PAY-TO-PLAY FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

I'm going to post some of the questions that I often get asked. These are all real questions/comments that people have emailed to me. If you ave a question, please look through this first. Maybe it's already been asked by others. I'm hoping that this will be generally helpful and you can direct friends/bandmates to this when there is a pay-to-play discussion. Also it will save me from writing the same thing over and over. -Bon

What is pay-to-play?

Pay To Play is the act of turning in money in order to play a show. It doesn’t matter where the money comes from (out of pocket, through ticket sales, etc) its the act of turning money in before a musician performs that qualifies it as pay-to-play.

This practice is mostly implemented by independent promotion companies. A company that isn’t located in your city rents “dead nights” at local clubs to host P2P events. They typically send flattering spam emails through social media to new bands notifying them of shows they can play, either Battle of the Bands, showcases or “tours”.

In order to play these shows, the company expects (or pressures) the bands to sell expensive tickets or turn in money directly. The money is collected during load-in and the band sees no compensation or a very small percentage (usually not more than 20%). The promotion company pays the club rent and takes the biggest profit for themselves with very little effort and no promotion. These P2P companies are acting as unnecessary middlemen.

In some cases (and normally after watching the national pay-to-play companies operate) clubs will take up this practice. This occurs normally when the club has given up concentrating on good booking practices or are down on their luck and desperate.

Who do these companies want to work with?

The pay-to-play companies primarily target new, young, naive bands who are just starting out. These bands are ripe for the pickin'. They've gotten very few (or no) real shows, don't know how it's done and are more than eager to get up on that stage...for a price. The pay-to-play company is expert at knowing just what to say or promise their targets to get them to sell as many tickets as possible. No legitimate band will fall for this routine, so these shows are normally made up of bands who aren't really ready for the big stage. Real bands consider these shows a rip-off.

Are there good pay-to-play shows and bad pay-to-play shows?

I get this one all the time, mostly from clubs/promoters operating pay-to-play shows and trying to get me to admit they aren't so bad. Sorry, ain't gonna happen. As for the whole "is it pay-to-play or not" the only thing I go by is if the band/musician pays the booker/promoter/club money before they play. If they do...it's paying to play. Some bands will tell me, "well, it's not my money, I collected it from somebody else through ticket selling or whatever, it didn't come from me". Doesn't matter. I don't care where they get the money from...if the artist pays before doing a show, he's done a pay-to-play show. If it's this "cut and dried", then I never get into that realm of "is it a good pay-to-play show, with good intentions, or a bad rip-off pay-to-play show?" It makes it simple. There's an action that must be done to qualify as pay-to-play. Nobody has to argue about value judgements on what the booker's intentions are, if they really meant well, or whatever other excuse these guys can find. Did you hand money over before you played? That's my only question.

We only do pre-sale shows or pre-sale BOTBs and NEVER pay-to-play shows.

What part of this aren't you understanding? I'm going to go over this one more time...

PRE-SALE IS PAY-TO-PLAY!

Companies, clubs and promoters know that the term "pay-to-play" is like poison in the music community. They understand that they can't be saddled with that negative term so they simply changed the game slightly. Few promoters take money up front for shows anymore. They can't detach themselves from the fact that a musician paying straight out of pocket is undeniable pay-to-play. So they've all come up with this pre-sale ticket routine, either pre-sale shows or pre-sale battles. It's brilliant. The result is the same for them and they can claim they aren't doing pay-to-play shows because it isn't the musician's money. Don't be fooled by this new terminology!

This is a business. P2P companies are only getting musicians to learn that business is part of the music industry.

Some people will tell me, as a way of defending pay-to-play, that this is a business. I agree. Here's my business model of how a show works. I believe that the club is hiring entertainment as a way to get people into their establishment to drink. That's how I feel when we play a show. You will call me up and ask if my band can do a job (entertain your crowd and bring people through the door and keep them there). When I agree to play, that means our band has accepted the job. We will show up, act in a professional way, do our best to bring our crowd and put on a good show that everyone will enjoy. We will do our best to promote the show we sign up for (what band wants to play to nobody!?)...BUT we will not also pay you for the privilege. When you hire a plumber to fix the toilet, do you also charge him? Of course not. You expect him to bring his tools, his knowledge and do the job. We bring our equipment, years of experience, hours of preparation, original material and we do the job. When we and the plumber are done, you pay us.

