How much more can I simplify this? I can’t.

It’s three words...

Pay to play

It means what it says. It means that if you as the musician turn in money to play a show, you’ve done a pay-to-play show. Where the money comes from is irrelevant. It’s the act of turning in the money that makes it pay-to-play. That’s the only question that must be asked. Was money turned in before you got on stage?

Yes or no. Easy, right?


But people constantly try to make it more difficult than it is. Often times it’s P2P promoters who will do anything to anything to confuse and complicate the issue. They’ve spent years, not trying to stop what they are doing, but instead trying to change the term. They’ll call it “presale” or “buy ins” or “work to play” or “promote to play”...anything to get away from those three undesirable words. Sometimes it comes from the gullible new musicians who blindly repeat the rhetoric that the P2P promoters are cramming down their throats. Other times it’s musicians who would like to make what they are doing more palatable for themselves and others. They will all claim that there are "grey areas" that must be added. I say there are none.

In On Gorilla Music's propaganda page,, they try to get around calling it pay-to-play by claiming the money has to come out of pocket. Gorilla claims they've worked with over 50,000 bands. The fact is that every one of these 50,000 bands has turned in money before performing at a Gorilla event. Yet they still won't admit that those bands are paying to play! In reality, presale is a form of pay-to-play.


If a promoter/club/booker:

* Asks a band/musician to play a show
* Gives the band tickets to sell for a percentage (or asks for money up front)
That is a pay-to-play show.

If the band/musician:

* Sells the tickets
* Gives the promoter/club all or a percentage of that collected money (or pays up front)
They’ve done a pay-to-play show. They turned in money before they played.

Percentages have nothing to do with it. Who is responsible for promotion has nothing to do with it. It is only the action of turning in money (not to mention performing the extra job of being the promoter’s ticket vendor which I am completely against) that makes it a pay-to-play situation. When the musician is requested to play, their job is to play the show they are asked to perform. That’s it. Compensation for this job should follow.

OR: Think of pay-to-play like a light switch in a room. It’s either on or it’s off. You are doing it or you aren’t. There isn’t a dimmer switch on pay-to-play.

You turned in money before you performed

You didn't turn in money before you performed



How many times have I heard somebody tell me “I will never ever pay to play! It’s terrible and an exploitation of musicians...


there is one time when it becomes okay...” and then they’ll rattle off some reason why pay-to-play could benefit them and how it wouldn’t be considered pay-to-play. So, let me get this straight: "You are against it? You know it exploits musicians (yourself)? But you’ll do it?" When somebody starts saying that there are “grey areas” in pay-to-play that’s when it’s mostly a way to justify their own actions. They will feel better if they can convince people, or maybe themselves, that it isn’t pay-to-play if they got some benefit out of it.


* It’s only offered as a courtesy to the band
* It’s a way for the band to make extra money
* It’s an incentive for the bands to promote
* The money doesn’t come out of pocket, only through ticket sales
* You are paying for a service, evaluation from industry professionals, etc
* We don’t require ticket sales to play the show
(but you won’t get paid without it and you’ll play first)
* It helps to increase your fanbase
* It helps to pay for expenses of the show
* Your band is a business so you need to learn to sell yourself
* It’s only a tool for bands to take advantage of
* It’s a way to get a bigger attendance
* It’s a way to get lazy bands off their butts
* It helps to keep the club open which is good for your local scene
* It’s not pay-to-play, it’s called presale

(Each one of these reasons involve the musicians turning in money)


* It’s a contest where we win a prize
* It’s a way to connect to our fans
* We get exposure
* We can play a big club
* We get to play a big show with our heroes
* It's a festival
* We get a better payout
* It could increase our fanbase
* We can make it up in merch
* We are not required to sell tickets
* We might get a record deal
* It’s not pay-to-play if you have fans
* It’s a way to prove we are a hard working band
* This is how “the industry” works
* It's not pay to play, it's called presale

(Each one of these reasons involve the musicians turning in money)

Some of these are prime examples of incentives that turn out to be less than what was described. (See bait and switch) (See Battle of the Bands pyramid)

See the problem here?

If the people who set up these shows argue it’s not pay-to-play (for their various reasons), and the bands who are turning in the money argue it’s not pay-to-play (for their various reasons), then pay-to-play becomes such a grey area it actually fades away. No one will admit that’s what they do, so it no longer exists. Great work, everybody! There is no pay-to-play! It has "magically disappeared".

So who makes the call? How do we decide what is pay to play and what isn’t? We can’t go around with our wands like P2P fairies proclaiming that one situation is a lighter form of turning in money so it’s okay, while another is not. Or suddenly we have to determine that turning in money isn’t pay-to-play because somebody claims they got a benefit out of it. Where would it end? How could we possibly come to any definition if we needed to pick and choose what WAS pay-to-play and what WASN’T? I say we can’t. As I have found over the years, every person (promoters and musicians) has a completely different idea on why their particular situation is justifiable and therefore not pay-to-play.

Logically we can only accept the ACTION of turning in money as the definition. Considering all the blurring that comes from pay-to-play advocates there is no way anyone could ever come to a final conclusion without it. Boiling down all the excuses, it remains that the only thing we can actually evaluate is the action...the action of turning in the money. That’s the constant. Money has been turned in before a performance. The variables don’t matter. Did you turn in any amount of money before you played the show?

