling a few tickets? Your draw is nothing and you are practically a burden on them. While you have nothing to offer, they are making a special effort in your case. They are doing you a big favor. How could you not pitch in to sell their tickets?
4. WORK ETHIC: These companies always complain about the work ethic of musicians. They claim that they are forcing “lazy” bands to get better shows. But to them, “work ethic” doesn’t mean practicing and working up a following with time, talent, patience and persistence. Work ethic is ticket selling. Shame plays a part here also.
5. YOU ARE NOT SERIOUS: Musicians are told that they will never "make it" because they aren't committed. Being told you are not serious about your band is a very tough criticism for any musician, especially when it comes from some national promotion company. They'll insinuate that if you don't like their shows, it's back to the garage for you! This is psychological manipulation at it's best. A friendly "maybe you are just not cut out for this" is extremely difficult to ignore, especially for young bands.
6. WE DARE YOU TO TRY THIS YOURSELVES: Promoters will suggest that you, the lowly artist, could never put on your own successful show. They always invite you to try it in a back-handed way. They also will give you a misleading list of factors necessary for a successful show. As an example, they'll claim that when they put on a show they are in charge of the sound system and the tech to run it, the security staff, the lights, the insurance, etc. The reality is that club rental includes sound, lights, security, and door/bar staff.
7. NOBODY IS FORCING YOU: While it's true no promotion company is actually forcing a band to participate, you could argue that the enticement is close enough. With promises of big shows, big prizes, hundreds of new fans, record deals and industry big wigs to evaluate you, it is very tough for new bands not to be completely sucked in. In some cases it's almost impossible. The term "big break" is often used by bands to describe these shows. Could you pass up this Big Break for your band?
8. THIS IS HOW THE MUSIC INDUSTRY WORKS: Watch out for the terms "Music Industry, Business, Biz" etc. Promoters pound this one into musicians like a sledge hammer. This is another tactic to get you to believe they have some special knowledge that you don't. (See EXPERTS) The term "music industry" is so broad and overused it can mean just about anything. Hell, Wikipedia even has a tough time coming up with a definition!. Musicians contemplating pay-to-play shows are not at the point where they need to worry about being part of the scary and ominous "Music Industry".
10. NAME CALLING: Lazy, greedy, immature, uninformed, naive, worthless, ungrateful, cowardly, jealous, disrespectful, bitter, a "hater"...etc.
Figure 1a (The normal show): Notice how the band first plays and then receives an amount of money which they may keep and use for gas, equipment, practice space rental, future recording, etc. In normal shows the playing is the primary function, then comes the payment.
Firgure 1b (The Pay-To-Play show): Notice how the first task of the band is to turn in collected money. After the money is dealt with (and the tickets are counted), the band then plays. The spot on the line-up is usually fixed by how much ticket money the band has turned in. The band may expect no compensation, a very small percentage (much less than the promoter) or a chance to go on to other rounds to win a prize.
FIGURE 2: DEALING WITH THE MONEY
FIGURE 2: This shows the difference between how a normal show works and how a pay-to-play show works. Notice these figures are reversed in how they function. This is a very important distinction. The true test of a pay-to-play show is to determine at what point the money is dealt with.
Figure 2b (The pay-to-play show): The money is handled at the beginning of the night before the show begins and bands have played a note.
I believe I need to further clarify what this website is all about. Unfortunately there is some confusion, so let me lay it out. Please read this before you check out my opinion pages and keep it in mind as you read through it.
ME: I’ve been in the same band for 28 years: Girl Trouble. The original four people who started this band are still together.. We never “made it”. That’s cool. I’m proud of what we’ve done over the years. Girl Trouble has gotten to do some amazing things that I believe every band hopes for. We’ve gotten to make records and get some radio play. We’ve gotten write-ups in some national/international magazines, including about 7 different languages. We’ve gone on tours through the US, Canada and Europe and shared the stage with some of our heroes. We’ve played in every situation from crappy scary dives to huge ballrooms and theaters. We’ve had wild experiences and made tons of good friends along the way. It’s been a great ride that I’m not done taking. I love being in this band. I love my band mates. We are still together, we still have fun and they still make me laugh. They’ll follow me into the fires of Hell if I need it and I’ll do the same for them, in a heartbeat. Pretty amazing after all those years, wouldn’t you agree? So while we never “made it”, we don’t really care. And I’m not being sarcastic. “Making it” comes with it’s own set of problems that we probably wouldn’t have wanted to deal with. We watched a lot of our friends go through it. For some it turned out really great, for others...not so much.
In all those years, we have firmly stood behind the idea that turning in money before a performance is not helpful to musicians or their local scene. None of our famous friends got their success by doing these shows, winning battles, selling tickets for festivals. Every one of those famous bands already had worked up a big local fanbase and already had something released on independent labels. This is an important fact to always keep in mind: Your combined body of work is what gets you noticed. There’s seldom one show or one meeting with some random label rep that allows you to “make it”. It takes hard work in practicing and putting on good shows. It takes patience (especially with each other) and dedication. You’ve got to stick together through thick and thin and never give up, ever. Do that and you’ll go far.