Shouldn't musicians help promote the show?

Absolutely! If you want people to come see you, you'll need to get the word out. But first, make sure it is A SHOW. A cool show with a fantastic lineup of bands will get people in the club faster than any ticket selling. It's good to contact the other bands so you are all working as a team. Social media is a perfect place for this and if you weren't already friends, you usually make some new ones. Form a team, make flyers and get them around to all the record stores, pass out handbills at shows (make sure it's at the club the show is at - clubs rightfully frown on promotion from other clubs in their establishments), contact the local music papers and radio stations that do free concert calendars. If you want people to come to the club, you gotta get the word out in the street.

Should we ever do a show with no money? When do we start making money?

This is where the pay-to-play companies really do all bands a disservice. This is the evil part. Nobody should even be talking about getting paid at the point where you can hardly get a show. Money should be about the farthest thing from your mind at the beginning stages. That will all come later, with experience. Would you want to see you? Would you pay good money to see you? This is a question we all must ask ourselves.

On the other hand, as a band, you must look each situation individually. It's easy to "read the room". You can even do a quick head-count to give you an idea of how much money is coming through the door, and how much you might expect to receive (and be sure to figure in for all the club expenses and other bands). But sometimes, no matter how well you promote, how many people you contacted, the show will tank. This is a fact of band life. It happens to all bands - even the big ones. You can't expect the club to give you a big payout when nobody showed up. So be flexible and understanding. Sometimes your booker will remember you more for being cool than for how well you played. This is why it's best to develop a good relationship/friendship with every promoter you deal with. Their job is not an easy one. Cut them some slack if it didn't go well and they'll return the favor to you when you have problems.

Is renting a hall and putting on a show considered pay-to-play?

No, this is Do-It-Yourself (DIY). If you are actually putting up money to rent the hall/club yourself, you become the promoter. It's your baby. Unlike pay-to-play gigs, you are in full charge. You get the bands together, decide on the admission price, make the fliers, submit the show to all the free calendar listings, and make sure you have PA, sound person, door people, etc. When the show is over, you pay expenses including your rent, and then divide the rest to the bands. Forming a team with other bands can work well also. Everybody puts money in to rent the hall, flip a coin or decide how the lineup will go. At the end all parties are paid back and the rest of the money is divided evenly among the bands. DIY is a fantastic learning experience. (See specifics for putting on a show on A Night Of Punk.)

Isn't doing a DIY show taking a chance?

You bet! That's why you need to do some homework before you try to pull it off. You need to know the bands you'll be working with and really go into it with a plan, be aware of all your expenses, think everything through before you commit to a full-blown show. This is something that takes time, effort and organization, but it can be very rewarding when you've pulled off the show everybody is still talking about.

Won't pay-to-play force lazy bands to get off their butts and have better shows?

This question always kills me! Why do you care?! If the band is lazy, so what? They won't get shows and they'll break up, or they'll figure it out and start working harder. It makes no difference. Those bands weren't serious about it in the first place, and will find something else to occupy their time. The only people worried about forcing "lazy" bands to get off their butts is the guy who's got a band that's not selling enough tickets to his show. He's worried that his sales will drop off and he won't make enough of a profit.

Doesn't ticket selling keep your audience coming back?

Absolutely not! The only way, the absolute only way you'll keep them coming back is by putting on a great show. Make it entertaining, make it hard-hitting, make it kick-ass, but the show is the thing! There is no other substitute. What these pay-to-play companies won't tell you is that with every time you sell the tickets, you'll sell less. Every band I've talked to has backed this fact up. They all said that the ticket sales went down, not up. At first everybody wants to buy tickets from you. It's typically your first show, so your friends, schoolmates, co-workers, and relatives will all want to support you. By the next show, it's a little harder sell to all those people. After three shows people will run from you when they see those damn tickets! This is why pay-to-play companies must continue to spam new bands. The ones who've done it have decided it doesn't work.
See the BATTLE OF THE BANDS PYRAMID.

