PROMOTERS AND PAY-TO-PLAY (And what to look for)
(FYI: All graphics fall under the "fair use" rule.)


In the pay-to-play world, nobody calls themselves a promoter: Not Afton, or Gorilla Music, or most everyone else that organizes pay-to-play events. They work overtime to write blogs and enter into on-line conversations to enforce this idea. They’ll do anything to steer away from this horrible title. They want to make sure nobody would confuse them with a promoter. Why? Because if they admit they are promoters, they would actually have to promote! And they don’t want to do that. They want musicians to do it all for them. They assume that getting away from that dirty “promoter” name will dismiss them from any responsibility. Terms like “production company” and “event coordinator” are used in order to convince musicians that promoting isn’t really in their job description.


The dictionary definitions of a promoter are:

“a person or organization that organizes or provides money for a sports event, a musical performance, etc.” and
"a person who helps to organize, develop or finance an undertaking."

For the last 30 years I’ve dealt with many different promoters. Like the dictionary definition, in my experience a promoter was someone who took it upon themselves to be in charge of a show. This meant that they came up with an idea entirely. They picked the musical acts, they secured a venue (sometimes putting in their own money to rent a space), they set all the particulars (date, time, price, etc.) and finally they saw the show through to the end (which included attending the show and paying the bands). If you have taken it upon yourself to be in charge of a show, for all intents and purposes, you are a promoter. It’s a very simple concept. The promoters I knew understood that nobody was twisting their arms to do this job. They knew that once they took on this responsibility, it was theirs to make as successful as possible. And yes, they promoted their own event. (Duh.) And no blaming the bands if the show was less than successful. From beginning to end, it was their baby.

Don’t be fooled by some new titles that the P2P promoters are coming up with. If they ask you to play the show, unless they’ve hired an outside promoter (who they should introduce to you), THEY ARE PROMOTERS.

Here’s an easy test. If the person putting on the show answers yes to these questions...

Did they secure (or rent) the venue?
Did they decide on a date?
Did they set the admission price?
Did they select the acts to play?
Did they collect the money?
Are they in charge of the show?

..They are assuming the role of a promoter.

Notice t he common tasks for a nightclub promoter (also known as...Promoter). These tasks follow the guidelines listed in this article, including the job of actually promoting the event.


Thinking back on all the people who decided to promote shows in the Pacific Northwest in the grunge heyday and beyond, I thought it might be helpful to list some guidelines for local promoters we worked with, and what to look for.

The promoters back in the day were mostly young people who simply had the strong desire to put on shows. They hosted their events in whatever venue they could find: bars/clubs, grange halls, ballrooms, Oddfellows Halls, garages, unused warehouses. If the space was good and the rent was reasonable (or free as in the case of some local bars and clubs), they’d put up the money to put on a show. Some of these shows are now considered legendary. Of the promoters we knew, some of them became famous, some of them burnt out and went on to other endeavors and some of them still today have successful promotion companies. No matter how it turned out, each one of these people had all or most of the qualifications that are listed below.

So what made a good promoter back then and what should musicians look for today?


BACK THEN: Promoters lived in the area. This was key. They made the scene at parties and shows. We already knew these people before they ever dreamed of putting on a show of their own. They were just music fans. We saw them at all the shows and usually hung out with them. They learned how good shows work by observing others.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The good promoter has already been a fixture in your town. They live there. They are people that are already known to the musicians and fans who like to attend shows. They normally start out as just one of the people in the scene and they work up to promoting shows from that point.

QUESTIONS TO ASK: A promoter who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away isn’t going to know anything about your music scene. Ask them where they live.

They can only successfully book local if they live in your area.


BACK THEN: Because they’d gone to shows and parties, these promoters knew the bands. They’d seen them play. Most of the time they knew them personally, knew their names, could spot them on the street enough to say hi. They were friends/fans first.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The good promoter should know the bands. They should have seen most of the bands they are booking perform, or at least trust the person who recommends them. It’s helpful if they know them personally or can make personal contact.

