Recently the pay-to-play festival/showcase/tour has become very popular. This occurs when the same company/promoter who hosts regular P2P shows decides to hold an event that seems bigger than just the normal one-nighter. Check out how festival/showcase pay-to-play shows differ from the normal shows. Then click on the festival to find out what the stats are and what the bands are saying. (I'll be adding pages about each festival soon.)


* Bands are sent tickets and expect/pressured to sell as many as possible
* All ticket money is turned into the promoter before the show starts
* Line-up is determined by ticket sales
* No compensation or a very small percentage goes to the bands

* Multiple facebook spam posts
* Generic Craigslist ads
* Band sites like Reverbnation, etc

* Done by the bands selling the tickets
* Bands sent generic on-line fliers to post on social network or print out
* Special print ads, radio spots, etc are few or non-existent

* Too many inexperienced bands
* Audience doesn’t stay for entire show
* Fluxuating schedules


Two shows for the price of one! On the surface this sounds like a fantastic deal! How could anybody pass up a bargain like this? It certainly makes the high ticket price more palatable for your fans. The reality is that very few people ever take advantage of this offer. One long day/night of 10 or more relatively new bands is enough “entertainment” for most festival attendees. In fact, it is often times tough to get them to stay to see more than the one band they bought the ticket from. The company is well aware of this. How do we know? Consider this: If everybody who bought a ticket actually showed up, most clubs would be dangerously over capacity and the festival would likely be shut down. So this appears to be more of a marketing ploy than anything else.

While it's standard not to know what time you'll play, in some cases the musician doesn’t even know which venue they’ll be performing at until the last day or two. This can cause a lot of complaints and confusion, plus it can make selling a ticket even more difficult. It’s hard enough to sell expensive tickets, but when you can’t tell the purchaser what club they are buying a ticket for, it becomes almost impossible. These companies are putting bands at a disadvantage.

Take a normal pay-to-play battle or show and multiply that by 2 or 3 days. There’s a possibility you will be competing with over 30 (or more!) local bands, instead of the normal 8 or 9, for ticket sales. Some fests hold their events simultaneously at different clubs. This fact can also cut down on the number of people that might watch you. All you need to do is check out some of these festival posters and event listings to see how many bands are playing! It’s unbelievable.

Instead of hiring a local for $200 to run the show and collect the money, festivals often times have the company owner fly or drive to each city. The overhead can be far greater. Travel expenses (plane fares, gas money), accommodations, and food make these festivals and showcases more expensive to run. The bottom line is that these companies will be relying on “heavier lifting” in the way of ticket sales from the bands (or just more bands on the show than normal). It is unclear whether these fests are strictly business related or more of a vacation for the company owners.

Some festivals hire Metal Spokesmodels to act as MCs, interview bands, and take lots of photos proudly displaying the traditional “horns up” hand gesture with festival attendees. Where the company may not be well-known, having a semi-famous sexy representative can boost recognition and convince musicians to participate. In fact, some of the bands seem way more excited to meet the hostess, than to actually play the show. And some festivals make it look like it's actually the spokesmodel who is running the festival instead of some random promoter. These MC/hosts travel to each show and help drive up the overhead.

The mere mention of record execs and contracts is enough to give the impression that a musician’s “Big Break” is right around the corner. This is a great way for the festival/showcase organizers to kick bands’ ticket sales into high gear. Often times the exec will only be there at the end of the night. This further prompts bands to sell tickets in order to play towards the end of the show when the exec will be there. Many bands don’t even care if their ticket purchaser shows up, as long as they can make the sale. Some bands have complained that the label representative was absent when they performed. Of course, in this day and age, the very term “being signed” has lost most of its meaning. Bands who would agree to do a pay-to-play show are normally not the type of band a label would consider. And as I have stated many times, if you are actually considering signing a legal document this is still extremely important: Don’t ever sign a contract without an entertainment attorney.

The term “national headliner” should be addressed in this instance. Don’t confuse a band who has national notoriety with one that’s just going on a U.S. Tour. A band that’s on tour from a faraway city doesn’t necessarily qualify them as a “national headliner”. This is just an out-of-town touring band. Have you ever heard of them before you were asked to play with them? Have your friends ever heard of them (because they are normally the ones you’ll be selling the tickets to)? Many times these are bands who are being sent out by the record company or promotion company. This is an excellent way to prop up an unknown band who would have difficulty doing a tour on their own and getting a decent guarantee. Having the local bands subsidize their tour is far easier than having to contact each club to individually book each show. A real national headliner should have enough name recognition to bring in the crowd.

Here’s the big one. The promise of exposure has been used against musicians for years but not more than with these festivals and showcases. It can get even the most savvy band to loosen their principles and play a show they normally wouldn’t have accepted. It takes seasoned vets (who’ve probably seen it first hand) to know that the word “exposure” can be used like a sledge hammer to get bands to do just about anything. Flash that word around and most newcomers act like the last man off a sinking ship. So where is this exposure coming from? I found a comment in a forum discussing one of the showcases/on-line voting procedure that addresses this point better than I could.