We can't get shows on our own. This is the only way. How can my band build up a following without paying-to-play? How do I get signed?

First of all you need to be patient. Is your band planning on breaking up tomorrow? Think of your band life as a marathon, not a sprint. Stop acting like you are trying to get the last lifeboat off the Titanic! That's where pay-to-play companies are winning. You are panicking and they aren't. You are not going to instantly go to a club and get a big weekend show. This takes time and meeting with lots of bands and promoters. See my blog on PLAYING WITHOUT PAYING.

In addition, there isn't a better thing I've read on this that what Jack Endino has on his website. It's brilliant and totally true. You may know about Jack from all the albums he's recorded with bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soundgarden as well as being in his own Seattle band, Skin Yard. His newest bands are Kandi Coded and Endino's Earthworm. Jack has been extremely supportive of the neverpaytoplay.com site and there's nobody better to give you a few words of advice. This is reprinted by permission from his official website, www.endino.com (this is taken from Jack's Frequently Asked Questions list) if you want to check it all out. Jack says...

Remember please: I record records, I don't know how to sell 'em or promote 'em. I'm a freelance studio guy, not a record company guy.

However, I was once in a band and learned a thing or two. Here's some steps a typical 'rock band' should follow:

1) Make a tape, any quality at all. Use it to get...
2) gigs. Play lots of gigs and get...
3) fans. Get better at playing and get...
4) lots of fans. If you get enough fans, and you play well enough, it will...
5) get people talking about you. At THAT point, not before, you can consider...
6) making a better sounding tape, and either...
7) send it around, or...
8) release it yourself on a CD, or BOTH. If you release anything yourself, you can get...
9) reviews. Send it to 'zines. People read these. If you can...
10) make enough of a buzz, the record industry will either come to you, or pathways will present themselves for you to get your foot in the door so to speak (thru people you meet, other bands that like you, etc). Good luck.

Won't pay-to-play shows get us a bigger fan base?

I'll give you a little taste of reality. Real music fans never go to pay-to-play shows. Here's who you want to like/see your band: The person who is a total music lover, who goes to lots of shows, knows the bands, buys CDs, makes the scene, blabs to others about who's a good band. These are the people who make up a fan base. Nobody who goes to real shows ever goes to pay-to-play shows. Pay-to-play shows are notorious well-known stinkeroos. Music fans avoid these like the plague. Pay-to-play shows very seldom have anybody you'd want to see, there are too many bands playing too short of a set, they are usually held on weeknights and they always cost way more than really great shows with big local acts. Why would anybody want to go to that? The only people who come to pay-to-play shows are friends/family of the bands. And that's about all the fan base you'll gain, and frankly, aren't those people already your fan base?

And don’t forget that you have a reputation to uphold and a responsibility to the people who come/pay to see you. If you keep urging them to show up to an expensive marathon of 10 mis-matched beginner bands, they will tire of seeing you. You owe these people a good experience that they will enjoy. Don’t abuse them with inferior shows. Treat them like gold and they’ll stick with you. That’s really the best way to build a fanbase.

Don't industry reps find new talent through pay-to-play shows? This could be a faster way to be discovered.

Reality check 2: Industry reps very rarely (mostly never) attend pay-to-play shows. Even the Battles that claim there will be industry reps often times are fudging the details. In fact, there have been accounts where people have written on blogs about posing as the "industry" guy for some local BOTB. It's easy to claim and hard to fact-check. Real industry people want to check out bands that are already somewhat established and have a good buzz from the local music fans and clubs. If they think it's worth it, they'll make an effort to see bands who are doing well and might be good to work with. Work towards that.

Many P2P festivals will hire some down-on-their-luck producer/A & R rep who may have had success years ago but now rents themselves out to be the “industry professional”. This helps perpetuate the idea that bands may be discovered at these shows. Keep this thought in mind: If the producer is that big of a deal, why would they have time to attend one of these pay-to-play events? Real industry people are too busy to waste time on something as minor as this. In most cases the “industry pro” will give the bands a few general suggestions and hand them a business card.