QUESTIONS TO ASK: Find out how many local shows they’ve been to in the last month. Do they frequent the club they are booking? What band members do they know?


BACK THEN: Because they knew all the bands, when these promoters decided to do a show they already had a lineup in mind. They had a dream list for their show. They wanted to do a show because they thought it might help the bands they really liked and introduce new bands to the public. They wanted to support them and took pride in being able to host this incredible event. Making it happen would be a feather in their cap. And they would never have determined the lineup a few days before the show.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The good promoter already has most of the bands in mind. There is no casting call for bands. There is no long list of space to fill where the promoter spam emails any band they can find to play. They would never dream of just plugging unknown bands into slots. They take pride in knowing how great the bands are since this will make it easier to promote when the time comes. Of course they will give new bands a break by working them in, but it will be one at a time, not 10 at a time. No real promoter would set the lineup hours before a show! This is worked out before the show is announced to the public.

QUESTIONS TO ASK: Find out what bands your promoter has seen recently and who are the established locals that they like. Ask who they’ve picked to play and how many. Find out if the lineup is based on ticket sales hours (or even a few days) before the show date.


BACK THEN: The old promoters started small to test the water. There was never much thought of doing more events until they had a successful show under their belts. They wanted to see how it worked out before committing to more. They knew that they were taking on a substantial responsibility and since they were new at this, they wanted to make sure it would work. If they were successful, they booked more shows, but only one at a time. Promoters seldom had multiple shows every weekend, and never with 10 bands per show. They wanted to have the time/energy to put their full effort into each event. They also knew that local shows were enough work and would never consider booking shows in other cities (or states!) on the same night.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The good promoter will start out small, one show at a time. If they are successful they will then take on more responsibility but it should be slowly and reasonably. They will never have too many shows per week booked full of plugged in bands they’ve never heard of. And they especially wouldn’t think of doing this in multiple states. They will want each show to be successful and to do that they realize that their full attention must be given to each.

QUESTIONS TO ASK: Find out if your “local” promoter has other shows going that same night in other cities. Ask how they can devote time to your show if they’ve got others at the same time.

Too many shows, in too many different cities on the same day.


BACK THEN: Early promoters never worried about company names, logos or even that they might be a company. They put on shows because they wanted to help local bands, not pump up their ego. Mostly they stayed behind the scene. They didn’t use fancy names like “event coordinator”. We mostly called them “the person putting on the show.” They did this job for the right reasons. Only after they became established did they take on company names and logos. They earned respect in the music community by working hard to put on successful shows.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The real promoter will understand that the bands are the most important part of this equation. Watch out for the person who immediately gets a company name before they’ve booked many shows. Being worried about what they will call themselves indicates that they are more interested in “playing bigshot” than really working to host a show. These people might be doing this more for their own ego.

QUESTIONS TO ASK: Watch out for promoters who brag about their vast accomplishments or how they are industry professionals. When the company names and logos are more prominent than the bands playing the show, it’s a good indication the bands will be treated as less important than the promoter. Watch out for companies who brag about the thousands of bands they’ve booked. This means they are only interested in quantity and not quality.

This is not something to be proud of. With 60,000 acts, Afton couldn't possibly give attention to each one. It's quantity over quality in the P2P world.


BACK THEN: The promoters we knew worked very hard to make sure that the bands complemented each other, that there were not too many bands on the bill, that it was held on a good night (and not against another big show) for a reasonable price. With the right amount of planning these shows practically sold themselves.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The good promoter will make sure that they have the best possible scenario for a great event. They will carefully pick the bands, make sure the venue and price is right. They know that the best planning will result in the best outcome for them and all concerned. They would never think of booking too many unknown bands with high ticket prices. They want the show to be as successful as possible.

QUESTIONS TO ASK: Find out how many bands are playing, how many of those are new or unknown, and if the price is reflective of other local shows. A good show has the line-up already figured out weeks in advance. It isn't determined by ticket sales.


BACK THEN: The person putting on the show promoted the hell out of it. These people were expert at getting the word out and getting the entire music community all fired up to see this big cool event. They knew that the better they promoted, the better the show would be and the more money would come through the door.