YES, money was turned in:

NO, money was not turned in:


From the Gorilla Music propagranda website,

Buying food and paying for rent is also NOT pay to play! In order to more completely confuse the issue some promoters (like Gorilla Music above) have taken this idea to ridiculous extremes. Claiming that anytime you pay for goods or services would be paying to play is one of the most bizarre arguments ever concocted by the pay-to-play organizers. They want bands to think that it's pay to play every time you pay for anything! No, purchasing a sandwich is not “pay to play”, unless the sandwich shop also paid you to eat the sandwich they made you! Then they would be “paying to play”. Everything in this country is not pay-to-play! It’s not a normal part of society. It’s not even a normal part of the music industry. They'll do anything to make themselves not be labeled as pay-to-play...except the most logical thing, dispensing with ticket sales and band quotas all together and doing their best to promote the shows they host. BTW Bands are also not responsible for club expenses, including security, electricity and staffing!

There are instances that might add to the confusion but would not be considered pay-to-play for these reasons.

THE RIP OFF PROMOTER: Somebody asked you to play a show with no presale. At the end of the night, the promoter/event cooridinator either took the majority or all of the money for themselves. The bands received very little or nothing for their efforts. It’s not pay-to-play if the band didn’t hand over money beforehand. It’s just a rip off. The bands got the shaft.

FREE SHOW: Doing a free show is not pay to play. It’s playing for free. As long there is a good reason (charity, helping a friend in financial need, free community festival), and there is very good promotion with it, many musicians will donate their time every so often. You must make sure that the collected money is actually going to the charity you are trying to help. Important tip: Only do this once in awhile. Don’t make a habit of it.

SELLING TICKETS AS PAYMENT: In a brand new twist, some clubs/promoters have decided that it would be easier to avoid directly paying the bands at all. Instead they will give them tickets to sell as their only form of payment. Bands are not turning in money. However, in order to receive the compensation they should have already gotten for playing the show, they will be forced to take on a second job of ticket vendor in order to see any payment. No musician should fall for this sleazy tactic. (See RIP OFF PROMOTER above)

DIY (do-it-yourself) : Renting a hall and putting on your own show is not pay-to-play. Even though you may need to put up money to rent the club/hall, this is not a pay-to-play situation. Besides doing the job of playing the show, you are taking on the seperate role/job of investor/promoter. You are in control of the date, the bands, the price, and anything else that needs a decision. It is your responsibility to make sure the show is promoted and runs smoothly. There is no middleman. You take the risk. At the end, after the expenses, the money is divided with the bands. See Night of Punk.

PURCHASING EQUIPMENT: Paying money for goods and services is not pay-to-play. Like a carpenter buys tools to do his job, you are purchasing the tools to do yours. This is the overhead that is required to be a performing musician. The same can be said for anything you need to perform, including the transportation to get you there.

BOOKING STUDIO TIME: Paying to record is not pay-to-play. You are hiring a service with a technician to give you a result. Like you deserve compensation when you perform, they deserve payment for their equipment, time and expertise.


Have you ever read The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, or heard the three wishes jokes? Ever watched Bedazzled (the 1967 movie with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore)? The premise of the story is that someone is granted a certain amount of wishes. However, (especially in the Bedazzled version) the grantee must be so literal in the description of their wish that they couldn’t possibly cover it completely. There is always a minor detail that is left out. Therefore the wish never turns out as intended and often turns out really bad.

The pay-to-play advocates work their definition of P2P something like this. Once you think the definition has been so thoroughly nailed down that there is no way anyone could come up with another variable, they come up with a minor loop-hole that wasn’t addressed. This gives them more opportunity to get everyone arguing the same points over and over in order to confuse people. The loop-hole really doesn’t change anything, but it still must be taken into consideration in order for everyone to feel like the definition has been fleshed out. This has been going on for years.

I’m done with this tactic. It’s counterproductive to what we are trying to achieve. So this will be the last time I will address the definition of pay-to-play. If there is anybody who still doesn’t get it, there’s nothing I can do to help them.


I believe if is going to be effective, there can be no grey areas. Like that light switch, either you are doing it or not. It’s my opinion that pay-to-play is never beneficial and that it will hurt every local music community. But if you don’t agree, so be it. That’s up to each individual. There are thousands of bands who are selling tickets and turning in money right now, and they are just happy as clams. They think it will get them ahead, that it’s a fast track to better shows, that it takes them to the "next level" or will get them signed to a record deal...and on and on. In my research after the money is collected, those big promises and benefits mostly fall short, but it’s not my decision. It’s yours. If you think paying to play is beneficial in some way, fine. But don't ask me to help redefine those three simple words in order to accommodate anybody who is uncomfortable with what they are doing.

Either you pay to play or you don’t.
On or off.
Your call.


In case there is still a question, these handy charts may better explain pay-to-play.

Differences between pay-to-play shows and normal shows.


Figure 1a (The normal show): This 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): The first task of this 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: 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 2a (The normal show): The money is handled at the end of the night after the show is over and all the bands have played.

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.