If we don't support pay-to-play shows, the club will suffer. If we want to keep the club going, we HAVE to do these shows.

If the club can only survive by charging the bands to play there, they shouldn't be in business. Hosting crappy pay-to-play shows is not the way to keep the crowd continually coming in and the club prosperous. Supporting the club is highly recommended, in fact it's essential. Good clubs are hard to come by and can be an extremely important part of your music community. So how do you support the club? YOU GO THERE! Go to shows (skip the guest list and pay the door fee) and buy drinks (alcoholic or non). Do they serve food? Eat there. Go often, bring your friends, tell people that's the spot where you hang out. I'm absolutely shocked that these pay-to-play companies (and sometimes the clubs themselves) could try to convince bands that "supporting" the club means doing rip-off, pay-to-play shows. That's crazy!

How does paying-to-play hurt the music scene?

First it creates competition where there should be more cooperation. These shows pit bands against one another for a show that they should be promoting together. When ticket sales is the primary objective, nobody worries about working as a team with all the other musicians on the bill. They are trying to outsell each other. But a strong scene isn't just made up of musicians. It takes all forms of artists (and fans too) to make it work. Graphic artists, photographers, writers, designers and many other creative people are vital to a strong music scene. Think of any music scene from the past and you'll no doubt come up with graphic images, photographs, writing, magazines, that helped to form each big music movement. The Seattle grunge scene, the NY and LA and British punk scenes, the San Francisco hippie scene, and so on...it wasn't just the bands, it was a community of artists that made it happen. Pay-to-play companies are not interested in any of that. They discourage it. Some of them even say directly that they frown on making posters for shows! All they care about is the money the bands can generate for their company. In fact, most of these companies aren't local so they really don't give a toss about your music community or supporting your local scene (even though they spend a lot of time trying to convince new bands that they are "local band experts").

How do you know? Have you ever done a show like this? Shouldn't you do one of these shows or enter a BOTB before you start slagging them?

I've gotten this from P2P company reps. No, I'm not going to sign my 30 year old band (who's been doing this long enough to get just about any show we want) for a Tuesday night pay-to-play show or battle. We are against pay-to-play. That means we won't do these shows. But we wouldn't have gone for this crap when we were first starting out either. We would have rather done no shows, than to be forced to act like a bunch of Girl Scouts selling cookies. We didn't think pay-to-play sounded very "punk" and we still don't. All you need to do is talk to bands who've done these shows to find out what they are all about. Plus, we've attended some of them. They were depressing. Nobody needs to be hit by a truck to know that it is a really bad experience. See to The Day I Attended a Gorilla Battle of Bands.

You are ruining people's hopes and dreams.

Who's ruining who's hopes and dreams? Am I, by telling people that these Battles won't get them anywhere? Or are these companies, by telling these bands they'll get fame and fortune if they win one of these things, or that paying-to-play is the way bands get shows.

There are more important things in the world for you to be concerned with than paying-to-play.

The only people who ever say this are pay-to-play companies. This is the "nothing to see here" tactic. They don't like that I'm ranting about this practice so they think they can shame me into ranting about something other than pay-to-play. Don't worry, this is only one of my causes. I can do several at once.

Why do you care? You are probably bitter or jealous or aren't able to sell enough tickets.

Jealous of what? We've put out records, toured US, Canada and Europe, gotten to play with many great musicians (including some of our heroes) and most of all made some very close friends along the way. We're still excited when we get on stage and happy when people like what we're doing. After all these 30 years, we still laugh at practice. We still like to hang out together. We love being in this band.

And this is why we do care! We've gotten to see and do things we never dreamed of. We want every band out there to have the same chance. We want them to know how cool this all can be, regardless of whether you "make it big". We want the best for each and every one of you. It's our belief that paying-to-play will ruin that awesome experience. That's why we care. Keep rockin' everybody!

Your friends, Bon and Girl Trouble

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