* They contacted local graphic artists to design/print posters and they put them everywhere (including every store that would display them). Supporting local graphic artists was important for a healthy arts community.
* They made sure handbills were printed for everyone to pass out.
* They made sure that every free concert listing in music papers and on radio was covered.
* They contacted local writers they knew who might give their show a mention in the local music paper.
* They talked about their event every chance they got, at other shows, at parties. Word of mouth was important. They created a buzz.

AND OF COURSE, all the bands joined in. These promoters involved the bands in promotion. We formed a team together. Why would we not want as many people as possible to see us perform? That would be counter-productive to the very reason we played live shows in the first place. It was in ALL our best interests to get as many people through the door as possible. Everyone involved did their best to make their show the “talk of the town”.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The good promoter will work tirelessly to promote. That’s why they are called promoters. You will see your band’s name on posters (not generic templates with plugged-in lists of bands), in free local papers’ concert calendars and mentioned on local indie radio concert listings. They will let you know what you can do to help. They will contact you to discuss a strategy on promotion. You will form a team and work closely with them and the other bands on the show. You will all work together to get the word out to as many people as possible. Working together is the key to a successful show but it starts with the promoter.

QUESTIONS TO ASK: Ask the promoter what they do to promote.


BACK THEN: The old promoters were always at the show. They got there early to help set up and were the last ones to leave when it was over. They booked this show because they wanted to see this show. They would never have even considered not being there. They wanted to make sure that everything was running according to the agreement they had with the venue and the bands. If any problem cropped up, they wanted to be there to resolve it. They were responsible from beginning to end. They were there to deal with the money, pay the expenses and pay the musicians.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The good local promoter will attend at the show they booked They want to make sure that a show attached to their name is the best it can be. They want people to see that because of their hard work, everybody, bands, fans and even the venue had a great experience. They know their reputation is important if they want to put on more shows.

QUESTIONS TO ASK : Find out if the promoter who is asking you to play the show will be at the show. Sending a show manager or company rep does not count.


BACK THEN: The promoters were transparent. They would give each band a full accounting of how much money came in, what the expenses were and what the split is at the end of the night. And yes, they sometimes took a cut (Hell, they earned it and deserved it), but it was never more than what the bands received. It was understood that the only reason people came to the show was because of the musicians. Nobody paid money to see a promoter. Therefore the musicians got the highest percentage of money. The only time this didn’t apply was for national shows, where there was normally just a small guarantee for the opening acts that was agreed on beforehand. And never were we asked to pay a fee or sell tickets to play with them!

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The good local promoter will be happy to discuss the statistics. They will not fudge on the details by pumping up the expenses or splitting the venue rental into lights, staff and security. They would never dream of taking the biggest split of the money. They will not make a lot of excuses.

QUESTIONS TO ASK: Ask to see the expenses and payout.


So next time somebody contacts you out of the blue about a show, these points might come in handy . If they start to tell you that they are not a promoter, it would be in your best interest to find somebody who is. And be sure it’s somebody really "local" who isn’t going to make you pay a fee or sell tickets. There are great promoters out there, who put on shows the right way, who know that it is in their best interest to promote the show they are putting on, who assumes responsibility and can lead a bunch of musicans to help get the word out, and who wants to help their music community (not exploit it). Seek them out and support them. And in turn, they'll support you. And in the end, your music community will be stronger for it.

If these P2P promoters would make as much effort to promote their shows as they do trying to convince bands that isn’t their job, their shows might be more successful. Don't listen to crap like this from a Gorilla Rep. He's on the computer, 24/7, asking new/unknow bands to play his shows and then he actually admits that he can't promote bands people have never heard of!

Above is a post from a promoter who doesn't actually want to promote. "If you give me 8 local bands that are just starting out, I have little to work with." Those 8 local bands are actually the same bands who get his spam booking requests. He asks them to play his shows and then makes excuses when he can't promote them. Watch out for promoters who make excuses like this.