Like this post, the big question is: Who is getting the exposure?

We’ve all been to big festivals at some point. Think about the buzz that comes with any huge well-established music festival. Everybody will be excitedly talking about who’s playing and who’s going. This excitement starts months before the thing even begins and builds up until the festival starts. You’ll see special promotional ads and sometimes even entire sections in your local music paper dedicated to the event. You’ll hear about it on the radio. Sometimes the local TV news will run features on it. And when it’s all over, everybody will be talking about it.

Now think about the typical P2P Festival. Have you ever heard of it? Are people excitedly discussing it? How is it being promoted (and all the bands trying to sell tickets don’t count). These companies claim they are a big national festival but really, where’s the proof?

Check on facebook to see if the festival really is as big as they are claiming. Notice how much traffic they have compared to big festivals you may have heard of. A quick check of how the company’s facebook stats hold up is a good way to see what kind of industry biggie they really are. Compare their facebook activity to that of the big festivals. For instance, the SXSW festival has about 174,000 followers, the Warped Tour has 500,000, the Ozzfest has about 90,000 and so on. Even smaller festivals like Bumbershoot here in the Pacific Northwest has over 31,000 supporters. Small area festivals that are gaining a lot of buzz like the Austin Psych Fest has about 13,000 likes. In addition, you'll never see spam email requests for bands to play these events on their facebook pages. You may not be interested in any of these festivals, but my point is that their facebook sites reflect some popularity. Also check to see what posts the festival is making and see if the bands are scrambling to sell tickets.

Don’t just take the promoter's word for it. Do some research and check the P2P festivals/showcases against some festivals you are familiar with. And while you are at it, check out how popular the national headliners you’ll open for are.

As with most pay to play shows, after the event has taken place it’s hard to determine what really happened. As I personally witnessed earlier this year, the term “great show” can mean just about anything. The band playing often times is only referring to how well they played and if their small group of family and friends showed up to support them. To the novice bands who play these shows - every show is a great show, regardless how close the promoter came to fulfilling their promises. When prompted further bands will usually admit that the turnout and outcome wasn’t always as described.

Many times you can check a bands’ facebook page to see multiple posts (sometimes for several weeks solid) leading up to the event. They will constantly remind fans to purchase those tickets from them (normally with a promise to actually drive to a location/home and hand deliver the ticket!), how important this show is (to impress company/label reps) and how excited they are for this “huge opportunity.” However, after the show there is very little mention, other than thanking their fans for the support. The level of excitement going into the festival does not match after the show has been played. It actually appears that most of these shows are quickly forgotten. Unless you can find some photos of the crowd, it's almost impossible to gauge these things.

I'll show you what I'm talking about:

Here's a band that's just thrilled with the killer Exposed Music Festival they'll be playing at.
They know they've got to sell at least 30 tickets and don't mind telling people it doesn't matter if they can't show up, just as long as they hand over the ten bucks:

Again, it will be a HUUUUUUUUUUGE gig:

After the show the band seems really pleased with the result. They posted on the festival facebook page:

So it must have been huge, in a big venue, with a big festival crowd, tons of new people to see them, and the "exposure" that these festivals promise. But the photos don't reflect that. They are playing a big venue but from the photos there couldn't have been more than about 15 people to actually be watching them. And from my experience, nothing is worse than a big hall with nobody there. It's much better to play a small venue that's packed than a 600 capacity venue with 10 people.

And of course my snarky remark: It damn well better be a good show. You paid for it!

To illustrate/prove that information I list on the festivals pages is not fabricated I will be using more screen shots (aka screen captures). Links tend to go bad, sites are abandoned, blogs are removed or I just want to use a small comment in a huge website. It is extremely difficult to update and re-link to constantly changing blogs, websites and forums. Therefore, I will now feature small screen shots of the portion of the blog or comment that illustrates my point. I will also link where possible, but don’t be surprised if links no longer work. This has been the norm when dealing with the subject of pay-to-play.

FAIR USE: I believe this practice falls under the “fair use” rule. There is no commerce on this website. I will only display small sections (not complete images) of websites and social network sites. These sites are open for public viewing (in other words you don't have to be signed up to view them). I'm relying on screen shots as proof or to specifically illustrate the point of what I am writing.

WITHHOLDING SPECIFIC NAMES: Facebook is the new place for bands and musicians to discuss their shows. Some of these comments are eye-opening and come directly from people who have had personal experiences with the companies and promoters I list. Many times the promoters themselves will offer their views on the situation which can be very enlightening. I will illustrate my point by sharing some of the comments but I will try to keep the specific identities of the musicians private by covering names, numbers and other personal information.