MY PURPOSE: When we started out, there were established musicians who would give us some tips about what to avoid when dealing with the “music biz”. We learned a lot from them. In fact, we first learned it from our band friends in L.A. who were experiencing this awful trend in their scene. Clubs would get bands to buy a certain number of tickets outright with the idea that the band could sell them and recoup their investment (or make tons of extra money, depending on “if they were a serious, hardworking band”). They called it pay-to-play. We were so thankful our musician friends would share this information. We really appreciated it and I always kept it in mind. So now that I’ve been around the block more than a few times, I’m passing it on. I think the term “pay it forward” applies here. Those bands helped us, I’m trying to help you. I feel that it’s important to offer this information to new/inexperienced musicians. A strong scene will benefit us all. In fact, I believe it’s my responsibility to share what I’ve learned over the years with the next generation of musicians. Even though it’s over the internet, it’s pretty much the same conversation we’d have if we were hanging out together. Think of this as a conversation between you and me. I’ll buy you a beverage. We’ll talk.
So, this is food for thought and nothing more. You have to decide. I’m not going to kid you, I absolutely hate this practice for my music scene and for yours. It saddens me that pay-to-play has actually grown in popularity. But in the end, it’s your decision whether you want to go for selling and turning in ticket money for your show. I will confess to writing in a wry, hopefully humorous, manner (which has always been my style). Yes, I get sarcastic. I will admit to joking around on certain points that I find ridiculous. Sometimes I get downright snarky (which amuses me if no one else). But I’m never malicious. I never get into name calling and I won’t resort to lots of expletives. I try not to go the personal attack route. I believe that getting to the level of unnecessary cussing and harsh name calling diminishes my argument. And I do believe this is an important topic for all artists to discuss.
STATS ON THIS SITE: Even though this website might seem extensive, it is hardly popular. Neverpaytoplay (NPTP) gets a few hits a day which is divided over the entire content, not just on one page. The statistics not earth shaking by any standard. My lame internet traffic stats is in comparison to all the fancy websites/myspaces/facebooks etc of the companies I list. These companies are public. They go to great effort to advertise all over the internet, they reach out to every musician with a myspace, you’ll find them all over Craigslist, they have an incredible amount of resources in manpower and finances. In addition, there are many company CEOs and reps doing damage control (or actually getting opposing sites deleted) on every forum where musicians have complaints. So keep this in mind. NPTP is a drop in the bucket to all the pro-presale information, blogs, reps and company owners who have impressive resources and a powerful internet presence. I can’t even come close. I’m no expert. I’m just somebody with an opinion. Again: One person - one opinion.
RESEARCH: I do a lot of research on each company I specifically list by extensive internet searches through company websites, social networking sites, and forums. Whether it’s battles, festivals, shows, CD comps, or other opportunites for musicians, I research how the money comes to the company, what the percentage rate is for the musician and what the percentage is for the company. I never list a company without the facts behind it and I try to link to everything I find. It normally starts off either when my band gets a spam email or when another musician will notify me about one they got. I go from there and I encourage you to do the same. Recently when I haven’t been sure about a company I’ve started emailing the bands directly. That’s been great. There are so many really nice musicians out there. I’ve learned so much from just asking bands questions. It’s amazing how much they are willing to share and I thank them for it. I’m trying to do more partial screen captures (fair use) to prove that this information really does exist in case the links go bad.
I go by these guidelines for showcases, festivals and battles:
I’m skeptical by nature. I seldom take anything at face value. I ask questions. I want proof. In the music biz especially, you need to have this attitude too. It’s not going to slow down your “rocket to stardom” to take a half hour or so and check stuff out. In fact, it just may save you a lot of hassle, money, time-wasting and heartache. I seriously encourage every musician to do research before deciding on any opportunity that’s offered to them. FYI: Glowing info from the company rep doesn’t count.
UNFORTUNATELY: But here’s the downside...since I started ranting about this four years ago, this practice is more popular than ever. Pre-sale shows have grown on a national level and unfortunately in many areas, it is now trickling down to the local scene. Obviously I’m not a threat to anybody’s livelihood. Some may think I am hurting these businesses. Well, the facts don’t bear that out. Not at all. There are more of these battles, festivals and shows, even my state of Washington, than there has ever been. There are more companies collecting more money from young musicians who are willingly/happily participating. My four years of discussing the pitfalls of pay-to-play/presale or whatever the hell you want to call it, hasn’t even made a dent.
THE BOTTOM LINE: But I still fervently believe it’s important for musicians to speak up on issues like this. A free exchange of ideas and experiences is vital to this art. We need this conversation. Good or bad, pro or con, any discussion will help to make the scene stronger. We’ll all sort it out together. So that’s why this website exists. Not to bring down some company, not to “get on my soapbox” (as some have accused me), not to make my band famous (after 27 years it’s a little late for that!) but to simply have the information available if somebody wants to take a few minutes to check it out. I have my opinion. This is it. Nobody has to agree with me but damn it, I believe in this country I still have the right to say it. If this website serves to get the discussion rolling then I consider NPTP a success.
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